I am starting to smell Autumn. Welcome back football. I saw my first NFL game in the early 1980’s. It’s not like I’ve seen all of NFL history in real-time. I’m trying to rank the 55 greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. By naming only 55 guys, I’ll be leaving off several elite players and champions.
This is the goal. I need to pick 53 NFL players to fill out a roster. I have to get ten guys for a practice squad. The pool of athletes I’m choosing from is from 1980 to 2018. Let’s say they are playing a season for me, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. This is not a list of the 63 best players I’ve seen. I’m trying to build a team. Here are the NFL player’s I’d trust the most.
Tom Brady/Joe Montana/Aaron Rodgers/Steve Young
I rank Elway higher than Young all time. In this case I’m mixing it up with a lefty, and a beyond scrimmage runner like Steve Young. Rodgers can be my “hail mary” guy. I would have used John there as well.
Walter Payton/Marshall Faulk/Terrell Davis/LaDainian Tomlinson/Marcus Allen
Payton is the best football player on this team. T.D. and L.T. can carry the load. Faulk stretches the field and will excel in the slot. Marcus Allen can play full back and gets it done in short yardage.
Jerry Rice/Randy Moss/Calvin Johnson/Michael Irvin/Larry Fitzgerald
The first three are the best I’ve seen do it. Irvin is the groups motivator. Fitzgerald beat out Cris Carter by an inch.
Tony Gonzalez/Rob Gronkowski/Jason Witten
Witten will also help make up for not having a traditional full back.
Larry Allen/John Hannah/Anthony Munoz/Bruce Matthews/Jonathan Ogden/Gary Zimmerman/Randall McDaniel/Dermontti Dawson
These dudes are impressive. They can all play the entire defensive backfield. Most versatile unit on this trust squad. They can block and tackle on special teams. Some can play running back and receiver. If Reed touches the ball, he’s magic. Barber can cover the Welker types. Lott and Polamalu can play spot linebacker duty, and a couple can throw.
I’ve always thought the best part of football was the love and trust between teammates. Whether it’s kids on the playground of West Kearns Elementary, a high school game, or the AFC Championship ….football’s heart beat is about sacrificing and protecting each other on the way to your teams goals.
In 2005 during his Hall of Fame speech, Steve Young put it like this:
“Football players talk about the comradery with a deep sense of passion and commitment. It is the sport that when one of your guys says, “I got your back” it’s not figurative. You depend on them physically and emotionally.”
“If you are lucky enough to make it a career, you can not play very long without a love of the game. The game demands too much of you physically, emotionally and even spiritually, to stay in it if you don’t love it. I don’t care how much you get paid. You show me a six, eight, ten-year veteran of the NFL and I’ll show you a man who loves the game by definition. Money isn’t the key at the moment of impact. I have seen a lot of guys playing for money in practice and warm ups. I have never seen anyone play for money at the point of contact. You can not buy a football player on game day. He plays for the love of the game, and that is why it’s impossible for money to ruin it.”
He is a bright guy who has said a lot of quality things. Those were my favorite words that I’ve heard from Steve Young.
It’s often mentioned on the side, but we don’t talk enough about Joe Montana playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. His time there was a vital chapter in his story book run. It’s more remembered as him slowing down and not winning big. That’s the lazy memory. These two seasons added a layer to his journey worth bringing up. When you are talking about his legacy, Joe Montana’s Chiefs days deserve more love.
Go back in time with me and think of the climate. Montana had just been involved in the loudest QB controversy of all time with Steve Young. Joe had missed two full seasons and Young was rolling. Montana was now healthy for the last regular season game in 1992. San Francisco played him for a half, and Joe looked razor-sharp. You could feel the 49er’s fans loyalty pouring out of the television. Those same people felt empty. It was time for number 16 to go.
KANSAS CITY 1993
It’s often a risk for someone of Montana’s stature to change teams. He was the best QB I had ever seen play. There was a lot to live up to. The Chiefs were a defensive football team. Joe was blessed with Marcus Allen. Instead of Rice, Clark, or John Taylor to throw to…..Montana now needed to bring along wide receivers Willie Davis and J.J. Birden.
Joe was 8-3 as a starter. He fumbled only once. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Chiefs were AFC West champions for the first time in 20 years.
On fourth down and seven. with the season on the line….Joe threw a touchdown pass to tie a Wild Card game against the Steelers. Kansas City won in overtime.
In the Divisional round at Houston, Montana led another come from behind victory.
Kansas City and their quarterback made it to the AFC championship where they were out classed by the Buffalo Bills.
In the span of eight days, the Kansas City version of Joe Montana won as many playoff games as Joe Namath, Tony Romo, Ken Anderson, and Michael Vick each did in their entire careers.
PLAYING AGAINST STEVE YOUNG
September 11th 1994. San Francisco at Kansas City. I know it wasn’t a one on one game of basketball in the Park. Steve Young vs. Joe Montana was a huge deal. The game was “bigger” for Young. Still, Montana playing better and winning 24-17 was powerful career gravy. It kept the perception alive that Steve was the one still chasing Joe. Young and his guys went on to win what matters most, the Super Bowl. The two only played once, and Joe got him.
Five weeks later in Denver, Montana threw a scoring strike with eight seconds remaining to beat, and out duel John Elway in the clutch.
