John Elway of the Denver Broncos is the greatest quarterback I have seen in my exact four decades on this earth. There have been other greats such as Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, among others just a notch below such as Steve Young, Brett Favre, Dan Foutes and Dan Marino, but Elway gets my personal vote as the best.
The first and most obvious complaint is going to be that Montana and Brady have more Super Bowl victories than Elway. That is a valid point, but I’m not going to think Jim Plunkett is a better player than Manning simply because his team won an additional Super Bowl. I’m also not going to think that Trent Dilfer was better than Foutes or Marino because he has a ring and they don’t.
If we want to talk about numbers, you can make a great argument for some other quarterbacks who have had better statistical seasons. Manning had a magical campaign in 2004 when he threw for 49 touchdowns, breaking the previous record of 48 by Marino in 1984, against only 10 interceptions while throwing for 4,557 yards. Up until that point in his career, he had been the great regular-season quarterback with respect to statistics while Brady was the player with the Super Bowl rings.
However, Brady upped the ante after Manning won his Super Bowl by having a 2007 season for the ages. Brady threw for 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions while totaling 4,806 yards. He also led the New England Patriots to an undefeated season. Still, with as great of resumes as both Manning and Brady have, I’d still take Elway if each of them could be cloned to start an NFL franchise today.
Elway and Brady are somewhat similar early in their respective careers as they didn’t put up the best statistical numbers in the league, but they won games with regularity (and that’s when Brady won his Super Bowls, whereas Elway lost his). I do not insinuate that they were drafted into similar positions though.
I also realize that Montana is up there too. Many people like to talk about how he had such a great team around him, and he did, but they forget that he helped the 49ers win the Super Bowl twice before a great like Jerry Rice ever became his teammate.
There was just something about Elway that I admired and respected. He was not just a quarterback, but he was a durable football player. I have never seen anyone as great in two-minute situations and have never seen anyone will a team to overachieve the way he did. When the game was on the line, you knew full well that his Broncos were probably going to win.
Lastly, Elway won games more often, in my opinion, when his teams were overall less talented than his opponents. Sure, he played on some good teams, too, but some of them were much better than they should have been because of him.
In no way am I saying that some of these other great quarterbacks didn’t make their teammates better. They did. I just don’t see it happening to the magnitude of the way Elway elevated his team and this is after watching the Indianapolis Colts implode in 2011 when they lost Manning for the season. If anyone would be second on this list with respect to making others around him better — it would be Manning for me.
If I was given the keys to an NFL expansion team as the general manager and was told that I could take one player in the history of the league and were allowed to have them as a 22 year old youngster to build a franchise around — I would take Elway. However, this is like a test with no wrong answer because if you chose Montanta, Manning, or Brady, you really couldn’t go wrong.