Please Join Us On Our New Sports Then and Now Site

We have redesigned the Sports Then and Now site and moved to a new platform. Please change your browser URL for this site to:

We will be keeping this site updated through July, but beginning in August all content will be on the new site only.


Friday, February 13, 2009

The Legacy of Favre

Now that Brett Favre has officially announced that he has taken his final snap in the NFL, it is time to begin analyzing where he fits in the history of NFL quarterbacks.

Given his past track record, it may be wise to wait until after training camps start in July to write such a column, but I choose to believe that he learned from his missteps of last season and has indeed made a lasting decision.

First of all, while I think his antics of a year ago cost Favre some reputation points in the short term, I expect that as time passes memories will fade and thoughts will return to what he accomplished on the field. His relationship with the Packers organization and some Packer fans may be strained now, but once a couple years come and go and he makes a triumphant return to Lambeau Field to have his jersey retired, all will be forgotten.

Besides, though his divorce from Green Bay was pretty messy, Favre is just the latest in a long line of future Hall of Famers who finished their careers playing in a jersey different from the one for which they earned their place in Canton. That list includes quarterbacks such as Johnny Unitas (Chargers), Joe Namath (Rams) and Joe Montana (Chiefs), as well as other legends including Franco Harris (Seahawks), Emmitt Smith (Cardinals), Alan Page (Bears), Sam Huff (Redskins) and Jerry Rice (Seahawks).

Favre retires from the NFL as the career leader in touchdown passes, passing yardage and completions, but trying to identify the place of a quarterback in terms of all-time NFL greatness based purely on stats can often be misleading. Just by the nature of the differences in offensive philosophies and how long a player is in the league, statistics can often give the wrong impression.

For example, at the time of his retirement, Fran Tarkenton held the NFL records for touchdowns, yardage and completions, yet few considered him equal to other quarterbacks of his era including Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw. In fact, while the other three were all first ballot inductees, it took three cracks before Tarkenton received his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Of the 23 quarterbacks from the NFL’s modern era who are in the Hall of Fame, only eight rank among the top 20 in career passing yardage. Instead of names like Aikman, Jurgenson, Dawson, Starr, Bradshaw or Staubach, the top 20 is dotted with such names as Testaverde, Bledsoe, Krieg, Esiason, Hart, DeBerg and Hadl. While all were excellent NFL quarterbacks, none will likely ever earn a spot in Canton and certainly are not in the conversation when looking at all-time greatness.

Unlike for any other position, championship success tends to play a significant factor in determining the greatness of a quarterback. Never playing on a championship team didn’t negatively impact the inclusion of Dick Butkus, Deacon Jones or Ozzie Newsome in the conversations for being the best to ever play their positions. However, Tarkenton, Y.A. Title, Dan Marino, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon are rarely mentioned among the highest echelon of quarterbacks because they never won the big one.

In reality, winning a championship takes being part of a special team. A great quarterback can certainly help lead a team to a title, but even average NFL quarterbacks have been able to claim a title when leading a superior team. Favre is among 16 quarterbacks to claim one Super Bowl championship. Included in that group are Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Johnny Unitas and Steve Young, but also on the list are Jeff Hostetler, Jim McMahon, Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer.

The Packer squads of the mid-1990s were great teams with Favre and Reggie White leading a dynamic squad that included many Pro Bowl caliber players. Though they claimed only one Super Bowl title, they remain one of only 14 teams in NFL history to have played in consecutive Super Bowls. And while Favre was unable to lead the Packers back to the Super Bowl, he did take a team with limited talent to the playoffs five times in the last decade.

While statistics and championships are certainly part of the equation when determining the all-time greatest quarterbacks, another element to consider is how the player compared to his contemporaries. Was he always in the conversation for All Pro, MVP and Pro Bowl recognition or was he steady, yet unspectacular. In other words, while he was playing did people know and recognize that he was one of the greats.

There is no question that when Favre was at the peak of his career he was one of the greats of the game. He remains the only player to ever earn three straight NFL Most Valuable Player awards and his selection to the 2008 Pro Bowl marked the 10th time in his career that he received such recognition. He led the league in passing yards twice and touchdown passes four times.

Of course, there was also a flip side to Favre’s greatness. His detractors are quick to point out that he ranks first in NFL history with 310 passes intercepted and led the league in that category three times. He is also second all-time in career fumbles and eighth in yards lost from sacks.

The reality is that Favre was the true epitome of an NFL gunslinger. He had the big arm and, for good or bad, used his arm to make things happen. Consider that in addition to being the most durable quarterback in NFL history with 269 consecutive starts, Favre’s 169 regular season victories ranks as the most for a quarterback in league history.

So, is Brett Favre the greatest quarterback in NFL history?

There is little doubt that when all factors are considered, Favre deserves a spot in the conversation. However, I just can’t put him ahead of Montana, Elway and Unitas. So, in tribute to the jersey number he wore for 18 years, I put Favre fourth on my list of all-time great quarterbacks.

Now, what do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter