Grantland’s QB Champs

The Quarterback Championship Belt, GRANTLAND
Every season there are a few great signal-callers, but which ones have reigned over all, and for how long? By Bill Barnwell on July 19, 201


Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts

Reign: 1959-61

Unitas’s first run as the best quarterback in football began with his first of three selections as AP MVP in 1959. In three years as Baltimore’s undisputed starter, Unitas made it to three Pro Bowls, was first-team All-Pro twice, won that aforementioned MVP, and went 23-11 while winning back-to-back NFL championships. Not bad for a ninth-round pick who was cut almost immediately by the Steelers; Unitas was Tom Brady before Tom Brady was Tom Brady. After the 1959-61 run, much like Brady did after his third title, he went into a bit of a rut; Unitas’s Colts went 35-20 over the next four seasons, and while Unitas led the league in fourth-quarter comebacks in both 1961 and 1962, he also led the league in interceptions in 1961. During the 1962 season, a veteran surpassed him as the league’s most dangerous passer.


Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders

Reign: 1974

Stabler had been impressive taking over for Lamonica during the 1973 season, earning a Pro Bowl berth, but he was just a downfield force of nature during the following season. He threw a league-best 26 touchdowns while leading the Raiders to a 12-2 record, winning both first-team All-Pro and MVP honors. He would have a dismal 1975 season, though, throwing more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (16). That opened up a spot for …

Ken Stabler, Raiders

Reign: 1976-77

The perch once again belonged to Stabler, who completed an incredible (for the time) 66.7 percent of his passes in 1976 while averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. Adjusting for the era, it’s one of the best seasons in NFL history for a quarterback. The Raiders would win the Super Bowl in 1976. Stabler was merely very good in 1977, but there was no superior candidate to take the title away until 1978, when this guy’s performance finally matched his win-loss record:

Dan Marino, Dolphins

Reign: 1984-86

Theismann was quickly overtaken when Marino produced the best season to date by a quarterback in 1984, one that set multiple passing records at the time and holds up as one of the five best quarterback seasons ever to this day. Marino won his lone MVP that year. He wasn’t able to beat the 49ers in that year’s Super Bowl, but Marino would be the first-team All-Pro quarterback in 1984, 1985, and 1986, leading the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns during each of those campaigns.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Reign: 2007

The best season by a quarterback in NFL history, bar none. Of course, Bernard Pollard brought an end to this title run at the start of the following season.

Quarterback Title Holders

Johnny Unitas: 1959-61
Y.A. Tittle: 1962-63
Johnny Unitas: 1964-67
Joe Namath: 1968-69
John Brodie: 1970
Bob Griese: 1971-73
Ken Stabler: 1974
Fran Tarkenton: 1975
Ken Stabler: 1976-77
Terry Bradshaw: 1978
Dan Fouts: 1979-81
Joe Theismann: 1982-83
Dan Marino: 1984-86
Joe Montana: 1987-90
Jim Kelly: 1991
Steve Young: 1992-94
Brett Favre: 1995-98
Kurt Warner: 1999-2001
Rich Gannon: 2002
Peyton Manning: 2003-06
Tom Brady: 2007
Peyton Manning: 2008-09
Aaron Rodgers: 2010-


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