In only 25 regular season games in Kansas City, Joe was named the “AFC offensive player of the week” five times.
The reason Montana’s time as a Chief was important, is because things were harder for him. Getting off the ground seemed to take quite an effort. He was beat up. The numbers were now nice, not elite. This was a very good Chiefs team, not the dynasty he had helped build. Through the age and pain, I could still see the surgeon….. the tough guy with the sweet feet…and mostly I could still see “Joe cool.”
We lost one of the world’s great people just over one year ago. As missing him continues and even increases, it’s also getting easier to understand the impact he had on my life. I’m learning to have a friendship with my memories of him. Outside of his loved ones, sports was Rusty’s number one passion. I’m excited to share more of the things that made him tick.
#1-KARL MALONE WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER OF ALL TIME: He used to study Karl on VHS tapes rewinding them over and over. He especially loved Karl’s post moves. Rusty loved his defense and his over the shoulder pass. He would boast “nobody runs the floor and rips down the rim like Karl.” In high school he signed his name Rusty “the mailman” Riggs.
#2- HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO THROW THE BALL IN THE POST: The first time we played in the “Roundball Ruckus” (3 on 3 basketball tournament) I blew our last game. I was being smothered on the perimeter and kept turning the ball over as Russ begged for the ball down low. We lost the game because of this and Russ was pissed. In rare form he gave me a personal jab over me “not being able to make a simple post pass.” It hurt to let him down and needless to say by the next year, I was a master at the variety of ways to pass the ball in the post. I got Rusty the ball, he scored 16 of our 20 points and this time we won. He pushed me with joy and yelled, “that’s how you pass the ball in the post boy!” That moment meant a ton to me. Every time I make a post pass, it’s him.
#3-RUSS HAD AN EXTRA GOOD REASON TO FOLLOW DEREK SMITH’S CAREER: Rusty played on the same field with Derek Smith in ninth grade. Riggs knew exactly how tough and good Derek was from that experience. Rusty watched him play every snap of his high school career. We were blown away how good Derek was at football, especially on defense. After Snow College Derek had gone on to play at Arizona State. One night in 1996 I got a call from Russ saying “Derek Smith is dominating against one of the best teams in the country.” That was when we realized Derek was really on his way. Derek played 12 seasons in the NFL against and with people that were larger than life to Rusty and I. Smith was a starter and one of the best tacklers in pro football. Derek gave Rusty a great deal of inspiration.
#4- HE WAS A DALE MURPHY FAN: Russ took a lot of pride in the fact that Dale Murphy was a Mormon. He would always bring up his back to back NL MVP awards and liked to mention how close he was to being a Hall of Famer. He was annoyed his guy was two home runs short of 400. I spent a couple of hours with Murphy in 2002. He was such a nice guy. I told Dale how much Rusty admired him.
#5- HE LIKED TO SAY GOODBYE TO THE VISITING NBA TEAMS: One of his favorite things to do after going to a Utah Jazz game was watch the visiting team leave on their bus. Russ was a die-hard fan. He would have no problem waiting an hour to catch a glimpse of the players. It wasn’t just him being in awe, he wanted to be close to something he knew he could be a part of as a future media member. He loved that we were flipped off by a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
#6- HE WAS GOOD AT MAKING PREDICTIONS: He seemed to be on fire for about a decade predicting games. It became a bother for me because he would use it as argument leverage. If he didn’t agree with me on something he might go, “look here little Jaybird, you don’t have to watch any NBA playoff games this weekend. I’ll just tell you what will happen and save you the time.”
#7- HE WAS SO HAPPY JARED AND I WORE IDENTICAL SHIRTS: For months Rusty had been anticipating meeting, and playing basketball with my buddy Jared. I can’t remember why, but I ended up making the horrible decision of wearing the same t-shirt as Jared. The shirts had a cartoon face of Michael Jordan. This was like handing Rusty comedy dynamite. For about twelve years he made a phone books worth of jokes over this.
#8- HIS NAME BECAME “RUSS” IN THE HOT SUMMER OF LOUISIANA: When he left on his LDS mission in early 1994, his name was Rusty. In the community of Algiers ( New Orleans) he came away with a different name. He was playing basketball on a hot summer day. Coming from Highland Utah it was culture shock for Rusty and his companion to be the only white people among 25 guys. Rusty described the competition as “unbelievable”. He said the best player there was a 6’8″ black guy who had played at the University of Houston. The guy was cool to Rusty as he dominated everyone. As Riggs started to perform some guys started calling him “Utah.” The stud ball player started calling him “Russ.” He adopted the name from there with pride. It was important for him to earn the respect of these guys.
#9- HE ADORED MARCH MADNESS: He could sense the NCAA Tournament coming each year. He bragged about teachers in high school that would play the tourney on t.v. during class. Rusty would go to the games anytime they would be in Salt Lake City. His biggest selling point was how popular March madness was. I eventually caved to its popularity which made him happy.
#10- HIS WADE/LEBRON ARGUMENT WITH ME BECAME LEGENDARY: It started in the spring of 2006 when I said, “right now Wade is as good as LeBron.” Russ freaked out over my statement. From that time on LeBron James versus Dwyane Wade was a factor in our friendship up until four days before Russ passed away. It would probably rank as one of our eight greatest sports arguments. I had several niche advantages in this debate, but he won this one with the safe choice of James on his side. He would often make remarks like, “Wade in a little back pack on LeBron’s back like Yoda and Luke.”
