The New York Giants (2-9) have benched Eli Manning for the rest of the year to look at younger players. This has caused quite a stir, and a reason for everyone to judge Manning’s career. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, my job is to “hate” Eli. I truly have thought of his interceptions to put myself to sleep a few times. I can picture each pick, like cute little sheep.
From a family of football royalty, it comes across like Eli has always been fighting through shadows. He doesn’t have the skills his father had. The only time he has ever been better at football than his brother Peyton, is right now.
Who has ever thought of him as top three QB at any point? Top five? Bueller? This guy is very hard to rank among the best that ever played.
Manning has three seasons of disgusting interception totals (20, 25, and 27). He would turn the ball over and have this mopey expression that would annoy Giants fans to no end. I can see him unsnapping his chin strap to a chorus of New York boo birds as he walked to the sideline. Tiki Barber said he would follow a young Manning off the field yelling “posture matters”!
Eli is very good. He is tough, durable, smart, and above all clutch. Some will claim “Eli threw a couple lucky passes to win his two Super Bowls.” That’s garbage!
In the 2007 post season, he beat a Cowboys squad with 13 Pro Bowlers on the road. Number ten then out clutched Brett Favre in extreme temperature in Green Bay.
Manning then played a huge role in the biggest NFL upset of my lifetime. That Patriots team came in 18-0, and WOULD HAVE been considered the best single season team of all time.
Eli won a second ring and Super Bowl MVP a few years later. Let’s not under do that his teams beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady TWICE when it mattered most.
This guy is a class act. He will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. First ballot? Probably not…Eli Manning a weird level of greatness.
Tony Romo leaves the game of football as one of its most polarizing characters. He was all time talented, and highly criticized. Some of the heat was fair because he and his teams did not win enough big games. He also could melt down with the best of them over his first seven seasons. Truth is, Romo’s overrated Cowboys teams helped him become the most underrated quarterback of his generation. While he had a handful of star level seasons, 2014 was his finest work. This was the best offensive team he ever played on. This effort was more than just Romo’s remarkable peak. You’ll soon agree it was one of the most efficient, clutch seasons in the 97 year history of the National Football League.
SETTING THE SCENE
Tony was coming into 2014 off his second back surgery in as many years. He was now 34 years old and his health was a major question mark for the first time in his career. He was held out of practice on Wednesday’s all year long. Dallas had the worst defense in the league the previous season. This Cowboys team was “expected” to win 7 games.
In the season opener at home I didn’t expect Romo to have his legs. He struggled to push the ball down the field. He threw three first half picks. The 49ers had their way with the Cowboys 28-17.
Week 2 at Tennessee. I thought Tony’s body looked stiff and his ball was coming out wobbly. He was like a shell of the young, spry athlete he once was. It went overlooked because Dallas won, number nine did not turn it over, and the ground game was elite.
Week 3 at St. Louis. After Romo throws a pick six late in the second quarter, It’s 21-3 Rams. In that moment, this season was looking very bleak for Tony and his team.
Week 8 vs the Redskins. Romo receives a knee in the back. The result was two fractured transverse process and a cracked rib. He comes back to play late in the game in an eventual Redskins victory. He misses the next week (28-17 loss to Arizona). He comes back 12 days later in a flak jacket.
(These are the three areas every QB is harshly judged in the ultimate team sport).
Romo was 12-3 as a starter. (League best winning percentage).
He was 8-0 on the road. (Fourth QB to accomplish this. Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, and Joe Montana did it twice).
With the NFC East crown at stake, the Colts were the Cowboys opponent. Romo was on fire, converting on 16 straight passes. He had 4 touchdown strikes in a 42-7 route. Tony finished 18-20. It was only the 24th time in NFL history a player completed 90 percent of his attempts.
Playoff game vs Detroit: The best defense in the league belonged to these Lions. They beat Tony down and sacked him six times. Detroit was up 20-7 with under three minutes left in the third quarter. Romo made multiple plays in crunch time and hit Terrance Williams for the game winner.
Playoff game at Green Bay: Tony goes 15-19 throwing the ball. With four plus minutes remaining, Dallas was down five points on the 33 yard line. The intense situation was fourth down and two. On an incredibly daring play, Romo threw a beautiful ball 35 yards down the field. He gave Dez Bryant the right opportunity. Things did not work out, and the Packers advanced to the NFC championship game.
The Cowboys faced a deficit in 13 of his 17 games.
Tony tied for a league high, five game winning drives.
He had a passer rating of 133.7 in December. The best mark of all time for the month.
His completion percentage in December was 74.8%, the second best mark ever for the month.
Over the last six games (4 reg season, 2 playoffs) his TD to pick ratio was 16/1.
When trailing, in the last four minutes of games…Romo was 11 of 15 passing. This included seven first downs, three touchdowns, and zero picks.
Look at where Romo finished in the following crucial categories:
Number one in passer rating (113.2). (Only six seasons have ever been better).
Number one in QBR (81.5).
Number one in completion percentage (69.9). (Only seven seasons have ever been better).
Number one in yards per attempt (8.5).
Number one in touchdown percentage. He threw a td pass on 7.8% of his throws.
Only player to ever have six games in a season with a rating over 135.0.
From week two of the season to the Cowboys second playoff game, Romo had 37 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions.
NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December
He was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl.
Named Second-Team All-Pro
Finished in third place for NFL Most Valuable Player (with teammate DeMarco Murray).
This was a competitive MVP race. Aaron Rodgers may be the most talented QB ever, and was a fine choice as the winner. JJ Watt was in his most dominant form. DeMarco was a beast, and helped muddy the voting waters. Tom Brady’s legend was also in the mix.
