Ranking all the Quarterbacks Who Have Started a Super Bowl

David Woodley and Tom Brady both quarterbacked in the Super Bowl. The comparisons end there.

David Woodley and Tom Brady both quarterbacked in the Super Bowl. The comparisons end there.

Because tomorrow is Super Bowl 50 (in case you haven’t heard), I’ve decided to rank every quarterback who’s ever started in the big game. Why? Because it’s the sort of thing that brings me joy, and procrastination is my specialty.

So here you go … the official jeffpearlman.com listing of the best-to-worst signal callers in Super Bowl history.

Argue away …

• 1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVI, Super Bowl XXXVIII, Super Bowl XXXIX, Super Bowl XLII, Super Bowl XLVI, Super Bowl XLIX: I understand why people hate him and I understand why people love him. Either way, there’s no arguing his place among legends of the game.

• 2. Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl V: I wonder if his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers ever forgave themselves for cutting him. Eh, probably not.

• 3. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XVI, Super Bowl XIX, Super Bowl XXIII, Super Bowl XXIV: Take a look at the talent on that first Super Bowl team. It was, at best, minimal on offense. But Montana was the X factor.

• 4. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLI, Super Bowl XLIV; Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XLVIII, Super Bowl 50: I don’t care if the Broncos lose to Carolina by 100—his legacy is secure as one of the all-time, all-time exceptionals.

• 5. John Elway, Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXI, Super Bowl XXII, Super Bowl XXIV, Super Bowl XXXII, Super Bowl XXXIII: Did everything, did everything very well. Could also hit the fastball as a Yankee prospect.

• 6. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl IX, Super Bowl X, Super Bowl XIII, Super Bowl XIV: Career numbers dwarfed by others. But if winning matters …

• 7. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XXXI, Super Bowl XXXII: He could drive you to drink, but could also drive you to victory. Best arm in league history.

• 8. Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl VI, Super Bowl XII, Super Bowl XIII: A poetic quarterback who did everything well and retired while still in his prime.

• 9. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl XIX: A revolutionary quarterback who brought passing up to speed. Had he won a couple of Super Bowls, would be fighting for the top spot.

• 10. Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings, Super Bowl VIII, Super Bowl IX, Super Bowl XI: If the Vikings had this guy today, we’d be talking about the Minnesota-Denver Super Bowl. Joe Namath’s legend hangs over New York, and Tarkenton does the same in Minnesota.

Tarkenton is a solid No. 10.

Tarkenton is a solid No. 10.

• 11. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIX: The most exciting quarterback I’ve ever watched. Period.

• 12. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XLV: Some would argue he should be 30th, or even 35th. But whenever I see Rodgers I think, “Damn, this dude’s outstanding.” So, hey. My list.

• 13. Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers—Super Bowl I, Super Bowl II: Hard to argue with the man who won the world’s first two Super Bowls.

• 14. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, Super Bowl XXV, Super Bowl XXVI, Super Bowl XXVII, Super Bowl XXVIII: Just a fantastic player who was actually at his best with the USFL’s Houston Gamblers.

• 15. Eli Manning, New York Giants, Super Bowl XLII, Super BowlXLVI: Not sure people think of him as elite—but I do. Also have to remember he won two Super Bowls his team was expected to lose.

• 16. Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl XXVII, Super Bowl XXVII, Super Bowl XXX: Just being honest—a part of me has always felt that, with a lesser halfback, wide receiver and offensive line, he’s Drew Bledsoe.

• 17. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams, Super Bowl XXXIV, Super Bowl XXXVI; Arizona Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII: Not the greatest quarterback of all time, but the greatest quarterback to have a great narrative of all time.

• 18. Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XI: Don’t even look at the numbers, because they tell you nothing on this one. Stabler was thrilling, unique, funky, spunky, awesome. Hall of Fame voters deserve much scorn for waiting until his death to vote him in. Sad.

• 19. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl XLIV: It’s weird. Philip Rivers has had this tremendous career. but I can’t help but think the Chargers still kick themselves for trading away this future Hall of Famer.

• 20. Steve McNair, Tennessee Titans, Super Bowl XXXIV: Yeah, he had Eddie George. But think about the mediocre wide receivers he played with. Man was a stud.

Though he couldn't pull out a Super Bowl win, McNair looms large at No. 20.

Though he couldn’t pull out a Super Bowl win, McNair looms large at No. 20.

• 21. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XL, Super Bowl XLIII, Super Bowl XLV: Hard to like, hard to argue against the results. A physical beast.

• 22. Drew Bledsoe, New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVI: Overshadowed by Tom Brady, but a helluva career.

• 23. Phil Simms, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXI: We know … we know—you hate him as an announcer. Fine. But in my book he’s a Hall of Famer.

• 24. Joe Namath, New York Jets—Super Bowl III: A great NFL quarterback who changed the game. A vastly overrated quarterback who benefited from geographic hype.

• 25. Len Dawson, Kansas City Chiefs—Super Bowl I, Super Bowl IV: It’s sad that so many of us weren’t around during his heyday. Because Dawson was, by all accounts, otherworldly.

• 26. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl XXXIX: Yeah, he ralphed on the field. Shit happens. Donovan was a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the elites of his era.

