Joe Montana
No. 1
Joe Montana
New England Patriots
No. 3
Tom Brady
Green Bay Packers
No. 7
Aaron Rodgers
Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 16
Ben Roethlisberger
Dave Newhouse

Top 20 all-time quarterbacks

By  Dave Newhouse
I have been watching pro football games since the 1940s, so I don't come lightly to the heady assignment of choosing the top 20 quarterbacks of all-time.

Since the assignment is something I've given myself, I get to set the conditions of selection. They are that you don't have to throw the most touchdown passes in history, or win the most Super Bowls, or have the most National Football League Most Valuable Player trophies in your den to rank No. 1 on the list. Some quarterbacks I've picked didn't have the advantage of playing on dynasties, which aren't always quarterback influenced, like the Minnesota Vikings' defensive Purple People Eaters.

I do place credence on quarterbacks having influenced dynasties, but I place greater emphasis on quarterbacks, regardless of the talent around them, cutting your heart out in the final minutes of a tight football game. Hey, it's all subjective.

So, with that in mind, here is my Top 20, in numerical order:

1. Joe Montana: You want to win a football game, you say? Then Montana is the master. No one was more cool than Joe Cool, who was the passing half of The Catch and who delivered a last-gasp Super Bowl drive of the ages. No quarterback found more ways to defeat an opponent.

2. Johnny Unitas: Johnny U was an incredible force in the 1950s and 1960s, with a gifted passing arm that buried opponents, including the New York Giants as the Baltimore Colts won the NFL's first overtime championship game behind Unitas' high-topped shoes leadership.

3. Tom Brady: OK, start complaining, but Brady, although a singular force of nature, is surrounded by the greatest dynasty ever. Yes, he delivers brilliantly in the clutch, but he is a club-footed runner unlike the more athletic Montana and Unitas. But Brady could be my No. 1 pick in two more years.

4. Otto Graham: He is a forgotten figure, but in 10 seasons with the Cleveland Browns, in the All-America Football Conference and NFL, he reached the league championship games 10 times. Ten for 10, who does that? And he was a dangerous runner.

5. John Elway: The golden arm. He could go right or left, and he'd throw a 50-yarder right on the money. A great athlete who might have been a baseball all-star if he hadn't opted for football, since he signed contracts in both sports.

6. Dan Marino: A passing machine. He carried the Miami Dolphins to respectability on his right, throwing shoulder. He compiled passing numbers that seemed astronomical at the time.

7. Aaron Rodgers: His placement seems rather high at the mid-point of his career, but he can make any kind of pass and he has made the limited Green Bay Packers more successful than they deserve. And he is an extremely clever runner.

8. Roger Staubach: What he accomplished with the Dallas Cowboys, after a post-Annapolis military career, is nothing less than extraordinary. He'd knock off opponents in the fourth quarter, then salute them.

9. Sammy Baugh: In the 1930s and 1940s, he led the NFL in passing, in punting, and in making interceptions on defense, all with the Washington Redskins, for whom he played in three decades. No one like him.

10. Terry Bradshaw: He was a total gamer, and at his very best after halftime. Who else has made an "immaculate" pass in football? Tremendously accurate, especially on third-and-long.

11. Peyton Manning: He made two franchises, Indianapolis and Denver, whole with his beautiful touch. If he could run like his father, Archie, he would have ranked higher on this list.

12. Bobby Layne: The best of the gunslingers. He would imbibe too much on Saturday night, then bury teams on Sunday afternoon. He was a storybook figure, Ken Stabler before Ken Stabler.

13. Fran Tarkenton: He brought scrambling to the NFL with the, then, horrible Minnesota Vikings. Watching defenses chase him from one sideline to another, without catching him, was pure art form.

14. Joe Namath: He threw too many interceptions, but he'd win regardless because he was unstoppable for 60 minutes, which Baltimore found out against the heavily underdog New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Broadway Joe was something special.

15. Dan Fouts: You couldn't hold him off. He seemed to be falling down when clumsily dropping back to throw, but then he'd throw a beauty of a pass to ruin Chargers' opponents post-game showers.

16. Ben Roethlisberger: Spelling his last name is easier than trying to conquer Big Ben. He's also bigger than life, keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers as a playoff contender beyond their wildest expectations.

17. Brett Favre: Bobby Layne's protege as a gunslinger, though often too quick on the trigger at throwing interceptions. But, then, he would turn around and hurl one into the end zone to snatch victory from the grasp of defeat.

18. Norm Van Brocklin: Maybe the meanest of quarterbacks. He'd punch you in the mouth, then pull your tongue out if you left him time on the clock to deliver a knockout punch. Not always likable, even by teammates, but a winner.

19. Warren Moon: He had to go to Canada before the NFL would take him, and he then proved the talent scouts wrong by amassing Pro Football Hall of Fame passing numbers. Some Moon shot.

20. Drew Brees: "Too short," he heard skeptics say as an NFL rookie, but he will stand shoulder to shoulder with the passing greats when his career is over.

Like I said, it's all subjective.

Dave Newhouse's journalism career spans more than half a century, including 45 years at the Oakland Tribune before his retirement in November 2011. His twelfth book, co-authored with Eddie Hart, was published in July and is available in book stores and on Disqualified: Eddie Hart, Munich 1972, and the Voices of the Most Tragic Olympics. Dave grew up in Menlo Park, graduated from San Jose State, and has radio and television experience, in addition to his work as an award-winning sportswriter and columnist.

3-6-17 - Pops

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