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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Who's Better: Tom or Joe (or Sammy or Johnny or Otto or Roger or Bart)?

The debate has begun. Who the best quarterback of all time: Joe Montana or Tom Brady? As a Niner fan, no one will ever convince me that Tom is better than Joe, but I'm biased, so that doesn't advance the argument too much. A recent statistical analysis by the folks at FiveThirtyEight list Montana as #1 and Brady as #3, but conspicuously absent from the list are greats like Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, and Otto Graham, not to mention the fact that other great QBs, such as Bart Starr and Roger Staubach don't even finish in the top-10. The fact that Starr isn't even in the conversation is stunning. He won 7 championships (he went to 8), including the first two Super Bowls. There is clearly a chronological bias going on here. More recent quarterbacks are given more weight than more distance ones.

The bigger problem, however, is this: It's hard, if not impossible, to compare QBs from different eras because they played under different rules, with different offensive schemes, and against different types of defenses. I think the best we can do is identify the best of each era, but even that is fraught with difficulties (e.g., there are many who think Manning is better than Brady but Brady had more success because he played for better coaches and teams). Still, it's far more doable than comparing Tom Brady with Sammy Baugh or Otto Graham.

P.S. As my friend, Tom Olson, points out, without Bart Starr the Lombardi Trophy would probably be called something else.

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