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The Quarterback. As the player who touches the ball on almost every offensive play, the quarterback position has evolved from just another running back to the most impactful position in American Football whose leadership and decision making is an integral part of the offense's success. Since teams can (and quite often do) depend on solid QB play just to stay competitive, quarterbacks in the National Football League receive a disproportionate amount of attention compared to every other position in the sport. All of these players were well-known stars in their day; many spun that stardom off into roles in other works, and even those that were more camera-shy are still likely to be referenced in works released during and after their playing careers, so it's worth knowing why they were famous to begin with.

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Below is a list of some of the most notable quarterbacks in terms of their skill and fame. For more examples of those notable for other reasons, see National Football League Notorious Figures; because so much attention and expectation is placed on every NFL QB, the page lists more players from this position than any other.

For notable players at other positions, see NFL Offensive Players and NFL Defensive and Special Teams Players. For notable non-players, see National Football League Non-Player Figures.


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  • Troy Aikman was the #1 overall pick of the historically competitive 1989 Draft out of UCLA and the QB for the Dallas Cowboys from then until 2000. As the leader of "The Triplets", an offensive group comprised of himself, all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith, and superstar wide receiver Michael Irvin, Aikman led a dynastic run that included three Super Bowl wins, including winning game MVP in XXVII. A deadly efficient QB regarded as one of the most mechanically perfect and accurate passers ever, as well as one of the greatest playoff performers in NFL history, his career was cut short by chronic back pain and repeated concussions. Famously, he has no memory of Super Bowl XXVIII due to a concussion he suffered in the NFC Championship Game the week before. His success in those twelve years was more than sufficient for a first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. He went straight into broadcasting after his retirement and was part of FOX's lead announcing crew from 2002–21, providing color commentary to six Super Bowls with Joe Buck before making the Channel Hop to ESPN and Monday Night Football.
  • Frankie Albert was the first QB for the San Francisco 49ers. Following a stellar career at Stanford, he was drafted #10 overall by the Bears in 1942 but spent several years serving in the Navy during World War II before returning to football in 1945 with the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast League. The following season, with the formation of the AAFC, Albert signed with the 49ers and became their first star, guiding them to four straight winning seasons and a championship appearance in 1949. He led the league in passing touchdowns twice, with his 29 TDs in 1948 (where he was named co-MVP with Otto Graham) standing as the single season record until 1960. He is also credited with inventing the bootleg. He remained the 49ers starter when they joined the NFL in 1950, earning a Pro Bowl while rotating passing duties with Y.A. Tittle. He played one season with the Calgary Stampeders in 1953 before retiring from play. He later spent three seasons as the 49ers head coach, guiding them to their first NFL playoff berth in 1957. He died in 2002 from Alzheimer’s.
  • Josh Allen was drafted #7 overall by the Buffalo Bills out of Wyoming (where he landed after a season at a JC, Reedley College) in 2018. Allen's physical profile made him a highly desirable draft selection, but many teams had reservations about his lack of experience and accuracy issues. However, the Bills benefitted immensely from the pick; Allen experienced almost unprecedented leaps in his passing abilities in each of his first three seasons, culminating in him leading the Bills to their first playoff win and AFC Championship appearance in a quarter-century in 2020; as of 2021, he holds the best playoff passer rating of any QB in NFL history (106.6).
  • Ken Anderson was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round out of the small Augustana College of Illinois in 1971. He was one of the most statistically impressive passers of his era, and his skill helped to prove the effectiveness of Bill Walsh's West Coast offense that would transform the league when later used by Joe Montana. Anderson won league MVP (and Offensive/Comeback Player of the Year) in 1981, the year he led the Bengals to their first ever Super Bowl appearance; the next year, he set a single-season completion percentage record that stood for nearly forty years. During his 16 years with the young team, he established multiple franchise records that still have yet be broken. Football historians regularly cite Anderson as among the biggest examples of a No Respect Guy in the league's history; despite all of his accomplishments, he has long been excluded from even consideration for the Hall of Fame despite having better numbers, more accolades, and more championship appearances than many other QBs enshrined in Canton (which may or may not have to do with him playing for an unglamorous small-market team). Anderson became a coach after his retirement from playing, eventually winning a Super Bowl ring as a QB coach for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII; he retired the next year and was later enshrined as an inaugural member of the Bengals Ring of Honor.
  • Steve Bartkowski was the #1 overall pick of the 1975 Draft out of Cal, going to the Atlanta Falcons. Bartkowski led the long-suffering franchise to their first playoff berth/win in 1978 after twelve years of failure and broke out as one of the NFL's better passers in the early '80s, leading the league in several stats and making two Pro Bowls. He was pretty easily the best QB in the franchise's history prior to Michael Vick and Matt Ryan, but his talents were not enough to overcome the Falcons' dysfunction; with him under center, the team's reputation shifted from "can't put up a winning season" to "can't put up consecutive winning seasons", a streak that lasted for decades. After a few years of injury issues, Bartkowski was cut after 1985 and retired after one unspectacular year with the Rams; he was subsequently enshrined in the Falcons Ring of Honor.
  • Sammy Baugh led the league in most passing statistics through the 1940s while playing for Washington. The #6 pick in 1937 out of TCU, "Slingin' Sammy" was most notable for being a near Game-Breaker in terms of his accuracy—he led the league in completion percentage for eight seasons, still the all-time record, and his 70.3% completion rate in 1945 stood as a single-season record for nearly forty years. For all his talents as a quarterback, Baugh was also an immensely adaptable player and is often considered the best all-around football player in NFL history. He was one of the league's best ever punters (he still holds the record for most yards per punt in a single season, 51.4 in 1940) and was an excellent defensive back. In 1943, he led the league in passing yards and completion percentage, interceptions, and punting yards, perhaps the most dominant any player has ever been at all parts of the game.note  That talent took Washington to two NFL Championships (the first in his rookie year) and three second-place finishes over his 16 seasons with the team. After retiring from play in 1952 holding most of the NFL's passing records (including some negative ones like interceptions), Baugh spent a few middling years as a coach in the AFL, where he was the first head coach of the New York Titans (now called the Jets). His #33 was Washington's only official retired number for many decades (and is still one of only two). However, he never participated in a single team function after leaving the capital; he spent most of the rest of his life working his ranch and expressing ambivalence about his exceptional football career. Baugh was the last surviving charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, passing away in 2008 at the age of 94.
  • George Blanda was a highly successful QB and kicker best known for his incredible longevity. A twelfth-round draft pick in 1949 out of Kentucky, he played for a record 26 seasons in the NFL and, at the age of 48 in his final game in 1975, was the oldest man ever to play professional football, earning him the nickname "The Grand Old Man". He played for the Chicago Bears from 1949-58, with one game in 1950 played for the Baltimore Colts due to a contract dispute; Blanda famously feuded with owner/coach George Halas and retired when Halas wouldn't play him at QB. He soon returned from retirement to join the new AFL's Houston Oilers, where he played from 1960-66; though he initially was labeled with accusations of being an "NFL reject", he immediately led the team to two championships and won AFL MVP in 1961. He finished his career with the Oakland Raiders (1967-75), where he finally followed Halas' advice and settled into a placekicking role, only stepping in as QB in relief. His longevity was famously lampshaded by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who quipped, "Why, this George Blanda is as good as his father, who used to play for Houston," after a 1970 game in which his last-second field goal salvaged a tie for the Raiders. Blanda retired as the highest-scoring player in NFL history and held the record for nearly thirty years until Gary Anderson beat it in 2000. He would still be in first place by a huge margin if TD passes counted as points for the QB instead of the receiver; the unofficial stat of "points accounted for" was created by fans specifically to recognize his achievement. He still holds the record for the most career PAT kicks made (943). However, his overall career passing statistics were more mixed, reflecting his gunslinger playstyle: while he is one of eight QBs to ever pass for seven touchdowns in a single game and set a record for single-season TD passes in 1961 that stood for over two decades, he threw more INTs than TDs in his career, holds one of the worst passer ratings of any quarterback with more than 1,500 attempts, set a likely unbreakable record for most thrown interceptions in a season at 42 in 1962,note  and held the career INT record (277) for decades until being passed by Brett Favre. Blanda still went into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility; when it's stressed that Jan Stenerud (see "Kickers and Punters") was the first (and for a long while only) pure specialist inducted there, Blanda (along with Lou Groza in that same folder) is the reason why. He passed away in 2010.
  • Drew Bledsoe was the #1 pick of the 1993 Draft out of Washington State and one of the more prolific passers in the NFL in the late '90s, even taking his New England Patriots team to a Super Bowl (losing to Brett Favre's Packers) and becoming the highest paid QB in the NFL at the time. However, what makes him particularly notable is his status as one of the most prominent Pete Bests in NFL history. Early in the 2001 season, Bledsoe took a hard hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, knocking him out of action with internal bleeding. A little-known 2nd-year player by the name of Tom Brady took Bledsoe's place after that, and the rest is history. Bledsoe himself had a few more productive years with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys but never got close to the level of success as his successor in New England. (Notably enough, he was similarly replaced in Dallas by an undrafted QB named Tony Romo in 2006.)
  • Terry Bradshaw was the QB of the legendary four-time Super Bowl champion "Steel Curtain" era Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite being the #1 overall pick in 1970 Draft out of Louisiana Tech, he struggled to adjust to the NFL and was unable to lock down the starting job for several seasons.note Further note  He often faced ridicule by the media, fans, opponents, and even his own coaches for his perceived lack of intelligence, which was not helped by having a Deep South accent and Good Ol' Boy demeanor while playing in a northern state and sporting an often mocked haircut (long '70s Hair despite going Prematurely Bald up top very early on).note  However, Bradshaw's powerful arm and on-field leadership eventually won out; he became one of the great quarterbacks of the '70s and was named league MVP in 1978. His passing prowess completed a trifecta with the strong running game and all-time great defense that brought the Steelers to a then-record-setting four Super Bowl victories; Bradshaw won MVP in two of them. Despite his very high ceiling, Bradshaw could be inconsistent on the field; he often struggled with interceptions and put up a record three games with a dreadful 0.0 passer rating. In his final game in 1983, he managed to throw two touchdown passes despite otherwise struggling that season, allowing him to just barely retire with a positive TD-INT ratio (212 to 210); he was still inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He has been a popular color commentator and analyst ever since, first with CBS and then with FOX, where he has served since the launch of its sports division in 1994. He also has dabbled in acting and music, appearing in several moviesnote  and TV shows (usually As Himself) and recording several country albums; he notably was the first NFL player to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Tom Brady is widely considered the "Greatest of All-Time" after leading his teams to ten Super Bowls, winning seven of them, and winning MVP in five, all dominant records that are unlikely to be passed in the near future, over a 23-year career, the first twenty with the New England Patriots and the last three with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.note  Brady was picked in the sixth round in the 2000 Draft (#199 overall) after a relatively undistinguished college career at Michigan and spent his rookie season as the team's fourth-string QB. He earned the backup job in 2001 and took over as starter after Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding from a nasty hit. Brady started the rest of the season, culminating with a Super Bowl victory over the heavily favored "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams. He won two more Super Bowls after 2003 and 2004 while leading the Pats on the longest win streak in NFL history (21 games), then was named league MVP in 2007 for leading the then-highest scoring offense of all timenote , becoming the first QB to throw 50 TDs in a season, and contributing to the Patriots' 16-0 regular season; they went on to lose Super Bowl XLII. Brady was seriously injured with an ACL tear in 2008 but quickly returned to form the following year, winning Comeback Player of the Year in 2009, winning League MVP twice more (2010, 2017note ), and playing in five more Super Bowls with the Pats (winning three). In 2020, he opted not to return to the Patriots and HC Bill Belichick, instead signing with the Buccaneers as a free agent and ending the most successful pairing of a quarterback and coach in NFL history. In his first year in Tampa, Brady took the long struggling franchise to its first playoff berth in 13 years and first playoff win in 18, all the way to another Super Bowl victory.note  The following year, he became the only player in league history to be selected to 15 Pro Bowls and announced his retirement... which lasted about a month before he returned to the field, though he did negotiate a massive deal to go straight into the booth with FOX whenever he does decide to hang up the cleats.
    • In addition to his Super Bowl success, Brady's longevity has helped him secure practically every significant "career" QB record, in addition to many others. Brady passed for more touchdowns and yards than any player. He became the fastest QB to record 100 wins (not counting playoffs), doing so in 131 games (the previous record was 139, held by Montana). His constant playoff success gives him most of the postseason records as well, including highest completion percentage in a playoff game (92.9%). Much of Brady's success can be attributed to his apparent refusal to age. While hardly the first QB to play into his 40s, Brady is arguably the only one to stay at an MVP and Super Bowl caliber at a time most players have been forced out entirely due to burnout and injury. He became the oldest starting QB to win a game in 2021, a year he still led the league in touchdowns. Brady (in)famously associates that longevity with his incredibly strict diet, exercise routines, and meditation practices, the so-called "TB12" method.note  Off the field, he's known for being a handsome ladies' man; he dated and had a child with actress Bridget Moynahan and is now married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen. His highly competitive nature is widely renowned and was once subject of a meme known as "Bradying": after throwing an interception in Super Bowl XLVI, he suffered a Heroic BSoD on the field, leading to many people using his slouched over posture sitting on the field as their Facebook picture, much like Tebowing and planking before it.
  • Drew Brees was the face of the New Orleans Saints for 15 years. Brees played his first five seasons with the San Diego Chargers, who drafted him out of Purdue with the first pick of the 2nd round in 2001. Brees was relatively small for a QB at just under six feet and his first several seasons were not great, throwing more INTs than TDs and culminating with the team "earning" the #1 overall pick of the 2004 Draft. The Chargers picked Eli Manning but wound up trading for Philip Rivers and some other draft picks. Brees still won the starting job and had his best season to date, leading the Chargers to the playoffs and winning Comeback Player of the Year, but he badly injured his throwing shoulder the following year just before entering free agency. He ultimately joined the long-suffering Saints, who had just endured another terrible season made worse by them being unable to play in their home stadium due to Hurricane Katrina. Brees immediately led them to their best season in decades and their first NFC Championship game appearance, raising the morale of The Big Easy as a whole. He later led the team to their first ever Super Bowl after the 2009 season, defeating Peyton Manning's Colts and winning Super Bowl MVP. Though he never returned to the Super Bowl, his years with the Saints saw the team go from perennial losers to consistent playoff contenders. This, coupled with his charitable efforts to help rebuild the city and his Boy Scout personality, earned him the respect and gratitude of many of New Orleans' citizens (and the nickname "Breesus") prior to his retirement after 2020. Besides his height, Brees' most notable physical trait is the large Distinguishing Mark on his right cheek (a natural birthmark, not a scar).
    • Though he never won a season MVP and is possibly overshadowed by the many championships of fellow Long Runner Tom Brady, Brees was perhaps the most statistically dominant passer of the 21st century, breaking many long-standing QB records in the back half of his career (Long List incoming). In 2008, he won Offensive Player of the Year after becoming only the second player to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season after Dan Marino did so 24 years prior; while this became a more common feat in the subsequent decade, Brees is the only one to do so more than twice, doing so five times. In 2009, he became the most accurate single-season passer in NFL history, completing 70.5% of his attempts; he later broke his own record three more times and still holds the record for highest career completion percentage. In 2011, he won OPOY again after beating Marino's long-standing single-season passing yards record, a record he held onto for only two years before Peyton Manning inched past it by a single yard. In 2012, he surpassed Johnny Unitas for most consecutive games with a TD pass, setting the record at 54. In 2015, he became the eighth (and most recent) QB to pass for seven TDs in a single game, doing so in a high-scoring shoot-out against the Giants. He was also briefly the leader in career TD passes, passing yards, and completions, but these records were broken by Brady shortly after Brees' retirement.
  • Marlin Briscoe played more seasons as a wide receiver but is listed here for the historical significance of being the first black starting QB in modern pro football history. A 14th round pick in 1968 by the Denver Broncos out of the smaller Nebraska-Omaha where he had a College Hall of Fame career, he was moved to corner as a rookie. After the Broncos starting QB was injured and the backup played poorly, head coach Lou Saban made the decision to start Briscoe. He threw 14 touchdown passes and rushed for three more in just five starts, including setting a then-rookie record with 335 passing yards in a game. Briscoe finished the season as starter and hoped that his success would earn him that role the following year. However, Denver brought in CFL Most Outstanding Player Pete Liske as QB and asked Briscoe to switch to another position, leading him to for his release, which the team granted. He signed with the Buffalo Bills, which already had superstar Jack Kemp as starter, so Briscoe switched to WR while serving as backup QB. He put up over 1,000 receiving yards in 1970, earning his lone career Pro Bowl trip, and was traded to the Miami Dolphins where he won two Super Bowls, including as part of their 1972 undefeated season. He finished his career with short stops in San Diego, Detroit, and New England, never again playing QB but having established his place in NFL history.
  • John Brodie played for the San Francisco 49ers for 17 seasons after they drafted him #3 overall out of Stanford in 1957. Brodie took the starting position after the departure of Y.A. Tittle (see below) in 1961 and held the job through the decade, standing out as one of the league's better passers who just happened to be stuck on a constantly underperforming team. He experienced a late-career hot streak in the early '70s, taking the Niners to the playoffs for the first time since the year he had been drafted and winning MVP in 1970. The Niners retired his #12 while he was still an active player, the only player in NFL history to be so honored. He retired in '73 behind only Hall of Famers Tittle, Unitas, and Tarkenton in career passing yards, but his team's win record (and potentially his outspoken support of a certain church) kept him from similar honors. Brodie then entered into broadcasting, serving as a commentator in Super Bowl XIII. He also had a fairly successful second career as a pro golfer, even winning an event on the Senior Tour (now known as PGA Tour Champions) in '91.
  • Ed Brown was a 6th round pick in 1952 by the Chicago Bears out of San Francisconote  but spent two years serving in the Marines before joining the Bears as QB (and punter). Brown usurped George Blanda for the starting role a year later and earned consecutive Pro Bowls, leading the Bears to a championship appearance in '56, only to get trounced by the Giants. He played inconsistently over the next several seasons, regularly fighting for the starting role and earning notoriety for his off-field exploits, most notably his late night drinking and carousing. He was traded to the Steelers in '62 and took over as the starter a year later, posting career highs in yards and TDs and nearly taking Pittsburgh to the playoffs. He slumped again the following season and spent '65 as a backup, retiring after one game with the Colts. He died from prostate cancer in 2007.
  • Mark Brunell was drafted in the fifth round by the Packers in 1993 out of Washington but saw limited action in Green Bay due to being the primary backup for Brett Favre. He was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 (the first trade in Jags history), where he became a star. From 1995-2003, he led the Jaguars to two AFC Championship games in 1996 and 1999, led the league in passing yards in 1996, and made the Pro Bowl three times. In 2004, he was traded to Washington and started there for a few seasons before going on to backup roles with the Saints (winning a Super Bowl ring as a backup and holder) and Jets before retiring in 2012 after 19 seasons in the league. He is the Jaguars' all-time leader in passing yards, pass completions, and passing TDs, and was inducted into the Pride of Jaguars, the team's Ring of Honor. Even before retirement, he endured financial hardship on account of failed business investments around the Jacksonville area (including several Whataburger franchises) that declined while he spent much of his time playing in other cities, culminating in him declaring bankruptcy while still with the Jets. Brunell is currently the QB coach for the Detroit Lions.
