Earlier this week there was a running poll on SportsCenter to determine which quarterback gets the most votes for best signal caller ever between current New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana. First of all this debate can and will never be solved, regardless of all the evidence and statistical based data presented, it is a matter of opinion only. Both are great quarterbacks, one’s in the Hall of Fame now and the other will undoubtedly be a first ballot induction once he retires. That being said, it is with great bias that 49ers101.com present our vote for Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback of all time.
While we have covered this topic on one other occasion, it has never been presented in a heads up comparison. Never has it been presented as Montana versus Brady, but merely Montana versus every other quarterback that has played the game. But now with Brady potentially reaching the Super Bowl again, the debate has been reduced to only the two quarterbacks. Fittingly, the poll by SportsCenter finished in a dead tie after thousands upon thousands of votes.
Montana has four Super Bowl rings to his resume, and has never lost a single contest in the Super Bowl. Brady has three Super Bowl rings to his credit, but has lost two times in the big game. This part of the topic is a wash. Montana has more rings but Brady has been to the dance on more occasions. A case can be made for the both of them just by this statistic alone, but in the end there is no clear favorite.
Montana played 15 years in the league, but four of those years were drastically shortened by either injury or rookie status. In 1982 he only played in nine games, in 1986 he only played in eight, and in 1992 he only played in one game, all shortened by injury. His rookie season of 1979 he only started one game and only had 23 pass attempts on the season. By that measure Montana only played 12 seasons if you combine 1982 and 1986. In his pro-rated 12-year career Montana put up 40,551 passing yards and 273 touchdowns. As for Tom Brady, he has played 13 NFL seasons, but he also dealt with injuries or rookie playing time that has shortened his timeline. He has had two seasons cut short by those issues, in 2008 he suffered injury and his rookie year of 2000 he only saw the field one time, attempting only three passes. For his pro-rated 11-year career he has amassed 44,806 passing yards to go with 334 touchdowns. Edge goes to Brady.
Here’s where it gets tricky though, aside from passing yards and touchdowns, a closer look at the two tells a much different story. Over the course of his career Montana attempted 5,391 passes and had 3,409 completions, good for 63.2%. Brady on the other hand has 5,958 passing attempts and 3,798 completions for 63.7%. When you compare Montana’s pro-rated 12-year career versus Brady’s pro-rated 11-year career, Brady has thrown way more passes than Montana ever dreamed of. With that in mind, of course Brady is going to have more passing yards and touchdowns than Montana. Brady has crested 600 passing attempts in three different seasons; Montana had never even sniffed 600 passing attempts per season. On average Brady attempts just over 458 passes per season, Montana attempted just over 359 passes per season. That’s like a 100 more attempts per season. Over his career Montana averaged 11.9 yards per completion, Brady is averaging 11.8. If put on a level playing field with each quarterback attempting just as many passes, Montana puts up bigger numbers. Edge goes to Montana for doing more while attempting less.
One thing so many people point out when comparing the two quarterbacks is the talent they have around them, the players that make the plays and run the routes that make the two of them effective. So many people take the easy road and point out that Montana had Jerry Rice and Dwight Clark and John Taylor and Terrell Owens and Roger Craig to shoulder much of the credit that Montana gets. All the while making note that Brady has not had the same sort of dominance in a receiver or running back to fall back upon. Hold the phone, first of all wide receiver Wes Welker has been in the top two in receptions five out of the last six years. Not to mention he has had Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch and Troy Brown to throw to during his career. All of which has been ranked in the top 20 in receptions at various times during Brady’s career. During his career Brady has only had two running backs rush for over 1,000 yards, but that is due in large part to the amount of times he throws. If Montana had thrown the ball nearly as many times to Rice and company as Brady has to his targets, Rice would have records that would have never been touched. And Taylor and Owens would be sure Hall of Famers. And as far as Craig goes, he spent eight years playing behind Montana, and of those eight years he only went over the 1,000 yard barrier three times. Other than Craig, Montana has never played with a running back that ran of over 1,000 yards. Edge goes to Montana for having a bigger impact on the performance of his pass recipients while throwing to them far fewer times.
The final topic, and the one most with an opinion on the matter fail to recognize, is the era that the two quarterbacks played in or are playing in. One cannot overstate the importance of realizing that these two players competed in two completely different genres of NFL football. As pointed out earlier by the passing statistics put up by the two men, the NFL is now a pass happy league. Bigger numbers are going to be put up by quarterbacks of today’s standards, because they throw the ball a lot more than they did in the Montana era. Of course records are going to be broken in the modern era of football. Second and most notably, the current era of football does not allow for quarterbacks to experience contact that way that the Montana era quarterbacks did. Sure the defensive players are bigger and stronger and faster, but when the rules handcuff those players to inflicting the minimum amount of damage when coming into contact with a quarterback, it makes the position of quarterback much easier to perform. In the NFL era that Montana played in, it was common for quarterbacks to endure blows to the head, or receive a leg whip kick, or have a player lead with their helmet when they hit them. Helmet to helmet contact was considered fair play by both parties. Back then the quarterback was a marked man, and anything a defender could do to crush him into the ground was legal. In today’s NFL, the quarterback is still a marked man, but the rules dictate that he can only be contacted in certain ways and in certain areas. Basically a defender is relegated to pushing him down or tackling him via shoulder pad in only the area located between the hips and neck. The prospect of getting injured playing quarterback is far lower now than when Montana played. Edge again goes to Montana for playing in an era when defenders were allowed to try and kill him.
Overall Montana wins 3-1, sorry Brady fans; the proof is there, even if he ties the Super Bowl win record with Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Maybe if he wins five or six the scales will tip in his favor, maybe.
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