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Gene Wang
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Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

Favre's Numbers Lie

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Brett Favre holds virtually every meaningful NFL career passing record. He's a three-time NFL MVP and a Super Bowl champion. His NFL record for consecutive games played at quarterback is as impressive, if not more so, than Cal Ripken's in baseball.
All that doesn't make him one of the 10 best quarterbacks of all-time, much less No. 1. Heck, he may not be the best quarterback in Packers history. There's a compelling case for Bart Starr, but more on him later.

This generation is well-versed in Favre contemporaries John Elway, Troy Aikman, Tom Brady, Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner; Super Bowl champions all. Other prolific quarterbacks to play in Favre's era include Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Donovan McNabb, Drew Bledsoe and Warren Moon.

Joe Montana was at the end of his career when Favre was hitting his stride, and four-time Super Bowl winner Terry Bradshaw was long retired by that time. So too were Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham and Roger Staubach, all Hall of Famers and multiple NFL champions.

Favre probably is not in the same class as Elway, Aikman and Brady, but he's in the conversation with Marino, Young, Manning, Warner and Kelly, and more accomplished than McNabb, Bledsoe and Moon. So for his generation, Favre belongs in the top 10.
But if you expand the list to include all of the modern era quarterbacks, say beginning in 1950, he falls out of the mix.

Which brings us back to Starr. It's easy to overlook Starr's achievements because we have grown accustomed to Favre's heroics for the better part of the past 20 years. His visage is so tied to the Packers that it seems impossible the franchise even existed must less thrived before his arrival.

But more than 40 years ago, Starr was leading Green Bay to victories in the first two Super Bowls. He was named MVP in both games, capping a string of three straight NFL championships.

Although he did lead the league in passing three times and retired as the career leader in completion percentage, Starr is nowhere near Favre in any significant career passing statistics. But in the most important category for a quarterback -- championships -- it's not close. In all, Starr won five NFL titles to Favre's one.

Unitas played in the same era as Starr and was one of the most highly regarded passers of all-time. He won three titles, including leading the Baltimore Colts to a victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game, better known as The Greatest Game Ever Played.

In the decade immediately preceding Unitas and Starr, Graham led the Cleveland Browns to 10 straight title games. That's a staggering figure, no matter the era. Graham won four All-American Football Conference titles and three NFL titles.

We must include Starr, Unitas and Graham among the modern era top 10, joining Montana (four Super Bowl titles, three Super Bowl MVPs), Elway (two titles, five appearances, one Super Bowl MVP), Bradshaw (four titles, two Super Bowl MVPs), Brady (three titles, four appearances, two Super Bowl MVPs, one regular season MVP), Aikman (three titles, one Super Bowl MVP) and Manning (Super Bowl XLI MVP, three-time regular season MVPs).

That leaves one spot to make a case for Favre.

Are you going to leave Marino out of the top 10? He held every significant career passing record until Favre, and he's generally regarded as the best pure passer in history.

As good as Marino was, he never won a Super Bowl ring or led the league in passing six times like Young, who also has two regular season MVPs and a Super Bowl XXIX MVP with a record six touchdown passes.

What about Young's boyhood hero Staubach? He won two Super Bowls and led Dallas to two more. He was the highest rated passer of all-time when he retired and led the NFL in passing four times. Let's also remember Staubach lost four years of his prime because of his Navy commitment.

And what of Warner, whose recent run with Arizona puts him at three Super Bowl appearances, one title and one MVP in addition to two regular season MVPs?
There are valid and persuasive arguments for all of them. Football enthusiasts could debate this issue for hours and still not reach a consensus. What that tells me is the modern era top 10 is just too crowded to say definitely Favre belongs on the list.

By Gene Wang  |  February 12, 2009; 8:16 AM ET  | Category:  Gene Wang , New York Jets Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Lesser of (Four) Evils | Next: A Complicated Legacy

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Live it up, enjoy your shining moment with your mighty pen, because history won't remember any of your stupid BS. History won't remember you at all.

1st - It's the media who ginned up the retirement issue every year, NOT FAVRE. He just declined to make a decision till he was ready, just as they did with Elway a decade ago, who also declined to decide till he was ready, which was IN MAY, just as Kurty Warner is doing now.

2nd - Favre's not Vick, or Pacman, or crazy Terrell Owens. HE'S BRETT FAVRE. NO ONE has ever played the game with a higher caliber of sportsmanship, integrity, or commitment. I think you may be confused about who you're spewing nonsense about. He changed his mind - he didn't break the law or disgrace himself. He just changed his mind, just like Lombardi, Jimmy Connors, Michael Jordan, Joe Namath, Reggie White, Lance Armstrong, and many, many other greats before him. Stop spinning this as if he's committed some unforgivable sin.

3rd - Favre holds virtually every passing record there is; pulled the Packers out of the ditch they had being lying in for 30 years, took them to two Super Bowls, winning one, and made them one of the best teams in football for most of his 16 years, instead of a laughing stock; won THREE MVP awards, and was invited to 10 Pro-bowls. YOU don't get to decide whether he was a great player, HISTORY HAS ALREADY MADE THAT DECREE you dumb ass.