  • Marc Bulger was the Rams' longest-tenured QB during their time in St. Louis. A sixth round pick out of West Virginia by the Saints in 2000, he bounced around practice squads as a rookie before landing with the Rams as a third-stringer. He got his first action in 2002 following injuries to Kurt Warner and his backup Jamie Martin, outperforming both of them and finishing the season 6-1 as a starter. Bulger took over the following season after Warner went down with a concussion in week 1 and gained comparisons to Warner's own rise from the bench, guiding the Rams to a 12-4 record and earning his first Pro Bowl. He displaced Warner as starter and put up solid numbers the next several years, earning another Pro Bowl in 2006, but repeated injuries caused him to severely regress, winning just 6 games in his last 3 years with the Rams before he was released in 2010. He retired in 2011 after a year as a Ravens backup. Despite his moderate successes, he is perhaps better known as one of the quarterbacks selected ahead of Tom Brady, going 31 picks before.
  • Joe Burrow was drafted #1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020 after his record-shattering Heisman/National Championship-winning season at LSU. Though he ranked as one of the most sacked QBs in the league due to his team's porous o-line, causing his rookie season to be derailed by a knee injury, Burrow emerged as one of the league's most productive passers in his sophomore year, in which he won Comeback Player of the Year, broke Cincinnati's three-decade playoff victory drought, and led the long-struggling team to a Super Bowl appearance.
  • Virgil Carter isn't a particularly well-known name, but his short career had an immense impact on the NFL as we know it. A sixth round pick out of BYU in 1967, he initially played as a backup for the Bears before being picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1970 to replace Greg Cook, an extremely promising rookie whose rotator cuff injury relegated him to being a massive One-Hit Wonder. Carter was much smaller than Cook and lacked his arm strength, but he was also more mobile and an accurate passer. To compensate for Carter's differing skillset, the Bengals offensive coordinator devised a scheme based around a short, lateral passing attack, allowing receivers to pick up yards-after-catch and using his mobility to roll out of the pocket for deeper pass attempts. That OC's name? Bill Walsh. The scheme he devised? The West Coast Offense. If not for Cook's injury, there would be much less pressing need for Walsh to develop a short passing game and NFL history as we know it may have been quite different. Carter started for two seasons, leading the league in completion percentage in 1971, but was succeeded by the more talented Ken Anderson (see above) and bounced around a few other teams before retiring in 1976.
  • Dutch Clark was a back for the Portsmouth Spartans (later the Detroit Lions) through the 1930s. Clark played at a time where the position of "quarterback" was really just another type of running back that called plays and could chuck the football forward if things got desperate—he rushed for far more yards than he passed during his seven seasons with the team. While he wouldn't fit well in our modern understanding of the position or the game, "The Flying Dutchman" dominated during his era, regularly leading the league in scoring, completing far more of his passes than his peers, and acting effectively as a field coach while leading the Lions to a championship in 1935, earning him the other nickname "The Old Master". Clark served as the Lions' head coach while still a player for two seasons before retiring from play in 1938, after which he continued to coach for multiple teams in and outside the NFL. His #7 was the first to be retired by the Lions, and he was a charter member of the Hall of Fame. Clark passed away in 1978.
  • Charlie Conerly was the signal caller for the New York Giants in the late '40s and '50s. He was drafted by Washington in the 13th round in 1945 out of Ole Miss, being taken so low not because of his lack of talent but because he planned on returning to school after serving for three years in active combat during WWII. When he did join the pros in 1948, his rights having been traded to the Giants, he had a breakout rookie season, setting many Giants records that still stand today and earning him the alliterative nickname "Chucking Charlie Conerly". He was a two-time Pro Bowler and led the Giants to the NFL Championship in 1956 and championship berths in 1958-59, starring in "The Greatest Game Ever Played" in the former season and leading the league in passer rating in the latter. He retired in 1961 after spending his whole career with the Giants, who retired his #42 in 1962. He became the original Marlboro Man after his retirement and passed away in 1996. He has been a finalist for the Hall of Fame seven times but has yet to be selected.
  • Daunte Culpepper was drafted #11 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 1999 out of UCF. After sitting out his rookie season, Culpepper saw immediate success in his first year as a starter, leading the league in passing touchdowns and landing himself on the cover of Madden NFL the following year. In one of the most prominent examples of the "Madden Curse", Culpepper's play deteriorated dramatically the next season as he became an interception machine before being benched after a knee injury. He bounced back the next few seasons and led the league in passing yards in 2004, but an even worse knee injury and an off-field legal controversy the next year brought an end to his time in Minnesota and his tenure as one of the NFL's elite QBs. Culpepper bounced around Miami, Oakland, and Detroit the next four seasons while continuing to battle injuries and ended his pro football career in 2010 after a season in the UFL.
  • Randall Cunningham was one of the most hyped-up quarterbacks of the late '80s and early '90s, as his athleticism made him a serious triple-threat at the position. During his first eleven seasons in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted him in the second round in 1985 out of UNLV, he set league records for QB carries and rushing yards. He was also a tremendous punter, something that came in handy for trick plays—in one game, he punted the ball out of his team's end zone for 91 yards, the third-longest punt in modern league history. An ACL injury ended his 1991 season after one game, but he returned the next year to lead the Eagles to a playoff appearance, winning Comeback Player of the Year. However, the injury greatly diminished his rushing productivity, he struggled under new coaching schemes, and he ultimately retired after 1995. Cunningham worked in construction for a full year before returning to the NFL as a backup with the Minnesota Vikings. After Brad Johnson went out with a sprained ankle in the '98 season, Cunningham experienced a true Career Resurrection, leading Minnesota to a 15-1 record while putting up the best passer rating of his entire career and of any QB that year, though their seemingly assured Super Bowl run fizzled out in a truly heartbreaking NFC Championship loss. He regressed in '99, served two more seasons as a backup in Dallas and Baltimore, and retired in 2002 after signing a one-day contract with the Eagles. After retiring, he became a minister; he is currently the team chaplain for the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Jay Cutler started his career with the Denver Broncos, who drafted him #11 overall in 2006 out of Vanderbilt, but is most famous for his time with the Chicago Bears, where he was traded after a coaching regime change in Denver in 2009. In starts, wins, and statistics, Cutler was arguably the best overall QB the Bears have had since Sid Luckman in the 1940s, but you wouldn't have guessed it by listening to the fans and media. The Bears had one of the worst o-lines in the league for the eight seasons Cutler was with the team, leading to him being among the most sacked (and injured) quarterbacks in a given year in that span. Most infamously, he was injured in the 2010 NFC Championship game and did not return in the second half. Though he had a MCL sprain and was benched on coaches' orders, the resulting backlash from other players and the media questioning his toughness is something he may never live down. It also didn't help that his record against Chicago's opponent in that game, long-time rival Green Bay Packers, was 2-11. After the Bears released him after 2016, Cutler retired and took a broadcasting job. This turned out to be a 10-Minute Retirement when the Dolphins lost starter Ryan Tannehill for the season to a training camp knee injury. Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, Cutler's former offensive coordinator in Chicago, convinced him to come out of retirement and sign with Miami for one more season. A diabetic, he was one of the most prominent players in NFL history to suffer from the disease and became involved with several diabetic charities. While his mopey demeanor doesn't endear him to fans (or teammates in some cases), he is by most accounts a fairly Nice Guy off the field. He was married to Kristen Cavallari (of The Hills fame).
  • Andy Dalton, nicknamed "The Red Rifle" after his head of bright red hair, was drafted in the second round in 2011 out of TCU by the Cincinnati Bengals to replace Carson Palmer (see below). Despite helping lead the Bengals to 5 straight playoff appearances in his first five seasons, he was unable to give Bengals fans their first playoff victory since the 1990-91 playoffs. After a disappointing 2019, the Bengals, who had the #1 overall pick in the 2020 Draft, waived him in favor of college star Joe Burrow. He has since bounced around as a backup for the Cowboys, Bears, and Saints.
  • Len Dawson was the first starting QB of the Kansas City Chiefs. Dawson was drafted #5 overall by the Steelers out of Purdue in 1957 but didn't receive much time on the field after they picked up Bobby Layne the next year. He was traded to the Browns in 1960 but continued to sit on the bench and looked set to be a bust in the NFL. He left the Browns in 1962 and signed with the upstart AFL's Dallas Texans, who were coached by Hank Stram, his old college coach. Dawson immediately broke out as one of the AFL's first stars, becoming the league's MVP in his first season. After the Texans moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs, he continued to top most of the AFL's passing stats and later led the Chiefs to a victory in Super Bowl IV, the final game before the NFL-AFL merger, winning Super Bowl MVP and cementing the AFL as a Worthy Opponent to the league that had once rejected him. Dawson retired after 1975, ending a 19-year career, and entered into broadcasting. Nearly fifty years later, he still holds most of the Chiefs' franchise QB records, only recently being passed in some by Patrick Mahomes, and the franchise retired his #16. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987 for his playing career and was awarded its Radio-Television Award for his work as an analyst and commentator in 2012.
  • Steve DeBerg had a 21-year career as QB for six teams, eventually becoming the oldest ever on a Super Bowl roster at 45-years-old, and had a reputation as a pioneer of the play action pass and the West Coast offense. However, DeBerg spent most of his career as a hardworking but middling back-up whose starting job was repeatedly ripped from him by incoming future Hall of Famers. Originally a tenth round pick by the Cowboys in 1977 out of San Jose State, DeBerg failed to make the roster and signed with the 49ers practice squad. DeBerg fought his way to the starting job but was replaced when the Niners drafted Joe Montana. He was then traded to Denver, who traded for John Elway not long after. He was then traded to lowly Tampa Bay, where he had some success before the USFL folded and Tampa suddenly had Steve Young. After a few more years in Kansas City, Tampa (again), and Miami, DeBerg retired in 1993 and became a QB coach for the Giants for a few years. However, when Giants head coach Dan Reeves moved to the Falcons, DeBerg followed him to Atlanta and came out of retirement in 1998 for One Last Job as a backup QB for the team's trip to the Super Bowl; though the team fell just short of getting him a ring, he did step in for a game in the regular season, becoming the oldest man to ever start as an NFL QB.
  • Jake Delhomme was one of the greater undrafted QB success stories in NFL history. Originally selected out of Southwestern Louisiananote  by the Saints in 1997, the self-styled Ragin' Cajun sat on the bench or practice squad for six seasons while mixing in a few stints in NFL Europe. Desperate for playing time, he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2003, managed to win the starting position, and led the young franchise on a remarkable run to their first Super Bowl appearance, performing well in a narrow loss. He held the starting position in Carolina for several years, setting many franchise records (most since broken by Cam Newton) before retiring in 2011 after two seasons with the Browns and Texans.
  • John "Paddy" Driscoll was a QB and HB for the Chicago Cardinals and Chicago Bears during the 1920s. Although very few statistics exist from his era,note  he was considered the premier triple threat back of the NFL, as he was a fairly accurate thrower who could also break off for long runs, punt for long distances, and was credited as the most accurate drop kicker in the league. A local product out of Northwestern, he was a first team All-Pro 6 times during his career and led the NFL in scoring twice. He spent his first six years in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals, who were regular contenders under Driscoll and won their first championship in 1925. Afterwards, in 1926, the Cardinals sent Driscoll to their in-town rivals, the Chicago Bearsnote  after the upstart AFL attempted to lure him over with a larger salary. He finished out his last four years with the Bears, retiring after 1929. After this, he spent a few years as a college coach before returning to the Bears to serve as the assistant coach to George Halas for nearly two decades, at one point succeeding him as head coach and leading the team to a championship game appearance before Halas reclaimed his throne. Driscoll was named to the 1920s All-Decade Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965, three years before his death.
  • John Elway spent his entire 16-year career as the QB of the Denver Broncos. The Stanford product was originally drafted #1 overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1983, but he threatened to play baseball instead (he was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 2nd round) rather than play for the then-terrible team. He was subsequently traded to the Broncos and broke out as one of the league's leading passers, winning MVP in 1987 and leading the league in passing yards in 1993. He had a reputation for being a great "comeback artist," retiring with the most 4th quarter comebacks (46) in NFL history,note  and for his tendency to subvert the expectations of the defense with fearless head-first runs. After losing 3 Super Bowls by embarrassing marginsnote  in the late '80s and subsequently suffering declining performance due to an interception problem, Elway staged a late-career renaissance and led Denver to consecutive Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998 (winning Super Bowl MVP in the latter after defeating former head coach Dan Reeves) before retiring. At the time of his retirement, his 148 wins were an NFL record. He had his #7 retired by the Broncos and received a first-ballot induction into Canton. In 2011, Elway returned to the Broncos as executive VP of football operations (basically general manager with a few extra responsibilities and a fancier job title). He is widely credited for luring Peyton Manning to Denver, who led the Broncos to two Super Bowls (winning one), though in the post-Manning years he attracted a good deal of criticism, ironically for his inability to identify and draft a franchise quarterback. He stepped down from the GM role in 2020 but remains the team's president of operations.
  • Norman "Boomer" Esiason was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round in 1984 out of Maryland.note  Esiason succeeded Bengals legend Ken Anderson in his second year and soon established himself as one of the league's best passers, winning MVP in 1988 and taking the team to a Super Bowl XXIII appearance. After late stints with the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, Esiason finished his time as a player with one final year in Cincinnati in 1997 and transitioned to a prolific career as a broadcaster, analyst, and radio host. He briefly served as a commentator with Al Michaels on Monday Night Football before getting axed for leaving the booth early after Super Bowl XXXIV; he subsequently served as commentator for the next 18 straight Super Bowls on the CBS/Westwood One radio broadcast, a broadcasting record. Esiason was the last Bengals QB to record a playoff win until Joe Burrow in the 2021 postseason.
  • Jim Everett was selected #3 overall in 1986 out of Purdue by the Los Angeles Rams. He broke out as one of the league's top passers of the late '80s, leading the league in TD passes in '88 and '89note  and becoming the franchise leader in passing yards while earning one Pro Bowl selection. Unfortunately, he was also involved in one of the more infamous plays of the era in the 1989 NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, the "Phantom Sack", where he collapsed to the ground in the pocket in anticipation of another sack even though no defenders had actually reached him. Everett was lambasted for what was seen as a cowardly act, particularly by acerbic "hot take" commentator Jim Rome, who had mockingly referred to Everett as "Chris" (a derogatory reference to female tennis player Chris Evert). After Rome called Everett "Chris" during a live interview, Everett flipped the table between them and shoved Rome to the ground. After several years of declining performance and the institution of the salary cap in 1994, Everett was traded to the Saints where he rebounded statistically but the team struggled. He was released following a 3-13 season in '96, spent a final year with the Chargers, and then retired.
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  • Brett Favre (pronounced "farv") was a first-ballot Hall of Famer who spent most of his 20-year career as the All-American Face of the Green Bay Packers (and the NFL as a whole), though some late-career controversies and repeated un-retirements have somewhat complicated his image. After a disastrous first season with the Falcons, who drafted him in the second round (#33 overall) in 1991 out of Southern Miss, Favre was traded to Green Bay, where he won league MVP three years in a row ('95-'97) and led the Pack to its first Super Bowl victory (XXXI) in decades. A renowned Determinator, he was known for fourth-quarter comebacks, shrugging off injury, performing well in Green Bay's freezing weather, and generally playing with more grit than anyone else in the league. The best example of this was in 2003 (most of which he played with a broken thumb on his throwing hand) when he elected to play a Monday Night game against Oakland despite his father dying of a heart attack the night before, scoring 4 touchdowns in the first half of a 41-7 victory before breaking down in tears on the sidelines—many fans hold that game in higher esteem than his Super Bowl victory. He first officially announced his retirement in 2008, only to change his mind late in the offseason. When the Packers denied him a starting position (briefly causing outrage among fans; see Aaron Rodgers below), he was traded to the New York Jets and played a lukewarm season plagued by a shoulder injury (and sexual harassment allegations), after which he retired again and was released.note  He soon came out of retirement again, however, this time being picked up by the Packers’ division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, where he played one of the best seasons of his career, soundly defeating his former team twice and becoming the first player to beat all 32 teams in the NFL and first QB over 40 to win a playoff game. A late-game interception against the Saints (who made him the primary target of the infamous "Bountygate" and briefly knocked him out of the game with a series of vicious hits) cost his team the NFC Championship and a chance at the Super Bowl. He then suffered a terrible 2010, with the Vikings finishing 6-10 while the Packers won the Super Bowl under Favre's former backup.note  Favre announced his retirement for a third time. This time it stuck; he turned down an offer from the Rams in 2013, preferring to spend time with his grandchildren and coach for their football team. His #4 was retired by the Packers.
    • Though Favre did not have the longest NFL career by either years or games played, he does holds the record for consecutive starts by a position player (321, including playoffs, stretching from his first start as a Packer in ’92 into his last season as a Viking in 2010). As the rules for keeping injured players off the field grow more stringent, the record is considered virtually unbreakable, which is probably a good thing—Favre became addicted to Vicodin during his playing career to help him play through the pain, which caused a life-threatening seizure the year before his Super Bowl win, and he has expressed post-retirement that his countless concussions caused multiple instances of memory loss. Most of his backup QBs spent years of their careers on the sidelines (several of them going on to respectable careers of their ownnote ), and in his last few seasons, several of his wide receivers were young enough to still be in diapers when Brett first started playing pro. He is the only player in league history to have grandchildren during his playing career, and his hair was noticeably gray by the end of his run. This longevity and his high risk, high reward "gunslinger" passing style is why he set so many records, both good (career wins, attempts, completions, touchdowns, and yards) and bad (career interceptions, sacks, and fumbles); unfortunately, most of his positive records have since been passed, while his negative ones are far ahead of the pack and will likely stand for much longer.
  • Frank Filchock was drafted in the 2nd round in 1938 out of Indiana by the Pittsburgh Pirates, only to be traded to Washington later that season. He alternated passing duties with Sammy Baugh and proved to be a talented passer, throwing the first 99-yard TD pass in league history and leading the NFL in passing TDs twice. He was traded to the Giants in 1946, guiding New York to a championship appearance. However, the night before the game, he and his teammate, Merle Hapes, were accused of accepting bribes to fix the game. While Hapes admitted to the offer and was barred from playing, Filchock denied the allegations and started the next day, throwing the Giants' only two scores while tossing six picks in their loss to the Bears. Shortly afterwards, he and Hapes received lifetime bans from the NFL, despite a police investigation concluding Filchock had committed no wrongdoing. Following his banning, he spent several years in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup in 1949 with the Montreal Alouettes, before he was reinstated to the NFL in 1950. He only appeared in one game with the Colts before returning to the CFL, retiring as a player in 1953 to go into a decade-long coaching career, including two seasons as the Denver Broncos' first head coach. He passed away in 1994.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick is perhaps not the typical example of a "journeyman QB", but he was one of the most successful at the "journeying" part, being the only one to throw at least one touchdown for eight of the record nine teams he started for.note  He also holds the dubious distinction of holding most of the career passing records for QBs who have never reached the postseason, though his lengthy and well-traveled career, coupled with his fun-loving personality and distinctive long beard, made him one of the NFL's most fascinating and beloved figures. Drafted in the seventh round in 2005 by the St. Louis Rams, Fitzpatrick was likely selected more for his brain than his on-field talent. One of the few Harvard graduates to see play in the modern NFL, he is widely rumored to have achieved the highest ever score on the Wonderlic cognitive test of any NFL QB draft prospect after completing the test in only nine minutes. His first season set the tone for the rest of his career. In his first game as a backup, Fitzpatrick led the Rams to an incredible comeback victory from a 24-3 halftime deficit. In his next game, where he appeared as the starter, he threw zero touchdowns and five interceptions; he quickly returned to the bench and was traded after the following season. "Fitz" carried this pattern of boom-or-bust play across one-fourth of the league's teams. Almost every year, he managed to contribute a few impressive, even record-setting wins after stepping in as a backup (during hot streaks fans have nicknamed "Fitzmagic")note  before inevitably fizzling out with a terrible performance and returning to the bench ("Fitztragic"). This pattern became so predictable that some conspiratorial fans suspected Fitz of putting enough on the field to ensure that desperate teams would offer him a contract, then intentionally give up to return to the bench and pragmatically reduce his risk of a career-ending injury.note . After 17 seasons in the league, an injury sustained in his first game playing for Washington in 2021 put him out of commission, and he retired after the season to become an analyst for Amazon.
