Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Top 10 Quarterbacks of the 90's
I love NFL Network, and recently I watched their list of the Top 10 Quarterbacks of the 80's. I found the list very intriguing and strongly agreed with it (except I pretty firmly believe John Elway should be ranked 3rd, above Dan Fouts). While I found the list accurate, it got me thinking, "Hey, where's the list of QBs from my formative years?" Whether or not such a Top 10 is in production, I don't know, but I took it upon myself to assemble my list of the Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks of the 1990's. Enjoy!
Joe Montana is without a doubt the greatest QB to ever play pro football. However, his true heyday was in the 80's, as the early 90's saw him plagued by injuries and on the downward slope of his career. In 1990, it looked as if Montana might lead the 49ers to the first-ever "3-peat", posting them to a 14-2 record. That year he threw just short of 4,000 yards and 26 TDs despite a career-high 16 INTs. After a loss to the Giants in the 1990 NFC Championship, things got rough. Montana missed the '91 and most of the '92 season due to an injury, prompting Steve Young to take the reigns and Montana to start anew in KC. In both his years in KC, he battled injuries and, with the help of Marcus Allen, led his team to the playoffs. He reached the AFC Championship in '93. In spite of everything, he remained potent until he retired after the '94 season, and that nets him the #10 spot on my list.
In the time before Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe was New England's golden boy and widely thought to be the Patriots savior. In fact, this deep seated trust in Bledsoe created a huge QB controversy when Brady succeeded him as starter in the 2000's, but that's another story. After he was drafted, in '93, the Pats began seeing immediate improvement. By 1996, Bledsoe had already carried a once hopeless team to the Super Bowl, which they lost to the Green Bay Packers and fellow Top 10 member, Brett Favre. Bledsoe followed up '96 by taking the Pats to two more consecutive playoff appearances. '97 was his best statistical season, passing for 3,706 yards and 28 TDs and gaining a passer rating of 87.7. In '99, Bledsoe's career began to decline, just in time for Tom Brady to ride into town. Bledsoe earned 3 Pro-Bowl appearances in the 90's and while he did not get them over the Championship hump (as a starter anyway), he still has a special place in the heart of every Patriots fan.
Imagine Michael Vick, but with a much better arm. That's kind of what Randall Cunningham was during his career. While he had his share of memorable moments in the '80s, I believe the highest point of his career was during the era of Fat Free cookies and Operation Desert Storm. Like in the 80's, the early part of the decade saw him making more jaw-dropping escapes and producing gaudy numbers with the Eagles. But, an ACL injury at the beginning of the '91 season would create nothing but problems for the next 3 years. The injury combined with Philly fans doing what they do best and hating one of their stars for no apparent reason, led Cunningham to say, "screw this" and retire in '95. However, it was not the end. He came out of retirement to play for the Vikings in '97 and would have two of the best years of his career. A playoff appearance in '97 would be nothing compared to the success of '98. Leading one of the best teams ever to not win a Super Bowl, he threw 34 TDs and had a league-leading 106 passer rating. The Vikings had a 15-1 regular season and scored a then-record 556 points, before losing a shocker in the NFC Championship to the Falcons. After '98, Cunningham's career was past it's peak, but it was enough to push this 2x 90's Pro-Bowler into my #8 spot.
Arguably one of the most under-appreciated QBs in NFL history early in his career, Moon went undrafted in '78 (largely due to his skin color), and wrecked shop in the Canadian Football League for 6 years before the NFL got wise. Moon did great things for the Oilers in the 80's, but we are of course talking about the 90's, so I'll skip that part of the story. In 1990, he led the NFL with 4,689 passing yards and in attempts (584), completions (362), and TDs (33). He again threw for over 4,000 yards in '91, becoming one of only 3 QBs to do so in back-to-back seasons. '93 was Moon's best season with Houston, winning their division before being bounced from the playoffs by none other than Joe Montana and the Chiefs. Moon continued to pass for 4,000 yard seasons with the Vikes as he played well into his 40's and entered the twilight of his career. The 7x 90's Pro-Bowler can be accredited with 49,325 career passing yards and 291 passing TDs.
Like many on this list, Dan Marino's best years were in the 80's, but he continued his excellence throughout the 90's and is certainly among the greatest QBs of all time. While he never returned to the Super Bowl in the 90's, he reached 4 more Pro-Bowls and was always a force in the playoffs. A possible Super Bowl season in '93 was cut short by a freak Achilles injury that ended Marino's season. He came back with a vengeance in '94, passing for 4,435 yards en route to a 10-6 season and being named Comeback Player of the Year. Marino also won an epic game against Drew Bledsoe and the Pats that season, in which both QBs combined for 894 yards and 9 TDs. Marino engineered 36 comeback wins during his career. He can easily be considered the Peyton Manning of his era, and had he won a ring, he very well might be higher on the list of the greatest ever.