So give the snide, distorted, and wildly slanted BS a rest - nobody's buying it. In fact, how about you "journalists" try something totally new include some FACTS in your "reporting". American journalism has become equivelant to the Jerry Springer Show, and shockingly, sports journalism is the worst. I'm getting real sick of all of these petty jealous little Favre haters trying to tear him down. He's a nice man, who is the NFL's poster boy for sportsmanship and has always done his level best to show compassion and charity for others, yet here you tiny, little jokes of humanity are tearing him down, because you, yourselves are so insiginficant. Please don't think the public is blind to that, we're not.

No matter what nonsense you spew with your little column, Favre will still be a legend because HE'S EARNED IT! History isn't going to remember the food you're throwing at him now - it will have turned to dust, just like you.

Posted by: TeriB | February 12, 2009 11:09 AM

Thanks Gene. Bottom line: you cannot be the career leader in a stat as game-deciding as interceptions and be the best. He's certainly not Top 5 All-Time and you could make a case he's not Top 10 either. 300+ career interceptions? C'mon, most of his NFL records are "longevity" related in the first place. More importantly, people all too conveniently forget all those horrible throws (and bad decisions) at critical times that cost his team games over the years. Those count too.

Posted by: costarj33 | February 12, 2009 11:47 AM

Stupid article! A player holds every position record the sport deems worthy to compile and you think he is not "top ten". Think again. And don't quit the day job.

Posted by: jrw1 | February 12, 2009 11:57 AM

Troy Aikman was a great manager of a very talented team. But I find it histerical that he could even be considered a top ten QB, much less a top elchelon one. So if you are looking for a space in the top 10 for Farve, have him take Aikman's. As football really is the ultimate team sport, I don't know that "championships won" should be weighted so much more heavily than every other criteria. Big Ben now has 2 (and has a good chance for 1 or two more) - but does anybody think that his performance in the first should buy him anything? Despite his team winning, he should be given a demerit for it.

Posted by: amaranthpa | February 12, 2009 12:24 PM

If you want to say Favre has the records because of longevity then at least reference his durability. Theres been players that have played just as long or longer then him that don't have his records. When he signs a contract he lives up to it and plays all 16 games.....not 12 or 13 like alot of guys who get hurt. His DURABILITY allowed him to get those records. Alot of guys don't get the opportunity to play as long as Favre because no one wants them.You can't measure everything on superbowl rings, theres more players on a team then just a quarterback. Kurt Warner didn't give up the touchdown on Pittsburgh's last drive of the game in the Superbowl.Vinny Testaverde has longevity....wheres all his records? You have Troy Aikman in the conversation because he has rings...he also had one of the best running backs ever.....a solid tight end and receiving core and defense....his career totals 165 td's to 141 ints's not too impressive.

Posted by: km5339 | February 12, 2009 12:36 PM

Bart Starr played 16 seasons and his numbers dont even come close to Favres,he didn't even throw the ball enough to be considered in the top QB's...Johnny Unitas...1955-1973...pretty long time, 290 Td's 253 ints...not too impressive

Posted by: km5339 | February 12, 2009 12:46 PM

Yes people, it's a rough title to the article, but the article doesn't say that Favre wasn't a great QB. It doesn't say he was awful, it merely puts Favre into historical perspective. And yes, championships do matter. I personally wouldn't put Aikman above Favre, but that might be just a Redskins bias. Favre was a great QB who made many amazing throws, but also many stupid ones. He is still one of the greatest QB's of all time. Rating "the best ever" is ridiculous, the era's and teams are so different. There's no need to get so worked up and shoot venom!

Posted by: Gregariousterp | February 12, 2009 1:25 PM

Terib, chill -- I don't think your Saint Brett is going to abandon you if you don't defend him while hurling insults at writers....I absolutely agree that BF is among the greatest ever, no question. Is he top 10? When you consider the achievements of Luckman, Baugh, Graham, Unitas and Starr alone, both in terms of how they approached the game, they way they changed it and the way they WON TITLES by not making critical mistakes at the wrong times, and bring in the modern era's championship QBs (leaving out the legacies of non-champs like Tarkenton and Jurgensen, or the huge relatively brief impact made by guys like John Hadl, Darryl Lamonica, Neil Lomax, Jim Hart, and Lenny Dawson), it gets difficult to objectively cull the herd. And as far as your statement nobody's played the game with his combination of traits, well, that's just starry-eyed. George Blanda, Larry Wilson, Troy Palomalu, Mike Singletary, Walt Garrison, Calvin Hill, Larry Freakin' Brown, JIM Brown, Dave Wilcox, Chuck Bednarik, Art Monk, Darryl Green, Pat Simmons.....I don't have time to list all of them, but all this is simply about BF's place in history -- which is, in my opinion, that he was a brilliant ballplayer that deserves to be mentioned with these guys. And I've seen nothing from these writers that strays from that premise. Relax, BF will be FIIIINE. But we'll tell him you're thinkin' about him....