  • Joe Flacco was the face of the Baltimore Ravens after they drafted him #18 overall out of Delaware in 2008, but he is likely better known for being the AFC's answer to Eli Manning. Despite putting up So Okay, It's Average regular season statistics and never even being selected to a Pro Bowl, Flacco took the Ravens to the playoffs and won at least one playoff game in each of his first five years. After making an AFC Championship berth in his rookie and fourth seasons, Flacco became Super Bowl MVP in his fifth after a historic 2012 playoff run where he outplayed and beat Luck's Colts, Peyton Manning's Broncos, and Brady's Patriots, ultimately defeating the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, all while tying Joe Montana's playoff record by throwing 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He never replicated that incredible performance, and after he suffered a midseason hip injury in 2018, his rookie backup Lamar Jackson (see below) won the starting job. Flacco was traded to the Broncos during the 2019 offseason and played poorly, getting sacked 26 times in the first half of the season before missing the rest of the year due to a herniated disk in his neck. He was released in the 2020 offseason with a "failed physical" designation and has since bounced around the Jets and Eagles.
  • Doug Flutie had a modestly successful NFL career as a journeymannote  but was most known for his small stature (5'9", 180 lbs), unique playing style, and utterly idiosyncratic career arc. As opposed to the mechanical "drop back and throw from the pocket" style popular in the NFL at the time, Flutie scrambled and improvised, often throwing deep passes once the coverage broke down (not all that dissimilar to Russell Wilson's style nowadays). After a Heisman-winning college career at Boston College, Flutie was still deemed a poor pro prospect by NFL scouts and wasn't drafted until the eleventh round in 1985. Flutie instead chose to sign with the USFL's New Jersey Generals the year before that Donald Trump-owned team (and its entire league) folded. He then played with the NFL for a time, memorably being one of the first replacement players to cross the picket line during the 1987 strike. Flutie went to Canada to play in the CFL in 1990, where he won three Grey Cups, six Most Outstanding Player awards, and set many pro football passing records that stand to this daynote . After dominating the CFL for nearly a decade, Flutie returned to the NFL in 1998 and successfully carried over his CFL-style pass attack to the Bills. His return performance led the Associated Press to name him Comeback Player of the Year, reviving the award for the first time in thirty yearsnote . In his twenty-first and final season of pro play, Flutie performed the first (and, to date, the only) drop kick in a NFL season game since the 1941 Championship game; coach Bill Belichick reportedly called that kick as a sort of retirement present, a unique play to celebrate the unique career of the 43-year-old veteran. While "face on a Wheaties box" is common for athletes, Flutie had his own cereal: Flutie Flakes.note 
  • Nick Foles has had one of the more dramatic career arcs of any NFL player. A third-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 out of Arizona, Foles was meant to serve as the backup to then-starter Michael Vick but took the position midseason after a five-game losing streak. In 2013, Foles was named the starter and had a season worthy of a new star, scoring 27 touchdown passes with only 2 interceptions, becoming one of eight QBs in league history to pass for seven TDs in a single game, and leading the Eagles to the NFC East title. However, Foles struggled in the next season and was placed on IR after breaking his collarbone; the Eagles collapsed and missed the playoffs, leading many to label him a one-season wonder. He was traded to the Rams the following season, languished there for a year, and was traded again to the Chiefs, where he returned to being a backup. After considering retirement, Foles re-signed with Philly in 2017 to backup and mentor their new QB, Carson Wentz, only to be promoted once again to starter after Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14. Many analysts who had once labelled the Eagles Super Bowl contenders called their season over, to the point they were betting underdogs in the playoffs despite being the NFC's #1 seed. Instead, Foles led the Eagles straight through the playoffs, setting up a showdown with the heavily favored Patriots. In Super Bowl LII, Foles passed for three TDs and caught a fourth on a trick play called on fourth down (nicknamed "the Philly Special"), becoming the first player to throw and catch a TD in a Super Bowl. Foles was named Super Bowl MVP as the Eagles at long last hoisted their first Lombardi Trophy. After 2018, when he again replaced an injured Wentz and led the Eagles on a solid playoff run, he signed with the Jaguars. Unfortunately, he broke a collarbone in the opening game and was ineffective after returning, eventually losing the starting job. During the offseason, he was traded to the Bears for a 4th round pick to compete with their struggling starter, Mitch Trubisky, but was only moderately better there than he had been in Jacksonville and lost the starting role after a midseason injury. He is currently a backup with the Colts. Foles is also on his way to becoming a Badass Preacher, as he's now studying for the ministrynote , earning him the nickname "St. Nick".
  • Dan Fouts was the beard-sporting QB of the San Diego Chargers throughout the '70s and '80s. A third-round draft pick out of Oregon in 1973, his first five seasons in the league were rather inauspicious as he battled injuries, rotated in and out of the starting lineup, and performed poorly, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in each of those years. In 1978, the Chargers hired a new coach in Don Coryell who transformed Fouts into a superstar. Under Coryell's leadership, Fouts and the Chargers led the league in passing yards for a record six straight seasons in the years that followed, even though they never reached the Super Bowl. He broke Joe Namath's single-season passing yards record in 1979, utterly blew past his own record by over 600 yards the following year, and broke it again the next season; his 4,802-yard 1981 season sat behind only Dan Marino's 1984 campaign for over a decade and only faded well out of the top ten after the passing revolution of the 2010s. Fouts won Offensive Player of the Year in 1982 after averaging 320 yards a game, which stood as a record for nearly three decades and had him on track to break his yardage record again and pass the 5,000 mark had the season not been shortened by a player strike; he was named league MVP by multiple publications that year but not by the AP, who selected Washington's kicker Mark Moseley (even many who think QBs are overrepresented as MVP saw that as a major Award Snub). After his retirement in 1987, Fouts had his #14 retired by the Chargers and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first eligible year. He later became a color commentator for both NFL and college games, including two years on Monday Night Football where he was bizarrely partnered with Dennis Miller.
  • Benny Friedman was one of the early pioneers of the passing game in the NFL during the late ‘20s and ‘30s. A tremendous college star out of Michigan, he was named First Team All-Pro his first four years in the NFL from 1927-30, leading the league in touchdown passes all four years while setting numerous (unofficial) passing records during this time, even becoming the first player to lead the NFL in both passing and rushing touchdowns in 1928. His passing prowess and popularity was outstanding enough that two early owners bought Friedman's teams essentially just to get him. After leading the Cleveland Bulldogs to a winning season, a group of investors bought the team, moved them to Detroit, and renamed them the Detroit Wolverines to capitalize on the association with Friedman's alma mater. Giants owner Tim Mara purchased the Wolverines the following year and immediately dissolved the team just so he could have the star passer on his roster. Friedman’s first year in New York saw the team score 312 points, over 100 more than the second best offense, while he threw for 20 touchdowns, a record that stood for nearly 15 years. He retired in 1934 after a stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite all of his success, the NFL didn’t keep track of most passing statistics prior to 1932, which kept him out of Canton for many years despite being a charter member of the College Hall of Fame. Friedman developed many health issues later in his life, including bouts with cancer and losing half a leg to gangrene, which contributed to him falling into a depression before committing suicide in 1982. He was finally posthumously inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
  • Roman Gabriel was the first (and currently only) starting NFL QB of Filipino descentnote  and one of the premier passers of the '60s. Drafted #2 overall in 1962 out of NC State by the L.A. Rams, Gabriel had a 16-year career, was selected to the Pro Bowl four times, and even won MVP in 1969. Due to playing in the L.A. market, Gabriel also had a brief film and TV career, including playing a Native American in John Wayne's The Undefeated. However, Gabriel twice fell short of bringing the Rams to a championship and was traded to the Eagles in 1973. Gabriel had the most productive statistical season of his career that first year in Philadelphia and won Comeback Player of the Year, but it wasn't enough to turn the team into contenders, and he was out of the NFL in 1977.
  • Rich Gannon was a fairly obscure fourth round pick out of Delaware in 1987 who bounced around the league for yearsnote  as a middling starter and quality backup. Then he joined the Oakland Raiders in 1999 and excelled under head coach Jon Gruden's system, making four straight Pro Bowls; whenever a previously unheralded QB suddenly finds success late in their career, expect comparisons to be made to Gannon. He won league MVP in 2002 as he led the Raiders to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII only to lose in embarrassing fashion to a Gruden-coached Buccaneers, which picked off a Super Bowl record five of his passes for interceptions (and returned three for touchdowns). Injuries brought his playing career to a close shortly afterwards; he retired after 2004 and now serves as a commentator for CBS.
  • Jeff Garcia is notable in NFL history as the last real CFL-to-NFL success story. After going undrafted out of San Jose State in 1994, Garcia was picked up by the Calgary Stampeders, which he led to a Grey Cup victory in '98 and won game MVP. He was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers the following season to back up Steve Young, only to be unexpectedly thrust into the starting position that year when Young's career was ended by an early-season concussion. Garcia put up three Pro Bowl seasons in SF but was cut after 2003, kicking off a lengthy journeyman career; highlights of his stops on six other NFL rosters included taking the Eagles on a playoff run after Donovan McNabb's mid-season injury in 2006 and a final Pro Bowl season with the Buccaneers in 2007. He retired after 2011.
  • Jared Goff was the #1 overall pick of the 2016 Draft, going to the Los Angeles Rams in their first year back in California. While the former Cal QB failed to win a single start in his rookie season, the arrival of coach Sean McVay in his second year saw Goff become the face of one of the most exciting offenses in the league, notably setting an NFL record for single-game pass attempts and completions in a memorable defeat of the Chiefs and taking the team to an appearance in Super Bowl LIII. However, the Rams' putrid offensive performance in said Super Bowl and a subsequent decline in the team's success led many (including, seemingly, McVay) to identify Goff's passing ability as a weak link. In 2021, he was traded to the Detroit Lions along with a number of draft picks in exchange for their starting QB (Matthew Stafford, see below); the Rams immediately won the next Super Bowl, while the Lions have continued to struggle with Goff under center.
  • Otto Graham is still arguably the best QB in the history of the Cleveland Browns, bringing the team to their league's championship game every year during his ten-year tenure. He was drafted #4 overall by the Lions out of Northwestern in 1944 but never signed a contract, preferring to continue to play for his Navy team. After the war ended, he joined the National Basketball League's Rochester Royals, a predecessor to the NBA's Sacramento Kings, for a single season until he could join the nascent Browns—they won the championship that year, making Graham arguably one of two American athletes to win a professional championship in two major sports.note  That basketball prowess served him incredibly well when he then signed with the new AAFC's Browns in 1946. His ability to pass the ball was leagues ahead of what most defenses at the time were prepared for, which helped the team win championships in all four of the short-lived leagues's seasons; Graham claimed league MVP in '47 and '48. The Browns extended their title streak to five when they joined the NFL in 1950 and won the championship in their first season; they appeared in the next five championship games and won another two, and Graham was named league MVP thrice ('51, '53, '55).note  He retired in 1955 after winning his seventh football championship, the most for a QB in pro football history; he held that record to himself for decades until Tom Brady eventually tied it. Graham's #14 was retired by the Browns, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965. The next year, he briefly returned to the NFL for an unsuccessful three-year stint as the head coach in Washington. Though he died in 2003, Graham still holds the highest career winning percentage of any NFL quarterback at .814, a record no other QB has even really come close to (and that would be even higher if one counted his AAFC record). He also holds the record for yards per pass attempt at a whopping 9.0, a record that's unlikely to ever be passed by any modern QB due to modern offenses' heavier use of checkdown throws.
  • Bob Griese was a Hall of Famer who led the legendary '70s Miami Dolphins. Drafted #4 overall in 1967 out of Purdue, he won two AFL All-Star and six Pro Bowl selections through a 14-year career. Griese was known as a "thinking man's quarterback" who called many of his own plays (his wearing giant Nerd Glasses under his helmet during games due to being nearly blind in one eye certainly helped that reputation). He was injured through most of the Dolphins' perfect '72 season but recovered to help lead them through the playoffs to win Super Bowl VII and returned the next year to also win VIII. He retired after 1980, had his #12 retired by the Dolphins, and entered the booth as a color commentator for college games on ABC, occasionally returning to the NFL (including one stint as a Super Bowl commentator in XX). Griese had the opportunity to broadcast numerous games for his son Brian Griese during his successful run at Michigan. Brian himself had an 11-year journeyman QB career in the NFL. Due to Brian backing up John Elway in his rookie 1998 season, Bob and Brian became the first father-son duo to win Super Bowl titles. Brian later had a Pro Bowl season as Elway's successor, had a brief tenure with his father's old team in Miami, and rounded it out with a few years in Tampa and Chicago before himself entering the broadcast booth.
  • Steve Grogan was a mobile QB in an era dominated by the pass and, for many years, the New England Patriots' most notable signal caller. A fifth-round pick out of Kansas State in 1975, Grogan's athleticism allowed the team to run an experimental ground game that brought them some success—the 1978 Patriots offense held the record for most single-season rushing yards for over four decades until they were passed by the 2019 Ravens. However, Grogan's frequent use in runs and rushes took its toll on his body, and he spent the latter half of his 16-year tenure with the Patriots on-and-off the bench while battling injuries and competing with younger replacements. Notably, this included being the backup QB during Super Bowl XX, New England's only appearance in the pre-Kraft years, where he scored the Patriots' only touchdown. In his final season in 1990, he started in the Patriots' only victory that year before nagging injuries benched him for the remaining games.
  • John Hadl was the #10 overall pick by the Lions out of Kansas in 1962 but didn't go to the team, instead opting to join the San Diego Chargers in one of the AFL's first major talent acquisitions. Hadl broke out as a major talent in Sid Gillman's innovative passing scheme, winning an AFL Championship in 1963 and achieving four All-Star selections. His gunslinger mentality helped him lead league in passing yards in 1965 and 1968, the latter year also leading it in TDs (27) and INTs (a staggering 32). Hadl continued to see individual success after the merger, picking up two Pro Bowl nods. He was traded to the Rams after 1972, then was traded to the Packers in the middle of the 1974 season. That trade was one of the most one-sided in history, netting the Rams a king's ransom of draft picks for a QB who put up 9 TDs to 29 INTs in Green Bay before his release after less than two seasons. Hadl played a few more seasons with the Oilers before retiring after 1977. While he put up better numbers than many of his peers who are enshrined in Canton, his turnover issues and that disastrous trade, which helped keep the Packers in the NFL's basement for nearly two decades, have mostly kept him out of Hall of Fame contention. Hadl later saw some time as an assistant coach with his alma mater and a few NFL teams and was later the head coach of the USFL's Los Angeles Express.
  • James "Shack" Harris was a trailblazer for African American quarterbacks. The "Ramblin' Man" from Grambling State was drafted in the eight round in 1969 by the Buffalo Bills, who named him the starter for his rookie season; Harris was only the second Black player to start at QB in the AFL (after Marlin Briscoe, above) and the first to do so at the start of the season. His performance in Buffalo was unfortunately subpar; he was soon benched and was later cut after 1972. He subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Rams, where he had far more success. After a few years on the bench, Harris was put in at starter in 1974 in relief of a struggling John Hadl and posted a perfect passer rating in his first game. He ultimately led the Rams to a division title, became the first African American QB to start in and win an playoff game, and became the first Black player in the NFL to start the season at QB the following year. Injuries soon derailed his career, and he was traded to the Chargers in 1977 before retiring from play after 1981. Harris continued to work around the NFL as an exec for several teams before finally retiring in 2015.
  • Jim Hart was the unlikely face of the St. Louis Cardinals through most of their time in Missouri, playing for the team in some capacity for 18 seasons (13 as the primary starter) despite being an undrafted free agent out of the obscure (and now FCS) Southern Illinois in 1966. Hart won the position despite the Cards trying numerous times to secure a flashier starter. When coach Don Coryell came to town in the mid-'70s to briefly make the long-suffering franchise a playoff contender, Hart became an unlikely four-time Pro Bowler in the "Cardiac Cards" era, leading them in multiple game-winning drives. Hart was, in many ways, the perfect encapsulation of the St. Louis Cardinals: unassuming, unambitious, and just sorta there as a passer, consistently throwing slightly more interceptions than touchdowns and coming in at a just sub-.500 win record (87-88-5, .497). However, his longevity, coupled with the franchise's continued inability to find a star QB, has left Hart still holding practically all of the franchise's QB records by a wide margin decades after his retirement following a single season as a backup in Washington in 1984.
  • Matt Hasselbeck was a three-time Pro Bowler best known for his time with the Seattle Seahawks. Originally drafted by the Packers in the sixth round in 1998 out of Boston College, he saw limited action due to being stuck on the depth chart behind Brett Favre (see above). He was traded in 2001 to the Seahawks, reuniting him with HC Mike Holmgren. In 2003, he led the Seahawks to the playoffs where he infamously guaranteed he was going to score against his former team during the coin toss and did... with a pick six, giving the Packers the win. He posted several strong years in Seattle, peaking with leading the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance in 2005. In subsequent seasons, he became something of a Glass Cannon but still played well when healthy. He would later play for the Titans from 2011-12 and finished out his career with the Colts from 2013-15, nearly leading them to a playoff berth in place of Andrew Luck (see below). He is a member of the Seahawks Ring of Honor and currently works as an analyst on ESPN. His younger brother, Tim, also had a lengthy journeyman career before becoming an analyst on ESPN.
  • Arnie Herber was the QB of the Green Bay Packers during the '30s. The Green Bay native dropped out of college in 1930 to play with his home team, where he became one of the premier passers of the NFL, known for powerful long balls and for throwing with all five of his fingers on the laces. He became even more of a passing threat in 1935 when the Packers brought in Don Hutson, and the two formed the first dominant quarterback-wideout duo in NFL history. His stats, while laughable by modern standards, were miles ahead of his peers at the time, as he guided the Packers to four championships and helped legitimize passing as an offensive weapon. He initially retired in 1940, but the New York Giants lured him out of retirement in 1944 due to player shortages caused by World War II. He played sparingly for two years before retiring for good. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1966 and died of cancer in 1969.
  • Justin Herbert is the current QB of the Los Angeles Chargers, which drafted him #6 overall in 2020 out of Oregon. An athletically gifted prospect that most predicted would require time to refine his talents, Herbert was expected to sit for most if not all of his rookie season until starter Tyrod Taylor's lung was punctured by a team doctor's needle while receiving a painkiller injection shortly before a Week 2 game. Herbert filled in magnificently, quickly claiming the starting job and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year after setting multiple rookie QB records, including most TDs and completions.
