The aim of the GridFe Hall of Fame is to recognize the greatest and most important names in NFL history. When it comes to identifying greatness, some positions stand out more than others. The quarterback is the most important player in football and, arguably, the most important single position in major team sports. The value of the position is such that they are the only ones on the field who are assigned wins for their efforts. It should be no surprise, then, that of the 151 players in the inaugural GridFe Hall of Fame class, twenty are field generals.
There have been many greats to man the position over the years, and omission from the GridFe Hall of Fame is not an indictment of anyone’s ability or legacy. Rather, it just means our voting committee didn’t get five people to agree on his induction. There are champions, MVPs, and beloved icons who didn’t make the final cut. Below are the nineteen who did.1
Hall of Fame Quarterbacks
Otto Graham (1946-1955)
6 MVPs (3 AAFC/3 NFL); 9 First Team All Pros (4 AAFC/5 NFL); 1 Second Team All Pro; 5 Pro Bowls; 7 Title Wins (4 AAFC/3 NFL); 3 Title Losses; 5 GridFe Automatic Awards (3 AAFC/2 NFL); 1 GrideFe World Award (AAFC); 3 GridFe Sweetness Awards; 7 GridFe Slinger Awards (4 AAFC/3 NFL)2
Automatic Otto played in his league’s championship game in each of his ten seasons, picking up seven victories along the way. Graham was an incredibly accurate passer and efficiently distributed the ball to a bevy of receivers in Paul Brown’s advanced passing offense. He retired with 23584 passing yards, which was the most by any professional quarterback, and 174 touchdowns, which trailed only Sammy Baugh‘s 187. He remains the all-time leader in yards per pass (9.0), and he held the QB rushing touchdowns record until Cam Newton broke it in 2016.
Bobby Layne (1948-1962)
Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Bulldogs, Chicago Bears
2 First Team All Pros; 4 Second Team All Pros; 6 Pro Bowls; 3 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss
Layne retired as the career leader in passing yards, but his passing wasn’t what earned him the adoration of fans and teammates alike. He played recklessly, putting his body on the line in order to win. Layne was the unquestioned leader of his team, and listening to teammates discuss him gives the idea that they would have fallen on a grenade for him. As the father of the two minute drill, he struck fear into the hearts of defenses with his ability to go over the top or pick up first downs with his legs.
Norm Van Brocklin (1949-1960)
Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles
2 MVPs; 2 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 9 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 2 Titles Losses; 3 GridFe Automatic Awards; 2 GridFe Slinger Awards
Van Brocklin started his career in a quarterback timeshare that would seem foreign to a modern viewer, but he outplayed his celebrated teammate Bob Waterfield and ultimately became the main man. The Dutchman threw one of the most beautiful deep balls in history, but he also possessed an understanding of defenses that is typically more closely associated with modern quarterbacks. His quick release and quicker mind enabled him to lead his offenses to consistent success, and he is one of just two quarterbacks to lead two different teams to a championship victory.
Johnny Unitas (1956-1973)
Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers
5 MVPs; 6 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 10 Pro Bowls; 3 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 3 GridFe Automatic Awards; 4 GridFe Slinger Awards
The original Johnny Football was a quarterback who played with a linebacker’s mentality. He was tough as nails and relished contact, but there was more to it than that. Unitas had the confidence to make any throw into any coverage, and he also had the deft touch to place the ball exactly where he wanted it. While Layne pioneered the two minute drill, Unitas was the man who perfected it. He retired as the career leader in passing yards and touchdowns, demolishing the previous records. Unitas remains the archetype for the classic, dropback passer.
Bart Starr (1956-1971)
Green Bay Packers
1 MVP; 1 First Team All Pro; 3 Second team All Pros; 4 Pro Bowls; 5 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss
Starr was the steady hand guiding the Lombardi Packers dynasty. He led with remarkable efficiency, but his volume was relatively low, even for his era. The false impression is one of a system QB, but the film shows a precise passer who helped his teams build early leads and rely on its power running game to maintain them. Rather than being the product of a system, he was a vital component that kept the system working optimally. When it mattered most, Starr was at his best. His 104.8 postseason passer rating is still the top mark in history.
Sonny Jurgensen (1957-1974)
Philadelphia Eagles, Washington
2 MVPs; 1 First Team All Pro; 3 Second Team All Pros; 5 Pro Bowls; 1 GridFe Automatic Award; 3 GridFe Slinger Awards
Jurgensen was the greatest pure passer of his era and one of the best of all time. His approach was unorthodox, but he was a natural thrower who could hit his mark from a variety of angles. Jurgensen used that beautiful ball of his to lead the NFL in passing five times and set the single season yardage record on two occasions, on two different teams. He rarely had the support afforded to many of the all-time greats, and he lacked team success, but when you watched him play, it was clear he was as good as anyone who’s ever done it.