#11-RUSTY HAD GREAT APPRECIATION FOR MARSHALL FAULK: August 10th, 1992: He was there to witness San Diego State getting their first ever win in Provo. Marshall gutted the Cougars for 299 rushing yards and three scores. That game was burned into Rusty’s memory and he followed Faulk for his entire NFL career.
#12- HE HATED THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: He believed hating the school on the hill was part of his life’s job description. I felt like he put 80 percent of the energy into hating Utah as he did loving BYU. If someone walked by with Utah gear on it’s as if he was smelling an enemy from a strange planet. Utah wins hurt him. Utah losses made him feel great. Utah beating BYU was a nightmare, and beating Utah was like winning the Super Bowl for Russ. When BYU quarterback Max Hall verbally ripped Utah to shreds after a 2009 win, I’ll never forget Rusty’s words. “To say everyone at the University of Utah is classless is obviously not true. It was crazy for him to be so harsh with the microphones in his face. Part of me loves him more for ripping them so bad though.” He was unapologetic for feeling this way about the U of U.
#13- RUSS, HALLOWEEN, AND LAMAR ODOM GO TOGETHER: I have a random but clear memory of Halloween night 2008. I was driving on Redwood Road and on the phone with Russ. We were arguing about Lamar Odom. He claimed Lamar was not going to get any better while I stated he could still improve by a level. We must have gone on about this for an hour. That was the same call in which he told me about his families Halloween tradition to eat donuts and chili. He laughed when I said it was weird yet made perfect sense. Odom went on to get better, but not enough for me to ever bring it up again.
#14- HE HAD TO KNOW THE SCORE NOW: When he was in the rare situation of having to work during a BYU football game, he was not going to wait until later to watch on tape in its entirety. We were broadcasting a football game at Davis High School years ago. BYU was playing at the same time. Every time we went to commercial he yelled “score?” Russ ended up buying a student dinner to keep him updated throughout the night. On the drive home he said he was going to go re watch the game. I asked him if he was sure Ruth had taped it? He said, “bro, she’s a professional at this point.”
#15-HE GREW UP ON NFL FILMS: We always shared common ground here. It makes sense that he loved “NFL Films.” Ed and Steve Sabol captured the art of football in a very romantic light. It was about the sights, sounds, and by far the best view of the National Football League. It’s no surprise Riggs dug this part of pro football. He was a very sentimental person.
#16-HE LOVED HIS GAME DAY ROUTINE: BYU game day Saturday’s were his greatest reward in the life of being a sports fan. He would only allow college football talk on the radio. It’s the only time I remember him never listening to his R&B music. He was feeling joy as he heard scores from other games around the country. He always parked in the same neighborhood. I often said, “are you sure you can park here?” He’d always respond, “my family has been parking here for 25 years dude.” He would often park in tight spaces, weird angles, whatever it took. He was parking in this little semi-circle no matter what.
#17- LAVELL EDWARDS STADIUM WAS HEAVEN ON EARTH TO RUSTY: He always wanted to be there early. We would walk down the North side of the stadium when we arrived. As Russ got near , his religious type experience would begin. You could almost hear “Rudy” music as he would soak in just how happy he was to be there. Russ thought this stadium was a hallowed NCAA beauty and he felt lucky it was like his back yard. He would often go to an intersection to sell an extra ticket. I initially struggled to realize this was legal. He would constantly make fun of me for it. He would go “Jay, scared to cross the road.”
#18- HE WAS NEVER LOYAL TO AN NFL TEAM OVER THE LONG HAUL: He liked the 49ers as a kid and then later on as he followed Steve Young. He spent some time cheering for some of Andy Reid’s Eagles teams. He was never really attached to an NFL team. He knew it would be over load with the energy he put into BYU and Utah. The April before he died he claimed, “I guess I’m cheering for the Detroit Lions now.” The Lions had two BYU players ready to make an impact.
#19- BYU OVERMIAMI WAS HIS FIRST BIGGEST WIN AS A FAN: September 28th 1990: Rusty was there to see his Cougars beat the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes 28 to 21. On his mission tape in 1995 he describes this day. “At the time I’d never been so pumped up for a game. When Miami came onto the field with all their glory and cockiness I got a rush and lost a little breath. Ty threw for 406 yards, and we beat them! I’ll never forget the embrace with my dad and just going crazy. This was my “1984.”
#20- RUSS WAS VERY GOOD AT BASKETBALL: American Fork High School had a large student body and was one of the best basketball schools in the state of Utah. He was in the last group of five guys that did not make the varsity team his senior year. He was a star on his “city league” team. Of the 20 or so people we hung out with over a few year window, he was the best player of the group. He was a solid defensive player, but awesome on offense. Bigger guys who would play physical (i.e. Alan Owens and Kevin Franson) could give him fits, but Russ scored points. He had several pet moves in the post including a tricky hesitation drive he was proud of. He could shoot outside and developed three-point range in his early twenties. An inside player who would get hot shooting outside is nice. Remember that he was six feet four inches tall. Rusty scored buckets. He got hot and usually stayed hot. I was very proud of the basketball player he was.