  • Taysom Hill, often referred to as "the Human Swiss Army Knife", is one of the more unique players in modern NFL history. Despite being a very talented athlete, his college QB career was derailed by season-ending injuries in all five of his seasons at BYU (not to mention delayed due to his LDS mission trip after high school). The 27-year-old Hill went undrafted in 2017 but was eventually signed by the Packers before the New Orleans Saints claimed him off waivers, where he initially saw play not as a backup QB for Drew Brees but as a special teams gunner and punt returner who gained notably for skillfully blocking punts. In later seasons, despite being listed on the depth chart as a QB, Hill lined up to play in nearly every position on special teams and offense, serving as a quarterback, running back, tight end, and whatever else necessary to allow coach Sean Payton to bewilder opposing defenses. In 2020, at age 30, he stepped in to replace Drew Brees at QB after a severe rib injury.
  • Jeff Hostetler was drafted in the third round in 1984 out of West Virginia by the New York Giants. After serving as The Benchwarmer behind Phil Simms for five seasons, putting up only two starts in that time, "Hoss" led the Giants on one of the more improbable Super Bowl runs ever after Simms went out from injury late in 1990. With just six total starts prior to a Super Bowl, he holds the record for the least experienced QB to ever lead their team in the Big Game; he distinguished himself by winning a ring, serving as a capable signal caller for the run-heavy offense on the way to their victory in XXV. His performance won him the starting role after Simms' recovery, which they fought over for a few years before he was cut after 1992. He then moved to the L.A. (and later Oakland) Raiders and saw renewed success, including a Pro Bowl nod, and spent two seasons as a backup in Washington before retiring after 1998.
  • Cecil Isbell was drafted by the Green Bay Packers #7 overall out of Purdue in 1938. For his first few years, Isbell split passing duties with Arnie Herber while also playing as a running back, leading the NFL in yards per attempt in his rookie season and being named to the Pro Bowl his first two years. While Isbell had already earned praise his first few seasons, he was able to truly emerge as one of the league's top passers following Herber's retirement in 1940; he led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns in back-to-back years, with his 1942 season seeing him break league records for most passing yards (2,021) and touchdowns (24) in a single season. Isbell abruptly retired after his record breaking season to accept a coaching position at his alma mater; he would later serve as HC of the AAFC's Baltimore Colts and (briefly) the Chicago Cardinals. His brief playing career has kept him out of Hall of Fame consideration despite the numerous accolades he won during that time. Isbell passed away in 1985.
  • Lamar Jackson is the current QB of the Baltimore Ravens, who drafted him with the final first round pick pick in 2018. Despite a Heisman-winning career at Louisville, Jackson was not considered a great pro QB prospect and several teams asked him to participate in wide receiver drills at the combine (he did not). Infamously, Hall of Fame GM-turned-media analyst Bill Polian was one of Jackson's harshest critics, even referring to him as a "running back" in the lead up to the draft. Still, the Ravens selected him as a QB and were prepared to have him learn under long-time incumbent Joe Flacco. An injury to Flacco midway through Jackson's rookie season derailed that plan and forced Jackson into the starting lineup, where he acquitted himself well, guiding the team to a division title. Jackson's second season exceeded all expectations, as he posted the greatest combined passing/rushing season by a QB in NFL history by becoming the first to throw for 3,000+ yards and rush for 1,000+, leading the Ravens to a 14-2 record, and becoming the youngest MVP QB in NFL history (plus only the second to win the award unanimously). He followed it up the next year by becoming the first QB to rush for over 1,000 yards in multiple seasons.
  • Ron Jaworski, nicknamed "The Polish Rifle" or simply "Jaws", was a second-round pick out of the small Youngstown State in 1973 by the L.A. Rams but gained the most fame after being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Jaws helped lead a franchise that had spent nearly two decades in the bottom of the league's standings back to championship contention, including a Super Bowl appearance in XV. Unfortunately, he put up a fairly poor showing in his sole Big Game appearance and the Eagles regressed not long afterwards. He retired in 1989 after short stints as a backup in Miami and Kansas City and 17 total seasons in the NFL and entered a career in broadcasting, most prominently for ABC/ESPN (giving the name "Jaws" a whole new meaning).
  • Bert Jones was drafted #2 overall in 1973 out of LSU by the Baltimore Colts to replace the legendary Johnny Unitas. By 1975, he was looking like a worthy successor, as he started a three-season streak as one of the league's best pure passers, taking the Colts to the playoffs each year. In 1976, Jones won MVP with a season passer rating that entered the 100+ territory only visited by Hall of Famers like Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler during that decade. Unfortunately, injuries and the horrible mismanagement of the Colts in their final years in Baltimore took Jones out of contention. He left the team in '81, the Colts went winless the next season, and he retired after a year with the Rams.
  • Christian "Sonny" Jurgensen was a Hall of Famer who played for the Philadelphia Eagles (who drafted him in the fourth round out of Duke in 1957) and Washington (who traded for him in '64). Though he never won a championship as a starter (and in fact never even started in a postseason game),note  he was one of the most renowned passers of his day. His first ever pass as a starter was a dime thrown from behind his back while being shoved backwards. He set numerous records for passing yards over his eighteen seasons in the NFL, though his critics point out that he accumulated those numbers largely by focusing only on his arm—Jurgensen almost always refused to move out of the pocket or rush and notably sported a prominent beer gut through most of his career. He retired in 1974 with the highest career passer rating for an NFL QB at the time.note  He spent the next four decades as a commentator in Washington.
  • Colin Kaepernick had a brief but solid career with the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him in the second round in 2011 out of Nevada as a backup to former #1 overall pick Alex Smith (see below). During his second season, Smith suffered a concussion, and Kaepernick played extremely well in relief, leading to a QB controversy when Smith was cleared to return. Head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to stick with the more athletic/higher ceiling Kaepernick, and any controversy quickly died out as he led the 49ers to the playoffs, setting the record for most rushing yards by a QB in a game with 181 in his first postseason start. He led the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl, becoming one of the youngest and least experienced quarterbacks to accomplish that feat, though his team lost to the Baltimore Ravens. In his third season, his first as a full-time starter, he took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game, but they fell to the Seahawks. After two more strong seasons, the departure of Harbaugh and a bevy of injuries and multiple surgeries led to Kaepernick's play deteriorating and him being benched behind noted bust Blaine Gabbert. He was still considered one of the better running QBs of the early '10s, along the lines of Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III.
    • Kaepernick is most famous, however, for becoming possibly the NFL's biggest Base-Breaking Character for his controversial decision in 2016 to sit, then later kneel, during the pregame national anthem in protest of police violence against minorities in the United States. While some people felt that his cause was just and his freedom of speech was protected by the First Amendment, others found the action unpatriotic and disrespectful. Kaepernick and Gabbert split starting duties during the season; each won one game as the 49ers went 2-14 that season, largely due to the team's injury issues and and league-worst defense. However, media figures mainly focused on and even blamed the losses on his controversial activism, which expanded beyond kneeling to wearing socks depicting police officers as pigs and a Malcolm X t-shirt that also featured Fidel Castro the week before playing in Miami. As figures inside and outside the football world took sides on the issue of kneeling during the anthem, Kaep left the Niners after the season and was subsequently unable to find a job anywhere in the league. This was an almost unprecedented circumstance for a young QB of his caliber that many attributed to him being blackballed by the league's owners, especially after Gabbert was signed and continued his career as a journeyman backup, eventually winning a Super Bowl ring for sitting on the bench behind Tom Brady. The reasons for Kaepernick's abrupt end in football are complicated and widely contested.note  In 2018, he became the face of Nike's 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign, as a portrait of him was captioned with "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." In 2019, Kaepernick and the NFL made a confidential settlement, and he has expressed interest in playing again for the league. While his reputation as an activist in the Black Lives Matter Movement remains strong, his legacy purely relating to football remains contested.
  • Joe Kapp had a bizarre career trajectory, and his fairly short time in the NFL had an outsized impact on the league's history. After a solid college career at Cal, Kapp was drafted in the 18th round in 1959 by Washington but was never signed. Unable to play for another NFL team due to Washington owning his rights and with the AFL one year away, he traveled north. The Mexican-American QB had a Hall of Fame career in Canada, leading the BC Lions to their first Grey Cup. The Minnesota Vikings, whose GM Jim Finks and HC Bud Grant were both CFL veterans,note  negotiated a rare NFL-CFL trade in 1967 to secure him as a replacement for Fran Tarkenton. Kapp's first few years adjusting to the NFL were shaky, but he had a Pro Bowl season in 1969, gaining the nickname "Indestructible" for his aggressive head-first rushing style that was utterly unique for a quarterbacknote  but fit with his trademark Hair-Trigger Temper. He also threw for seven touchdowns in a single game that season, becoming the last QB to do so for over 40 years. Kapp capped off the year by taking the Vikings to a victory in the last ever NFL Championship game, though they ultimately fell short in Super Bowl IV. Despite his excellent performance, the Vikings did not meet his high demands for a new contract. No other team signed him either, as the "Rozelle Rule" in use at the time would have required teams to fork over draft picks to the Vikings despite Kapp no longer being under contract. Eventually, the Boston Patriots picked him up early in the following season, making him briefly the highest paid QB in the league. Unsurprisingly, being dropped right into an unfamiliar team did not result in a great performance; the Pats "earned" the #1 overall pick in the next draft with the worst record in the league, which they used to pick Kapp's replacement, establishing him as a one-season wonder in the NFL who never played pro football again.
    • Kapp's importance to the league's history comes less from his playing career then the way it ended. He was not released by the Patriots after they drafted Plunkett; he was still under contract, and his attorney advised him not to sign anything they asked him to when he reported for training camp. Kapp followed that advice, did not sign a standard contract, and was subsequently released. The Patriots claimed that he quit by refusing to sign and did not pay him the rest of his prior contract. Kapp responded by suing the NFL for antitrust violations. After several years, a California District Court judged that the Rozelle Rule, the option clause, and even the draft were all illegal without the consent of the players' union. This eventually forced the league to negotiate with players, setting the stage for both the gradual easing of free agency restrictions and the flurry of player strikes that marred the next two decades. Kapp never received compensation from the Patriots; he entered into a career as a coach at his alma mater and a brief tenure as a GM for the BC Lions, where he was responsible for bringing Doug Flutie to Canada.
  • Jim Kelly was one of the NFL's last real "field generals" who called his own plays as opposed to executing plays called in from coaches on the sidelines (the closest thing in recent years is Peyton Manning, who generally had permission to modify plays on the fly). Though he was drafted #14 overall out of Miami by the Buffalo Bills in 1983, Kelly was so opposed to moving to the cold and economically-struggling city that he instead joined the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, winning the league's MVP award in his rookie season. In his second year, Kelly set the standing record for most single-game passing yards in a pro American football game (574) after leading a 20-point fourth quarter comeback, establishing himself as the USFL's most statistically productive QB. After the USFL folded, Kelly finally joined the Bills, where he became the QB of their 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up team that reigned over the AFC as the triggerman for their "K-Gun" no-huddle offense.note  Despite never winning a Super Bowl ring, Kelly was selected to five Pro Bowls before he retired in 1996, had his #12 retired by the Bills, and became a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
  • Jack Kemp was best known for his time with the Buffalo Bills during their AFL run of dominance in the '60s. Originally a 17th round pick of the Lions in 1957 out of D-III Occidental (where he also played defensive back, kicker, and punter), he bounced around the NFL as a third stringer before signing with the Los Angeles Chargers upon the AFL's founding in 1960. Kemp led the Chargers to a winning record as starter but was waived in his second season after breaking two fingers on his throwing hand. He was claimed by the Bills and led Buffalo to four straight AFL title games, winning two. He was named an AFL All-Star seven times, won AFL MVP in 1965, served as a color commentator in Super Bowl II while still an active player, and retired after 1969 (just prior to the merger) as the AFL's all-time leader in passing yards and attempts. After considering broadcasting as a second career, Kemp instead moved into politics, where he found great success after drawing off his popularity in upstate New York to win nine terms (1971-1988) in the US House of Representatives, eventually ascending to be chair of the House Republican Conference. He co-authored the 1981 Kemp-Roth tax cuts alongside then-Delaware Senator William Roth and attempted to run for President in 1988, ultimately losing the Republican primary to George H. W. Bush; Bush appointed him as his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Kemp closed his political career as the running mate of Kansas Senator Bob Dole in 1996 presidential race, only for the Dole-Kemp campaign to be defeated by incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton and VP Al Gore. Kemp died in 2009 after a battle with cancer and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His son Jeff also spent several years in the NFL as an undrafted journeyman in the '80s.
  • Billy Kilmer had an 18-year career with significant tenures on three different teams in the '60s and '70s. Kilmer was drafted #11 overall in 1961 by the San Francisco 49ers; despite being an acclaimed passer at UCLA, he played in a system that listed him as a halfback/tailback, and the Niners primarily utilized him as a runner.note  Kilmer missed two of his six seasons in San Francisco, the first from a leg injury and the second from a pay dispute, and was picked up by the New Orleans Saints in their 1967 Expansion Draft. The Saints elected to finally use Kilmer as a regular passer, making him the franchise's first starting QB, though he saw little success there. The team traded him to Washington in 1971 after acquiring Archie Manning, where he finally rose to acclaim after over a decade in the NFL as part of George Allen's "Over the Hill Gang". He saw significant playing time filling in for the aging Sonny Jurgensen and led the league in passing touchdowns and passer rating in 1972, his sole Pro Bowl year in which he led the team to a Super Bowl appearance. Unfortunately, Kilmer lost that game after putting up one of the worst passer performances in Super Bowl history in that game and never saw that level of success again. Still, he continued as a capable signal caller for several more seasons before retiring after 1978.
  • Bernie Kosar played for the Cleveland Browns during their brief period of dominance in the mid-'80s. After controversially signing with the Browns in 1985 out of Miami by taking advantage of a loophole in the often overlooked Supplemental Draftnote , he led Cleveland to three AFC Championship games... and lost to John Elway's Broncos in all three, though at least those games were some of the most exciting in NFL history. He was benched and cut by Bill Belichick midseason in 1993, and he would be considered among the greatest quarterbacks not to win a Super Bowl... except he did win one, as a backup with the Dallas Cowboys just a few months after being cut. When Troy Aikman suffered an injury during the regular season, the Cowboys signed Kosar, who kept them competitive during the regular season while Aikman was out and again in the NFC Championship when Aikman got knocked out of the game before halftime. He retired after three more seasons on the Dolphins' bench.
  • Tommy Kramer succeeded Fran Tarkenton as the Minnesota Vikings' starting QB in 1978, the year after they drafted him #27 overall out of Rice, and held that position for most of the next decade. While the Vikings generally were So Okay, It's Average with Kramer under center, he led the league in passer rating in 1986 (winning Comeback Player of the Year) and ranks just behind his predecessor in most franchise QB records. He retired after spending 1990 with the Saints.
  • Dave Kriegnote  was one of the top passers in the '80s and perhaps second only to Kurt Warner (see below) in unlikely NFL QB success stories. Undersized at 6'1", 190 lbs, he went undrafted in 1980 out of tiny Milton College in Wisconsinnote , which had a minimal passing offense. Krieg did receive All-Conference honors, however... as a defensive back. Krieg received a tryout offer from the Seattle Seahawks and earned a spot on the roster. After some spot starts in his first three seasons as a backup, he earned the starting job in 1983 and took Seattle to a surprising AFC Championship Game appearance. He continued to play well, taking Seattle to the playoffs three more times in the decade while also being named to three Pro Bowls. After a coaching change in 1991, the team decided to go with a youth movement and the then-32-year-old Krieg was pushed out. He moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, who he led the playoffs, only to be supplanted the following season when they traded for some guy named Joe Montana. He moved to Detroit as a backup, took over as starter mid-season, and led the Lions to a surprise playoff appearance. He finished his 19-year NFL career with less successful stints with the Cardinals, Bears, and Oilers.
  • Daryle Lamonica was a late-round draft picknote  out of Notre Dame in 1963. He chose to go to the AFL's Buffalo Bills to backup Jack Kemp, figuring he'd be more likely to see the field there. After four seasons in Buffalo, sitting on the bench through most of their AFL Championship run but proving capable in emergencies, Lamonica was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 1967. He immediately broke out as an exceptional starter, winning AFL MVP and leading the Raiders to a 13-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. He gained the nickname "The Mad Bomber" for his powerful (but sometimes inaccurate) throwing arm and kept the team competitive for several seasons before being replaced at starter by Ken Stabler (see below) in 1973. He left the Raiders in 1974 to play for the WFL's Southern California Sun; he saw limited gametime and retired from play after the league folded. Lamonica put up the second-highest win percentage of any starting QB in NFL history (.801) and had the best of any in the Super Bowl eranote , though the relative brevity of his career, lack of championships, and perceived lack of competition in the AFL meant that he was never in serious Hall of Fame consideration prior to his death in 2022.
  • Bobby Layne was a first-ballot Hall of Famer who most famously played for the Detroit Lions in the '50s. Layne was drafted #3 overall in 1948 out of Texas by the Steelers but was immediately traded to the Bears, where he was a third-string QB. He demanded a trade to the New York Bulldogs so he could actually play—the team went 1-11 that year, but Layne got the experience he needed. Once with the Lions, Layne immediately led the league in passing yards and also soon became the most accurate placekicker in the league at the time. He helped to lead the Lions to two championships and set them up for a third in 1957, though he badly broke his leg just before the postseason. When the injured Layne was traded back to the Steelers after the Lions won that championship, he (allegedly) said that the team would not win another for fifty years; this "Curse of Bobby Layne", while (almost) certainly a myth, has kept the Lions from winning one for well over sixty. When Layne retired in 1962 after a few more productive years in Pittsburgh, he held most of the all-time QB records (including some negative ones like career interceptions), and his #22 was retired by the Lions. He was one of the last players to not wear a facemask. He was also a notorious alcoholic during and after his playing career, with his peers only half-joking when they said that Sunday was the only day he wasn't in the bar (only "half" because he was often drunk during games, too). His heavy drinking likely contributed to his early death from heart failure in 1986.
  • Eddie LeBaron, nicknamed "The Little General", remains the shortest Pro Bowl QB in NFL history at just 5'7". He was drafted by Washington out of Pacific during the 10th round in 1950 but didn’t report to the team until 1952 due to his commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. Once he arrived in Washington, he filled in for an injured Sammy Baugh and earned all-rookie honors in the process. After a poor showing in his second year, he spent a season with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL, but returned to Washington the following year and earned three Pro Bowls before retiring after 1959 to study law. He was coaxed out of retirement when he was traded to the expansion Cowboys and named their first starting QB in 1960. He spent four years in Dallas alternating starting duties with Don Meredith, earning his last Pro Bowl in 1962 after he led the league in passer rating, before retiring for good in 1963 having never reached the postseason. LeBaron continued to work in and around the NFL for several years, first as an announcer and later in the front office of the Falcons from 1977-85, before he died in 2015.
  • Andrew Luck was the #1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Luck was widely viewed as a generational prospect due to both his on-field talent and football pedigree (his father, Oliver Luck, was a longtime football exec and former NFL QB himself), and the Colts elected to take him and move on from the legendary Peyton Manning, who missed the previous season due to a neck injury that many feared would be career-ending. The plan to tank and "Suck for Luck" seemingly worked, as the former Stanford QB was able to step in and play at a high level immediately, setting numerous rookie passing recordsnote . He took the Colts to the postseason in each of his first three seasons in the league, getting closer to the Super Bowl each time. Beyond his talent, Luck was also known on the field for being a consummate Nice Guy who regularly congratulated opposing players, including those who successfully sacked him. Despite an injury to his throwing shoulder which held him to only seven starts in his fourth year, he was signed to the then-largest deal in NFL history. Though his critics insisted that Luck took too many chances with both the ball and his body, the Colts seemed pleased with their investment as they worked toward the levels of success they enjoyed under Manning. However, the 2015 shoulder injury began his slide toward Glass Cannon status, as he missed part of 2016 to rib and kidney injuries, then hurt his shoulder again in 2017. Luck had risky surgery to repair his shoulder, and it looked to have worked, as he came back in 2018 with a near-MVP-caliber season and won Comeback Player of the Year. Unfortunately, he got hurt again during the next offseason, this time a calf injury. Rather than go through another rehab process, Luck stunned everyone by retiring during the 2019 preseason, shortly before turning 30, saying his injuries had taken away his love for the game. As a result, Luck is widely regarded as one of the most talented pro athletes to voluntarily end their career during their prime years.