Fran Tarkenton (1961-1978)
Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants
2 MVPs; 2 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 9 Pro Bowls; 3 Title Losses; 2 GridFe Automatic Awards; 1 GridFe Slinger Award
Tarkenton was thought of as a scrambler who was too small to be a great QB. It’s true that he was a scrambler; he retired as career leader in rushing yards by a quarterback. However, he also retired as the leader in passing yards and touchdowns, holding both records for an incredible 19 years. No passer has ever held either record for longer, and Tarkenton set it playing primarily in the dead ball era. He helped turn around the fortunes of both the Vikings and the Giants during his storied career.
Roger Staubach (1969-1979)
2 MVPs; 1 Second Team All Pro; 6 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 2 Title Losses; 3 GridFe Automatic Awards; 3 GridFe Slinger Awards
Captain Comeback was the finest quarterback of his generation. Commitments to the US Navy postponed the start of his career till age 27, robbing him of five seasons in his physical prime (not that you’d ever hear him complain). However, it also meant that he came into the league as the rare rookie who had the immediate respect and adulation of his veteran teammates. The brevity of Staubach’s career means he didn’t post big volume numbers, but he did retire as the career passer rating king. He was a precision passer and superb athlete who commanded respect on and off the field.
Dan Fouts (1973-1987)
San Diego Chargers
2 MVPs; 3 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 6 Pro Bowls; 1 GridFe Automatic Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 1 GridFe Slinger Award
Fouts was the perfect trigger man for Don Coryell’s aerial assault. He was big-armed and confident, with uncanny deep ball accuracy. Fouts also possessed the smarts and soundness of technique to back up the braggadocio. His passes generated yardage in torrents, evidenced by the fact that he set the single season passing yards record three years in a row and was on pace to decimate the mark during the strike-shortened 1982 season.3 Fouts was the unquestioned leader and driving force behind one of the game’s most important and influential offenses.
Joe Montana (1979-1994)
San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
2 MVPs; 3 First Team All Pros; 3 Second Team All Pros; 8 Pro Bowls; 4 Title Wins; 1 GridFe Automatic Award; 1 GridFe Slinger Award
Joe Cool was lanky and unassuming, often so laid back that he came off as aloof. In fact, one of the reasons he slipped in the draft is that some coaches were concerned that he didn’t even care about football. However, with the game on the line, Montana was an assassin. He was cooly efficient and one of the best regular season QBs the game has ever seen, but the postseason is where he cemented his legacy. Montana’s teams went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, with the legend going 68% with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and two rushing scores for good measure.4
John Elway (1983-1998)
1 MVP; 1 First Team All Pro; 2 Second Team All Pros; 9 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 3 Title Losses; 1 GridFe Automatic Award
Coming out of college, Elway was among the most highly touted prospects in history. He had legendary arm strength, remarkable athleticism, and natural leadership. A large part of his story is his role as is the posterboy for the importance of coaching in a QB’s development. He started off his career as a one man gang, making lemonade out of a roster full of lemons. He wasn’t refined, and his arm seemed to be stuck with the fastball switch in the on position, but he was the soul of the team. When paired with a creative coach and talented castmates, Elway posted staggering numbers for his age and picked up two championships as he rode into the sunset.
Dan Marino (1983-1999)
1 MVP; 3 First Team All Pros; 5 Second Team All Pros; 9 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Loss; 2 GridFe Automatic Awards; 1 GridFe World Award; 2 GridFe Sweetness Awards; 4 GridFe Slinger Awards
Perhaps the greatest pure thrower ever to grace the sport, Marino boasted a release reminiscent of a whipcrack and the ability to make any throw a coach could dream up. He didn’t have the arm strength to throw a deep ball from his knees, but he had perhaps the greatest functional throwing power of any man to grace the position. Marino is probably the best in history at avoiding sacks, once going 19 straight games without a sack.5 Poor defensive support has caused hindsight analysts to try to besmirch Marino’s legacy, but this is pure applesauce. One doesn’t hold the yardage and touchdown records for 12 years without possessing immense talent.
Warren Moon (1984-2000)
Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs
1 MVP; 1 First Team All Pro; 9 Pro Bowls; 1 GridFe Automatic Award; 1 GridFe Slinger Award
Moon’s career stands as a triumph in a face of pervasive racism. Kept out of the NFL coming out of college, he dominated the CFL so completely and thoroughly for six seasons that the bigger league could no longer justify preventing him from playing quarterback. In fact, Moon went from not being allowed to play quarterback in the NFL to having his team lean heavily on his arm. He helped turn around a moribund Oilers franchise, and he scoffed at entanglement, posting consecutive 4000 yard seasons with two different teams and making the Pro Bowl with three different teams.
Steve Young (1985-1999)
San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2 MVPs; 4 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 7 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 3 GridFe Automatic Awards; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 3 GridFe Slinger Awards
Young was a highly regarded prospect out of college and opted to join the upstart USFL instead of the established NFL. After the lesser league folded, he spent two lackluster years in Tampa Bay before Bill Walsh saw his promise and brought him to the 49ers. Young had to wait a long time to become the starter in San Francisco, but it was worth the wait. Accounting for era, he was the most efficient passer in history, leading the NFL in passer rating six times. He had the best combination of passing and running prowess of anyone the league has ever seen. In addition to earning the completion rate crown five times and the touchdown crown four times, his 51 combined regular and postseason rushing touchdowns rank behind only Cam Newton‘s 56.