Posted by: mrodifer | February 12, 2009 3:05 PM

Y'know, now that I think about it....as I recall, the fact that put the Pack back on top, and back into Super Bowls, was not the arrival of BF, but the arrival of Reggie White. Which gave them the piece they were missing.

Posted by: mrodifer | February 12, 2009 4:34 PM

Favre is one of the greatest QB's EVER to play the game. NO-ONE has ever done more with less, especially from such a small market team. He took B-plus receivers (Sterlng Sharpe might've been the exception)and made them better, along with a patchwork running game. Dorsey Levens and Edgar Bennett will never be compared with Barry Sanders. He carried that team. Name ONE player on the Packers team from that time, aside from Reggie White who will go in the Hall Of Fame alongside him. Unlike a TRULY OVER-RATED QB like Troy Aikman (he was good), who may have 5-6 or 7 players from that team who may eventually make the Hall. Heck, I could throw 10 TD's with that offensive line. Favre hasn't missed a game in 17 seasons and he did that playing outside, not in a dome. Whoever wrote this article is an idiot.
Sonny Crockett

Posted by: CrockettLives | February 12, 2009 8:12 PM

Hey Cock, eat a Wang, you suck. Every major passing record, three mvp's, two super bowl and one SB title, ten pro bowls, a consecutive start streak that will probably never be matched, and a rocket arm that would rival Elway's.... But of course we need to put all of this in "perspective". If you look at Elway's stats at 38 and compare them to Favre's stats at 38 Favre's were better, Montana at 38 Favre's were better, Marino at 38 Favre's were better, Young's stats at 38 Favre's were better. He is easily in the top ten arguement--I would think easily in a top 7 arguement. Perspective is not only looking at one season. Perspective is looking at his career. I understand that this response is meaningless and vitriolic but it still feels good to tell a taint like you to eat a bag. You did a good job writing a flashy article title though. Hey, it caught my attention.

Posted by: watsonrandy66 | February 12, 2009 8:37 PM

MAY THE TRUTH SET US ALL FREE !!

THIS GUY NAILED IT.

FAVRE'S IN THE 4TH TIER ALL-TIME (CAN'T EVEN PACK BART'S LUNCH);

I'D PUT NAMATH, STAUBACH, FRAN TARKENTON, DAN FOUTS, ANY MAYBE EVEN KENNY STABLER OVER BRETT.

I CAN STILL HEAR ST. VINCE YELLING TO STARR (WHO CALLED ALL HIS OWN PLAYS) FROM THE SIDELINES, "JUST RUN THE OFFENSE, BART, JUST RUN THE OFFENSE"..

...YOU CAN'T ARGUE WITH 5 RINGS.


Posted by: clovenhooves | February 12, 2009 9:29 PM

ClOVENHOOVES
Starr was the man, no doubt. Different times, different teams.
To quote Starr:
"If Brett played in my time, he would've excelled. He is truly one of the best of all time. He could do things I never could and I could honestly say I played on better teams. Under Coach Lombardi, we were a dynasty. Brett never had that."

Wang and Clovenhooves..........TWO weinies.

Posted by: CrockettLives | February 13, 2009 9:19 PM

By the rationale presented in this view, one would have to conclude that Big Ben is a better quaterback than Kurt Warner. Just silly. Not even worth reading this piece.

Posted by: usabecker | February 15, 2009 7:10 PM

Wow. A lot of folks on here seem to take criticism of Favre as a personal affront. Unless you're a 12-year old boy, I suggest you grow up. I also suggest you re-read Gene's article.

He presents and explains his case rather clearly. I'm not old enough to have seen some of the legends, but I do remember Staubach. For my money, Roger the Dodger was the best there ever was. And I hate the Cowboys (unlike Mr. Wang which explains Aikman's unwarranted inclusion here).

I'm not sure you can put an interception machine like Favre at the top. Some will say all those interceptions should be disregarded because Favre threw a lot of passes/played a long time. Well, okay. But then we have to disregard his yards and touchdowns (etc) for the same reasons.

Favre was (is?) a remarkable player. But he was just as liable to lose a game as he was to win one. That doesn't put him in the top 10.

Posted by: Sandmeistr | February 16, 2009 9:49 AM

Favre's in the TOP 3, and it could be argued he is #1. Anyone who suggests he's not in the TOP 5, let alone the TOP 10, hasn't watched a whole lot of Favre over the years, especially when he was at his pinnacle. If you're talking pinnacles, I've never seen anyone better than Brett...ever. That man was supernatural on the field in his hayday.

Posted by: JamesRoyal | February 17, 2009 8:09 PM

Ok Watson, you talk about BF at 38 versus the other QBs (all of whom were better, by the way)? Compare his numbers at 35 and 36. When was simply a reckless, interception machine. Heck, even at the end of the year at ages 37 and 38 BF reverted into the interception machine that everyone will remember him for. You know, the one who ALWAYS folded like a tent against Dallas....

And Sandmeistr, I'm with you: people do seem to take it as a personal affront if you dare say anything against the great, Brett Favre! Watch: Alright, everyone. Have at me... time to go "Madden" on what I just said....

Posted by: therearenonamesleft | February 19, 2009 11:55 AM

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