Saturday, September 23, 2006


The best quarterback of all time

I have been asked to rate the best quarterbacks of all time. Who am I to say no?

I will resist the urge to include those guys who are still playing. Although I will include references to current players where they are comparable or even better than the ones I list.


The first quality all rookie quarterbacks must learn is game management. By this I mean the ability to avoid mistakes. Bad game managers today include the likes of Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper. While these two are capable of big plays, they both try to do too much, effectively hurting their teams more than helping them.

On the barest levels, good game managers include Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. Unfortunately for those two, that is ALL they are. But as they have proven, you have to be at LEAST a good game manager if you want to win a Super Bowl.

I am tempted to give the best game manager of all time to Sammy Baugh. To this day, he still holds the NFL record for most seasons leading the league with the lowest percentage of passes intercepted, with five seasons. There are five players tied with three seasons behind him. None of those five players are playing today.

But, if you look at Baugh's career as a whole, he threw more interceptions in 9 out of the 16 seasons he played.

For consistency over the entirety of his career, I have to give it to Neil O'Donnell. As soon as you clean your drink off your monitor, I will continue.

Believe it or not, O'Donnell holds the NFL record for lowest percentage of interceptions in his career (2.11). In his 13 year career, O'Donnell only had two seasons where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and he only played in 6 games both of those years.

O'Donnell did manage to lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl in 1995, where they lost to the Cowboys 27-17.


In order to throw a lot of touchdowns, you have to be able to throw the ball in the red zone. You won't make a career out of only lobbing 70 yard bombs. You also have to be able to toss the little two yard pass to the tackle eligible in the end zone.

Of the current quarterbacks, Peyton Manning seems most ready to break some career records, having already obtained a few NFL records (most TD passes in a season with 49, most TD passes in his rookie season with 26, most consecutive games with 4 or more TD passes with 5).

Unfortunately for Manning, he still has a long way to go to catch Dan Marino's career touchdown pass record of 420. As of last year, Manning only had 244 TD passes.

While Marino may lead on quantity of touchdown passes over a career, we have to consider the pass-happy nature of the NFL during Marino's career. Even with Marino's prolific touchdown numbers, there is another quarterback who still holds a lot of significant touchdown records from a less pass-happy era: Johnny Unitas.

Consider Unitas's touchdown records. He is tied for most seasons leading the league in td passes with 4 seasons (tied with Len Dawson, Steve Young, and Brett Favre) but only Unitas's 4 seasons were consecutive (from 1957 to 1960). In football's version of Joe Dimaggio's famed hitting streak, Unitas holds the record for most consecutive games with a td pass, 47 (next closest is Brett Favre with 36).

In addition, Unitas is third on the list of career games with 4 or more td passes (17). Only Marino (21) and Favre (19) are ahead of him.

A quick release is not necessary to be a great quarterback, but it seems the great ones tend to have quicker releases than most quarterbacks.

The first quarterback to have an exceptionally quick release was Joe Namath, but the quickest of all time belongs to Dan Marino.

Of today's quarterbacks, the one who impresses me the most is Vince Young. If you watch him closely, you can see that his release is comparable to Marino's release. I won't say Young will be another Marino, but his release should help him to have a good career.


By itself, arm strength is nice, but it won't win games.

Early in his career, Doug Williams had the strongest arm I have ever seen. Unfortunately, when he threw little passes into the flat, the ball would bounce off the receiver because it was uncatchable.

For arm strength to be effective, it has to be combined with touch on shorter passes.

In this category, average gain per pass attempted tells us the quarterback is using his arm strength to its ultimate advantage.

Unfortunately, the two quarterbacks who rate the highest in this are from VERY different eras: Sid Luckman and Steve Young.

Luckman is second all time to Otto Graham in average gain (8.42 to 8.63). I don't include Graham because he only played 6 years in the NFL, whereas Luckman played 12 years.

In addition, Luckman holds the following records: led the league in average gain 7 times, and had the most consecutive seasons leading the league in average gain (5). Luckman also had the second highest single season average gain, with 10.86 in 1943.

While Luckman's records are impressive, I have to give equal consideration to someone I have actually seen play. In the modern era, Steve Young used his arm strength the best.

Young stands firmly in second to Luckman's NFL records for average gain. Young's greatest asset was his ability to stretch the 49ers West Coast Offense with his arm strength. Even though Young was not known for his arm strength, this is deceptive since he was nearly as accurate on deeper passes as he was on shorter passes.

Joe Montana may get the kudos for the success of the West Coast Offense, but Steve Young took it to another level, all because Young could stretch the field with a greater arm strength than Montana possessed.