  • Sid Luckman was the Chicago Bears quarterback through the '40s and arguably is still the Bears' best ever QB. Luckman started life as the child of Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. The #2 overall pick in 1939 out of Columbia, Luckman became the league's first great T-formation QB under the coaching scheme of George Halas, revolutionizing not only the position but also radically changing how offenses were designed. The Luckman-led offense was a total Game-Breaker—in 1940, the Bears utterly shellacked Washington 73-0 in the Championship Game, scoring 11 touchdowns and more points in one game than any team before or since. Though Luckman only threw for one TD pass in that game, he would set multiple passing records that stood for many years while playing with the "Monsters of the Midway". In 1943 alone, he led the league in passing yards, touchdowns, and rating, became the first QB to throw for over 400 yards and seven touchdowns in a single game (the latter still an unbeaten record only tied by seven others), threw for more touchdowns than any QB would for another decade, won league MVP, and led the Bears to a third championship. As soon as that season ended, Luckman signed up for WWII; his first season back after the war ended, he won a fourth championship. Luckman retired from play in 1950 but stayed with the Bears until 1969, first as the team's vice president, then as a QB coach. His #42 was retired by the franchise. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965 and died in 1998. Seven decades after his retirement, he still holds the all-time record for highest percentage of passes for touchdowns at 7.9%, one of those stats that likely can't be beaten due to how offenses have evolved to be much more pass-happy.

     M-Q 
  • Patrick Mahomesnote  is the current starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. Renowned for his athleticism and precise ball control, Mahomes has already established himself as not just one of the NFL's brightest young stars but one of the league's all-time greatest quarterbacks in a very short period of time, at least reaching the AFC Championship game in every season as the Chiefs' starter. Drafted #10 overall in 2017 out of Texas Tech, he studied behind veteran QB Alex Smith for most of his rookie season. In 2018, in what essentially amounted to his true rookie season, he threw for 5,000+ yards and 50 touchdowns (a feat only accomplished once before by Peyton Manning), led the Chiefs to a 12-4 record and #1 playoff seed, engineered a comeback for the ages in the AFCCG against New England before ultimately falling short in overtime, and was named league MVP. While his second season didn't see him put up such remarkable numbers, he did take the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory and win the Super Bowl MVP. The next year, he again brought the Chiefs back to a Super Bowl appearance, and he returned to the AFCCG the following year. Mahomes holds numerous statistical records for the position: Upon passing the minimum 1,500 attempts required to be listed on the NFL passing stat sheets, he debuted with a 110.3 career passer rating, beating the previous record-holdernote  by nearly seven points, and with most yards per game (303.6), beating the predecessornote  by more than 20. In 2020, the Chiefs signed him to a ten-year extension potentially worth up to $503 million, the largest contract in American sports history. Not long after signing that contract, he became part of the ownership group of the Kansas City Royals. The biracial Mahomes, son of a black father (former MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes) and white mother, strongly pushed the NFL to recognize the Black Lives Matter Movement and was recognized for said activism by Sports Illustrated as one of its five Sportspeople of the Year for 2020. Mahomes is seen by many as the "face" of the league entering into the 2020s, and his exemplary skills and unique image (a wild head of curly hair, an almost Kermit-like voice, and a sincere love of ketchup) have made him ubiquitous in commercials.
  • The Manning Family: A Badass Family of NFL quarterbacks consisting of Peyton, Eli, and their dad Archie.
    • Archie Manning was a good QB on a horrible team: the New Orleans Saints, who at the time were nicknamed "The Ain'ts". The Saints drafted him #2 overall in 1971, and though he played very well for the team for over a decade, regularly ranking high on many statistics and even leading the league in completions in 1972, the Saints went 35-91-3 (.263) with him as a starter, the worst record for any QB with more than 50 starts. Since this was before free agency, he didn't have the option to leave for a better team until late in his career; in fact, when he was taken out for the 1976 season due to a shoulder injury, Archie spent half the season in the team's radio booth just so they could keep him in the building. When he was finally released from New Orleans, he played his last four seasons for the Oilers and Vikings but didn't have a single victory as a starter with either team. He retired in 1984, having played in the NFL for 14 years without ever experiencing a winning season. Archie is likely better known for his College Hall of Fame career at Ole Miss; he's considered the best player in school history. Ole Miss didn't just retire his number: to this day, the campus speed limit is 18 miles per hour in his honor!
    • Peyton Manning, nicknamed "The Sheriff", broke nearly every single statistical record held by either Marino, Favre, or Elwaynote  and holds a record five MVP awardsnote . He is known for his intelligence (he was notable for last-second changes to plays at the line), folksy personality, ubiquity in commercials, and (until the Colts won Super Bowl XLI) choking in the playoffs so consistently that he became the Trope Namer for Every Year They Fizzle Out.note  Drafted #1 overall in 1998 out of Tennessee by the Indianapolis Colts, Manning elevated the long-struggling team to success they hadn't seen since they left Baltimore, giving them the best regular season record in the league during his tenure. After thirteen exemplary years with the team that included a Super Bowl win and another appearance, complications from a neck surgery put him out for 2011. The Colts' 2-14 record that year gave substance to Peyton's long-implied Load-Bearing Boss status. Following this, he was released by the Colts and, after a recruitment tour that was breathlessly covered by the sports media, signed with the Denver Broncos, displacing fan favorite Tim Tebow. Peyton returned to form and won Comeback Player of the Year in his first year with the Broncos. He followed that up by putting up possibly the best-ever season for an NFL QB in 2013, kicking it off by throwing a record-tying 7 touchdowns in the opening game (the first such performance in over four decades) and going on to set the standing single-season records for passing touchdowns (55) and passing yardage (5,477) and win his fifth MVP, though he ultimately fell short of winning the Super Bowl.note  He slowed down noticeably over the next two years but wound up with one last chance for a second Super Bowl ring after 2015, this time with a dominant defense backing him up. The Broncos took down Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots in the AFC title game before upsetting the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Manning announced his retirement a month later and earned a first-ballot induction into Canton. His #18 was retired by the Colts. (It was already retired by the Broncos in honor of Frank Tripucka, but he gave Manning permission to wear it.)
    • Eli Manning, the younger brother, doesn't quite have Peyton's flashy numbers, but that's to be expected as the QB for the more defense- and run-oriented New York Giants. Memorably drafted #1 overall out of his father's alma mater in 2004 by the Chargers before forcing a trade to the Giantsnote , Eli was considered a bit of a Fake Ultimate Hero for a while, trading on the Manning name rather than his skills. That all changed after Super Bowl XLII, when he led the wild card Giants to victory against the 18-0 Patriots in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history. After the team defeated the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI, he's jokingly been called Bill Belichick's kryptonite. Eli was still considered to be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass and a constant source of contention for Giants fans (as well as for the teams they beat), as at some moments he appeared utterly incompetent, while at others (particularly those two Super Bowl playoff runs), he seemed to play as though he were Neo. He generally acted as The Stoic on the field, which could be demoralizing for either his own team (since this didn't get them especially pumped up) or for the opponents (when he performed a No-Sell on defenses that rely on punishing hits to scare the quarterback into making mistakes). Unlike Peyton, who struggled with injuries in the latter part of his career, Eli was Made of Iron, never missing a game due to injury and setting the third-longest streak for consecutive QB starts. After 2019, Eli announced his retirement from the NFL, having spent the majority of the season on the bench. Eli's last game as the Giants' starter was a win against the Dolphins, ending a 9-game losing streak for the team and giving him an even 117-117 career win-loss record in the regular season as a starter. The Giants immediately retired his #10. His retirement made the 2020 season the first since 1997 without any Mannings playing in the NFL.
    • There is a third Manning brother, Cooper, the oldest of the three, but he was forced to stop playing football in his first year of college after being diagnosed with a spinal cord condition and became an investment banker. As the only member of the family who wasn't a quarterback (he played wide receiver), he can't be directly compared to his brothers, but reports suggest that had he not been injured he had the potential to be another all-time great. Famously, Peyton donned #18 in honor of Cooper, who wore their father's Ole Miss and Saints number in high school. Cooper hosts "The Manning Hour" on Fox Sports and is part of the Fox NFL Kickoff pre-game show. Further, the Manning family may not be done yet: Cooper's son Arch is touted as the top pro-style QB in the recruiting class of 2023 and has verbally committed to playing for Texas. We'll see what happens from there.
    • Both Peyton and Eli were subjects of the "Manning Face" meme, coined by then-ESPN columnist Bill Simmonsnote . Peyton and Eli are also the stars of "Football on Your Phone", a DIRECTV commercial that went viral. Archie also appears in the spot. Starting in 2021, they became the broadcast team for Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli, a simulcast of MNF that ESPN airs on ESPN2 and streams on its ESPN+ service. One last family similarity: Archie, Peyton, and Eli all had one game where they put up a 0.0 passer rating.
  • Dan Marino was the most prolific passer in his day and is frequently cited as the greatest "pure passer" in NFL history. Drafted by the Miami Dolphins at #27 overall in 1983 out of Pittsburgh (the sixth QB picked that year), Marino immediately made a splash with his lightning quick release, incredible throw velocity, and pinpoint accuracy. After leading Miami to the playoffs as a rookie, he followed with his 1984 MVP/Offensive Player of the Year season, which is in contention for the greatest single-season performance by a QB ever. In it, he became the first (and, for the next 24 years, only) player to pass for 5,000+ yards in a seasonnote  while setting the then-record for TD passes with 48note . Comparable seasons only came decades later when NFL rule changes significantly reduced the contact and physicality that defenders were allowed to use in coverage, opening up passing offenses league-wide. Marino made the Super Bowl that season, losing to the 49ers during their dynastic run. Unfortunately, he never returned to the Big Game, having the bad luck to be one of the all-time greats at QB at a time when several other Hall of Fame QBs (Montana, Elway, Aikman, Young, Favre) were playing, nearly all with significantly more offensive weapons and better defenses, meaning the Fins rarely went deep in the playoffs.note  That still didn't prevent Marino from leading the league in passing yards four more times (and TDs twice) while setting one of the most unbreakable records in the NFL, going 19 games and 759 straight pass attempts without taking a sack from 1988-89, a record that no other passer has even gotten halfway to matching.note  A torn Achilles took him out in the '93 season, but he returned fully to form the next year, won Comeback Player of the Year, and posted several more impressive seasons. The nine-time Pro Bowler became the holder of virtually every significant career passing record, including a then-record 61,361 career yards.note  In 2000, after a historically lopsided and incredibly demoralizing 62-7 postseason loss to the Jaguars, Marino retired after 17 seasons in the pros. His #13 was retired by the Dolphins, and he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He also appeared As Himself in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
  • Baker Mayfield was the #1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, going to the Cleveland Browns after their disastrous 0-16 season. The Heisman-winner from Oklahoma had his regular season debut in Week 3, stepping in after Tyrod Taylor was injured during the second quarter and rallying the Browns to their first win since Christmas 2016. By the end of his rookie season, he broke the rookie record for touchdown passes (27) in just 13 starts, breaking the previous record held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.note  Mayfield also put a temporary end to the Browns' infamous "revolving door" of quarterbacks, retaining the starting position for the rest of 2018 and the entirety of the two seasons after that. By 2020, he broke the record for the most wins by a QB at FirstEnergy Stadium, the "new" Browns franchise's home fieldnote , which some fans began referring to as "The Bakery" rather than its previous nickname "The Factory of Sadness" during his tenure. Later that season, Mayfield helped lead the Browns to their first playoff berth in 18 years and first playoff victory in 27. However, injuries derailed his subsequent season, and his future is currently up in the air after the Browns traded for Deshaun Watson (see below). Casual fans likely know Mayfield best for his appearances in commercials, particularly those with Progressive Insurance that feature him living full-time in his stadium.
  • Josh McCown was a Long Runner known for being one of the NFL's most traveled journeymen. A third round pick by the Arizona Cardinals out of Sam Houston Statenote  in 2002, McCown was cut four years later due to middling production and spent the next 15 years on eleven different NFL rostersnote  plus a year with the UFL's Hartford Colonials. McCown saw the field several times over the years and had a few moments of success (most notably causing a brief QB controversy with Jay Cutler and the Bears), but his times as a long-term starter with the Raiders, Buccaneers, Browns, and Jets all failed to produce results, though his perceived value as a mentor and unofficial QB coach kept him in the league for many years. He set a unique record by starting his first ever playoff game at age 40 with the Eagles in 2019 in relief of Carson Wentz. McCown officially retired after 2020.
  • Jim McMahon played in the league for 15 seasons, most famously for the '80s Bears. Drafted #5 overall in 1982 out of BYU after shattering multiple NCAA passing records, McMahon self-identified as the Bears' "punky QB" and immediately made a splash in the league less for his on-field play than for his bad boy image and attitude. In addition to mooning journalists and providing plenty of cocky soundbites, McMahon also had one of the most distinctive images of any football player. Because of an eye injury sustained as a child that made him sensitive to light, McMahon wore a pair of extremely '80s Cool Shades at all times and was one of the first players to wear a tinted visor in his helmet, earning him some comparisons to Darth Vader. He also frequently wore a white headband around his mullet, often writing funny messages or charities on it in Sharpie after he was fined by the league for wearing one with a visible Adidas logo. Despite his popularity and playing for a Super Bowl-winning team that is frequently considered one of the greatest of all time, McMahon came to be seen as one of the weaker links on a squad that was most renowned for its defense, and interpersonal conflicts with coaches and management led to him being traded to the Chargers in 1989. McMahon bounced around six teams in the last eight years of his career—he won Comeback Player of the Year backing up an injured Randall Cunningham in Philly, had some success in Minnesota before being replaced by Warren Moon, floundered in Arizona, couldn't make it off the practice squad in Cleveland, and finally wound up with Chicago's arch-rivals in Green Bay. McMahon won another Super Bowl ring as a backup with the Packers in his final season but famously wore his Chicago jersey on their visit to the White Housenote .
  • Donovan McNabb is often considered the best QB in Eagles history and holds most of their franchise records, but he's more notable for playing most of his career for a team whose fans arguably hated him and didn't mind letting him know it. Drafted in 1999 out of Syracuse, the same year as the greatly-hyped Ricky Williams, Philly fans actually booed him and the team management when they took him instead with the #2 pick. This would not be the last time they booed him, though at first he mostly won them over, putting up impressive performances as a seemingly unshakable Lightning Bruiser despite not having much else on the team to work with and taking the team to three straight NFC Championship appearances... and losses. Once the Eagles brass gave him a reliable passing target in Terrell Owens (see below), McNabb led the team all the way to a Super Bowl appearance, but their loss in that game sealed his image to many Philly fans as a playoff choker. The T.O. deal later came back to hurt Philly when he publicly clashed with his QB, leading to the meltdown of that roster. In the following years, despite one more trip to the NFCCG, McNabb developed a bit of a reputation for being a Glass Cannon, which ultimately resulted in his trade to Washington in 2010. He was again traded to the Vikings the following year but remained ineffective. After being out of the league in 2012, he signed a ceremonial contract before the 2013 season to retire with the Eagles, which in turn retired his #5.
  • Steve "Air" McNair was the first great QB for the Tennessee Titans after their move from Houston. Drafted #3 overall in 1995 by the Oilers out of the HBCU Alcorn State (the only school that had offered to let him play quarterback), McNair was known for having nerves of steel in the pocket, able to scramble well when needed to and willing to take a hit as long as the ball went to the right receiver—this likely contributed to his problems with injuries later in his career. Famous for coming only a yard short of taking Super Bowl XXXIV into overtime, McNair eventually surpassed Warren Moon's franchise passing yardage and total wins records. He led the league in passer rating in 2003 and became the first African-American QB to win the league MVP awardnote . McNair was traded to the Ravens in 2006 due to struggles with injuries and put up one good season in Baltimore before said injuries pushed him into retirement. Outside of football, McNair was also known for being quite the ladies' man. Unfortunately, that contributed to his untimely death just two years after his retirement, as he was killed by an emotionally disturbed mistress in a murder-suicide. His #9 was retired by the Titans.
  • Don Meredith was the first QB for the Dallas Cowboys. A Texas native and college star at SMU, Meredith was the first player signed to the team, signing a contract with the owner before the organization was even given an NFL franchise.note  His natural charisma and grit made him very popular in the state through his tenure as starter in the '60s, particularly after his admirable performance during the team's 1967 NFL Championship loss to the Packers in the subzero "Ice Bowl". However, his carefree personality clashed with the more serious Tom Landry, leading to him retiring in 1968. He landed a job on ABC's Monday Night Football in its inaugural season, where he served as a color commentator through the '70s and early '80s with Howard Cosell and became famous for his folksy humor and for singing Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over" during garbage time. His charisma played a major role in elevating the league's popularity on television, and he served as color commentator for three Super Bowls for NBC and ABC. He spun that fame off into a modest but steady career as a TV actor. Meredith was given the Hall of Fame's Radio-Television Award in 2007; he passed away in 2010.
  • Joe Montana was the All-American Face of the San Francisco 49ers during their 1980s dynasty and was essentially the face of the entire league for that decade. "Joe Cool" is still considered by some to be the greatest player in football history, as well as probably its most famous. Drafted in the third round in 1979 out of Notre Dame, Montana took the starting position in his second year and quickly became known for his coolness under pressure and ability to lead game-winning drives with apparent ease. He was one half of the famous play known in NFL lore as "The Catch" along with Dwight Clark during the 1981 NFC Championship game; he also led the 49ers on a 92-yard touchdown drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. Montana led the Niners to four Super Bowls, winning each and never having an interception in any of them. He twice came back from injuries that were supposed to be career ending. First, in 1986, he returned from a devastating back injury after barely two months, winning Comeback Player of the Year. More famously, an elbow injury sustained in the 1990 NFC Championship Game kept the Niners from attempting a Super Bowl threepeat and benched Montana for almost two years, leading to his replacement by Steve Young (see below). The eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time MVP (1989-90), and three-time Super Bowl MVP followed up his legendary Niners run with a brief stint in Kansas City, where he led the long-struggling Chiefs to their first division win in 22 years and took them to an AFC Championship appearance. Montana retired in 1994, had his #16 retired by the 49ers, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He is still known for having possibly the coolest name in sports, so much so that the small town of Ismay, Montana renamed itself Joe in his honor in 1993.
