What does it take to be considered an all-time great quarterback?
Some would say having Steve Young’s accuracy. But barring an absurd amount of drops, isn’t completion percentage the ultimate indicator of accuracy? The quarterback who completed an NFL record 66.0% of his passes since joining the league in 2000, is Chad Pennington.
Others say arm strength is key. While sure, arm strength is important, many greats didn’t have the biggest of arms. One player who is known for having possibly the strongest arm is known for being one of the biggest busts in NFL history. JaMarcus Russell was said to have thrown a ball 60 yards from his knees. The only problem with that is, once a quarterback is brought to his knees, that’s a sack. Somewhat of a useless talent.
Over the years, we’ve seen many good quarterbacks, and a few great ones. What separates the two groups is the ability to think on their feet, no pun intended. While having a great arm is important, if you don’t know how to use it, it becomes futile. Over the last decade, two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, have dominated the league. Most of this success is due to their unprecedented ability to understand what will happen during the play before it happens. And when something goes wrong, they are able to adjust on the spot.
Most importantly, when you look back in history at all the all-time great quarterbacks, each of them had a moment. A defining moment that separated them from the rest to make them great. Joe Montana had his NFC championship game-winning pass to Dwight Clark who made “The Catch.” Tom Brady had his super bowl run when he took over for Drew Bledsoe, then went on to win three super bowls in four years. Steve Young came out of Joe Montana’s shadow and “couldn’t possibly” live up to his predecessor, but arguably exceeded him. We now see a very similar situation with Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning won back-to-back MVP awards on two separate occasions and capped it off with his Super Bowl MVP performance. We think of John Elway diving for the goal line while getting hit by two defenders and spinning through the air. On Monday night, we witnessed the most recent moment.
Drew Brees added his name to the list of all-time greats as he completed a nine yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles. This pass gave him 5,087 yards for the season, which put him ahead of Dan Marino as the all-time leader for passing yards in a season. The record was set in 1984 and had stood for 27 years. Until Monday.
Some will be hesitant to put Brees’ name in the same list as these other great quarterbacks. But these are the same people who are afraid to consider any modern-day players as some of the best. The same people that wouldn’t consider Kobe Bryant a top-10 basketball player in NBA history because they get so caught up in the history of the game. A way to remind the youth that the way we see sports now, isn’t the way they were intended to be played and that they’re too different from how they used to be. The way I see it, it shouldn’t even be a question that Brees has earned this honor.
Since teaming up with Sean Payton in New Orleans, the two have become the most feared quarterback / coach (coordinator) tandem in the league. They both joined the team in 2005, and since then, Brees hasn’t thrown for less than 4,300 yards in a season while completing at least 64% of his passes; including two seasons with 5,000+ yards, ranking him first and third on the all-time list. With his stellar play, he has accumulated a career completion percentage of 65.9%. At this pace, he’ll easily pass Chad Pennington for the highest career completion percentage. It didn’t hurt that he’s completed 70.7% of his passes this year. His 2009 season was very similar where he completed 70.6% of his passes and carried his team to a super bowl victory and in my opinion, will do the same this year.
In no way am I trying to say that Brees is better than Marino, Elway or Bart Starr or whoever else made the narrow cut onto that list. I am too young to have seen any of these old-timers play, so some would suggest that we leave it to those who witnessed both the old and the new to determine who the greats are. But it’s funny how memories get skewed. We hear about Jordan and how he’s by far the greatest player, so when we go back and watch his games, we expect him to make every shot he attempts. Or to never make a mistake. To never get scored on. But when we watch, we find out just how human he was. Perhaps it’s the same way with the best quarterbacks too.
When I see Drew Brees play, and night after night, pick apart opposing defenses, I have a hard time believing that any quarterback in history, could be THAT much better than he is.
He has the skill, he has the accomplishments, and now he’s had his moment. Soon enough, we’ll see him in Canton, right where he belongs.