• 27. Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals, Super Bowl XVI: One of the all-time most underrated quarterbacks. Were he playing today, he’d be up there with the elites.

• 28. Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl VI, Super Bowl VII, Super Bowl VIII: Wore eyeglasses while playing. Hard to be any cooler.

• 29. Joe Theismann, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XVII, Super Bowl XVIII: Best remembered for the broken leg. Not fair. Played in the NFL’s most brutal division and never flinched.

• 30. Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati Bengals, Super Bowl XXIII: It’s weird how, when guys enter the media, we often fail to remember how good they were. Boomer was friggin’ exceptional.

Boomer Esiason was terrific—even at No. 30 on the list.

Boomer Esiason was terrific—even at No. 30 on the list.

• 31. Billy Kilmer, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl VII: Wouldn’t fit in today’s game. Old-school toughness, grit.

• 32. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII, XLIX: Too early to judge the fullness of a career. But hard to argue with his run thus far.

• 33. Kerry Collins, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXXV: A really fantastic career; went from nearly drinking himself out of the league to becoming a two-time Pro Bowler.

• 34. Jim Plunkett, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XV; Los Angeles Raiders, Super Bowl XVIII: Not a statistical joy to behold. But big games were his turf.

• 35. Craig Morton, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl V; Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XII: Kind of remembers either as Roger Staubach’s nemesis or the guy who played terribly for Denver in the Super Bowl. But a real strong NFLer.

• 36. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Super Bowl 50: Wouldn’t be shocking if he’s ultimately Top 10 on this sort of list. But it’s too early to tell.

• 37. Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XXXVII: A handful of spectacular years, a bunch of other very good ones. Minimal arm strength, tons of touch and maneuverability.

• 38. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XLVII: Back-to-back Blue Hens. Flacco has never been quite what people want. But he’s still awfully good.

• 39. Doug Williams, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXII: Even though his greatest career moment came on the biggest stage, I’ll always think of him as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Oklahoma Outlaw.

• 40. Jim McMahon, Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XX: He and Joe Namath have always been vastly overrated. Eternally hurt, often inconsistent, loads of fun.

Even at No. 40, McMahon knows how to have fun.

Even at No. 40, McMahon knows how to have fun.

• 41. Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl XV: It’s easy to forget that before he jabbered incessantly on ESPN, Jaws could sling it.

• 42. Jeff Hostetler, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXV: Stepped in for an injured Phil Simms and led the Giants to a fantastic victory over Buffalo. Great? No. Very good? Yes.

• 43. Earl Morrall, Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl III: Just a really fantastic player often hanging in the shadow of Johnny Unitas.

• 44. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XL: Began as Brett Favre’s backup, moved on to Seattle and became a three-time Pro Bowler. Not a bad career.

• 45. Chris Chandler, Atlanta Falcons, Super Bowl XXXIII: A much better player than most remember. Was bounced from the Oilers to make room for Steve McNair, then bounced from Atlanta for Michael Vick.

• 46. Neil O’Donnell, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XXX: System quarterback who handed Larry Brown three gifts—two easy interceptions and a fat free agent contract from the Raiders.

• 47. Mark Rypien, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXVI: A fantastic golfer, a solid quarterback, a wonderful guy.

• 48. Vince Ferragamo, Los Angeles Rams, Super Bowl XIV: Went on this magical run with the Rams after Pat Haden got hurt. For a moment, he was the Erik Estrada of the NFL—cool, handsome, successful. It didn’t last.

• 49. Daryle Lamonica, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl II: The original gunslinger could throw the ball a mile. Not much touch, but killer arm.

• 50. Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers, Super Bowl XXXVIII: Better than you’d think, but only OK.

Jake Delhomme is No. 50—but he can always point to playing in the big game.

Jake Delhomme is No. 50—but he can always point to playing in the big game.

• 51. Joe Kapp, Minnesota Vikings—Super Bowl IV: College legend, CFL stud, only a limited NFL run. If you have a minute, this piece on his life today is worth reading—and crushing.

• 52. Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl XXXVII: I’m surprised by the impressiveness of his career stats (166 touchdowns, 122 interceptions, 28, 054 yards). Steady.

• 53. Stan Humphries, San Diego Chargers, Super Bowl XXIX: His team got slaughtered by the 49ers, and Humphries did not play well. Which isn’t such a shocker. Just an average guy in a nice circumstance.

• 54. Trent Dilfer, Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XXXV: It became so en vogue to note that the Ravens defense carried Dilfer that … eh, screw it. The Ravens defense did carry Dilfer. But he was OK.

• 55. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XLVII: Let’s all be honest—a couple of years ago we presumed he’d wind up near the top of this list. Amazing rise, equally amazing plummet. Not sure what happened.

• 56. Rex Grossman, Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XLI: Not nearly as awful a player as many claimed. Very average player whose career numbers (56 touchdowns, 60 interceptions) don’t dispute that point.

• 57. Tony Eason, New England Patriots, Super Bowl XX: Famously had the shit kicked out of him by the Chicago Bears’ defense, and was quickly benched for Steve Grogan. Who also had the shit kicked out of him.

• 58. David Woodley, Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl XVII: Actually split time at LSU with Steve Ensminger. And here’s the weird part—Ensminger was, by far, the better passer. At 24, Woodley was the youngest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl. Life ended tragically.

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