  • Warren Moon was a renowned passer who played most of his 23-year career in pro football with the Houston Oilers. After a successful senior season at Washington that culminated in an upset Rose Bowl victory, Moon went undrafted in 1978 by the NFL, whose teams were still extremely adverse to hiring African-Americans to play quarterback. Luckily, Moon had already been offered a spot with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos, a team he led to five consecutive Grey Cup championships before he returned to the States in 1984 to play with the Oilers. For a period in the '90s, he very well may have been the best QB in the game—he won Offensive Player of the Year in 1990 and led the NFL in career passing attempts and completions until he was eventually surpassed by Brett Favre. Unfortunately, he's also remembered for fizzling out in the playoffs. In his decade with the Oilers, the team made it to the postseason seven times without ever even reaching the conference championship and infamously blew a 35-point lead to the Buffalo Bills during the first round of the playoffs in '92, the largest margin in playoff history. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 1994, where he continued to produce great numbers in passing yardage and completions but again failed to take his team to the Super Bowl. After a brief stint in Seattle, where he became the then-oldest non-specialist to be named to a Pro Bowl at age 41, and a few years as a backup in Kansas City, Moon retired from the NFL in 2001. His #1 was subsequently retired by the Tennessee Titans. Moon is considered alongside Marino as one of the best QBs to never win a Super Bowl and perhaps the best to never even play in one.note  He is still widely considered the greatest QB in CFL history; though his career passing yardage record eventually fell, if you count his combined passing yardage from both leagues, he had easily thrown for the most yards in pro football history at the time of his retirement (since surpassed). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, was the first African-American QB to receive the honor, and remains the only player to be enshrined in both the American and Canadian Halls.
  • Earl Morrall is considered by many to be "The Patron Saint of Backup Quarterbacks". Drafted #2 overall out of Michigan State in 1956, Morrall was traded around three different teams in the first three years of his career, wavering between being a starter and a trusted backup.note  After a few years in Detroit, injuries led to him being traded first to the Giants, then the Baltimore Colts to back up the great Johnny Unitas (see below). Entering into his thirteenth season, the time most players with injury issues and little play time would be considering retirement, Morrall was thrust into the starting position on his new team when Unitas was injured in a preseason game. To say he stepped up would be an understatement—Morrall led the team to a 13-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance, winning league MVP in a Cinderella season that was dimmed by Joe Namath's Jets and their upset victory in Super Bowl III. He ceded his spot to Unitas in that game but got his chance at redemption two years later, filling in for an injured Unitas to win Super Bowl V. Two years after that, Morrall was reunited with coach Don Shula, who signed him as a backup for the Miami Dolphins. Once again, he stepped into a new team with an injured star and produced spectacular results, filling in for the injured Bob Griese for 11 games in the middle of the team's perfect 17-0 season and winning Pro Football Weekly's first Comeback Player of the Year award. After a few more years in Miami, he retired in 1976 after 21 seasons—though his career wasn't as long as his contemporary George Blanda, who played his final seasons as a placekicker, Morrall held the record for the oldest QB to start in a game for nearly thirty years. He passed away in 2014.
  • Craig Morton had an 18-year career from the late '60s to early '80s. His regular season numbers were average and he was never selected to a Pro Bowl, but he does have the unique resume of leading two franchises to their first Super Bowl appearance. Morton was drafted #5 overall by the Dallas Cowboys out of Cal in 1965 and succeeded Don Meredith as the team's second starting QB in 1969 after his unexpected early retirement. However, he then had to fight for his starting position, as the Cowboys had finally picked up college star Roger Staubach. Morton led the team to an appearance in Super Bowl V the following year, but his poor performance in that game contributed to the team's loss and resulted in Staubach taking the reins the next season and leading the team to a Super Bowl victory. The two continued to battle for playing time for several years, but as Staubach established himself as the superior player when healthy, Morton sought a trade and eventually won a midseason one to the Giants in 1975. Morton performed poorly in New York and was traded to the Denver Broncos in 1977, where he experienced a remarkable Career Resurrection, winning Comeback Player of the Year and leading a franchise that had never even reached the playoffs before to a Super Bowl XII appearance. Unfortunately, Morton once again put up a terrible performance in the Big Game, producing a 0.0 passer rating while facing off against... Staubach's Cowboys. However, he played several more good years in Denver before retiring after the '82 season. He later briefly served with several other former Broncos on the staff of the USFL's Denver Gold, including a tenure as head coach.
  • Kyler Murray was the #1 overall pick of the 2019 Draft, selected by the Arizona Cardinals. Murray entered the NFL as one of the most hyped college athletes ever—not only did he succeed Heisman winner Baker Mayfield as Oklahoma's QB and put up his own Heisman-winning season, he did so the year after being taken #9 overall in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, making him the only player ever to be drafted in the first round of both sports. At 5'10", Murray is one of the shortest QBs to ever claim a starting position, but he made use of that size and his quickness to break out as one of the league's premier dual-threat quarterbacks and secure Offensive Rookie of the Year. Murray is also the first NFL starting QB of Korean descent, being the son of an African-American father and Korean-American mother.
  • Joe Namath was an incredibly popular athlete in the late '60s and '70s and a member of the Hall of Fame, though his numbers don't exactly leap off the page today—he had a losing record as a starter,note  was almost completely immobile due to knee injuries sustained in college at Alabama, and threw 47 more interceptions than touchdowns. However, Namath was very much the first "modern" quarterback and is largely responsible for the revolution of football offenses emphasizing passing over running. He was the first QB to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season (a feat no one else matched for over a decade), won AFL MVP twice in 1968-69, and was among the all-time leaders in several passing stats when he retired before the game evolved to make his stats look pedestrian by comparison. He was also one of the main catalysts of the NFL-AFL merger after he was drafted #1 overall by the Jets and #12 by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965—his decision to join the Jets gave the AFL the star power to compete with the NFL. Namath later publicly "guaranteed" an upset victory for the Jets in Super Bowl III, something that the media portrayed as an almost laughable boast; the first two Super Bowls had been blowout wins for the NFL. Namath then led the Jets to victory, proving that the Super Bowl actually mattered rather than being a ceremonial beatdown delivered by the NFL to the AFL and establishing that the merger would not result in a less competitive league.note  This unlikely victory, combined with his laid-back charisma, sex appeal, and the colorful outfits and mink coats he wore on the sidelines, elevated "Broadway Joe" to massive celebrity in the '70s. He hosted his own short-lived talk show the year he won the Super Bowl, relayed that into countless appearances in movies, commercials, and game shows, and was even the star of his own sitcom, The Waverly Wonders, which premiered in 1978 to poor ratings and reviews and only lasted nine episodes. He also opened his own nightclub, which the NFL forced him to sell due to its connections to The Mafia—Namath tearfully threatened to retire due to this, the first of many such announcements that the public took less and less seriously over time. He actually retired in 1977 after a lackluster final season with the Rams, and his #12 was retired by the Jets. He had a short-lived run as a broadcaster on Monday Night Football that ended after a single season due to his lack of a filter. Today, he's likely better known for drunkenly hitting on sideline reporter Suzy Kolber in 2003, an embarrassing incident which he credits as the motivation for him quitting alcohol.
  • Bill Nelsen was a 10th round pick out of USC by the Steelers in 1963. While he showed flashes of brilliance in Pittsburgh, he couldn't hold down the starting role due to knee injuries and a terrible supporting roster. He was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 1968, where he usurped Frank Ryan for the starting role and guided them to consecutive NFL Championship appearances, earning his lone Pro Bowl in 1969. His knee injuries began to hamper his play shortly afterwards, and while he guided the Browns to a division title in '71, he missed all but 1 game in '72 after he underwent knee surgery for the fifth time in seven years. He retired shortly afterwards, going into a decade-long career as a QB coach that included brief stints as OC for the Falcons and Lions. He passed away in 2019.
  • Cam Newton was drafted #1 overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2011 after he won the Heisman and BCS National Championship at Auburn. He was initially considered a project dual-threat QB with significant raw talent and upside but lacking in experience (he was only the starter for one season in college) and was coming out of an offense in college which did not translate well to the pro game. Despite this, Newton found individual success quickly and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. A few seasons and a change at GM later, Newton led the Panthers to three consecutive NFC South titles starting in 2013. He won league MVP honors in 2015note  and took his team to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Broncos. An outstanding athlete, Newton set numerous records and firsts for combined passing and rushing stats and holds the current record for QB rushing touchdowns. He quickly become one of the most popular players in the league due to his skill and larger-than-life personality, particularly with young fans, which led to him starring in the short-lived Nickelodeon TV show All In with Cam Newton. After several injury-plagued seasons, Newton was released by the Panthers in 2020, signed with the Patriots to a very inexpensive one-year deal after the departure of Tom Brady, and returned to the Panthers in the middle of the following season. Off the field, Newton is probably best known for his seemingly endless supply of colorful and extravagant fashion choices for interviews and press conferences.
  • Ken O'Brien was drafted by the New York Jets #24 overall in 1983 out of UC Davis, a selection that stunned many who expected the Jets to take Dan Marino instead. While he was never able to break away from the distinction of being drafted ahead of Marino, O'Brien still managed to carve a respectable 11-year career in the NFL, earning 2 Pro Bowls with the Jets and leading the NFL in passer rating in 1985. He retired in 1993 after a season with the Eagles.
  • Carson Palmer was the #1 overall pick in 2003, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals after a Heisman-winning career at USC. Palmer saw a good deal of success early in his pro career, leading the league in passing touchdowns and completion percentage in his third season, but a severe knee tear sustained in the playoffs the next year started off a string of injuries. Palmer eventually grew sick of being in Cincinnati and essentially forced the Bengals into trading him to the Raiders in 2011 by sitting out and threatening to retire if they did not. After two middling seasons in Oakland, Palmer was traded to the Arizona Cardinals, where he experienced a brief Career Resurrection by putting up the best numbers of his career in 2015 and returning to the Pro Bowl for the first time in a decade, though further injuries led him to retire after 2017. Fun fact: For two seasons in Cincinnati, Carson's backup was his younger brother Jordan Palmer, a journeyman backup who currently runs a very successful QB training camp.
  • Vito "Babe" Parilli was the first great Patriots QB. Drafted #4 overall by the Packers in 1952 out of Kentucky, Parilli bounced around several NFL and CFL teams before landing with the Boston Patriots in 1961, where he served as the conductor of the team's "Grand Opera" offense for seven years. Parilli spent his last two seasons as a backup for Joe Namath on the Jets, earning a Super Bowl ring before retiring and entering into a lengthy coaching career. He is enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame and passed away in 2017.
  • Clarence "Ace" Parker was one of the NFL's biggest stars in the late '30s and early '40s despite not playing on any teams that exist today. A multi-sport star at Duke, he was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the second round of the 1937 Draft, but Parker initially opted to play baseball instead and signed with the Philadelphia Athletics that same year. After a poor start with the A’s, however, Parker changed his mind and shifted his focus towards football, where he became the feature back of the struggling Dodgers. Considered one of the leading passers of his era, he was also a capable runner, punter, and defensive back, earning All-Pro honors twice and being named NFL MVP in 1940. After 1941 season, the U.S. entered World War II, and Parker put his playing career on hold to enlist in the U.S. Navy. By the time he returned to football in 1945, the Dodgers had merged with the Boston Yanks; after a season in Boston, he signed with the New York Yankees of the AAFC in 1946.note  Although the Yankees made it to the AAFC Championship game that year, they lost to the powerhouse Cleveland Browns, after which Parker announced his retirement. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972. Before he died in 2013, he was the Hall’s oldest living member at 101 years old.
  • Dan Pastorini was the #3 overall pick of the 1971 Draft behind Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning out of the now-defunct program at Santa Clara. Pastorini went to the Houston Oilers and for many years seemed likely to mimic his draft predecessors' lack of success while playing on a terrible team — he was regularly injured and went 21 straight starts without a win, still a record. However, he eventually bounced back with a Pro Bowl season in 1975 and sat under center during the successful "Luv Ya Blue" era of the late '70s. After two straight AFC Championship losses, Oilers owner Bud Adams called for a trade with the Oakland Raiders for Ken Stabler (see below) that ultimately failed to get the team to a Super Bowl; Pastorini broke his leg after four games with the Raiders, paving the way for Plunkett's comeback story, and was out of football in 1983 after a few poor years with the Rams and Eagles. He then entered a second sports career as a Top Fuel drag racer.
  • Chad Pennington stands as a prominent example of the impact a Game-Breaking Injury can have on a quarterback's career. Drafted #18 overall by the New York Jets in 2000 out of Marshall, Pennington replaced Vinny Testaverde as the starter in 2002 and led the team to win the new AFC East division. Expectations were high for the Jets the following year until a hand fracture benched him for six games and permanently diminished his once-excellent dexterity. The next season, Pennington tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder, a much more serious injury that robbed his arm-strength and benched him for nearly a full year of rehab. He returned in 2006 and led the Jets back to the playoffs by adjusting his playing style, winning Comeback Player of the Year. His performance sharply declined again the next season, however, and he was released by the team. Pennington joined the Miami Dolphins and again experienced a remarkable revival with the help of the team's run-heavy "wildcat" offense, winning Comeback Player of the Year again (the only player who has ever done so twice) and leading the 'Fins to his second AFC East title. Like the last comeback, this was short-lived—Pennington continued to injure his Glass Cannon shoulder, opposing defenses quickly figured out the wildcat, and he was out of football by 2010, ultimately retiring with the highest career completion percentage in league history at that time. Besides the two comebacks and horrible luck with injuries, Pennington's career is notable for one more reason: He led the only two teams in the AFC East to beat the Patriots during Tom Brady's reign in the division.note 
  • Jake Plummer was a prominent mobile QB around the turn of the millennium. Drafted in the second round in 1997 by the Arizona Cardinals out of Arizona State,note  where he was a Heisman finalist, Plummer quickly entered the starting lineup and set a number of team rookie records. The Cardinals made the playoffs in his second season, where he led the team to its first postseason victory since 1947. His play declined afterwards, especially when it came to committing turnovers, but he remained quite popular with Cardinals fans thanks to his history in the region, scrambling ability, and "gunslinger" mentality. He moved on as a free agent in 2003 to the Denver Broncos, where he excelled in head coach Mike Shanahan's system, leading Denver to the playoffs in three straight seasons and earning his sole career trip to the Pro Bowl in 2005 prior to taking the team to an AFC Championship game. However, his laid-back mentality created friction with Shanahan, and the team traded up in the first round for Jay Cutler (see above) in 2006. Despite leading the team to a 7-4 record, Plummer was benched for Cutler, and the team failed to make the playoffs behind the rookie. The following offseason, a disgruntled Plummer was traded to Tampa Bay, but he refused to report and chose to retire instead. Plummer was notably a close friend of the heroic Pat Tillman from their time together in both college and with the Cardinals; he grew out his hair and beard in honor of Tillman's death in Afghanistan and delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
  • Jim Plunkett was the #1 overall pick of the 1971 Draft, selected by the New England Patriots after a Heisman-winning career at Stanford. Plunkett was seen as a strong prospect due to his arm strength, but he struggled with interceptions and was traded away after five seasons to the San Francisco 49ers, where he again fell short of his early promise. The Niners sent him across the Bay to the Oakland Raiders, where he sat as an almost completely inactive backup for two years as an apparent draft bust. However, after the midseason injury of starter Dan Pastorini (who was drafted two picks after Plunkett in '71) in 1980, the 32-year-old returned to the field and experienced a remarkable Career Resurrection, leading the team to a victory in Super Bowl XV and winning Super Bowl MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. Three years later, Plunkett once again stepped off the bench to relieve the (now-Los Angeles) Raiders starting QB and once again led the team to a Super Bowl victory. He retired after 1986. Despite his many accomplishments over a 15-year career, including being the first Latino/Native American QB to be a #1 draft pick, Super Bowl winner, or Super Bowl MVP, Plunkett's years of middling play, poor career statisticsnote , and dead even 72-72 win-loss record in the regular season have left him as the only eligible QB to win two Super Bowls and not be in the Hall of Fame.
  • Dak Prescott is the current starter of the Dallas Cowboys. A fourth round pick out of Mississippi State in the 2016 Draft, Prescott was expected to serve as a backup and learn from franchise QB Tony Romo until a preseason back injury benched the Cowboys' passing record-holder. Prescott saw unexpected and immediate success filling in for Romo, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, securing the starting spot, and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Prescott has passed Romo's career passer rating, though he has (so far) mimicked his predecessor's struggle to take the team deep into the postseason. This trait likely played into the Cowboys reluctance to sign Prescott to a long-term deal after he wildly outperformed his rookie contract, instead applying the franchise tagnote  ahead of Prescott hitting free agency in 2020. Prescott unfortunately suffered a gruesome ankle injury during that season while playing under the tag, but the Cowboys struggled in his absence, and Prescott was rewarded with a record-breaking new contract in 2021.

     R-Z 
  • George Ratterman had a career that could best be described as unique. He spent three years primarily as a backup at Notre Dame before leaving in 1947 to play for the AAFC's Buffalo Bills, where he set the rookie record for passing TDs with 20 (he also led the league with 22 INTs) and guided the Bills to consecutive championship appearances in '48-'49. Despite the team's success, they were not included in the AAFC's merger with the NFL. Ratterman's rights were sent to the New York Yanks, where he led the NFL in TDs (and INTs) in 1950 but left the team partway through '51 to play in the CFL. He returned to the NFL with the Cleveland Browns a year later, winning two titles as Otto Graham's backup and later being the first QB to use a radio receiver in his helmet. A leg injury ended his career in 1956, after which he earned a law degree and began practicing in his home town of Cincinnati. Years later, while running for sheriff in Campbell County, Kentucky, he was involved in a bizarre blackmailing scandal when the local mafia drugged him and placed him in bed with a stripper in an attempt to smear his reputation. When the plot was uncovered, it actually catapulted Ratterman's popularity; he won the election and began to bust organized crime within the county. He also spent 14 years as a broadcaster for ABC and NBC and was a color commentator for the first Super Bowl. He died in 2007.
  • Philip Rivers spent all but the last of his 17 NFL seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. After being drafted at #4 overall out of NC State by the Giants in 2004, Rivers was traded to the Chargers in exchange for their #1 pick, Eli Manning. After spending two years backing up Drew Brees, Rivers became the Chargers' starter in 2006, beginning the second-longest ever streak of consecutive starts for an NFL quarterback behind only Brett Favre. Said streak also included playing with a torn ACL in the Chargers' AFC Championship game loss against the Patriots in his second season as a starter. That was the closest Rivers ever got to a Super Bowl appearance, though he continued to put up great individual performances with the team for many years to come, earning eight Pro Bowl nods and even winning Comeback Player of the Year after a bounceback from a few down years. Rivers moved on to the Indianapolis Colts for his final season in 2020, leading them to a playoff berth before calling it a career and retiring fifth on the all-time list for passing yards and TD passes; by those metrics, he is the most successful QB to never play in a Super Bowl by a fairly sizable margin. A devout Roman Catholic from Alabama, expect any discussion of Rivers to also mention his nine children and his refusal to curse while delivering blistering on-field trash talk.note  Before his final season, he accepted the head coaching job at a Catholic high school in his home state, hoping to eventually coach his (two) sons just as he had been coached by his father in high school.
