Comparing Apples to Oranges

How do today's top quarterbacks compare to those of years past? And what's the best way to fairly draw the comparisons? Scout.com's Tom Marino shares his thoughts on the subject along with his top twenty quarterbacks of all-time.

Few readers today will even recognize the name Don Bragg let alone remember that this celebrated vaulter set the last official world record (15 feet, 9 ¼ inches) using an aluminum pole at the 1960 U.S. Olympic trials.

At this year's World Championships in Osaka, the former Olympic gold medalist would have failed to medal ... in the women's pole vault event.

The great Jean Beliveau, who played 20 seasons in the NHL, currently ranks 35th among the league's all-time leading goal scorers behind many individuals whose names I can neither pronounce nor remember.

Oscar Robertson, in my opinion the greatest guard in basketball history, never led the NBA in scoring during his illustrious 15-year career. Sadly, today in the minds of many modern-day hoop fans and pundits, he is a mere footnote in basketball history.

Bill Tilden was a triple Wimbledon winner and a seven-time U.S. Open champion. Yet in a recent poll, he barely cracked the top ten of all-time great male tennis players. Tilden so dominated the game in the '20s, that he actually went seven years without losing a single important match. He amazingly remained the world's best player even after having the top of his middle finger on his racquet hand amputated due to an infection.

Without so much as batting an eye, I could easily include many other under-publicized and underexposed pre-expansion stars like baseball's pitcher and current U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, boxing champion Bobby Foster, golf's Gary Player, soccer star George Best and football great Ollie Matson to this seemingly endless list.

Though their numbers pale in comparison to their modern-day counterparts, each of these athletes -- even without the benefit of performance enhancing potions, personal trainers, agents, publicists, modern equipment and venues, nutrition, high speed travel, the internet, a seemingly endless litany of media outlets and Sports Center -- would also have starred in today's modern game.

Since the beginning of the NFL season, I have done something that heretofore I never considered doing. 

I have begun listening to sports talk radio. 

Okay, I admit to it, but after patiently listening to these talking heads say things I actually think they truly believe, I thought it is finally time for me to respond. 

It's not all bad; I actually enjoy listening to a former backup QB from the left coast, an offensive guard/soap opera star, and a Hall of Fame tight end and ball coach. Many of the local and regional radio hosts are knowledgeable, prepared and entertaining.  But for some reason a number of the national pundits appear to have gotten their start spinning stories in the editorial rooms for the weekly supermarket tabloids.

· Without question Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the two greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game of football.

· The $67.5 million given to Tony Romo ties up the league's top young QB for the foreseeable future. A great deal for the Cowboys.

· If Brady leads the Patriots to another championship, he will surpass Joe Montana as the all time best at the quarterback position.

· The Patriots, who gained a competitive advantage due to the spygate scandal, should be made to forfeit their opening day victory over the Jets.

On that last quote, I was actually waiting for one of these superstar investigating journalists to break the real story behind the story  -- who was Bill Belichick's original cameraman in Cleveland? But alas, it was not to be.

Over the last decade, the game of professional football as we have come to know it has changed dramatically. The 6 (dig), 7 (deep out) and 9 (go) routes -- staples from the past -- are virtually nonexistent and have been replaced in today's high-percentage offenses by shallow crosses, screens, flairs, arrows, hitches, darts, sticks, shakes and stab routes.

Because of this one critical factor, I'd like to weigh in with my own thoughts on this matter.


Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at Pro Bowl practice in February, 2005
AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman

I admire and recognize the skills of both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. I also believe in the end both have a real chance of being considered among the best to have played the game. But given what they are asked to do today, compared to their counterparts from another era, I can't for the life of me consider either at this time to be among the top twenty at the quarterback position.

Both have excellent playing intangibles, leadership skills, are team guys and prepare themselves extremely well. By the same token both are fortunate to be surrounded by very strong supporting casts, get excellent pass protection and function in two very statistic-friendly offensive systems. An example of the system friendliness can be readily seen in the 2006 regular season when an amazing 14 of the 31 TDs thrown by Manning were from five yards out or less.