#21- HE WAS ABLE TO INTERVIEW JERRY SLOAN: While working for the ‘”Davis County Clipper” Russ had the opportunity to interview Jazz legend Jerry Sloan. Jerry is a hard-nosed man and I was curious to ask Russ what his first question was? He said, “right before I opened my mouth I thought don’t say anything stupid, think defense.”
#22- RUSTY SPENT MANY HOURS TALKING ABOUT TONY ROMO: Because of my interests, Russ spent more time talking about Tony Romo than I’m sure he would have chosen to otherwise (Steve Riggs and Dan Merrill got a taste of these talks). Russ was a master at arguing. He knew how to jab me with Tony’s failures but keep me on board by praising his talent. The last play Russ saw Romo make was a season saving, fourth down pass to beat the Redskins in 2013. Russ text me, “and with a hurt back? That’s pretty impressive Tony.”
#23- A LOOK AT THE LAST 3 BYU FOOTBALL GAMES HE WATCHED: The last home game he saw was a 59-13 victory over Idaho State. The last regular season game was a 28-23 win at Nevada. The last BYU football game he ever saw was a 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl. The game was December 27th, 2013. When BYU lost it hurt Russ. At 38 years old he had gotten good at knowing how to handle it.
#24- RUSS WAS AN ALLEN IVERSON FAN: He didn’t love him right away. Over time he saw a guy tough enough to live diving on the floor, and brash enough to take on Jordan. Russ was mesmerized by Iverson’s quickness. He backed him the entire way during his 2000-2001 MVP season.
#25- HE BAILED ME OUT AT DAVIS HIGH SCHOOL: He and I were broadcasting a High School football game on TV. He got several of these little gigs over a few year period and always asked me to join in. This was being taped beforehand and would be played later in the night. We had to do a shot of ourselves on the sideline before we went up to the booth. I kept screwing it up. I was stumbling on the line and messed up for the third straight time. I walked away in disgust as the camera guy seemed a bit surprised. Russ bumped me and said, “compared to what you have done, this is like goofing off in the back yard. This is too easy for you bro. You got this.” I calmed down and made it happen. His support was like a jolt of excitement. As the play by-play guy he nailed his job like always.
I’m only rating the quarterbacks that I have seen play near or at their best in my time watching football. These will only be players from the mid 1980’s to 2015. I saw the great Dan Fouts for example (Jim Plunkett, Danny White, Joe Theismann), but will not include him in this ranking. I did not see him enough or at his best. Active players on this list remain in position to climb it. These are the 30 best quarterbacks I’ve watched play in the National Football League as of February 2015.
JUST MISSED THE CUT: (Bernie Kosar, Dave Krieg, Matt Hasselbeck)
#30– RUSSELL WILSON (Active) Three years ago I would not have guessed Wilson would have got my attention this early in his career. He has a knack for making plays at the right time. After throwing an interception to lose the Super Bowl, I would trust his attitude and self security to bounce back more than any player in pro football.
#29– MATTHEW STAFFORD (Active) Stafford has left me with some painful memories burning the Cowboys late in games. He gets rid of the ball at all kinds of odd angles. His banner season to date was 2011 where he passed for 5,038 yards and 41 scores.
#28– MATT RYAN (Active) His first pass a professional was a 62 yard touchdown. Ryan has been a star caliber player since and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In only seven seasons he has 27 game winning drives.
#27– MARK BRUNELL (1994-2011) Mark was a mobile lefty who was sneaky good. He helped his Jaguars upset the Denver Broncos in the 1996 playoffs and was also part of a team that won a post season contest 62-7. Brunell played in three pro bowls.
#26– MICHAEL VICK (Active) Vick is the most dynamic runner to have ever played QB in the NFL. It seemed like he could run for eight yards on accident. For a short period of time, I thought Michael was one of the 10 best players in the entire league.
#25– ANDREW LUCK (Active) Andrew was a lock for stardom from day one. He’s bright, hungry, and has powerful legs. It is obvious he can make every throw and is a team first guy.
#24– RICH GANNON (1987-2004) Rich was a solid QB before he exploded for 105 touchdown passes over four seasons as an Oakland Raider. He ran the west coast offense beautifully and is the only athlete to ever be the player of the game at the Pro Bowl in back to back seasons.
#23– JOEFLACCO(Active) Flacco is a nice deep ball thrower who has already proven his big game credentials with 10 playoff wins. In his 2012 world title run he tossed 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
#22– PHIL SIMMS (1979-1993) Phil was part role player part star. His 22-25 passing performance in Super Bowl 21 remains the standard for completion percentage. It seems forgotten he was 11-3 as a starter before getting hurt in 1990. He set the table for another New York Giants championship.
#21– BOOMER ESIASON (1984-1997) Boomer was the first guy to use the no huddle offense for consistent stretches. He had a cool play fake where he would crouch low. Esiason helped the 1988 Bengals win the American Football Conference and he was named the NFL Most Valuable Player.
#20– RANDALL CUNNINGHAM (1985-2001) Randall was one of the most exotic talents to step on a field. He was an MVP Caliber player as a dual threat at the end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Cunningham was at the top of his game as a pass first player a decade later leading the explosive Minnesota Vikings inches from an NFC crown.
