The average career length for a player is somewhere between 3 and 6 years, depending on whether you talk to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Obviously the better a player is, the more likely they will last in the NFL. Once the player “breaks through,” whether that is during their rookie year or the few years after, teams will be interested in their services.
The one thing every quarterback on this list has in common is their longevity. Some made only a few waves on the gridiron, but they were always there to help their team. They were reliable. While other players came and went, these quarterbacks stuck around. In the 20 or more years they played, they also saw their teams and teammates change as much as the league. They are living history books.
For any true football fan, learning about where the NFL came from or WHO it came from will help you better appreciate the sport now. It’s amazing to think that legends like Warren Moon played until 2000 or that Brett Favre only retired a couple of seasons ago. These are the quarterbacks your parents or grandparents told you about, and maybe you also told your kids in the same period of time. If you don’t have kids, than maybe you were talking about them at the water cooler over a few cold beverages.
Who on this list brings back the best memories for you? Comment below!
10 Joe Ferguson, Retired in 1990, 40 years and 188 days old
While Ferguson last played in the NFL at the age of 40 in 1990, he actually played one more season in 1995 for the San Antonio Texans of the Canadian Football League. In 1993, the Bills inducted Ferguson into their Wall of Fame and retired the number 12 jersey in honor of Ferguson and Jim Kelly who played for the Bills for twelve and eleven years respectively.
Most famous for his time spent in Buffalo, Ferguson also spent a short time in Detroit, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis in the later stages of his career. The Bills selected the Louisiana native out of the University of Arkansas in the 3rd round of the 1973 NFL draft. Although he won only one of three games in the playoffs, he was a steady presence under center until Jim Kelly arrived a few years later. He ranks among the all-time passing leaders with 29,817 yards and ranks 7th on the all-time list for consecutive starts by a quarterback with 107. He was a true iron man.
9 Vince Evans, Retired in 1995, 40 years and 193 days old
The only season Evans started every game in was the 1981 season where he threw for 2,354 yards and 11 touchdowns, but an eye-popping 20 interceptions. Ouch. However, interceptions aside, he played for 18 years between the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders and that counts for something. In today’s game, few players last that long and even fewer play for only one or two teams.
Evans first played college football at Los Angeles City College and then USC, even though he could have attended a few all-black colleges, which his family suggested. According to Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, Evans knew he wanted to attend USC after he saw, “O.J. Simpson and that white horse running wild.” “I’m going there!” Vince announced to his stunned family.
Evans played in the now defunct United States Football League for the Chicago Blitz and Denver Gold, and eventually returned to the Raiders in 1987. During his last NFL game, he completed nine out of 11 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
8 Brett Favre, Retired in 2010, 41 years and 71 days old
Favre probably shouldn’t have been on this list, but the old gun-slinger refused to hang up his cleats as his career progressed. While his career eventually became pockmarked with off-the-field controversy and questions, he actually played well until his final season with the Vikings when he surrendered the starting job to Joe Webb.
Throughout his career, Favre was dramatic both on and off the field. Most remember the drama that unfolded when Favre first retired from the Packers in March of 2008. During a press conference, he failed to deliver the following two sentences before he started crying: “I am officially retiring from the NFL and Green Bay Packers. As much I thought about what I would say, and how…” Favre trailed off into a fit of tears.
A month or so after his first “retirement,” Favre reentered the league, but the Packers had already moved on. After some resistance from the quarterback, Green Bay traded Favre to the New York Jets, but after one season with the team, he retired again. However, you can’t be famous sitting on your couch, so Favre unretired one final time to play for the Minnesota Vikings. While there, he played in some of his most unforgettable games, including a memorable, but heartbreaking NFC Championship loss to the New Orleans Saints in 2009.
Favre holds the NFL’s all-time record in passing yards with 71,838. He is first in career passing attempts with 10,169, passing touchdowns with 508, and passes completed with 6,300. Interestingly enough, he is also first on the all-time pass intercepted list with 336, which is something few Favre enthusiasts bring up. Yet, that’s what happens when you are dubbed a “gun slinger.” The 336 interceptions is 59 above the second-place leader George Blanda and 117 above the current NFL active leader, Peyton Manning.
7 Mark Brunell, Retired in 2011, 41 years and 92 days old
Brunell may have faded silently into the sunset, but his NFL career was actually anything, but forgettable. Brunell emerged as a solid starter for the Jaguars after the team traded for him in the mid-1990s. They swapped 3rd and 5th round picks in the 1995 draft for Brnnell, who would propel the expansion team to four straight playoff seasons. They were the first expansion team to ever qualify for the playoffs four seasons in a row.
Under the tutelage of head coach Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars made it to the 1996 and 1999 AFC Conference Championships, but lost to the Patriots and Titans. During the 2003 season, Brunnell was benched in favor of Byron Leftwich and was traded to the Washington Redskins the following season.
Brunnell is arguably the Jaguars’ greatest ever passer. He is their all-time leader in passing yards, attempts and touchdowns. To add to his quiet legacy, Brunell claimed his first Super Bowl ring in 2009 when backed up Drew Brees for the Saints.
6 Earl Morrall, Retired in 1976, 42 years and 146 days old
Eric Morrall played quarterback in the NFL for 20 years and for six teams, but he’ll likely be remembered for two significant moments in football history. In Super Bowl III he was on the other side of a crushing defeat from the underdog New York Jets and Joe Namath, but in 1972, helped the Dolphins to an undefeated overall record.
Soon after the 49ers selected Morrall with their first-round pick in 1956, he found himself moving from team to team. He eventually settled in with the Lions, Giants, Ravens and Dolphins, if you can say that is settling in. At the time of his interview a few years ago, the then 72-year-old former quarterback still looks back on his days with the Colts and wonders how things could have been different in that infamous Super Bowl showdown with the Jets.