Tony didn’t sniff a Super Bowl ring. I think he will come up short of the Hall of Fame. He never got the credit for the heavy lifting he did for mostly average teams. He was a low-level star with issues, not the bum many painted him to be. There is a reason this QB himself, and his fans can be at peace. For an 18 game window in 2014, nobody on earth played professional football better than Tony Romo did. Respect that.
It was Sunday night, November 23rd 2014. The Dallas Cowboys had come to Metlife Stadium to take on their rival the New York Giants. Early in the second quarter Eli Manning threw a deep ball and what happened next was amazing. Beckham Jr. snagged the ball out of the air like Spider-Man. This 43 yard touchdown was better than spectacular. I remember appreciating it while being disgusted at the same time. It put the Giants up 14 to 3. This play is a big deal two years later. I think it deserves the hype, and remains one of the great catches I have ever seen in the NFL.
However, I’m a Cowboys fan.The Odell grab is so celebrated and replayed, It’s often used to mock Brandon Carr and the Dallas defense. Please remember how this contest ended. Tony Romo completed six straight passes on his teams final drive. Dez Bryant caught the go ahead score with a minute to play. Unbelievable catch Beckham. You are scary good. My biggest memory from that night was the final score. Cowboys 31 Giants 28.
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.
This years NFL MVP takes on a little more interest than most years. No player ran away with it and several guys deserve mention. To win this honor you need to have played for a team with a winning record. It’s an award slanted towards rewarding offensive skill position players. The following rankings are only for performances and circumstances in the 2014 NFL regular season. My 2014 NFL Most Valuable Player’s:
#12– Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers ) He has a nice hesitation step, and skips like a rock on water. Bell’s 1,361 yards led the AFC and are the most ever recorded without a fumble. Le’Veon carried the Pittsburgh offense down the stretch with his versatility. His 83 catches glued the Steelers offense together.
#11– Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks) Lynch has become the model power back of his generation. He sets the offensive tone for the defending world champions. When “Beast Mode” gets loose on long runs his team and fans get jolts of energy. Marshawn made more trips to the end zone (17) than any other player.
#10– Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) He visualizes himself having success on the field, and I keep seeing his positive results. Wilson has a knack for making timely plays. He reeks of intangibles and self security. To be 16th in overall rushing is impressive. His 7.2 yards per carry average was by far the best among the leading 40 rushers.
#9– Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) The future Hall of Famer keeps carving teams up. Big Ben continues to shed defenders and is getting the ball out quicker. He set a Steelers record with 4,952 yards to go with 32 touchdowns to just 9 picks. In back to back victories over Baltimore and Indianapolis Ben put up a stunning 12 touchdowns, 862 yards, and zero interceptions.
#8– Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) The 5-10, 180 lb. Brown just torched pro football. His 129 catches are second most in league history and his 1,698 yards are sixth. Brown adjusts nicely to deep balls and makes nice concentration grabs. In the Division title game Antonio scored on a 71 yard punt return and a 63 yard TD catch with three minutes left to seal the deal for the Steelers.
#7– Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) Luck is full of heart, brains, and leg strength. He’s like the coolest nerd ever. Andrew won 11 games for the third straight year. Luck topped everyone with 40 touchdown passes and 10, 300 yard plus outings.
#6– Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos) The story line regarding Manning this season ended up being about his advanced age, the slippage of his velocity, and some late year bruises. All he did was win 12 games, and throw for 4,780 yards and 39 touchdowns. He’s still the games best conductor and can almost think the ball to guys. When it comes to the way Peyton is judged, he is a victim of his own success.
#5– DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys) Murray put on a show of endurance and toughness in 2014. The team was deliberate giving DeMarco the ball and he responded by having a record-breaking season. His 392 carries and a franchise high 1,845 yards were the identity of this years Dallas Cowboys. He added 12, 100 yard games and made the NFL All-Pro First Team. Murray playing five days after hand surgery was inspiration to his team blowing out the Colts to win the NFC Eastern crown.
#4– Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys) Romo played his finest ball in 2014. He led the NFL in QBR, passer rating, completion percentage and was 12-3 as a starter. Tony was by far the best quarterback in second halfs, on the road, and in December. His 133.7 passer rating in December was the highest total in the history of the month. He’s now embarrassed a league that did not draft him.
#3– Tom Brady (New England Patriots) After getting beat down by the Chiefs in week five, a large portion of the media yelled out that Brady was done and the Patriots had not provided him with adequate help. All Tom did is lead his team to seven straight wins that started off with a touchdown ratio of 18-1. The bridge to the season was built, and once again the AFC road to the Super Bowl goes through New England. Tom Brady is a football legend, who is not done chasing the title of “greatest ever.”
#2– J.J. WATT (Houston Texans) A defensive player on a non playoff team must crash this party. Watt is the best defensive lineman since Reggie White. It’s fair to say his current level is not just being the best pro player on D, but the best in the league every Sunday. J.J. is a grid iron warrior who can do it all. He finished the campaign with 20.5 sacks, 5 fumble recoveries and 5 touchdowns.
#1– Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) Rodgers reminds me that you want your pilot, surgeon, and QB to be cocky. His 38 touchdowns to 5 interceptions speaks for itself. The Packers finished undefeated at home behind his 25 TD’s and zero picks. Coming back from a calf injury in the season finale to beat Detroit for the NFC North title was a good look. Rodgers is the best skill position player in football. In the end, he was the easiest player to justify as my 2014 NFL MVP.