#19– TONY ROMO (Active) Romo’s ability to escape defenders and extend plays is all time great. Tony was named “NFL Offensive Player of the Month” for December in 2009 and 2014. Even Romo’s biggest critics praise his toughness.
#18– PHILLIP RIVERS (Active) He annoys you if he’s against you, and you would love him if he was yours. Rivers is full of grit and competitive juice. Over his time in the NFL he has been the best of the second tier QB stars. He has quietly been building a resume that has a chance to become Hall of Fame worthy.
#17– DREW BLEDSOE (1993-2006) The Patriots had made the playoffs six times in 33 years before Bledsoe arrived. In his first five years they made the post season three times including a trip to Super Bowl 31. He stepped in for a hurt Tom Brady in the 2001 AFC Championship game to make help ensure his presence was felt in this modern New England dynasty.
#16– STEVE MCNAIR (1995-2007) Steve had a stout presence in the pocket and threw the ball with ease. He worked around lack of practice due to injuries better than anyone.
#15– DONOVAN MCNABB (1999-2011) McNabb rolling to the right on third and seven was a scary sight. He was an intelligent and crafty playmaker. He carried offensive units most of his career.
#14– ELI MANNING (Active) Manning was the most difficult player for me to rank. He is the owner of two of the sharpest post season runs in league history. Beating the 18-0 Patriots was the top upset of any NFL game in my lifetime. Eli is almost more clutch than he is good.
#13– WARREN MOON (1984-2000) Moon was not drafted by an NFL team so he tore up Canada instead. Even after losing years due to discrimination, Warren Moon lit up the National Football League. He was the smooth operator of the Houston Oilers run and shoot offense in the early 1990’s. He had a loud clear cadence and embarrassed those that doubted him by finding a permanent home in Canton Ohio.
#12– JIM KELLY (1986-1996) Jim played in the K-Gun offense in which he called his own plays. He was linebacker tough. Losing in four consecutive Super Bowls is an amazing, under respected achievement by his Buffalo Bills teams.
#11– KURT WARNER (1998-2009) Kurt was 1-2 in Super Bowls but owns the three highest passing yard efforts in the games history. Getting the Arizona Cardinals within a couple of minutes of a world title ensured his prominent place among passers.
#10– BEN ROETHLISBERGER (Active) Fans tend to mention that Ben played poorly in his first Super Bowl victory. They forget that he led the Steelers to three straight playoff road wins. During that stretch he completed 68% of his passes to go with seven touchdowns and one pick. “Big Ben” also made a game saving tackle at Indianapolis in the Divisional round.
#9– TROY AIKMAN (1989-2000) Legendary broadcaster Pat Summerall loved to gush over Aikman’s accuracy. Troy could throw the deep out with his eyes closed. He sacrificed his stats for footballs best running game. It paid off with three rings, a Super Bowl MVP, and a 13-4 record as a playoff starter.
#8– DREW BREES (Active) The Saints were in Dallas Thanksgiving day 2010. The Cowboys were up 27 to 23 with three plus minutes remaining. My stepdaughter texts me, “Cowboys are gonna win.” I wrote back, “Three minutes is a lifetime for Drew Brees.” Drew completed a 55 yard pass, followed by a 12 yard touchdown to win the game 30-27. Some guys are just too good to ever let you get comfortable.
#7– AARON RODGERS (Active) Aaron carries himself with the appropriate arrogance for his job description. He’s agile, with an accurate whip for a right arm. In the 2015 post season he led his team to victory on essentially one leg. As a move to throw talent, Rodgers is the best I’ve ever seen play the position.
#6– BRETT FAVRE (1991-2010) Brett was entertaining television. He had the enthusiasm of a young child and the swagger of Han Solo walking into a bar fight. Favre was a gunslinger to the core and earned the recognition of being an iron man. Counting the playoffs, Brett played in an incredible 321 straight games.
#5– DAN MARINO (1983-1999) Nobody had a cat quick release like Dan. He also manipulated the pocket with the best of them. NFL Films co creator Steve Sabol said, “Watching Marino in the pocket was like watching a great matador. With just a little bend of the waste, a jab step forward, a step back, he could avoid the horns.”
#4– STEVE YOUNG (1985-1999) What Dan Marino was to yardage and touchdown passes, Steve Young was to completion percentage and passer rating. He was a superior athlete who had no peer regarding clean, efficient play. Steve was consumed with the mental test the game of football provided. In the end he received an A plus.
#3– PEYTON MANNING (Active) Manning has made himself the face of preparation and in-game chess play. The five time MVP gets sacked less than any QB who has played. Peyton is smashing the NFL record books. You know you are unbelievable at football when you have 70,000 passing yards, 530 touchdown passes, a world title, and fans say you need to do more.
#2– JOHN ELWAY (1983-1998) Before winning consecutive rings to end his career many people claimed John was a “choker.” What I saw was a guy carry three pretty good Denver teams to Super Bowl losses while being the best clutch player in the AFC. Elway had the strongest arm I’ve seen and could throw the ball 50 yards across his body to the opposite side of the field.
