Joe was Super, but others helped build QB legacy
No team in NFL history besides the 49ers has ever fielded back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Joe Montana and Steve Young made the Niners unique, but they also added to the team’s strong legacy at the game’s most vitally important position. A recent FoxSports survey focusing on all-time greats by franchise has us examining where the 49ers really rate among the league’s quarterback-rich teams.
There are many observers who would say the Niners rank No. 1. No team before or since ever had a tag-team duo like Montana and Young, who from 1981-1998 combined for four NFL MVP awards, 11 league passing titles, 14 Pro Bowl berths and, perhaps most significantly, led the 49ers to five Super Bowl championships.
No other NFL team ever had an enduring run of quarterback performance like that, and the 49ers also had some notable QB action before the Montana/Young juggernaut came along, putting San Francisco in the middle of any serious discussion regarding which franchises have been blessed with the best quarterback play.
To be sure, there are other franchises – several of them formed before the 49ers – who could stake a claim that their signal-callers were and have been the best.
If you go by the universal belief that quarterback is the most important position in football, it stands to reason that the team with the best quarterbacks over the long haul will win the most championships.
Four other iconic NFL franchises – the Green Bay Packers (13), Chicago Bears (nine), New York Giants (seven) and Pittsburgh Steelers (six) – have more NFL championships than the Niners. The Cleveland Browns won four NFL titles after winning four championships in the precursor All-American Football Conference.
Each of those franchises has had great quarterbacks, emphasizing the link between the position and championships.
It’s an unscientific method, but FoxSports.com’s “Franchise Players” page is a great starting point. In it, Fox lists five candidates for the best player in each franchise’s history. There are 10 other teams besides the 49ers with two quarterbacks on the ballot:
Atlanta: Steve Bartkowski and Michael Vick.
Cincinnati: Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.
Cleveland: Bernie Kosar and Otto Graham.
Dallas: Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
Green Bay: Bart Starr and Brett Favre.
Indianapolis: Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning.
New Orleans: Archie Manning and Drew Brees.
N.Y. Giants: Y.A. Tittle and Phil Simms.
Tennessee: Steve McNair and Warren Moon.
Washington: Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen.
The only tandems that can really challenge Montana/Young from a historical standpoint is Green Bay’s Starr and Favre and the Colts’ Unitas and Manning.
But when you go beyond the top names, the Colts drop down to good but not legendary QBs such as Bert Jones and new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
That leaves the No. 1 debate for the 49ers and Packers.
The Niners have another Hall of Famer, Y.A. Tittle, and another quarterback who perhaps should be there, John Brodie.
Tittle led the 49ers in passing eight consecutive years from 1952-59, was NFL Player of the Year in 1957 and played in three Pro Bowls with the team before going onto further greatness (and two MVP trophies) with the New York Giants.
Brodie led the 49ers in passing 11 times in a 12-year span, won a passing title and NFL MVP trophy in 1970, led the Niners to their first three NFC West titles, threw for 31,548 yards and 214 touchdowns and was the third-leading passer in NFL history when he retired after the 1973 season.
San Francisco also had two other Pro Bowl quarterbacks: Frankie Albert, a 49ers pioneer who doesn’t much get his historic due these days, and Jeff Garcia, who went to three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2000-2002 while leading the 49ers to their last two winning seasons.
The Packers probably feel they can go the 49ers one better after their current quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, led Green Bay to its fourth Super Bowl title earlier this year.
Green Bay has a strong argument. Rodgers, with a Super Bowl MVP and the lowest interception rate in NFL history to his credit, has a tremendous resume and is undoubtedly on a Hall of Fame progression. Starr was inducted in 1977 and Favre will be there as soon as he’s eligible.
Tobin Rote and Lynn Dickey also had some notable seasons behind center in Green Bay, but they had just one winning season between them. The Packers can boast standout play from other quarterbacks in the 1930s and 1940s, most notably Hall of Famer Arnie Herber, but that was in a different era with names that wouldn’t immediately be brought to mind for many outside of Green Bay.
So that leaves the 49ers at the top.
As the Niners search for their next winning quarterback – be it Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick or somebody else – that’s a legacy to build on and strive for, not to mention uphold.