For the record, my top twenty all-time quarterbacks are as follows:

1) Joe Montana 11) Steve Young
2) John Unitas 12) Terry Bradshaw
3) John Elway 13) Kenny Stabler
4) Dan Marino  14) Fran Tarkenton
5) Joe Namath  15) Y.A. Tittle
6) Roger Staubach 16) Bob Griese
7) Jim Kelly 17) Len Dawson
8) Sonny Jurgensen 18) Archie Manning
9) Dan Fouts 19) Brett Favre
10) Bart Starr  20) Troy Aikman

To maintain rating integrity, I don't feel comfortable enough to insert Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Bobby Layne, Sid Luckman or Sammy Baugh to this list. All were highly accomplished and did some wonderful things. But since I was not able to view them personally I've omitted them from my rankings.

The quarterback rating system that is used today is both complicated and heavily weighted toward a TD/INT ratio. Given my disdain for mathematical formulas and equations, I think we need to come up with a more suitable ranking system than what follows:

1. Divide a quarterback's completed passes by pass attempts.
2. Subtract 0.3.
3. Divide by 0.2 and record the total. The sum cannot be greater than 2.375 or less than 0.
4. Divide the passing yards by pass attempts.
5. Subtract 3.
6. Divide by 4 and record the total. The sum cannot be greater than 2.375 or less than zero.
7. Divide touchdown passes by pass attempts.
8. Divide by 0.05 and record the total. The sum cannot be greater than 2.375 or less than 0.
9. Divide interceptions by pass attempts.
10. Subtract that number from 0.095.
11. Divide that product by 0.04 and record the total. The sum cannot be greater than 2.375 or less than 0.
12. Add the 4 totals you recorded.
13. Multiply that total by 100.
14. Divide the figure by 6.
15. The final number is your quarterback rating.

That might have been as painful for me to write as it probably was for you to read. Do yourself a favor, if you have any real interest in using this flawed system of measurement, wait for the figure to be computed online or look for them in the following morning newspaper.

All kidding aside, I believe that in 2007 three new statistics should be introduced into our rating system. And unlike the aforementioned QB ratings, all are fan friendly and would say a great deal about actual throwing efficiency.

1. Compute QB throwing yards from the line of scrimmage to the catch point. For example, a screen pass caught two yards behind the line of scrimmage would result in a QB completion for -2 yards.

2. Compute WR receiving yards from the catch point to the new line of scrimmage if the receiver catches the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. So if the same receiver mentioned above advanced the ball 11 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, he would be credited with one reception for 11 yards.

3. As is the case with baseball, appoint an official scorer for each game to compute a QB quality throw index (subjective call). At the completion of the game, divide the number of quality throws by the number of completed passes to arrive at a throwing index percentage.

I believe these three very simple statistics alone will say more about a club's actual throwing efficiency than anything previously developed to this time. Off-hand, I can think of one former NFL starting quarterback, that -- if using this system -- has likely never thrown for 500 actual yards in any of his previous seasons.

Comparing the great quarterbacks from a previous generation to the stars of today is probably as credible as the baseball analyst showing me the graph of the leading postseason production leaders. Even though the stars of the past did not have the benefit of three playoff rounds to establish these records, they are in effect being held to the same standards.

Each one of these veterans has a tale to tell, but time and space restraints preclude me from commenting on their individual contribution to the game of football. In order to show the differences in the game, I've included a brief explanation regarding my all-time favorite professional quarterback.

Five-time Pro-Bowl selection and Hall of Fame inductee Joe Namath never completed more then 52.9 percent of his passes in a single season. And he threw 47 more interceptions than touchdown passes over his 13-year playing career. Given the changes to the game, I shudder to think of the type of numbers he might achieve considering today's short-passing offenses. Conversely, I see no current NFL quarterback other then Brett Favre that I believe could readily function in the Jet's vertical offensive system, circa 1967.

In the end, you must make the final determination when comparing the relative worth of the modern-day athlete to those from a bygone era. 

Don't be unduly influenced by either the voices heard over the airwaves or by some amorphous perceptions viewed on your computer screen.

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