Jim Kelly rounds out an AFC East that had some of the league's greatest QBs throughout the 90's. While Kelly could never win a Super Bowl, he is the only QB to lead his team to 4 consecutive Super Bowl appearances ('90, '91, '92, '93). Kelly made the Pro-Bowl in 3 of his 4 Super Bowl seasons. In 8 of his 11 seasons in Buffalo, Kelly led the the Bills to the playoffs. Behind Kelly, the Bills dominated the AFC in every sense of the word. He is without a doubt the greatest QB in Buffalo history, and holds many franchise records. Kelly also holds the NFL's single-game record for yards gained per completion at 44. Kelly is one of many Hall of Famers on this list. Had it not been for the infamous "Wide Right" loss in the 1990 Super Bowl, things could have been very different and we could be talking about Kelly at the top of this list.
Although public opinion of Favre has been somewhat tainted in recent years, it cannot be under-stated just how good of a QB he was. He was the epitome of a gun-slinger. As he matured, once reckless plays became improvisational works of art. He is the only player to win 3 consecutive League MVP awards. His best statistical season came in '95, when he passed for 4,413 yards and 38 TDs. He won a Super Bowl for the Pack and appeared in another the next year. Favre deserves a great deal of credit for reviving a franchise that had faded into obscurity after dominating the 1960's. Favre is also a symbol of NFL toughness, not missing a single start for 19 seasons. His career is a story of constantly overcoming adversity and proving critics wrong. In my opinion, it was a sad day when Favre officially had to finally hang up his cleats.
As a Cowboys fan, it kills me that I can't have the leader of the Triplets higher on this list. Of course, if success is measured solely by Championships, no one would come close to Troy in this decade. He led a dominant Cowboys team that won 3 Super Bowls in the early 90's and could have easily won 4 if Jimmy Johnson had not left town. Still, the 'Boys were a dynasty, and Troy was a big reason why. It was Aikman's responsibility to captain a team that had become dismal in the late 80's and, with the help of Jimmy Johnson and some great drafts, lead them to the promised land. He did just that. He threw ball with pinpoint accuracy and power. Aikman led the 'Boys to the playoffs in 8 of 10 years during this decade. He was selected to 6 consecutive Pro-Bowls and regularly threw for over 3,000 yards a season. He is a Hall of Famer and Super Bowl Bowl MVP and deserves every bit of praise he gets for his stellar career in Dallas.
John Elway IS the Denver Broncos. Throughout his career, mostly as a young and growing QB, he shouldered many sub-par Broncos teams and took them to 3 Super Bowl appearances in the 80's (all losses). However, it was as a hard-nosed veteran that Elway finally achieved glory. He won back to back Super Bowl's in '97 and '98 and appeared in 6 Pro-Bowls in the 90's. Elway owns one of the best winning percentages for a QB in NFL history. In addition to developing his accuracy throughout the decade, he also remained an excellent scrambler. He was the sort of player who would never shy away from contact and would always dive head first. You have to admire that. Few players have given more of themselves for a franchise than Elway to the Broncos, so it could not have been more appropriate for Denver's owner to exclaim after winning the team's first Super Bowl, "This one's for John!"
It's really just unfair that the 49ers had the luxury of starting two of the greatest QBs of all time in consecutive decades, much less having them both on the same team. Much of Young's career was about escaping Joe Montana's shadow, and that drove him to be his best. While no one is better than Joe in my mind, Young certainly quieted his critics in SF when he led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in '94, passing for a Super Bowl record 6 TDs. '94 was also the year that Young passed for a then-franchise record 35 TDs, and compiled the highest completion percentage of the decade at 70.28%. Young also holds the NFL record for most rushing TDs by a QB at 43. He reached 7 Pro-Bowls and won 2 NFL MVP awards. Like Aikman, Young also led his team to the playoffs 8 out of the 10 years of the 90's in a very tough NFC, and frequently found themselves losing to the eventual Champions. One Super Bowl ring as a starter is nothing to scoff at considering Steve Young's resume, and if a record-breaking Championship performance didn't "get the monkey off his back", hopefully the #1 spot on my list of 90's QBs will.