  • Aaron Rodgers is the current starter of the Green Bay Packers and one of the most accomplished to ever play the QB position. Rodgers was drafted #24 overall in 2005 by the Packers out of Calnote  in one of the most embarrassing draft slides in NFL history.note  He spent his first three years on the bench behind longtime QB Brett Favre, who left the team holding every major NFL passing record. Rodgers was set to replace Favre in '08 when he came out of retirement in the offseason; to the surprise of many, Packers management decided to stay the course with Rodgers rather than give Favre the starting job back (see Brett’s entry further up). Fans called for Rodgers' blood; he responded by becoming the first QB in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, then led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV. He was the MVP of that Super Bowl and followed it up with four regular season MVPs in 2011, 2014, 2020, and 2021, the most for any player besides Peyton Manning. Rodgers' career passer rating and interception percentage stood on a completely different level from any other player for much of his career.note  That second number marks him as a Spiritual Antithesis to Favre, who retired with the most interceptions in history; Rodgers still has the best career TD-INT ratio in the league by a substantial margin.note  His athleticism is also a key weapon: while he is a superb pocket passer, he is lethal outside the pocket and can throw with deadly accuracy on the run. Despite all of his success, Rodgers has developed a reputation for fizzling out just on the cusp of making it all the way; since his Super Bowl victory, the Packers have made four NFC Championships and lost each one, the longest such streak for a NFL starting QB.note 
    • Outside of his play, Rodgers is known for his unique personality, which can best be described as Academic Athlete meets New-Age Retro Hippie. He signed on to be one of the guest hosts on Jeopardy! following the passing of Alex Trebek and has surprised many an interviewer by going off into tangents about his new favorite book.note  He has leaned into this image as a part of his many ad spots (most prominently with Allstate Insurance), but his mercurial personality has also led to several conflicts between himself, the media, and the Packers organization over the years, including when he misled the media regarding his COVID-19 vaccination status in 2021 after he instead opted to take homeopathic treatments. Rodgers is also known for his touchdown celebrations, particularly his "title belt" motion,note  and for occasionally rocking an impressive mustache. His younger brother Jordan got the girl on Season 12 of The Bachelorette.note  Aaron has himself been one of the most eligible bachelors in the football world, having been in long-term relationships with famous figures like Olivia Munn, NASCAR racer Danica Patrick, and Shailene Woodley.
  • Ben Roethlisberger played his entire 18-season career as the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers after having been drafted #11 overall in 2004 out of the other Miami (the one in Ohio). Nicknamed "Big Ben" for his imposing stature and heavy build which long posed a major challenge for opponents seeking to sack him, he often completed passes with defenders draped over him.note  His career began with him winning his first 14 starts (the previous all-time record was six), taking his team to the AFC Championship game, and becoming the first QB to win Rookie of the Year since 1970.note  He won his first Super Bowl ring the next year in XL, becoming the youngest QB to start and win a Super Bowl, though this often shows up in "worst performance by winning QB" lists.note  However, he acquitted himself rather nicely in his second Super Bowl win over the Cardinals in XLIII, leading a comeback in the final minutes. Despite all this success, he's also well known for his various run-ins with the law and media, something that likely contributed to him not being named Super Bowl MVP. First, he crashed his motorcycle in 2005 while riding without a helmet or license. Then came a 2010 scandal when two women accused him of sexual assault; though lack of physical evidence or corroborating witnesses meant no charges were filed in either case, this earned him a brief suspension during the season he led the Steelers to his third Super Bowl appearance. Ben generally kept out of trouble since the suspension and kept his team in contention for another decade, claiming most of the franchise's passing records and cementing his reputation as a master of the pump fake until his retirement after 2021. He also cameoed as the QB of the Gotham City Rogues in The Dark Knight Rises.
  • Tony Romo holds many of the Dallas Cowboys career passing records, including passing yards/touchdowns, and is one of the more notable undrafted success stories in NFL history. After a standout career at the relatively obscure FCS school Eastern Illinois, he was signed by the Cowboys, where a fellow Eastern Illinois alum, Sean Payton, served as offensive coordinator and heavily recruited Romo.note  After spending several seasons as a backup, Romo got an opportunity to play in 2006 when struggling starter Drew Bledsoe (see above) was pulled. He played well enough to earn the starting job headed forward and guided the Cowboys to the playoffs. However, his first playoff game resulted in one of his most infamous "Fizzle Out" moments—Romo, still serving as the holder for placekicksnote , botched the hold on the game-winning field goal attempt and was tackled short of the end zone when he tried to run with the ball. Despite his regular season success over the next decade—not to mention a high-profile relationship with Jessica Simpson that briefly made him a tabloid fixture—Romo struggled each time the Cowboys made the playoffs; he has the highest career passer rating of any retired QB to never win, let alone appear in, a Super Bowl. A series of injury-plagued seasons led to Romo ending his career in 2016, after which he immediately went into broadcasting. Despite having no prior experience, he was hired by CBS to be the color commentator for their #1 broadcast team. Romo drew significant praise from fans and the media for his fresh perspective and unique style of precisely predicting plays seconds before they happen, so much so that other networks are attempting to overhaul their broadcast teams with recently retired players like Romo. Romo has so far called two Super Bowls with CBS.
  • Tobin Rote began his career with the Green Bay Packers, who drafted him in the second round out of Rice in 1950. During his time in Green Bay, he led the NFL in passer rating (1952), passing TDs (1955-56), and went to the Pro Bowl in 1956 after posting for a then-record-breaking 29 TDs. In 1957, he was traded to the Detroit Lions, leading them to the championship in 1957 while subbing for Bobby Layne (see above) and played there until 1959. After a three-year stint in the CFL, he signed with the San Diego Chargers in 1963, immediately leading them to the AFL Championship, becoming the only QB to win titles in both the AFL and NFL, and earning the AFL All-Star and MVP awards. He retired in 1966 after a disappointing stint with the Broncos. Despite his accomplishments, he has yet to be enshrined in Canton, largely due to his lopsided TD-INT ratio of 148-191 and playing on some rather horrid Packers teams. He died from a heart attack in 2000.
  • Frank Ryan was the last QB to lead the Cleveland Browns to a championship way back in 1964. A fifth round draft pick out of Rice in 1958, he mostly sat on the Rams' bench for several years before forcing a trade to Cleveland in 1962, where he secured three Pro Bowl nods and claimed several franchise passing records (most since passed). However, Ryan is perhaps most notable for his remarkable off-field exploits; during the offseasons of his years with the Browns, Ryan received a Ph.D in mathematics and served as a full-time professor at Case Western Reserve University. While it was still common in the '60s for even star NFL players to have off-season jobs, few other players chose such a unique career path (it was a common joke that Ryan was the only player on the Browns to even know what Einstein's theory of relativity was). Ryan spent his last two seasons in Washington, where he was signed as much to help Vince Lombardi set up some of the league's first computers as for his play. He retired after 1971 and entered straight into a successful career in academia and the burgeoning computer industry; he notably helped install the first electronic voting system for the U.S. House of Representatives and served as AD and math lecturer at Yale from 1977-86.
  • Matt Ryan was drafted #3 overall in 2008 by the Atlanta Falcons out of Boston College. Nicknamed "Matty Ice" for his coolness under pressure, he is normally recognized as one of the best QBs of the 21st century, at least on paper. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year, brought the Falcons to their only run of sustained success in franchise history, won MVP in 2016 while taking the team to a Super Bowl appearance, and sits in or close to the top ten in almost every career passing statistic. Despite all that, Ryan has never quite garnered the same degree of respect and fame as some of his peers, likely because of the Falcons' horribly embarrassing loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI after his MVP season; for all of Ryan's impressive numbers, "28-3" will probably be the one that follows him for the rest of his career. In 2022, the Falcons traded him to the Colts.
  • Mark Rypien was a sixth round pick for Washington out of Washington State in 1986. After sitting as a backup during the Doug Williams-led Super Bowl XXII victory, the Calgary native replaced the aging QB the following year and broke out as a star for a few seasons, leading the team to another championship in 1991 and being named Super Bowl XXVI MVP. Unfortunately, Rypien began to struggle with injuries not long after; he was cut after 1993 and bounced around several teams as a backup, leaving the game for a time after his son's death from a brain tumor and ultimately retiring after 2001. He has since struggled with mental health issues that he and his family attributes to CTE.
  • Phil Simms played for the New York Giants for 16 seasons after they drafted him #7 overall in 1979. Their completely unexpected high selection of Simms, an unspectacular college QB from the small Division I-AA Morehead State, was seen as yet another example of an organization that hadn't visited the playoffs in 15 years completely bungling things, especially after his first several seasons were plagued with poor play and injuries. However, he matured immensely after heavily studying film during his time in recovery; while the Giants' '80s renaissance is most commonly attributed to coach Bill Parcells and their Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense led by Lawrence Taylor, Simms proved to be a very capable passer. In Super Bowl XXI, Simms put up the best statistical passing performance in the history of the Big Game with a record 150.9 passer ratingnote  on the way to winning Super Bowl MVP and became the first player to say "I'm Going to Disney World!" after winning. A broken foot benched Simms late in 1990 after he helped set the team up for another Super Bowl run under backup Jeff Hostetler (see above). He continued to be troubled by injuries but managed one more Pro Bowl season in '93 before deciding to retire. The Giants retired his #11. Simms then launched a very successful (albeit oft-criticized) second career as a broadcaster, serving as color commentator for two Super Bowls with NBC and six for CBS. Phil's sons Chris and Matt Simms both had unspectacular careers as journeymen backups, though Chris started most of 2005 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spun that off into a career as an analyst, usually on opposing networks to his dad.
  • Brian Sipe is the franchise passing leader for the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him in the thirteenth round of the 1972 Draft (#330 overall) out of San Diego State. After two seasons on the bench, Sipe worked his way to become the team's starting QB, where he put up a perfectly serviceable individual performance for years on a team that was generally not spectacular. He then became one of the more notable examples of a One Season Wonder in NFL history in 1980, where he led the Browns squad to the playoffs for the first time since the year they had drafted him. This team earned the nickname "the Kardiac Kids" for their tendency to just barely win in the fourth quarter or overtime. Sipe was not only selected to his only Pro Bowl for this season but won league MVP. However, the miracles ceased once the Browns hit the postseason, as they lost their first game on the infamous Red Right 88 playnote , starting the legacy of Browns playoff failures in the '80s. Sipe would be benched before they reached it again two years later, spent a few years in the USFL, and was out of pro football by 1985.
  • Alex Smith was one of the best (worst?) examples of No Respect Guy in NFL history, almost crossing into Butt-Monkey territory for many years. After being drafted #1 overall out of Utah in 2005 by the 49ers over Aaron Rodgers, Smith languished for the next six years in San Francisco, putting up generally unimpressive performances under a series of different coaches. He finally turned it around in 2011, shaking off his reputation as a bust and leading the team to the NFC Championship game. The next year, he was on-track to set new personal career heights when he missed a game due to a concussion and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick, who then took his place as a starter and led the team to a Super Bowl appearance. Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he consistently brought the team to the playoffs for the next half-decade before once again being replaced at starter by another young wunderkind QB, Patrick Mahomes.note  Smith then became the starter in Washington, where he led the team to an early 6-3 record in 2018 before sustaining a severe leg fracture in a game against the Texans, the same Game-Breaking Injury that had ended the career of former Washington QB Joe Theismann three decades prior (see below). Further complications with sepsis led to Smith nearly losing his leg and his life.note  After enduring a year and a half of intensive rehab, Smith made Washington's 2020 roster as a third-string backup. After the other two QBs were benched and injured, respectively, Smith took the field and led the long-struggling team back to the playoffs with a winning record as a starter, earning Comeback Player of the Year. However, continued pain in his leg made him sit out the postseason, and he retired during the offseason.
  • Ken Stabler played for 15 seasons, most famously for the Oakland Raiders through the 1970s. Nicknamed "Snake" in high school for his evasivenessnote , Stabler was drafted by the Raiders in the second round in 1968 out of Alabama.note  After three seasons on the bench, Stabler took the starting position and became one of the league's most popular and successful players during the decade, earning MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1974, being selected to four Pro Bowls, and winning Super Bowl XI, his sole visit to the Big Game in the midst of five straight AFC Championship appearances. He was responsible for multiple legendary plays, from the "Ghost to the Post" pass to Dave Casper in the '77 divisional playoffs to the infamous "Holy Roller"note  in '78, where he fumbled the ball forward on the final play of the game and two other Raiders "accidentally" knocked it into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown against the Chargers. He was also well-known for his various hard-partying exploits off the field and for his long mop of '70s Hair. After a decade in Oakland, an increasingly haggard-looking Stabler played out his last five years with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints before calling it a career. A negative career TD-INT ratio kept him out of the Hall of Fame until 2016, a year after his death from colon cancer.note 
  • Matthew Stafford is the current starter for the Los Angeles Rams after playing the prior twelve seasons with the Detroit Lions. The Lions drafted him out of Georgia with the #1 overall pick in 2009 following their 0-16 season in 2008. Stafford's tenure with the Lions was, by almost every metric, the best the long-struggling franchise had with a starting QB in the Super Bowl era; he holds NFL records for most pass attempts (727) and comeback wins (eight) in a season, is the fastest player in NFL history to pass for 45,000 yards (in 165 games), and became just the fourth QB to pass for over 5,000 yards in a season (in 2011, the year after a shoulder injury had benched him most of the season, which won him Comeback Player of the Year). Despite his stellar stats, the Lions' continued struggles during his tenure (particularly failing to post a postseason win) and his numerous injuries (most of which he has insisted on playing through) ensured him a role as a No Respect Guy.note  Stafford finally shook this label after he was traded to the Rams in 2021 in exchange for Jared Goff (above) and three future draft picks, two of them first-rounders; in just his first season in L.A., he won more games than he ever had in Detroit and shattered his postseason victory drought by taking the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. Fun fact: Stafford was the passer behind the two most productive receiving seasons in NFL history (Calvin Johnson in 2012 and Cooper Kupp in 2021).note 
  • Bart Starr was the starting QB of the '60s champion Green Bay Packers, for which he played 15 seasons after they drafted him out of Alabama in the seventeenth round in 1956 (#200 overall) in one of the greatest draft steals in NFL history. Under Vince Lombardi, Starr emerged from obscurity to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer and league MVP in 1966. He was known for clutch performances in big games, including the "Ice Bowl", an NFL Championship Game won by the Packers over the Cowboys in subzero temperatures. He led the Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls, winning MVP in both, as well as three other pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships; those 5 championships stood as the record for most NFL titles by a quarterback for more than 50 years until Tom Brady surpassed it. Starr still holds the best playoff win record (9-1) of any NFL QB. Three years after retiring as a player, after a brief foray into broadcasting, Starr became head coach of the Packers and put up a losing record with only one playoff berth over nine seasons. His #15 was retired by the Packers. Starr passed away in 2019.
  • Roger Staubach was the QB for the Dallas Cowboys during the heyday of "America's Team" during the '70s. One of the most notable draft steals in league history, Staubach was a tenth round pick in 1964 despite a Heisman-winning college career that made him a national star. The reason for that fall? Staubach had played for the U.S. Naval Academy and chose to enter active service in the Vietnam War; he didn't resign his commission to enter the NFL until 1969, earning him one of his many nicknames, "Captain America". Staubach soon won the starting job from then-starter Craig Morton (see above) after one of the more notable and lengthy QB controversies in league history (coach Tom Landry even had them trade off every other play in one memorable '71 game). Staubach set himself apart from Morton—and the rest of the league—with his ability to scramble (hence the nickname "Roger the Dodger") and to rally his team from behind in the final seconds, most famously by becoming the Trope Namer for the "Hail Mary" in a game against the Vikings in the '75 playoffs (hence the title "Captain Comeback"). He won two Super Bowls (VI and XII, winning MVP in both and defeating Morton's Broncos in the latter) and appeared in two others (X and XIII; he was also on the bench in V). While he was statistically the most dominant QB of his era, with six Pro Bowl selections and four seasons as the passer rating leader, his Navy commitment kept his career totals well below those of prior greats like Unitas, Tittle, and Tarkenton. He may have had a chance to close the gap with several more years of play, but he retired in 1979, still on the top of his game, following the advice of his doctor after sustaining numerous concussions. Staubach was still inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and was later awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He's the Cowboys QB in the film adaptation of Black Sunday.
  • Kordell Stewart, nicknamed "Slash", was an athletic QB most famous for his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late '90s and early '00s after they drafted him in the 2nd round (#60 overall) in 1995 out of Colorado. Stewart spent his first two seasons in the NFL as a RB/WR hybrid (hence the "Slash" nickname), helping the team to a Super Bowl XXX appearance as a rookie. After several seasons with middling veteran starters at QBnote , Pittsburgh named Stewart as their starter in 1997. He rewarded the team with a breakout performance, throwing 21 touchdowns, rushing for 11 more including a then-NFL record for a QB 80-yard runnote , and leading the team to an 11-5 record and AFC Championship game appearance. His performance earned him a spot on the cover of NFL Blitz 98. Stewart struggled in the seasons that followed, ultimately getting benched in 2000 while appearing to be a One-Hit Wonder... before earning the starting job once again in 2001 and putting up the best season of his career while the Steelers rolled to a 13-3 season, ultimately losing in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots led by a nascent Tom Brady. The now Two-Hit Wonder went back to struggling the next season, was benched again, and released. He spent a season in Chicago and two in Baltimore before calling it a career, retiring with the second most rushing touchdowns by a QB in NFL historynote  and going down as a prime example of a frustratingly boom-or-bust player.
  • George Taliaferro was a QB/HB/WR/DB/punternote  for a number of teams in the early '50s. Taliaferro has the distinction of being the first African-American player to be drafted by an NFL team, being picked by the Chicago Bears in the thirteenth round in 1949 after he led Indiana University to its only undefeated season. The first NFL draft was held in 1936, during a period where the league's owners all made an informal agreement to segregate their teams. Several black players had taken the field from the earliest days of the league, before and after this agreement was made, but Taliaferro's drafting was another critical step in fully integrating the league. Taliaferro never actually played for the Bears, as he had already signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC, a league that had already been hiring black players for a few years. He played in multiple positions, in part because he was fairly talented at all of them and in part because of the racist assumption that black men could not and should not play quarterback. The Dons dissolved after Taliaferro's first season; Taliaferro spent the next six years playing for four different teams in the NFL and was selected to three Pro Bowls before he retired. He went on to a long career as an academic and social activist until his passing in 2018.
  • Ryan Tannehill is the current starter for the Tennessee Titans. He was drafted #8 overall in 2012 by the Miami Dolphins out of Texas A&M. Largely overshadowed by the other high-profile quarterbacks in his class (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson), Tannehill struggled for most of his tenure with Miami thanks to a front office that failed to surround him with quality talent and a coaching staff that did not scheme to his strengths and help him develop. After seven seasons marked by a few injuries, the organization gave up on him in 2019 and sent him to Tennessee in a trade for some late round draft picks. Finally surrounded by talented offensive players and coaches, Tannehill proceeded to have a Career Resurrection after he stepped in for the struggling Marcus Mariota and set career highs in several stats while leading the league in passer rating, taking the Titans to the AFC Championship game, and winning Comeback Player of the Year. He continued his performance in 2020 and is now seen as an example of how a talented prospect's career can be stymied by his team's front office and coaching situation.
  • Fran Tarkenton was a Hall of Famer who played for the Minnesota Vikings during their heyday in the 1970s. The Vikings' third ever draft pick, Tarkenton was selected in the third round in 1961 out of Georgianote  and claimed the starting position after the team's first game. His smaller size, mobility within the pocket, and style of running around to avoid being sacked earned him the nickname "Scramblin' Fran"—he is often credited as pioneering the "dual threat" rushing QB archetype. Disagreements with his coach about QB mobility resulted in Tarkenton being traded to the New York Giants in 1967. By the time he was traded back to Minnesota in 1972, he had evolved greatly as a passer, even winning MVP in 1975 after leading the league in passing TDs. During this second era, he led the Vikings to three Super Bowls; unfortunately, they lost all three, with Tarkenton performing rather poorly in all of them. By that last Super Bowl appearance, he held both the career passing and rushing records for a quarterback, which stood for about a decade before they were broken by Dan Marino and Randall Cunningham (respectively). He retired in 1978 after 18 seasons; his #10 was retired by the Vikings, and he still holds most of the franchise's QB records. To this day, he is considered one of the best QBs to never win a Super Bowl.