Of today's quarterbacks, Kurt Warner is the best in average gain, as he is already third on the all time list with 8.21. We will see if he can maintain or improve on that before he retires. At the peak of Warner's career, he was certainly comparable to Steve Young.


Accuracy is another of those areas where it is difficult to compare quarterbacks from the modern era, where short passes are more frequently thrown, with those from previous eras.

If you look at the record for highest career completion percentage, you will see three current quarterbacks (Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger, and Daunte Culpepper). But will they still be there when they retire? Perhaps Warner, but I would not bet on the other two.

For modern era quarterbacks, I would have to name Steve Young as the most accurate. having led the NFL in completion percentage 5 times, with 4 of them coming in consecutive years.

However, Len Dawson was the most accurate of the old era quarterbacks, having led the NFL in completion percentage a whopping 8 times, with 6 of them coming in consecutive years.

In a team sport, the championship stands out as the ultimate test of how much a quarterback is helping his team.

This is the biggest no-brainer of all the quarterback categories. Bart Starr stands above everyone with 5 NFL championships and the first 2 Super Bowl victories to his credit.

Currently, Tom Brady, with 3 Super Bowl victories under his belt, looks the most ready to challenge Starr's record.

Should running ability be considered when looking at great quarterbacks? Currently, I would say no. But after watching what Mike Vick did to the Buccaneers last weekend, I cannot say this will always be true.

Take college football for example. A great running quarterback can lead a team to a national championship (like Vince Young did at Texas). Could this happen in the NFL? History would say no.

But history also used to say that a team without a running game could not win a championship. Enter the 1981 49ers to prove that wrong.

Will Mike Vick redefine the quarterback position? Perhaps, but his talent is freakish.

Vick is clearly the best running quarterback of all time. However, for the sake of choosing a retired quarterback, I would have to name Randall Cunningham the best I ever saw, at least until Vick retires.

What I have shown to this point are the best quarterbacks in every facet of the quarterbacking position. But the ultimate test of a quarterback is the guy who can use the quarterback position to carry the rest of his team to victory. The best quarterbacks I have seen, in no particular order: Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Fran Tarkenton, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Johnny Unitas.

Of those, Steve Young stands out from the rest in most of the categories of quarterbacking excellence.

GAME MANAGEMENT: Young's career 2.5% interception percentage compares favorably with Neil O'Donnell's 2.1%.

TOUCHDOWNS: Young is tied with Unitas for seasons leading the league in td passes (4) and is second behind Unitas with 3 consecutive seasons leading the NFL.

RELEASE: Compared to Marino, this is Young's weak suit. However, Young's release was more than adequate.

ARM STRENGTH/AVERAGE GAIN: Young was the best of the modern era.

ACCURACY: Again, Young was the best of the modern era.

CHAMPIONSHIPS: With only one Super Bowl win to his credit (although Young was named the MVP), Young is pretty weak in this category. Still, there are plenty of great quarterbacks who would gladly switch places with Young (such as Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino).

RUSHING: With 4,239 career rushing yards, 5.9 rushing average, and 43 rushing touchdowns, Young compares favorably to Randall Cunningham's 4,928 rushing yards, 6.4 rushing average, and only 35 rushing touchdowns.

Any mention of Steve Young as the greatest quarterback of all time will naturally draw the comparison to Joe Montana. Let us look at the career numbers (Young's numbers are shown first below. NFL career records are marked with an asterisk):

Completion Percentage: 64.3% vs. 63.2%
Average Gain per Attempt: 7.98 vs. 7.52
Touchdown Percentage: 5.6% vs. 5.1%
Interception Percentage: 2.5789% vs. 2.5783%
Super Bowl Championships: 1 vs. 4*
Average Rushing Yards per Carry: 5.9 vs. 3.7
Passer Rating: 96.8* vs. 92.3

When you consider Young's numbers are a little skewed by spending two horrendous years at Tampa Bay during the start of his career, Young's numbers are even more impressive.

One other thing to consider: If the 49ers had a better defense during the 90's, who knows how many Super Bowls Young might have won?

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Thursday, September 21, 2006


My New Best Pal

Last night: What may be the coolest, yet weirdest, moment of my entire life.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Jurgenson vs. Kilmer

Sonny Jurgenson vs. Billy Kilmer is one of the great football barroom arguments of all time, often inspiring seemingly political partisanship in Washington, where they played for the Redskins back in the 1970's.

Based on pure passing ability, Jurgenson wins hands down. Vince Lombardi said of him, "Jurgensen is a great quarterback. He hangs in there under adverse conditions. He may be the best the league has ever seen. He is the best I have seen."

In passing statistics, Jurgenson had 2,433 pass completions for 32,224 yards and 255 touchdowns and 189 interceptions. Kilmer had a pedestrian 1,585 completions for 20,495 yards and 152 touchdowns and 146 interceptions.

