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September 3, 2009 6:48 PM

Marino 8th in latest QB rankings


You could see this one coming. As Dan Marino's achievements fade in this new era of the West Coast offense and more permissible passing rules, he continues to slide down the list of all-time greats.

Marino placed eighth on a Beckett's Magazine list of the greatest quarterbacks, and for the first time I can recall, modern stars Tom Brady (6th) and Peyton Manning (7th) were ranked ahead of him.

It has for a long time been a fait accompli, what with Brady's Super Bowl winning heroics, and the incredible numbers he put up in 2007, when he passed for 50 TDs and just eight interceptions. Brady set a new all-time record for TD passes that Marino once held for 20 years.

Manning cemented his claim ahead of Marino when his defense and running game carried him to a Super Bowl win in Miami two years ago.

Now, Manning's regular season credentials speak for themselves, but his 49-TD season in 2004 (which broke Marino's record) coincided with the NFL passing a rule limiting defensive contact with receivers after Manning's group was manhandled by the New England Patriots in an AFC Championship loss the previous year.

And, when I lived in Lake City and was exposed to more Colts games because I was out of the Dolphins' coverage area, it appeared that Manning was left in a bit longer than he should have been to throw some meaningless TD passes.

Case in point: Manning plays the entire game and throws five TD passes in a 49-14 win over Houston in Week 10. A week later, four TDs in a 41-10 win over the Chicago Bears. On Thanksgiving Day the next week, he throws six TD passes against the eternally hapless Lions, giving him 15 in three weeks. Again, he plays into the fourth quarter in the 41-9 victory, throwing his last two TD passes in the third quarter.

When Brady set the new record two years ago, his team was accused of running up the score, particularly in a 52-7 whitewashing of the Redskins in Week 8.

This was something that wasn't often done in Marino's day.

In 1984, when he set the then-record with 48 TD passes, the Dolphins won only one game by 20 points, meaning he had to throw those TD passes to deliver victories, not to pad stats as Brady and Manning seemed to do in their record runs.

Also, it's no coincidence that Brady and Manning both eclipsed his record after restrictions were placed on defensive backs in terms of contact with receivers.

That makes Marino's 48 TDs all the more impressive, and it makes John Unitas' streak of 47 straight games with at least one TD pass and his 290 overall TDs look downright remarkable.

Still, I have no real problem with Manning and Brady being ranked ahead of Marino, though I put them after him as their careers are still in progress (see below). They have the numbers and championships, while Marino unfortunately did not have the supporting cast to help him win a title.

Of the players on the list ahead of him, there are two I strongly disagree with, and a third I have an issue with (see below).

Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls with the Steelers, but his overall numbers were not very impressive. He had a poor TD/INT ratio, with 212 TD passes to 210 interceptions. He had four bad years before he became a good quarterback in 1974, and he benefited from perhaps the greatest supporting cast a quarterback ever had.

To place him at No. 4, like Beckett's did, is absurd. Bradshaw does belong in the top 10, but he belongs after Marino. Bart Starr, a great quarterback for the Packers teams of the 1960s, was also ranked ahead of Marino at No. 5. He didn't have great natural ability, but he was a winner.

Starr was only a four-time Pro Bowler, and had just 14 more TDs than INTs (152/134). He never threw 20 TD passes in a season. His ranking might have to do with the fact the Packers were the dominant team in the 1960s, winning five NFL titles.

Here's the Beckett list:

1. Joe Montana
2. John Unitas
3. John Elway
4. Terry Bradshaw
5. Bart Starr
6. Tom Brady
7. Peyton Manning
8. Dan Marino
9. Otto Graham
10. Brett Favre
11. Troy Aikman
12. Steve Young
13. Roger Staubach
14. Fran Tarkenton
15. Joe Namath
16. Sammy Baugh
17. Bobby Layne
18. Dan Fouts
19. Bob Griese
20. Jim Kelly

I have some other problems with the list, and one of them is John Elway. It's amazing what a great running game and good defense can do for a player. Elway was a bust in his first three Super Bowl appearances, including a dreadful 55-10 loss to the 49ers and Montana in 1990.

Suddenly though, Mike Shanahan comes aboard, as do Terrell Davis and a competent defense, Elway wins two Super Bowls, and he becomes a top-five all-time QB.

Had he never won a Super Bowl, Elway never would have been ranked ahead of Marino. And that's the problem I have with QB lists like these, which place far too great an emphasis on championships.

Peter King wrote a book years ago ranking his top QBs, and he made Otto Graham his No. 1 all-time because his teams won division or league titles in all 10 years he played.

So, because Graham had great players around him (nine Hall of Famers, if you count Coach Paul Brown), he's supposed to be better than Unitas or Montana?

I highly doubt that.

Elway had several mediocre years statistics-wise, and while I enjoyed watching him play, there is no doubt that in their primes Marino was better. Marino also played at a high level for as long as Elway did.

Elway had six seasons of 20 TD passes or more; Marino had 12. Marino had more yards passing, a higher completion percentage and a far better QB rating.

But, because Elway ended his career in storybook fashion, the myth has become legend. He became better than Marino in many people's minds, and sadly, that will remain the case in history.

Legends fade as new generations arrive, ready to anoint one of their own as the best ever. We've seen it in the NBA with Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal, eclipsing the greatness of Jerry West, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in most people's minds.

And in baseball, where Barry Bonds was suddenly greater than Babe Ruth (before steroids), and Roger Clemens was the greatest right-hand pitcher of all-time (again, pre-steroids).

Well, football is a team sport, moreso than basketball and baseball -- where one or two great pitchers can carry a team to a title -- and the fact is Marino played with only three top-10 defenses in his career. Twice, he made the conference championship (1984, 1992). He had one 1,000-yard running back (the forgettable Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1996).

Statistics are not the entire story, but neither are championships. You must place each in context of the circumstances surrounding the player.

And for me, the only QB who topped Marino during his generation was Montana, who had gaudy stats, the clutch play and the Super Bowl victories to back him up.

Finally, here's my all-time top 10 for you to dissect:

1. Unitas (set the standard for QBs in a different era)
2. Montana
3. Marino
4. Elway
5. Baugh (the first great QB)
6. Brady (will probably move up when his career ends)
7. Manning (ditto)
8. Staubach
9. Young (another underrated QB)
10. Bradshaw

(Photo: Yahoo images)

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