It is one of the biggest arguments in professional football. Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? Many factors get tossed around all over the place. Some people think it’s all about winning and the number of Super Bowl rings a player has accumulated. Others believe that stats provide the definitive answer. The true answer is probably a combination of the two.
However, there have been many great quarterbacks who never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. In fact, there are quarterbacks in Canton who have never won a Super Bowl. The Super Bowl has only existed through about half of the life span of the NFL. Therefore, no quarterbacks who spent most of their careers prior to the Super Bowl will be included on this list. This means guys like Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen and George Blanda who did play during the Super Bowl era, but there best years were behind them.
The fact that these players never won it all does not make them any less great. It only gives people the opportunity to argue that they are not the greatest. It is hard to believe that anyone would say these passers were terrible, though.
There are many things that make a great quarterback other than the number of Super Bowl teams he was a member of. Things like yards and touchdowns are important, too. The number of times a player made the Pro Bowl is also a factor because it shows us how good they were in comparison to other players who were in the league at the same time. Of course, holding some records for the position is a definitely a big help as well. Helping your team win is also important, even if the quarterback could not lead a team to victory in the biggest game of the year.
10. Vinny Testaverde (1987-2007)
Vinny Testaverde was the NFL’s ultimate journeyman. After being the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, Testaverde would go on to have a 21-year NFL career. He played for seven different teams during his time in the league. He was never an elite quarterback by any standards; however, he was able to make two Pro Bowl rosters. Testaverde also has some of the best passing statistics in history. He threw for 46,233 yards and 275 touchdowns. These impressive numbers do not seem overly appealing considering his very long tenure in the NFL, but they are some of the best numbers on the list. So why would he not be listed higher? Vinny Testaverde holds a record that will completely explain this. His 123 losses are the most by any quarterback in NFL history.
9. Ken Anderson (1971-1986)
Ken Anderson is probably the most unfamiliar name on this list. This is probably because he played for the Bengals in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was followed by a much more recognizable passer. However, Ken Anderson was a great quarterback. In fact, many believe he is a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. Anderson was a four-time Pro Bowler. He threw for 32,838 yards and 197 touchdowns well before the NFL turned into a passing league. He led the league in passing yards in both 1974 and 1975. His greatest year was in 1981. Anderson was named the 1981 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and league MVP. He led the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI, but lost to the San Francisco 49ers.
8. Randall Cunningham (1985-2001)
Simply stated, the quarterback position would not be the way it is today with Randall Cunningham. Players like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick would not be in the league. Cunningham opened up the position to guys who could play ball outside the pocket. During his career, he was a four-time Pro Bowler and won three league MVP Awards. He was very much a duel threat quarterback, posting 29,979 passing yards, 207 passing touchdowns, and 4,928 rushing yards. His rushing yard total was the highest of any quarterback in history at the time of his retirement.
7. Boomer Esiason (1984-1997)
Boomer Esiason was Ken Anderson’s successor. Esiason may very well be the best left handed quarterback in NFL history. He leads all lefties in passing yards and touchdowns. During his career, the Bengals’ gunslinger went to four Pro Bowls and was the 1988 NFL MVP. That year he brought his Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII, where they were once again defeated by the San Francisco 49ers.
6. Donovan McNabb (1999-2011)
Donovan McNabb is the NFL’s best example of the phrase “close, but no cigar.” During his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, McNabb led his team to the NFC Championship five times. They only advanced to the Super Bowl once, and were defeated by the New England Patriots. Aside from being a quarterback who could win games, McNabb also has a good set of stats. He threw for 37,276 yards and rushed for an additional 3459 yards. In 2004, he became the first passer in NFL history to throw over 30 touchdowns and have fewer than ten interceptions. The six-time Pro Bowler would end his career by playing two single year stints with the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings. Since his retirement, McNabb’s number has been retired by the Eagles’ organization.
5. Jim Kelly (1983-1996)
Now we are getting to the big guys. Jim Kelly starts our list of the Hall of Fame quarterback who never won the Super Bowl. Kelly was a member of the 1983 draft, which became notorious for the best class of quarterback in the league’s history. Kelly was the final quarterback taken in the first round. He would go on to lead the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls. Unfortunately, the team lost every single one of them. However, this was after the NFL introduced the salary cap. Many people thought this Bills team would be the closest thing we would ever see to a dynasty again. Kelly was enshrined in Canton in 2002.
4. Warren Moon (1984-2000)
Warren Moon was a nine-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in passing yard twice throughout his career. In 1990, Moon was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. His 48,325 passing yards ranks sixth all-time and his 291 passing touchdowns are the eighth most ever. However, his impressive play and monsterous stats could never win him a Super Bowl ring. They did eventually get him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2006.
3. Dan Fouts (1973-1987)
Dan Fouts ushered in a new era for the quarterback position. The Chargers’ superstar was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the league in passing yard four seasons in a row from 1979 to 1982. Fouts was the first player in the game’s history to throw 4,000 yards in a season three times in a row. This may not seem like a big deal today, but during Fouts’ time 4,000 was a huge deal. He retired with 43,040 passing yards and 254 touchdowns. He was only the third player in the games history to surpass 40,000 career passing yards. In 1993, Dan Fouts became a first ballot Hall of Famer.
2. Fran Tarkenton (1961-1978)
Vikings’s quarterback Fran Tarkenton was the first of his kind. He was the original master passer who never got to put a Super Bowl ring on his finger. Tarkenton was a nine-time Pro Bowler. He was the NFL’s MVP in 1975. When Tarkenton retired, he held nearly every single record in every major passing category. He was the leader of Bud Grant’s Purple People Eaters and brought the Vikings to three Super Bowls but never managed to win one. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
1. Dan Marino (1983-1999)
Number one was obviously going to be Dan Marino. Despite not having a Super Bowl ring, he is still arguably the best quarterback in NFL history. During his time with the Miami Dolphins, Marino made nine Pro Bowl appearances, was the 1983 Rookie of the Year and 1984 league MVP, and led the team to Super Bowl XIX. He currently holds 31 Dolphins team records. He retired with the most passing yards and passing touchdowns of all time. Those records have since been broken, but he still ranks second in career passing yards and third in career passing touchdowns. In 1984, he became the first quarterback to ever throw for over 5,000 yards in a season. This was long before the modern passing game. Back then 4,000 yards was a huge accomplishment; 5,000 was completely unthinkable. He was also the first quarterback to throw for over 40 touchdowns in a season. He did this twice. Marino was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.