In post-career honors, Jurgenson wins again, since he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Washington Hall of Stars, and the Eagles Honor Roll. Kilmer only made it to the Washington Hall of Stars.

Argument over, right? Not quite.

In rushing stats, Jurgenson had 493 yards and 15 touchdowns over his 18 year career. Over Kilmer's 16 seasons, he rushed for 1509 yards and 21 touchdowns. But that is not a fair comparison, since Kilmer started out as a running back for San Francisco, where he had 987 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two years. By the time Kilmer got to D.C., his legs were shot.

How about Super Bowls? The Redskins made one appearance during the Jurgenson-Kilmer years. Jurgenson got hurt early in the 1972 season. Kilmer led the Skins to Super Bowl VII, where the Skins lost to the Dolphins to complete Miami's "perfect season".

Sorry Kilmer, but losing a Super Bowl does NOT make you a better quarterback than Sonny Jurgenson.

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Just One Hitch

Ah, it's so nice to see the return of the "old" Christopher Hitchens. By "old", I mean the one whose venom against organized religion was concentrated on the Catholic Church.

It would be a good thing if Hitchens' new pals on the conservative side read this and realize that Hitchens' full-throated support of the so-called "War on Terror" is nothing more than a subset of his general hatred for nearly all things religious.

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm—and absolutely no good—to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam.

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about … the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances. Most of all, throughout his address to the audience at Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith. He pretends that the word Logos can mean either "the word" or "reason," which it can in Greek but never does in the Bible, where it is presented as heavenly truth. He mentions Kant and Descartes in passing, leaves out Spinoza and Hume entirely, and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible, when the whole effort of free inquiry always had to be asserted, at great risk, against the fantastic illusion of "revealed" truth and its all-too-earthly human potentates. It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. Now its new reactionary leader has really "offended" the Muslim world, while simultaneously asking us to distrust the only reliable weapon—reason—that we possess in these dark times. A fine day's work, and one that we could well have done without.
So, the leader of 1 billion Catholics isn't even given the courtesy of being given his official title and name. What, Chris, by saying "Joseph Ratzinger", does that make Holy Father sound that much more nefarious? Spitting out an obviously German name, of course, is meant to conjure up, what, Nazi imagery perhaps (in much the same way that the anti-Semite emphasizes a Jewish person's last name)? Ironically, Hitchens has previously charged that critics of former DOD Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were guilty of "demonization" for -- intentionally mispronouncing his name.

What is so fascinating in this rant is that Hitchens acts as if the Catholic Church has done nothing over many centuries and many popes (John Paul II most significantly) to address its own past excesses. Hitchens acts as if the Catholic Church is frozen in time -- as if it hasn't recognized the ills it may have perpetrated on Muslim and Jew. The question for all of us to consider now is which religion -- Catholicism or Islam is violently struggling with modernity. Which religion's has decided to embark on holy war?

Should Pope Benedict have more of a respect for reason? Sure. However, when Hitchens casually to reason as "the only reliable weapon...that we possess in these dark times," he manages to ignore the fact that reason -- in the form of totalitarian ideology -- was responsibe for more horrifying acts of genocide in the 20th century than anything ever perpetrated by organized religion.

But it is so much easier for the man who saw such a great evil in Mother Theresa that he had to devote an entire book denouncing her as everything but the whore of Babylon to cavalierly demonstrate a moral equivalence between today's Islam and Catholicism.

Before he became the neo-conservativism's favorite lefty, Hitchens had the reveled in the title of "contrarian."

It should be clear for all to see that Hitchens is now what he has always been -- not an intellectual "holy crusader", but an equal-opportunity wholly anti-religious bigot.

Those who make tactical alliances with him should be careful. As the saying goes, when you lay down with dogs...

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Gearing Up For Action

While I'm lauding new ventures by colleagues and friends, here's a shout-out to the long-awaited Action Team 1 from Michele Mitchell and company.

praises have been sung and opinions have been noted here before.

The only real surprise is that she will let anyone else get a word in edgewise on her group blog!

(Just kidding, MM --sort of!

James Wolcott sends Michele
much love as well.

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Perilous Pachyderms

I've been meaning to mention this for a while, but have been remiss. My friend and erstwhile editorial board colleague Ryan Sager has his book in stores now. The Elephant In The Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle To Control the Republican Party is a great read.

On the one hand, it serves as a great brief history lesson of the creation and evolution of the modern conservative movement, particularly of the critical William F. Buckley (intellectual)/Frank Meyer (pragmatic) National Review nexus that helped form the current Republican Party base.