  • Tim Tebow played in the NFL for only five seasons (two on practice squads and only two as a QB) and his accomplishments don't even come close to the rest of those on this list. However, despite (or because) of that short career, he became one of the most polarizing and meme-generating players in NFL history. After a Heisman-winning college career at Florida that left some asking if he was the greatest player ever at that level, he was drafted #25 overall in 2010 by the Denver Broncos. Pundits widely panned the move, questioning his mechanics and recklessness while seeing him as a backup (or another position entirely) rather than an immediate franchise player, a role he was forced into in his second year. That 2011 season turned into one of the more memorable in NFL history. Despite having the lowest passing completion rate of any starting QB that year, Tebow's Broncos somehow not only made it to the playoffs but managed to beat the defending AFC Champion Steelers in the first round. Tebow's fans saw him as a natural leader and the walking embodiment of Crazy Enough to Work, pointing to multiple 4th-quarter comebacks he led during his starting tenure (which gained the nickname "Tebow Time"). His critics saw him as a terrible player who put his team in the position to need those comebacks and succeeded by the efforts of his teammates but got all the credit due to Wolverine Publicity. All that both could agree upon is that his throwing motion was horribly inconsistent, generating some fodder (both good and bad) for the highlight reels but making him impossible to gameplan around, to the point where his own coaches publicly bashed him during a winning streak.note  Despite his winning record and playoff victory, he was replaced in 2012 by the much more dependable Peyton Manning and traded to the Jets. After he spent the year mostly warming the bench, he was picked up by the Patriots but couldn't make the roster. After not drawing interest from other NFL teams, he signed a multi-year deal as an analyst for the SEC Network. He gave the NFL another try with the Eagles in 2015 but returned to broadcasting after being cut in the preseason. He then tried his hand at minor league baseball, despite not having played the game since high school. He left that sport behind in 2021 to return to the NFL, signing with the Jaguarsnote  to play tight end eight years after his last NFL action. However, Tebow only managed to play in one preseason game before the team decided to cut him, seemingly ending his NFL career for good.
    • Much of Tebow's polarizing effect comes not from his on-the-field football skills (or lack thereof) but from his off-the-field religious views that color almost anything he does in public. An outspoken evangelical Christian, Tebow regularly wrote Bible verses in his eyeblack and dropped to one knee to pray on the field, inspiring the "Tebowing" meme that quickly replaced "planking" as the go-to Twitter/Facebook picnote . More controversially, he appeared in an anti-abortion Super Bowl commercial before being drafted, marking the first time a political issue ad saw airtime during the Big Game. Because of this and other stances, there is a small but dedicated group of fans who ardently believe Tebow only lost his starting QB job in the NFL because of his religious beliefs, while there is another group that is equally insistent that Tebow's faith is the only reason he has those fans to begin with. Then there are those in the middlenote  that think Tebow just got unlucky and was thrust into the spotlight too early despite clearly needing much more training and practice time to work on his weaknesses and take full advantage of his natural leadership abilities. Despite having been a relatively obscure one-season wonder on the field, Tebow remains in the public spotlight and is still the regular talk of sports pundits.
  • Vinny Testaverde was a Long Runner who played for 21 seasons across seven teams.note  After winning the Heisman during his senior year at Miami, Testaverde was drafted #1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987. He set many at-the-time records for the young franchise, not all of them good—he threw 35 interceptions in his first full season as a starter, the second-most ever for a single season.note  He was released at the end of his contract, signed with Bill Belichick's Cleveland Browns, and made the move with the team to Baltimore, becoming the Ravens' first starting QB. Though he improved from his rocky start and even showed a few flashes of his promised brilliance in his subsequent decades of play (including two Pro Bowl seasons with the Ravens and Jets, taking the latter to an AFC Championship appearance), Testaverde still only barely recorded a positive TD-INT ratio by the end of his career in 2007 and holds the record for the most losses by a starting QB at 123. His incredibly long career by default places him high on many lists otherwise populated by Hall of Famers—he threw for more yards and more touchdowns than anyone else who is eligible but not enshrined in Canton.
  • Joe Theismannnote  was the starter for Washington in the late '70s/early '80s. A fourth-round pick by the Miami Dolphins out of Notre Dame in 1971, Theismann's high salary demands and stubborn negotiations led to him being cut. With the Dolphins still holding his NFL rights, he signed with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts and performed well until Miami traded him to Washington in 1974.note  After mostly playing as a returner for a few seasons, Theismann eventually claimed the starting QB position in 1978. Despite a delayed start, he became one of the NFL's biggest stars, leading the team to their first Super Bowl win in '82 against the team that drafted him and winning MVP in '83 before taking the team to another Super Bowl appearance.note  Any hope he had of salvaging the wasted early years for a shot at the Hall of Fame was cut short, however, when he suffered a devastating compound fracture in his lower leg during a Monday Night Football matchup against the Giants in 1985, a gruesome event that was seared into the minds of all football fans when the primetime broadcast played a graphic replay of the break multiple times. With medicine and rehab science being nowhere near modern levels, Theismann never played football again and soon entered a career as a broadcaster and analyst. Fun fact: Theismann was the last non-kicker to wear a single-bar facemask.
  • Tommy Thompson was the QB of the Philadelphia Eagles during their championship years in the '40s. He was initially signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa in 1940, playing sparingly as QB and DB before leaving the team and signing with Philly. Thompson struggled with interceptions his first two years with the Eagles but later emerged as one of the better passers in the NFL, earning a Pro Bowl in 1942, after which he left the team to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II. He returned in 1945 buried on the team's depth chart but won back the starting role in 1947. Surrounded by a vastly improved roster, Thompson led the Eagles to three straight division crowns from 1947-49 and back-to-back titles in '48 and '49 (though his performance as a passer in both championship games was very poor, as both were played in terrible conditions that favored the run). During this stretch, Thompson led the NFL in touchdown percentage three times, passer rating twice, and passing touchdowns once, cementing himself as one of the league's top QBs. By the way, he accomplished all of this while being legally blind in one eye. He retired in 1950 and died from brain cancer in 1989.
  • Yelberton Abraham "Y.A." Tittle was a Hall of Famer who played from 1948-64. One of the most prominent players of his era, Tittle was a first round pick in '48 out of LSU but chose to join the AAFC's Baltimore Colts instead. After that team folded, Tittle joined the San Francisco 49ers as part of their "Million Dollar Backfield". Despite the team's strength at the run with three future Hall of Fame running backs, Tittle stood out as an excellent passer—he even coined the phrase "alley-oop" to describe his Signature Move, a high-arcing desperation pass. By his 13th season, Tittle was written off as washed-up and traded to the New York Giants, where he proceeded to put up some of his greatest individual performances as a passer in the twilight of his career. In New York, he put up the fourth-ever seven TD-pass game, broke the record for TDs in a single season, won MVP, and took the Giants to three consecutive championship games, though they lost all three. During this era, the aging and balding QB was known as "The Bald Eagle". Eventually, time and injuries caught up with Tittle, as captured in one of the most famous photos in sports history, and he retired in 1964 holding most of the league's career passing records, some negative ones like career interceptions, and the record for most games played (all since passed). While Tittle's #14 was retired when he first joined the Giants in honor of the now-obscure halfback Ward Cuff, the Giants let him wear it and have since re-retired it. Tittle passed away in 2017.
  • Johnny Unitas, aka "the Golden Arm", was the QB for the Baltimore Colts from 1956-72 and the dominant player of his era. With his black high-top cleats and flat-top haircut, he still symbolizes the prototype "old school" QB of that era. A major draft steal, Unitas was a ninth-round pick by the his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955 out of Louisville and didn't even make the team; the Colts picked him up the next year, and he immediately broke out as the league's leading passer. He led the league in passing yards and touchdowns four times, won MVP thrice ('59, '64, '67), and was selected to ten Pro Bowls. Unitas led the Colts to victory in two NFL championships in the pre-Super Bowl era, including the "Greatest Game Ever Played", a 1958 match against the Giants that featured the first "sudden death" overtime. He set many passing records, becoming the first QB to pass for over 40,000 yards and the first to throw more than 30 TDs in a season. Notably, he held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass for five decades until Drew Brees broke it in 2012. His golden arm—specifically his elbow—began to decline in his later years; he still played in Super Bowl III (Earl Morrall started and played most of the game for the Colts) against Joe Namath's Jets and won Super Bowl V against the Cowboys (but only after being benched for Morrall in one of the sloppiest Super Bowls ever). After retiring in 1973 following a few games with the Chargers that no one remembers, Unitas settled down in the Baltimore area, had his #19 retired by the Colts, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. When the Colts surreptitiously relocated to Indianapolis in 1984, Unitas was so outraged that he cut almost all ties with the franchise and "adopted" the Ravens when they came to Baltimore in 1996, vocally supporting the team until his death in 2002.
  • Norm Van Brocklin was a QB (and punter) for the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles during the 1950s, winning a championship apiece with both teams. A fourth round pick out of Oregon in 1949, "The Dutchman" traded snaps and eventually succeeded fellow Hall of Fame QB Bob Waterfield (see below) and broke out as one of the league's premier passers. Van Brocklin famously holds the all-time record for most passing yards in a single game, putting up 554 yards against the New York Yanks in 1951. Not only was it the first 500+ yard passing game in league history, this game took place in an era where 400+ yard passing games were still almost unheard of, as the run dominated offensive schemes, defenses had few restrictions on what they could do to receivers, and even the ball was not particularly suited to long throws. Even as the passing game has become much more aggressive and 500+ yard games somewhat more common, his achievement remains an almost complete aberration, with no other QB coming within 25 yards of passing it for seven decades.note  After being traded to the Eagles in 1958, he experienced a late-career resurgence, winning his second championship in 1960 and being named league MVP. He then retired and went straight into coaching, becoming the first head coach of the Vikings and the second of the Falcons, though he became better known for creatively stringing together curse words from the sidelines at Minnesota and Atlanta than actually winning games. He also had a complete disdain for sportswritersnote  and European soccer-style kickersnote . He died of a heart attack in 1983.
  • Bill Wade was the #1 overall pick in the 1952 Draft, though the Vanderbilt product didn't join the L.A. Rams until 1954 due to his military service in Korea. This suited the Rams just fine; they were one of the league's stronger teams (having "earned" the #1 pick from a lottery) and had Norm Van Brocklin (above) under center. After Van Brocklin was traded to the Eagles in 1958, Wade led the league in passing yards in his first year as a starter. Unfortunately, his playing time (and the team's fortunes) declined in subsequent seasons. In 1961, he managed to secure a trade to the Chicago Bears, where he became the team's sole starter and immediately rebounded, leading them to a Championship in 1963. Wade retired after 1966 and served as the Bears QB coach for one season; he was offered the chance to succeed George Halas as head coach the next year but turned it down. He passed away in 2016.
  • Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl win in 1999 and earning both the regular season and Super Bowl MVP. That's an impressive year for any QB, but what made Warner's season truly exceptional is a) that it was his first year as an NFL starter and b) he was an undrafted player several years out of college. After an undistinguished career at the FCS Northern Iowa and a few unsuccessful NFL tryouts in 1994, Warner married his college sweetheart, bagged groceries at a supermarket for a while, and bounced around the Arena League (where he led his team, the Iowa Barnstormers, to two Arena Bowls, which they lost) and NFL Europe before finally settling with the Rams in 1998.note  An injury to starter Trent Green the following preseason resulted in Warner stepping off the bench and into the spotlight, putting up a record-setting performance while taking the Rams to their first playoff berth in a decade and first championship in nearly half a century. He had several more strong years in St. Louis, winning MVP again in 2001 and coming just short of winning a second Super Bowl. Warner then got to have a second Cinderella story after poor performance caused by a broken hand led the Rams to release him to the New York Giants in 2004, where he was usurped by Eli Manning and released after a single season. Warner then struggled for the starting position with the Arizona Cardinals for several years, but he eventually reclaimed it and led the long-suffering team to their first Super Bowl appearance. He wasn't able to bring the Cards their first win in the Big Game, however, and he retired after 2009, making it to the Hall of Fame in 2017. He currently works as an analyst on the NFL Network and commentator for Westwood One radio. He's also known for being an outspoken charismatic Christian, and a Biopic on his life titled American Underdog, starring Zachary Levi and directed by Christian filmmaking duo the Erwin Brothers, was released in 2021.
  • Bob Waterfield was a QB, DB, kicker, and punter for the Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams. Originally a fifth round pick by the Rams in 1944, he didn't join the team until the following season due to his WWII military service and then a decision to play one more year at UCLA. When he did join them in 1945, he put up one of the best rookie QB performances the league has ever seen, leading the league in touchdown passes and taking a franchise that had never had a winning season in the NFL and had suspended operations just two seasons prior all the way to a Championship title; he was named league MVP for his efforts. Waterfield's success helped to propel the Rams' move to his former college town the following season, where he continued to shine. In the early '50s, he began to split snaps with Norm Van Brocklin (see above). Despite leading the Rams to a second Championship, having a capable replacement convinced him to retire from football in 1952. He entered into what he thought would be a more lucrative business as a film producer with his then-wife, Hollywood starlet Jane Russell, but that venture folded rather quickly, and Waterfield came back into the Rams' fold as a coach, including a short and unsuccessful stint as the head coach. Despite his shortened career, Waterfield set several NFL records (most of them in kicking and all since surpassed), had his #7 retired by the Rams, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965. He passed away in 1983.
  • Carson Wentz was drafted #2 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016. Coming out of FCS North Dakota State, many draftniks were concerned that Wentz may have been a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond in college and wasn't worth everything the Eagles gave up to get himnote . After a solid rookie year, Wentz followed up in his second season by setting the Eagles team record for TD passes in a season and was a near-lock to win league MVP before he tore his ACL late in the season, winding up on IR. (The Eagles still won the Super Bowl behind backup QB Nick Foles.) Wentz has unfortunately developed a reputation as a Glass Cannon; the next year he was again replaced by Foles after sustaining a back injury, and he was removed from his postseason debut the year after due to a concussion. Very similar to the Donovan McNabb example (see above), Wentz soon became the target of harsh criticism by Eagles fans that only got worse when his performance sharply declined in 2020, leading to him being benched late in the season. He has since bounced to the Colts and Commanders.
  • Danny White was a QB and punter drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round in 1974 out of Arizona State. He chose to opt out of playing for the Cowboys, as they were more interested in him as a punter, and took a better offer to be the starting QB (and punter) for the Memphis Southmen in the WFL. After the league folded in 1976, he re-signed with the Cowboys, where he backed up Roger Staubach and got a ring from Super Bowl XII. After Staubach retired unexpectedly in 1980, White capably filled his shoes, being named to the 1982 Pro Bowl and leading the Cowboys to three consecutive NFC Championship games from 1980-82; however, he lost all three and struggled to step out of his predecessor's shadow. His throwing wrist was injured in 1986 on a hit by Carl Banks and was never the same afterwards; he retired after 1988. He then became the head coach of the Arizona Rattlers in the Arena Football League from 1992-2004, winning two championships in 1994 and 1997, and then served as the HC of the Utah Blaze from 2006-08. He was named to the Arena Football League Hall of Fame in 2002.
  • Doug Williams began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him #17 overall in 1978 out of HBCU Grambling State, the first black QB ever selected in the first round. Though he helped bring the terrible Bucs to their first playoff wins, Williams (the only black starting QB in the NFL at the time) was paid the lowest salary of anyone at his position and decided to leave for the USFL when he wasn't offered a better contract. After that league folded, Williams signed with Washington as a backup. In 1987, Williams won the starting position in time for the playoffs and led Washington in Super Bowl XXII, making him the first black QB to ever start a Super Bowl. He played spectacularly, upsetting the favored Broncos and setting a Super Bowl record by scoring four touchdowns in a single quarter and scoring again in the second half while Washington's defense and running game dominated the rest of the game, resulting in a 41-10 Washington victory. Williams' efforts resulted in him being named Super Bowl MVP. The rest of his career was fairly middling, ending in 1989 with a career passer rating of 69.4, but his place in the history books as the first black QB to start and win a Super Bowl was secure. After retiring, Williams returned to his alma mater for two runs as head coach and co-founded the Black College Football Hall of Fame. He currently works in the front office for the Commanders.
  • Russell Wilson is the current QB for the Denver Broncos. He was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks #75 overall in 2012 out of Wisconsin, with the expectation that he would be a quality backup. Unlike his fellow 2012 draftees, college wunderkinds Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin, Wilson had to fight his way into the starting lineup in the preseason, winning the starting role over former Green Bay star backup Matt Flynn. A scrambling QB who is quite undersized for the position (5'11"), his ability to both run and throw effectively took Seattle to an 11-5 record. Between himself, Luck, and RG3, Wilson was the only rookie QB to win a playoff game in his rookie year, and he tied an NFL record set by Peyton Manning for most season TD passes by a rookie with 26note . In his second season, Wilson won his first Super Bowl over the seemingly unstoppable Broncos and their high-powered offense. He became the second black QB to win a Super Bowl (after Doug Williams 27 years prior) and the first to do so as a full-season starter (Williams was primarily a backup until the playoffs). After again leading the Seahawks to a Super Bowl apperance the following year, Wilson has earned league-wide praise for his passing precision, rushing ability, and coolness under pressure, earning nine Pro Bowl selections. He gained further off-field attention for his high-profile relationship with and eventual marriage to R&B singer Ciara. He is also one of an increasing number of athletes who own shares in Major League Soccer teams; he and Ciara hold a small stake in Seattle Sounders FC. In 2022, he was traded to the Broncos for a massive haul including three players and two first round draft picks.
  • Steve Young was a Hall of Famer best known for his time with the San Francisco 49ers, where he became known as the epitome of a true dual-threat NFL quarterback, being an elite passer while also being able to gash defenses with his running ability.note  After a standout college career at BYU, Young entered the pros in 1984 and signed the USFL's Los Angeles Express, which awarded him a then-record $40 million contract that he agreed to have paid out in annuity for the next four decades.note  He then signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had acquired his rights by making him the #1 overall pick of the USFL and CFL Supplemental Draft two years earlier. After two utterly miserable years with the moribund Bucs where he went 3-19 as a starter with nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, Young was traded to the 49ers to backup Joe Montana. After playing well in limited action as a backup for four years, Young claimed the starting job in 1991 when Montana was lost for almost two seasons with an elbow injury. He won his first MVP in Montana's absence, playing so well that Montana's return created a controversy that divided the locker room, coaching staff, and ownership; Montana requested a trade in 1993 to resolve the situation. Young had the best season of his career that year, setting multiple franchise passing records. The following year, he had another MVP season and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in which he threw six TDs, still the record for the Big Game. He continued to play at a high level and became one of the best QBs of the '90s, leading the league in multiple passing statistics and being selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls, before his career was ultimately derailed by injuries. Young retired in 1999 with the top career passer rating in NFL history, though he has since been surpassed by several others, and his #8 was retired by the 49ers. He now serves as an analyst on ESPN.
  • Jim Zorn was the first starting QB for the Seattle Seahawks. An undrafted pick by the Cowboys in 1975 out of Cal Poly Pomona, the scrambling lefty signed with the expansion franchise the following year and held the starting position for the next eight seasons before ceding it to fellow UFA Dave Krieg (see above). He retired from play after 1987 and immediately entered a long coaching career, including a stint as HC in Washington from 2008-09. He is a member of the Seahawks' Ring of Honor.

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