#1– JOE MONTANA (1979-1993)& TOM BRADY (Active) This tie is not a cop-out on my part or an excuse to mention 31 quarterbacks. The selection is perfect for me right now. Montana has always been the clear-cut best QB of my lifetime. The morning of Super Bowl 49, I had Tom Brady a close second. After Tom’s dynamite fourth quarter, and taking home his fourth World Championship, I feel Brady deserves to be categorized as Joe Montana’s equal. Joe moved much better than Tom. Brady has been more durable and prolific. Joe played on slightly better, more dominant teams. Tom won big over a longer window of time with a higher variety of teammates. Joe was cool and Tom was fiery. They were the same guy from the neck up and the two best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen play in the National Football League.
I miss my brother Rusty. He was born 40 years ago today. I’m thinking of all of you who loved him. At this time of year he and I would be talking and arguing with each other every day about the NBA. Sports were everything to him. I dedicate this piece to his children Madalyn, Jayden, and Samantha.
#1 DON CRIQUI WAS HIS FAVORITE FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER: He had attachment to Paul James and Greg Wrubell. He really liked Keith Jackson. His favorite announcer was Don Criqui. While Russ was growing up Criqui was a play by play guy for college and pro football. Russ would say, “his voice is classic bro.”
#2 HIS FAVORITESPORTS SHOW WAS “INSIDE THE NBA” ON TNT:He always looked forward to Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. He developed a sentimental attachment to the show and thought it was a perfect way to end an evening. Russ enjoyed the segment “gone fishin.” He thought Barkley was hilarious and would note how sad he was every year after the last episode.
#3 HE GUESSED RIGHT ON JASON ELAM: Russ told me, “keep your eye on this kicker Jason Elam. I’m not into kickers, but you’d want this guy.”Elam played 15 years in the NFL. He won two rings, played in three pro bowls, and once kicked a 63 yard field goal.
#4 HE HAD TO GO IN THE BYU BOOK STORE NO MATTER WHAT: Before every BYU home game, Russ had to stop in the BYU book store. It didn’t matter if he had a thousand dollars on him or no money at all. He thought it was duty to hang out in this store where people are piled in like sardines. He may buy another t shirt or hat, or he may just exchange something. He would make fun of me on the times I decided not to go in. We would meet in the hall and he would say something like, “Jay, scared of the book store.”
#5 KOBE BRYANT TOOK UP A LOT OF RUSTY’S TIME: Because of his battles with me, Russ was consumed with Kobe Bryant conversations for about 12 years. I can not stress to you how much of his time was spent talking about this athlete. My favorite Russ/Kobe moment came in the middle of the night in the gold medal game for the “Redeem Team.” It was August 24th 2008. The situation was unique because Russ and I were cheering for the same team but we always had personal agendas. His guy LeBron and my guy Kobe were on the floor together late in the game. The game was very close and only a few minutes remained. Russ texts me: “If Kobe is the best player in the world, this is on him.” I wrote, “that’s unreal and unfair of you.” He wrote “GIVE IT TO KOBE.”Bryant did come through as the hero in the end with multiple buckets, and Team USA won the game. It was classic Russ to hedge his bets. He had him self set up that if Kobe was the hero he could say, “See, told you Kobe should shoot.” But if Kobe failed he could prove how serious the failure was. We fought about Kobe to no end. This was one of few I felt like I won.
#6 TY DETMER WAS HIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL HERO: Rusty took that Heisman trophy personal. In his room he had a blue “Heisman Ty” on his wall. He claimed he was a bigger fan of Detmer after three years than I was a fan of Magic Johnson after seven. Russ thought Ty was the greatest college football player of all time.
#7 A NEARLY DROPPED BASKETBALL CARD GAVE HIM COMEDY GOLD: In late 1991 Rusty, Chris, and I were trading sports cards in my room. Chris was trying to walk across the room and fell backwards in clumsy fashion. All Rusty and I saw was a leg and a hand in the air holding up a valuable card. We heard Chris go, “I didn’t drop the card.” Rusty was in tears laughing. You did not want to do anything that Russ would perceive as “uncoordinated.” It was too valuable to his comedy storage. This moment was funny to Riggs the rest of his life.
#8 RUSS SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS TALKING ABOUT THE DALLAS COWBOYS: What I provided Russ in a listening ear for his BYU games, he provided me with his Dallas Cowboys takes and mostly support every morning after Dallas had played. He knew it was my passion so he gave a re cap over several messages every single time they competed over the last 20 years. In the first 10 years of knowing me he was a bit more against Dallas. Being a Steve Young fan was a factor in that. Over the last 10 years he was more supportive regarding my team. I believe it was his way of thanking me for supporting his Cougars.
#9 HE FOLLOWED THE 1993 AMERICAN FORK HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM UP CLOSE: Rusty proudly stood behind the gate right near the field of every game of his senior season. The team was very good on defense and Russ was it’s biggest fan. In class, he would tell the players things to keep them motivated. He always took his teams serious. He had full access to this one.
#10 HE MADE JOHN BECK TALK AND THEN SAID NOTHING: By cool circumstances Russ and I were both assigned to do some interviews after a late summer BYU football practice in 2004. We were interviewing a young John Beck and only Russ and I remained. We turned our recorders off. Russ said to John, “Dude you know your’e better than these guys. I expect to see you starting soon.” Beck went instantly to his level and said, “ya coach has told me in private I’m the guy and I just have to put on a happy face.” As we walked away I told to Russ what a story Beck had just handed us. Russ said, “ya, I’d never do anything to hurt the team.”
