The first thought that manifests itself in this concept is ‘Man, there must be some bad quarterbacks on this list.’ Sure, there are some. But it might come as a shock to many that three of the quarterbacks on this list are in the Hall of Fame. In fact, if you peruse the facts on quarterbacks with the most interceptions thrown in a season, you’d find that a large number of the names are quarterbacks held in high esteem in football history.
There’s a reason for that. The truly bad quarterbacks don’t get that many opportunities to throw a season’s worth of interceptions. The quarterbacks that have the careers long enough to suffer a terrible statistical year are generally the ones good enough to bring you sustained success under the right circumstances.
We need not look any further back than 2013. Eli Manning now ranks 19th on the list of most interceptions thrown in a season with his 2013 performance of 27 INTs. Clearly, there’s a confluence of factors– miscommunication with new receivers, plenty of Hail Marys and jump ball throws that Eli threw just to give his team the slightest chance to win games in which they were so far behind. The circumstances forced Eli to take risks he normally wouldn’t with a lead.
It would surprise no one that Brett Favre barely misses the top 10, ranking 12th all-time with 29 INTs in 2005. No one would argue that Favre is one of the best to ever play the position, and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Peyton Manning is tied for 14th on the all-time list with his rookie campaign in 1998 where he threw 28 picks.
Rest easy, though. This isn’t some badge of honor; there are some train wrecks on this list. After all, this IS a list no one ever wants to be on, regardless of football pedigree.
10. Jim Hart — Tie, 30 INTs — 1967 St. Louis Cardinals
Jim Hart had a long NFL career, playing for 19 years from 1966 to 1984. He is a historical reminder that the game has changed since the 60s. A lot. Quarterback has always been an important position in the sport, but never so much as now. Over his career Jim Hart started 180 games, compiling a record of 87 wins, 88 losses and 5 ties. If you think that might be a team-related problem, his lifetime completion percentage is 51.1%. He threw 209 touchdowns and 247 interceptions over his career as well, for a TD-INT ratio of 0.85/1. This would never, ever happen in the NFL today, because no quarterback with these stats would start 180 games. The year in question, 1967, was his second year in the league, his first year starting. His stat line was 3,008 yards, a 48.4 completion percentage, 19 TDs and 30 INTs. It wouldn’t get much better. Oh, and he made the Pro Bowl four times. Yeah, times have changed.
9. Al Dorow — Tie, 30 INTs — 1961 New York Titans
Al Dorow was the first QB ever to play for the AFL New York Titans after the inception of the AFL in 1960. After a rocky start to his NFL career coming out of Michigan State University, Dorow tried his luck in the AFL playing for the Titans. In their second season, 1961, Dorow would throw 19 TDs and 30 INTs. (Remarkably, the same exact ratio as Jim Hart’s aforementioned awful season.) In this abysmal season, he somehow made the Pro Bowl despite having a 45% completion percetange. Figure that out. 1961 would be his final season with the Titans, who would later become today’s New York Jets. He would go on to play four games for Buffalo the next year before his career unceremoniously ended. His career numbers are 64 TDs, 93 INTs, for a ratio of 0.69/1 of touchdown to interception, with 47.4% completion rate.
8. Richard Todd — Tie, 30 INTs — 1980 New York Jets
It might not be a shock that there are a number of Jets/Titans quarterbacks on this list. Richard Todd played 8 of his 10 years in the NFL for the Jets, reaching his interception nadir in 1980. He threw 17 TDs and 30 INTs that season. The Jets went 4-12, which is not a shock. Once again showing the patience the NFL of yore had, Richard Todd started 108 games over his career, for a record of 48-59-1. Furthermore, he has 124 TDs and 161 INTs in that span. It’s mind boggling to think that players with such numbers maintained careers in the NFL given the standard by which quarterbacks are measured today. One could argue, however, that it also follows an inverse relationship with the value of running backs and their production over the years.
7. Ken Stabler — Tie, 30 INTs — 1978 Oakland Raiders
Well, at least Ken Stabler has some positives to his career– he was, after all, the quarterback of the Super Bowl XI champion Oakland Raiders. Furthermore, his career numbers weren’t all that bad over his 10 years in Oakland, with a 59.9% completion rate, 150 TDs and 143 INTs. His last 5 years in Houston and New Orleans sank his TD-INT numbers at the tail end of his career. Even though he did have his horrendous 30 interception year that got him on this list in 1978, he also led the 1976 Raiders to an 11-1 record with a 103.4 QB rating– the year they won said Super Bowl. The bottom line is, despite having mediocre TD-INT numbers, he had a great completion percentage, and the most important of all, he won– a lot. Over 146 starts, he compiled a 96-49-1 record.
6. Sid Luckman — 31 INTs — 1947 Chicago Bears
And here we arrive at the first Hall of Famer on our list. Brooklyn born Sid Luckman was one of the most iconic players of his generation behind Slingin’ Sammy Baugh. That being said, Luckman was not the statistical powerhouse you imagine when you think of iconic quarterbacks. Once again, this is merely a distinction of a different time in football. Need proof? Luckman was not only QB for the Bears, but also the punter for 7 years. It’s pretty much guaranteed no one will ever see that position hybrid again. Luckman averaged a career 51.8 completion percentage, and had only five more touchdowns than interceptions– 137 TDs to 132 INTs. Given those numbers, it’s not a shock Luckman found his way to 6th on this list with 31 interceptions in 1947. He played for the Bears for 12 years, winning 4 NFL championships (the equivalent of the Super Bowl). He also holds the distinction of being the first person to throw 7 touchdown passes in a game; a record that has only been matched, notably by QBs of today Peyton Manning and Nick Foles. He also led the league in touchdown passes three times in his career. The QBs of today would look superhuman if they were hurled back in time by a magical Delorian.
