When people combine the words New York and football, we think of the Giants, the Jets, and the Bills. Each team has had their share of good to great quarterbacks.
It’s undisputed that Joe Namath was the best thing to happen to the Jets franchise. For the Buffalo Bills, that honor goes to Jim Kelly, for the four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990-1993. His legacy might not be finished yet, but Eli Manning is at this point already the greatest New York quarterback of all-time.
For whoever knows that I’m a die hard Jets fan, you must be shaking your head or scratching your eyelids in disbelief. But it’s the blatant truth. What I did to make this hypothesis is analyze each and every New York quarterback to ever play the game of football. After a review of each of the three football teams, the conclusions make it almost obvious Eli Manning is the best. Another big factor I used to make this statement was based on how long each quarterback played for the team alongside winning percentage, overall quality of performance, and impact.
I’m going to start with quarterbacks on the Buffalo Bills first. It’s clear that without winning one Super Bowl yet, Jim Kelly led this team to four straight before I was even an afterthought, making him the best Bills quarterback. After being drafted by a USFL team in the Houston Gamblers, Kelly threw for 5,219 passing yards and 44 TD passes. Once the league folded, Kelly decided to go to the Bills. The rest is history. In his 11 seasons, the Bills made the playoffs eight times under Kelly. Kelly even made four Pro Bowl appearances.
Now we go all the way to New Jersey to the New York Jets. A franchise that hasn’t had a Super Bowl appearance or win since 1969, Joe Namath is unanimously the best Jet quarterback ever. At his time, we still had the AFL and NFL. Namath was drafted by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals, while also drafted by the AFL’s New York Jets. He decided to sign with the Jets after agreeing to a deal worth $427,000 (a record at the time). He won rookie of the year in 1965 and became the first professional quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a single season. Namath claimed his numbers would’ve been better if his knees weren’t so fragile.
The moment that lies in NFL history, as well as every Jet fanatic, is the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Colts in 1969. He guaranteed a win when his Jets were proclaimed an underdog to what was considered, “the greatest football team in history.” Namath is the only quarterback to have ever start and win a national college championship and a Super Bowl.
There are solid arguments for Y.A. Tittle or Phil Simms for the greatest Giant. Phil Simms won two Super Bowls with the Giants in 1985 and 1993, along with getting his number 11 retired by the team. Tittle also had his number retired by the team and set NFL records for most touchdown passes in a season with 36 at the time. From 1961-1963, Tittle threw for 86 touchdowns.
So why am I picking Eli Manning over these two legends? Potential and poise. Tittle spent most of his career as a 49er. I don’t think Simms and Tittle ever have faced as much criticism as Manning. His brother Peyton is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks who have ever played the game, and to live under his shadow and be compared to him every game is tough.
When he first came out in 2004, similar to Simms, he struggled out of the gate. It took only four years for Manning to turn himself around and win a Super Bowl while it took Simms seven. Both quarterbacks play great in clutch time, as Simms had one of the greatest games of his career in Super Bowl XXI, going 22-25 with 268 yards and three TDs. Manning is the only quarterback to throw two go-ahead fourth quarter touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The other player to do that? Joe Montana.
Manning also has the potential to win another Super Bowl by himself, while Simms had the help of the Bills kicker in 1993. Eli Manning also holds the record with most playoff road wins in NFL history, and has beaten some of the greatest teams ever assembled in NFL history, including the 18-1 New England Patriots and the 15-1 Green Bay Packers.
Now it comes down to three New York quarterbacks; Jim Kelly, Joe Namath, and Eli Manning. Since two of these three quarterbacks have a Super Bowl ring and are undefeated (1-0) in the Bowl, that eliminates Kelly from contention.
Now the fan wants me to pick Namath, but his knee injuries and his stats don’t add up to Manning. Namath has actually thrown more interceptions (220) than touchdown passes (173). Along with that, Broadway Joe has only thrown for 27,663 yards in just 13 seasons. Manning has 27,579 yards in only his eighth season, and has thrown more touchdowns (185) than picks (129).
Manning is still growing as a quarterback and could win another Super Bowl quicker than we know it. Namath wasn’t an elite quarterback. His guaranteed victory over the Colts was a key moment in NFL history, but other than that he was just average.
Of course, this is only an opinionated article from myself that debates one of the biggest questions in New York football history which gives my answer and why. Phil Simms could be picked over Manning, but the times were different and Manning has done more with less, alongside dealing with some of the biggest egos in Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber, which helped me make my decision. Manning also has more years to secure another ring and his legacy as a Giant. Kelly could’ve been a choice if he won one, while Namath’s numbers and injury history scared me. Like I said, this is only my take on who I think is the greatest Big Apple quarterback ever.