#11 HE WAS A BIG PATRICK EWING FAN: He was a “Ewing guy” while I was an “Olajuwon guy”. Russ loved the big mans ability to turn and shoot. He would use a couple of Ewing’s pet moves when he played. We were stoked Patrick and Hakeem went head to head in the NBA Finals in 1994. I came out on top as Olajuwon out dueled Ewing and won in a classic seven game series. Russ (who was a master at any argument) used for the rest of our lives that the battle between those two players meant less in our arguments because Russ did not see it because he was on his mission. If Ewing would have won, it would have counted 100%.(FYI)
#12 LEBRON JAMES WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER THE LAST 7 YEARS OF HIS LIFE: Russ called LeBron “the most unselfish super star of all time.” He enjoyed his blend of power and finesse. He also used James as a weapon to battle with me over Wade, Bryant, and even Michael Jordan.
#13 RUSS BELIEVED NCAA FOOTBALL WAS THE BEST, THE BADDEST, PERIOD: He adored college football. He loved the tradition, the names and mascots of the schools, polls, bands, and the rivalries. Even as college football developed more flaws, he would defend it at all costs.
#14 HE WATCHED OSTERTAG OUTPLAY DUNCAN UP CLOSE: Russ sat in the second row as promising big man Greg Ostertag out played future legend Tim Duncan. Rusty always used this as his “every dog his day” example. As the years went on Russ thought it was cool how close up he was to the action.
#15 HE COULD THROW A FOOTBALL: Playing football was not his forte like basketball was. Russ threw a nice football. I saw him many times jump into four on four football games, and play QB for both teams. He would start hot and end hot. He remembered every pass I’ve ever dropped in his presence.
#16 HE BELIEVED BEING AT THE GAME WAS BETTER THAN TELEVISION: He looked at being at the game as a badge of courage. He thought if a fan lived within a reasonable distance of a stadium and had the means to go, there was no excuse to not be there.
#17 RUSS GAVE ME CRAP ABOUT MY “NBA LOYALTY”: He was a true Utah Jazz fan. I’m a fan of individual players. I loved Michael, Hakeem, Wade, Stockton and others so my NBA love is distributed different than most. He thought my thinking here was complete garbage. Two of my favorites are Magic and Kobe so I spent a lot of time invested in the Lakers. He went out of his way to let me know, “you are not a Lakers fan, you are a Lakers observer.”
#18 HE WAS ON THE BLAKE GRIFFIN BANDWAGON FOR THE LONG HAUL: He said early in 2012 “Blake Griffin will be more than a show dunker. He will be a super star, mark my words.”
#19 HE WOULD NEVER FORGET ABOUT MY BAD SPORTS PREDICTIONS: I’ve made so many bad predictions. He remembers them all. I said Brian Griese would be a Hall of Famer. While Griese was a competent pro, I missed badly. Any time in later years Russ did not like what I was saying in an argument he would often go, “what’s that Griese?”
#20 FOR FASHION, EVERY TEAM WAS HIS: Remember his big, poofy Atlanta Falcons coat? How about the Orlando Magic or Howard University cap? He once saw a random Kendall Gill jersey down town he thought about for years. For him to own Lakers shorts screams how un bias he was when it came to fashion.
#21 HIS FAVORITE PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER WAS STEVE YOUNG: Detmer was his favorite pro, but Young was so good Russ had no choice but to become attached to Steve’s journey. Russ knew Steve made BYU look good. He celebrated the 49ers beating the Chargers in the 1994 Super Bowl. It was a huge deal that Steve Young had gotten out of the shadow of Joe Montana. Russ was in sheer joy.
#22 HE WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN LOCAL SPORTS RADIO: Even though Russ was not in awe, he was always so curious of local sports radio happenings. If someone was changing a time slot, or someone new was hired at a station he wanted to know or to tell me. He was like the “TMZ” of caring about it.
#23 IF ATHLETES WERE OUR AGE, HE WOULD FOLLOW THEM: He was bonded to athletes that were our age. It’s like he was tracking his athletic mortality. I often heard the names Alan Iverson, Ray Allen, and Alex Rodriguez as his examples.
#24 HE LOVED A SHOW CALLED “SPORTS BEAT SUNDAY”: It used to come on Sunday nights on channel five at about 1035 pm. It was a 30 minute show that ended with a segment called the “Highlight Zone.” It was hosted by Craig Bolerjack. Russ loved the beginning where Boler would say, “pull up a chair.”
#25 IF YOU MADE HIM MAD, HE WOULD PULL THE “MAILMAN” SIGNATURE MOVE ON YOU: On the basketball court Russ was a pretty calm character. When he got involved in an occasional trash talking session with someone or the competitive juices were extra high, I have a distinct memory. Russ would usually win and in the end of finishing someone off he would put his hand behind his head in cocky fashion before laying the ball in the hoop (like Karl Malone would).
#26 HE CALLEDIT EXACT ON BEN ROETHLISBERGER: In April of 2004 he called and left me a voice mail about Ben Roethlisberger who had just been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Hey bro, since we both know you know nothing about college football, I wanted to give you a heads up. Ben Roethlisberger will be a Hall of Famer 10 years into his career.” Russ was right.