Brett Favre (1991-2010)
Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons
3 MVPs; 3 First Team All Pros; 3 Second Team All Pros; 11 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 1 Title Loss; 3 GridFe Automatic Awards; 3 GridFe Slinger Awards
When Favre took the field, it was must-see theater. As the cold robe of winter blanketed Green Bay, the gunslinger worked his magic. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always exciting. Favre retired as the career leader in passing yards and touchdowns, and his 297 consecutive starts are 87 more than the next most at the position. That he also holds the record for career interceptions and fumbles is illustrative of the highs and lows he hit during his two decades under center. Favre was as tough as they come and played the game with irreverence and incandescent joy.
Peyton Manning (1998-2015)
Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
6 MVPs; 7 First Team All Pros; 3 Second Team All Pros; 14 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 2 Title Losses; 6 GridFe Automatic Awards; 1 GridFe World Award; 2 GridFe Sweetness Awards; 5 GridFe Slinger Awards
From a purely statistical standpoint, Manning is the most dominant quarterback in history. Many passers excel at picking up yards, avoiding turnovers, staying upright in the pocket, getting the ball in the endzone, or engineering drives. Manning excelled at everything. He won MVP awards and made Super Bowls with two different teams and four different head coaches. Demanding of his teammates, he didn’t just help them produce better numbers – he helped them become better players.6 Beyond that, he changed the position with his pre-snap diagnoses and gesticulations, bringing an increased cerebral element to the game’s most important position.
Tom Brady (2000-present)
New England Patriots
4 MVPs; 5 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 13 Pro Bowls; 5 Title Wins; 3 Title Losses; 2 GridFe Automatic Awards; 1 GridFe World Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 3 GridFe Slinger Awards
It has become popular to call Brady a system quarterback as a pejorative. In fact, it is high praise to bestow upon him that honor. Brady has played for one coach, but he has been through several schematic shifts to fit leaguewide trends and team personnel. He has proven to be a chameleon, fitting into every new design with aplomb and defying age along the way. Brady has led the league in passing yards thrice and touchdowns four times, while maintaining one of the lowest interception rates ever. Few have ever had as much success with the quarterback sneak, and none has matched his subtle artistry within the pocket. There’s also the matter of the rings, but it’s, frankly, reductive to define Brady by his jewelry.
Drew Brees (2001-present)
New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers
1 MVP; 3 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 11 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 1 GridFe Automatic Award; 2 GridFe Sweetness Awards; 1 GridFe Slinger Award
Brees may be the greatest player in football history who was never widely considered the best at his own position when he played. After suffering a career-threatening injury, he got a fresh start in a city starved for a hero. He delivered in a big way, boasting some of the most impressive passing displays of recent vintage. There have been nine 5000 yard passing seasons in history. Brees owns five of them. There have also been nine 70% seasons in history. Brees authored four of them. Few passers in history have ever been asked to shoulder such a prolific load. The undersized QB has carried the team on his back while posting outlandish volume numbers and the highest completion rate of all time.
Aaron Rodgers (2005-present)
Green Bay Packers
2 MVPs; 2 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 6 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 3 GridFe Automatic Awards; 1 GridFe World Award; 2 GridFe Slinger Awards
Filling in for a beloved franchise legend isn’t easy, but Rodgers proved up to the challenge. He may be the most fundamentally gifted player ever to hold the position. His ability to process defenses quickly and can throw with uncanny accuracy to all levels of the field, from any angle you could ever want, is unparalleled. He excels when plays break down and he has to escape the pocket, as he may be the best in history when it comes to throwing with precision while on the run. His play is at once beautiful and intricate, like watching Mozart amongst a crowd of Salieris.
- Perhaps unbelievably, only twenty quarterbacks received votes. Chiefs hero Len Dawson was the only one who didn’t receive the requisite votes. This does not include Pioneer inductee Sammy Baugh, who didn’t go through the same process as modern players. You can read about Baugh here. ↩
- The Pro Bowl didn’t exist when Graham played in the AAFC, but his play was worthy of the Pro Bowl all ten years of his career. ↩
- He was on pace for 5124 yards. Oh, he also led the NFL in yards per game for five consecutive seasons and six times total. ↩
- Early in his career, Montana was a dynamic athlete. However, severe back injuries took that facet of his game away from him. He did win two MVP awards under two head coaches afterwards, so make of that what you will. ↩
- This was after the retirement of Dwight Stephenson, perhaps the most dominant center of all time. ↩
- His rapport with his top receivers has reached mythic status. From 1999-2014 (Manning’s prime), his number one receiver averaged 102 catches, 1416 yards, and 11 touchdowns per 16 games. ↩