It then explores the tensions that threaten the GOP's evangelical and libertarian alliance.

I was fortunate enough to read the book in draft form. Ryan's got a great writing style mixing historical fact, clear opinion and jabbing humor. Even though it is a book by a Republican about Republicans, Democrats would do well to read this as well. Ryan sees the interior West (from Montana straight down to Arizona as fertile ground for Democrats with a libertarian message. Indeed, this is a similar point that Markos Moulitas of The Daily Kos has made (and which Sen. Conrad Burns' current electoral difficulties may be demonstrating.

Anyway, give
The Elephant In The Room a try. You won't be sorry (no, I'm not gettting royalties -- though I appreciate Ryan's acknowledgement).

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Mein Kampf Is Not My Son

Good evidence for Southerners keen to point out that folks above the Mason-Dixon line have some unresolved racial issues: This couple allegedly tied up their 19-year old daughter and took her across state lines to get an abortion -- supposedly because the daughter's lover is black!

A bill recently passed in the Senate making it
a federal crime to take a minor across state lines to get an abortion wouldn't cover this circumstance. For one thing, obviously the young lady is not a minor. Secondly, the the Child Custody Protection Act only pertains to adults who transport minors without the parents permission.

Here, obviously, it was the parents who gave permission for the abortion -- and the daughter who opposed it.

Oh well, at least Margaret Sanger
would have approved!

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Bad Question? Bad Answer? Both?

George Allen was asked about his Jewish background at a Virginia debate yesterday. His response was rather interesting. Was the question implicitly anti-Semitic? Should he have been insulted? And what's with his use of the word "aspersions"?

Curiouser and curiouser.

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Monday, September 18, 2006


Back to the future: The Atlanta Falcons innovative offense

I watched the Atlanta Falcons dismantle the Buccaneers yesterday and something occurred to me: This Falcon offense is actually innovative.

While no one will call the option offense innovative, since it has been used extensively on the college level for decades, no one has been able to bring it to the pro level, due to defensive players being too fast. Until the Falcons did it this year.

I take back everything I ever said about Jim Mora and Michael Vick. Credit Mora for trying it, and Vick for executing it.

But there is a catch to this: ONLY Michael Vick could pull this off. It would take an extremely athletic (Read: FAST) quarterback to run an option offense at the pro level.

But there are questions to be resolved: Can Vick stay healthy all year? What happens when they play against a good 3-4 defense, like when they play against the Steelers on October 22nd? How will this new offense do in the playoffs, assuming they make it?

Stay tuned for the answers to these questions. In the meantime, enjoy the show.

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Dixie Debate

The Virginia candidates met on Sunday's Meet The Press. While there were no devastating blows delivered by either side, Jim Webb came out looking pretty good.

Actual show can be
seen here.

The fact that so much of the hour was devoted to Iraq played to Webb's strength. He came across as bit too technical in his jargon at times, but at the same time, he also seemed clearly in control of the facts --especially when the discussion was about military bases in Iraq .

While Allen seemd like he was closer to Warner-McCain-Graham-Powell positiion on the tribunals/torture issue than Bush's, he danced around the issue, while Webb was unequivocal in his support of the current Geneva Convention definitions.

Webb also fielded the questions about women in the military pretty well: He talked about what he did as Secretary of the Navy (in contrast to the words in an article years before) -- forming a commission to figure out the best way to incorporate women into the service. Indeed, his fairly straightforward defense of his written comments from a quarter-century ago, seemed to wring pretty true (Russert gets extra points, though, for digging up a Weekly Standard piece from 1997 that raised some similar issues about the readiness question.

For me, I wonder how much it plays in military-minded Virginia to have a veteran say that he had doubts about how women should be mainstreamed into combat and leadership positions in armed services and discussed those concerns at the time (albeit too bluntly). If George Allen is hoping that this debate turns out to be a "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth" anchor for Webb, he had
better just move on.

Webb, actually, could have done even better. He could have delivered a killer blow on Allen's "Macaca", but instead rambled about his relatives in Southwest Virginia. He still needs to learn how to render a devastating one-line soundbite. Allen was very defensive on that issue -- even though Russert didn't press him as much as could have (for example, he didn't ask Allen about the fact that "Macaca" was a slur about dark-skinned people in French -- a language Allen speaks fluently.

Regardless, any national Democrats being introduced to Webb for the first time should have come away with a favorable impression -- and possibly a willingness to send him money.

UPDATE: Kos indicates that, as I surmised, Webb's fundraising got a big boost from MTP. Meanwhile, the GOP-leaning Rasmussen polling organization notes a shift toward Democrats in Senate races. Rasmussen also notes a slowing of whatever momentum there had been in Bush's positive approval rating.

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