“Do I look back? Yeah, you look back,” said Morrall to Daily News Reporter Ralph Vacchiano on the eve of the Jets 2010 AFC Championship game. “And yeah, it’s difficult…But it was their day in the sun.”
In 1968, Morrall replaced the injured Johnny Unitas en route to a 13-1 record and a birth in Super Bowl III. The Colts were 19 point Super Bowl favorites, but Morrall played poorly and the Jets shocked Baltimore 16-7. He again replaced an injured Unitas in Super Bowl V, but this time came out victorious against the Dallas Cowboys.
5 Doug Flutie, Retired in 2005, 43 years and 64 days old
Doug Flutie would fit in perfectly with the passing offenses of today’s NFL. While a quarterback’s height is still scrutinized, its importance has dwindled in recent years. Last year, Russell Wilson proved that at 5-foot-11 inches, you can still win the Super Bowl. You just have to play well enough and have the right components around you.
Arguably Flutie’s most memorable moment came during his game against the Miami Hurricanes in 1984. The Hurricanes were favorites, but Flutie completed an all-or-nothing Hail Mary pass in the end zone to Gerard Phelan, which sealed the win for the Boston College Eagles.
In the mid-1980s, Flutie entered the USFL, which was in a bitter battle with the NFL to be the United States’ top football league. Ultimately he chose to play for Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals, but the league folded soon after. Flutie then played in Canada for eight years before he returned to pro football state-side. Flutie was the type of underdog player that fans rooted for and his return to pro football in 1998 was well received.
His biggest and most controversial NFL moment came during the 1999 season when head coach Wade Phillips elected to replace Flutie with Rob Johnson in the playoffs. The former Boston College standout had led the Bills to a 10-5 record. In what is now known as the “Music City Miracle,” the Titans went onto beat the Bills 22-16 after Kevin Dyson ran back Frank Wycheck’s lateral on an ensuing kickoff 75 yards for the game-clinching score.
In any case, the small quarterback made believers out of most and had one of the more memorable careers of any NFL quarterback.
4 Warren Moon, Retired in 2000, 44 Years and 8 days old
Another product of the CFL, Moon played six years with the Edmonton Eskimos and won five consecutive Grey Cups before he traveled back to the States to play in the National Football League. Moon played most of his career for the Houston Oilers before he finished with the Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs.
Prior to signing with the Oilers in 1984, many critics questioned Moon’s ability to play in the National Football League. Some questions involved his race, while others involved his roll-out-style of play. Yet, that style of play actually fit in with the Oilers’ plans because they adopted the run-and-shoot offense in 1986. Although he posted a career worst 26 interceptions that season, he still recorded over 3,000 passing yards and the highest yards per game total of his career.
Recently, the NFL network chronicled the 1993 Houston Oilers on their program titled “A Football Life.” The team was stacked, and were favorites to win the Super Bowl, but their year was marked with controversy, infighting and turmoil. They lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round at home. By 1994, the Oilers had to dismantle their team due to overpaid players and the new salary cap implemented by the league.
3 Vinny Testaverde, Retired: 2007, 44 Years, 26 days old
Like many quarterbacks on this list, Testaverde’s legacy is defined by his longevity in the NFL; however, he also had some memorable moments on the field. The quarterback played college football for the Miami Hurricanes and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013. In the mid-1980’s, Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy and was a first-team All-American.
Drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987, Testaverde produced on the field, but was also highly criticized for both his mistakes and color blindness, interestingly enough. Testaverde signed with the Browns in 1992 and infamously replaced Browns’ legend Bernie Kosar in 1993., as then Browns' coach Bill Belichick felt Kosar’s skills were diminishing.
Testaverde’s best season may have come with the Jets in 1998 when he threw 21 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The Jets won the AFC East and were awarded a first-round bye, but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
Testaverde played solid football with the Jets for a few more years before the team eventually replaced him with Chad Pennington. Testaverde played for a number of years thereafter, but he never quite captured the magic that he had in New York.
2 Steve DeBerg, Retired in 1998, 44 years and 342 days old
DeBerg played for eight teams during his 20 year NFL Career, but maybe best known for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Bill Walsh took over the 49ers, the coach eventually drafted Joe Montana, which made DeBerg expendable. When DeBerg left for Denver, he backed up fresh-faced John Elway and then eventually Steve Young.
DeBerg ranks in the top 20 for career passing attempts and in the top 30 for passes completed and total yards. His best season came in 1990 when he held a quarterback rating of 96.3 and threw 23 touchdowns to only four interceptions. In 1991, he would also lead the Niners to a 10-6 record and the divisional round of the playoffs.
The tough quarterback played his last game in 1998 at the age of 44. He is also the oldest player to be included on a Super Bowl roster.
1 George Blanda, Retired in 1975, 48 Years and 95 days old
Hall-of-Famer George Blanda played longer than any quarterback to walk onto the gridiron. At the age of 48, he finally hung up the cleats, but not before he amassed 236 touchdowns and 2,002 points as both a quarterback, kicker and punter.
The quarterback spent time with the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders. In 1959, Blanda actually retired because the Bears suggested he play full time as a kicker. Blanda refused. With the emergence of the AFL in 1960, the versatile quarterback found a unique opportunity with the Houston Oilers, and he led them to the AFL’s first two titles. He also won the AFL Player of the Year honors in 1961.
At the age of 40, when most quarterbacks are slowly ending their careers, Blanda was starting a new one. He signed with the Raiders and for nine seasons, he played the role of backup quarterback and kicker.