5. Fran Tarkenton — Tie, 32 INTs — 1978 Minnesota Vikings
Another famous name in Football lore, Fran Tarkenton managed to blemish his relatively statistically successful career with a 32-pick swan song season. This Hall of Fame QB with an 18-year career actually has pretty reasonable stats for today’s standards– 57% career completion rate, 342 touchdowns to 266 picks for a 1.29/1 TD to INT ratio and an 80.4 QB rating. He’s most famous for his exploits as a Viking, where he spent 13 years of his career. He is a 9-time Pro Bowler, was the NFL MVP in 1975, and took the Vikings to three Super Bowls, though they never won any. He’s most famous for his scrambling ability, his elusiveness from the rush. When phenom QBs like Russell Wilson enchant the NFL with their mobility, they tend to draw comparisons to Fran Tarkenton, as he was the most iconic scrambler in NFL history. Despite his great career, Tarkenton compiled 32 picks in 1978, his last year as a pro, earning him the number 5 spot on this list.
4. John Hadl — Tie, 32 INTs — 1968 San Diego Chargers
John who? This fellow is one known mostly by football historians. John Hadl played mostly for the Chargers during his 17-year career, and what a surprise, he played decades ago and his numbers aren’t that pretty. This seems to be a running theme for this top ten. What is surprising, is his 1968 season in which he threw the 32 INTs, the team went 9-5; the second best season Hadl had during his 11 years as a Charger. His numbers for that season were a 47.3 completion percentage, a career high 27 TDs, along with his career high 32 INTs. Trying to reconcile his numbers with the team’s record is a challenge. But football just wasn’t the same game back then. He also put up a career high 3,473 passing yards that season– a large total by the standards of that time. Today we’re spoiled by 5,000 yard seasons happening left and right (though there are two more games in a season now.) He’s both a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro, like many others on this list. His final career numbers are 50.4 completion percentage, 244 TDs, and 268 INTs. His record as a starter was 82-76-9.
3. Frank Tripucka — 34 INTs — 1960 Denver Broncos
Frank Tripucka was awful even by the standards of his generation. His eight-year career was broken up into two sections, four years from 1949 to 1952, and a terrible four year encore from 1960 to 1963. His first year back after eight years out of the league was in 1960. That season Tripucka started all 14 games for the Broncos’ inaugural season as an AFL franchise; Tripucka amassed his record of 34 INTs, along with 24 TDs, and a 51.9 completion percentage. The Broncos went 4-9-1 in their first season. His ability to throw picks was impressive; not so impressive was his touchdown percentage. He only threw for double-digits in touchdowns in 3 of his 8 years in the league. His final career stat line was a 50.4 completion percentage, 69 TDs and 124 INTs– a 0.56/1 touchdown to interception ratio, for those curious. He averaged throwing an interception 7.1% of the time he attempted a pass. That’s not good. He amazingly managed to make it into the Pro Bowl in 1962 despite the Broncos’ 6-7 record and his 17-25 TD/INT numbers. Don’t try to figure it out. His career record as a starter is 17 wins, 32 losses and 1 tie.
2. Vinny Testaverde — 35 INTs — 1988 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This famous, long-tenured, colorblind (yes, colorblind) quarterback may have played for 7 different teams of his career, but is probably most famous for his time as a New York Jet. Thankfully for Jets fans, his awful 35 interception season was with Tampa Bay– the team that drafted him. It was only his second year in the league, and Testaverde struggled mightily. He would continue to struggle over his entire 6 years in Tampa Bay, though they were a pretty abysmal team all around during that time. During the infamous 1988 season, Testaverde had a 47.6 completion percentage, threw 13 touchdowns to his 35 interceptions. Later on it would be revealed he was colorblind, to the outrage of Buccaneers fans. But as much as it would easy to attribute that to his pick problem, it truthfully had no bearing, given that he could still differentiate between light and dark shades, like all colorblind folks.
His most successful time was the 7 years he played for the Jets. His first season as a Jet in 1998 (ten years after his awful season) he threw for 29 TDs while only throwing 7 picks– his best season as a pro. He’s probably most famous for the “Monday Night Miracle” game; The Jets were at home, down 30 to 7 at the start of the fourth quarter. Testaverde led the Jets to 23 unanswered points to tie the game. The Dolphins would score another TD that Testaverde would match, and the Jets would win on a field goal in overtime. Possibly most famous of all was Arnold Schwarzenegger predicting the comeback at halftime, saying “Wayne Chrebet is going to pull it off. I think as usual the Jets are going to come from behind, you will see… I think the Dolphins have to be terminated.” Come on, that is just beyond classic.
1. George Blanda — 42 INTs — 1962 Houston Oilers
Our final player on this list, with an incredible 42 picks in 1962, is not only in the Football Hall of Fame, but spent most of his career as both a quarterback and a placekicker. The most absurd part of it all, is during that 1962 season the Oilers went 11-3, and Blanda made the Pro Bowl. Don’t even try to understand how that is all possible. Just understand that the game you love on Sundays only shares so little in common with the game played so many decades ago. That 1962 season featured a 47.1 completion percentage and only 27 touchdowns from Blanda to go with the 42 picks. The two previous years, 1961 and 1960, the Oilers had won it all with back to back AFL championships. The three years following 1962, Blanda put up 25, 27, and 30 interceptions. That’s 124 interceptions in four years. That record will never be broken. No NFL team today would allow a quarterback to start long enough to rack up that many picks. Blanda put up career QB numbers of a 47.7 completion percentage, 236 touchdowns and 277 interceptions. He also a combined 24 years as a placekicker compared to his 10 seasons as a quarterback. Now that is a long, diverse, and confusing career.