#27 A GAME CALLED STRAT-O-MATIC WAS KEY TO HIM: A game he played as a teenager called strat-0-matic helped shape how he judged and rated players. He would play this game with his Father, Spencer Smith, Ryan Standifird, Aaron Ellswood, MiKael Renae, and John and Gavin Jensen. He was way into this game. It was his video game, before video games.
#28 BEATING UTAH WAS ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT 2006 WAS HIS FAVORITE: November 25th, Salt Lake City. It was John Beck’s last chance to beat Utah. On an amazing play that seemed to last forever, John Beck hit Harline in the end zone. This was one of the top victories in this rivalry. Russ stayed after the game as long as they would allow him to. He celebrated with the players and said some meaningful things to them. He was happy to admit he cried. This was the victory I heard Russ talk most about.
#29 HE WANTED TO THROW THE BASEBALL WITH HIS SON: In his last couple of years Russ was having health issues. He would say, “I want to play catch my with my son. Baseball and a couple of mitts are all we need.”Russ and I were way more likely to have a football or basketball in our hands. He kept saying “I need to throw a baseball with Jayden.”
#30 HE ATTENDED THE FIRST EVER NBA ALL STAR JAM SESSION AND HELD IT CLOSE IN MEMORY: February 19th and 20th 1993. We left school at 11a.m. on Friday. We picked up my brother Jared Adams on the way to the Delta Center and attended the NBA’s first ever Jam Session weekend. Russ was in NBA heaven! The entire city was everything pro basketball.We met Julius Erving, Will Smith, and Jaleel White (“Steve Urkel”). Most importantly for Russ he met his favorite singer of Boyz 2 Men Shawn Stockman. Rusty said , “I need that second album baby.”Shawn pulled Rusty’s shirt with affection and said, “you gonna love it big boy.”
#31 THE 1992 DREAM TEAM IMPACTED RUSTY: The Summer of 1992 was Rusty’s most memorable summer. The Dream Team was at the center of the sports universe and attracting an entire globe to the game of basketball. We thought it was cool John and Karl were playing with Magic and we could not get enough coverage. We would also collect everything regarding this team. Russ claimed I liked to collect the McDonald’s Olympic cups for “an extra place for Jay to take a leak.” He felt lucky to witness a documentary on the Dream Team that was made in the summer of 2012. It was a nice rarity for him to say some good things about Scottie Pippen.
#32 HE GAVE HIS DAD CREDIT FOR HIS LOVE OF SPORTS: Rusty told me on his mission that his dad was the main reason he loved sports. Initially he brought up going to BYU football and basketball games with him. He went on to say that his dad participated in everything. From attending his games at school or church or playing together, Steve was always part of it.
#33 HE HAD A COOL CONNECTION TO CRAIG BOLERJACK: A few times after BYU basketball games we would wait after the game and talk to TV star Craig Bolerjack. We would get advice from him. The third time we met him it was almost like Russ was saying “I’ll see you in the business someday my friend.” Russ became a TV anchor and always had a soft spot for Boler.
#34 RUSS WAS A SPORTS ANCHOR AND HE WAS AWESOME AT IT: Have you seen Russ do his sports broadcasts in New Mexico? He was as smooth of a pro as you can get. I am so proud when I see him do this work. He was born to do it, and proved it.
#35 HE WOULD END UP IN POST GAME LOCKER ROOMS: As paying fans, Russ used to lead us down to the locker rooms after BYU home games in the Marriott Center. We would literally devise plans, have excuses ready for security etc. We would get down to the locker room and usually come away with a coaches stats sheet and gum that had been intended for players. Years later we spoke of how dangerous that was and that these days you would not get away with it. Russ just wanted to be around it. He loved it so much, just standing where the team had been moments earlier. Of course he did not eat the gum, it was something to remember his memory.
#36 THE LAST NBA GAME HE WATCHED WAS MAY 31st, 2014: The Spurs beat the Thunder 112-107 in overtime. He text me by mocking that Kevin Durant had fallen down and the Thunder had lost. He liked KD, but was programmed to compete with me through our favorite athletes or predictions etc.
#37 HE WANTED TO HEAR MY INTERVIEW STORIES OVER AND OVER: He enjoyed hearing the encounters that I’d had with NBA players. He loved the NBA so much that he had no problem hearing a cool story for the ninth time. He knew me meeting these players was him meeting them as well.
#38 RUSS HAD A NICE RAY CLAY IMITATION: Ray Clay was the public address announcer for the Chicago Bulls. Russ had a staple imitation, “Starting at center, “BIIIILLLLLLL CARTWRIGHT!!!!!!”
#39 HE WAS A FAN OF THE YOUNG VINCE CARTER: When Vince won the February 2000 slam dunk contest Russ called me as hyped as he could be. He was screaming per the air show Carter put on. Russ then adopted Carter to challenge me with two things…The hope Carter could become better than Bryant, and that Carter was a better dunker than Jordan. Russ loved the NBA as much as he loved competing with me.
#40 I REMEMBER A FUNNY THING HE SAID ABOUT MARK JACKSON: I was starting to appreciate Jackson as passer and told Rusty, “I am starting to like Mark Jackson”. He quickly responded, (laughing) “Liking Mark Jackson is the same as liking lettuce. You don’t really need to tell me.”