Football's Greatest book from Sports Illustrated tackles all-time NFL debates

By Peter King
October 30, 2017
SI / Getty Images

1. I think I’ve got one more thing for your to-do list this fall: Get “Football’s Greatest,” the revised and updated version of this 2012 book by Sports Illustrated editors. I’ll give you a good argument starter: How about the top 10 quarterbacks of all time? 1) Tom Brady; 2) Joe Montana; 3) Peyton Manning; 4) John Unitas; 5) Otto Graham; 6) John Elway; 7) Dan Marino; 8) Brett Favre; 9) Sammy Baugh; 10) Bart Starr. 

2. I think that leads me to four salient points that I’d love to argue about:

a. Two Packers quarterbacks on the list, 8 and 10, and Aaron Rodgers isn’t?

b. Drew Brees and Fran Tarkenton out. Sammy Baugh in? I’ll defend Baugh, because I believe he was the best all-around player in history. In 1943 he led the NFL in punting, in completion percentage (and was second with 23 TD passes in 10 games) and, as a safety, with 11 interceptions. Excelling on both sides of the field and special teams puts him on this list.

c. Otto Graham over Elway? History, dear students. History. Executed Paul Brown’s offense to a T, won seven league titles in 10 years, and led his league in passing in four of those 10 years.

d. Brady, number three on the list five years ago, jumped over Unitas and Montana today, after his fifth Super Bowl win. Like that? Or no?

Go buy the book. And send your arguments and your rage to talkback@themmqb.com

3. I think these are my quick thoughts from Week 8:

a. Lovely toe-tap-in-the-side-of-the-end-zone touchdown for Andre Holmes of the Bills. Perfect mechanics.

b. Speaking of lovely: What a throw by Deshaun Watson, rainbowing the TD bomb to Will Fuller. Perfect pass.

c. What a bummer. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson don’t play each other again until 2021, unless they meet in the Super Bowl.

d. Watching the Eagles’ defensive front this year, all I can think of is brute strength.

e. I’d like to see Aaron Rodgers come back late this year if for no other reason than to see the Saturday night national game in Week 16: Vikings (and Anthony Barr) at Green Bay, Dec. 23.

f. Do not let the weekend go by without thinking of Dont’a Hightower gone for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, and his contributions to two Patriots Super Bowls wins in the last three years. His tackle of Marshawn Lynch at the 1.5-yard-line in Super Bowl 49 made the Malcolm Butler pick possible. And then the crucial strip sack of Matt Ryan in the midst of the Pats’ comeback in Super Bowl 51.

g. Kudos to Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta for the insider story on the league meeting. One owner said of the story: “It’s like they had a tape recorder in both meetings,” meaning players-owners and owners meetings.

h. Speaking of that story, I was amazed The New York Times did not credit ESPN for the original story quoting Bob McNair, which obviously started this firestorm. That’s just wrong.

i. Sure sounds like Adam Gase thinks he’s got some lazy students on offense in Miami. He was beyond pointed about it in the wake of the 40-0 loss at Baltimore.

j. You don’t lose 40-0 in this league unless you either stink, or your game plan stinks, or you make a slew of mental errors. My money’s on the last in Miami.

k. Relax, Steve Smith.

l. The Browns are 1-23 since passing on Carson Wentz, 0-8 since passing on Deshaun Watson. Not that I’m keeping track.

m. This is not insignificant: Stephon Gilmore (concussion) missed his third straight game Sunday. In 5.5 NFL seasons, Gilmore has missed 17 starts due to injury. That’s a full season missed, in effect.

n. Beautiful, textbook drive—New Orleans’ second TD drive of the game against the tough Chicago front, ending with a 1-yard Mark Ingram touchdown dive—and a drive made possible by superb run-blocking.

o. San Francisco center Daniel Kilgore is not going to enjoy watching how Fletcher Cox absolutely abused him on a second-quarter sack in Philly. Cox is such a force.

p. Did you know that when the weather is nice Eagles rookie wideout Mack Hollins rides his bike to Lincoln Financial Field?

q. Joe Mixon, play-action, screen. Gain of 67. Wow.

r. Now that was cool: Tight end Zach Ertz caught a touchdown pass in Philly and found season-ticket-holder/AL MVP Mike Trout in the end zone, and handed him the football. Trout looked like a 12-year-old, cradling the ball happily.

s. Seven games, eight Jameis Winston fumbles (two lost). Not good.

4. I think, just when you think the process between players and owners has flown entirely off the rails, read this piece by Anquan Boldin, one of the participants in the recent players-owners meeting in New York. Writes Bolden about the New York meeting: “The concerns that many players have been expressing about racial inequality in our justice system and society were finally heard. I consider it an example we can all use as we seek justice. The commissioner listened to why players were protesting and then played a key role in putting these players in touch with owners willing to listen to their concerns. He brought us together—and he did so in a highly charged environment and despite outside forces seeking to divide, rather than unite. I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely receptive the owners were to the issues we raised and how truly respectful they were of our point of view. They more than simply accepted that the players have a point of view. These owners respected and even demonstrated pride in the players for standing up for what they believe in.” Interesting.

5. I think Seattle has good backs, but the Seahawks definitely should have kept Alex Collins over Eddie Lacy. Collins is more talented.

6. I think this is the kind of thing that drives people crazy about owners in any sport—in this case, Washington’s Dan Snyder, in the NFL. The Wickersham/Van Natta story about the contentious NFL meetings quotes Snyder as saying in the meetings that “96 percent of Americans are for guys [players] standing.” That is utterly preposterous. A Marist poll of more than 1,000 Americans in September said 52 percent of those contacted said players should stand for the anthem—a number that went down to 47 percent last week. That’s what happens in the political world today: stupid exaggeration designed to make your side seem stronger.

7. I think if I were advising Cam Newton, I’d tell him one thing: Answering questions you might think are beneath you twice a week for a total of 25 minutes is a very small price to pay to stay out of controversy. Be benign. Be fairly nice. Be there.

8. I think Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe should take a bow for this story on three cornerstone Patriots from the Robert Kraft season-ticket days of a half-century ago. Their later lives were badly tarnished by the effects of playing the game. “If you didn’t play hurt in those days, you weren’t a man,” said cornerback Daryl Johnson.

9. I think it’s hard to imagine a city having the sports day Houston had Sunday (and into this morning). From the opening kickoff of Seattle 41, Houston 38 in Seattle Sunday afternoon to Alex Bregman singling home the winning run in Astros 13, Dodgers 12, 9 hours and 34 minutes elapsed … with only 58 minutes between games. That means greater Houston was pulsating with two of the most scintillating sports events in the history of the city. Amazing.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Story of the Week: by Nick Anderson of the Washington Post, on the continuing craziness of the college application process, centering mostly on the essay, which now matters so much in who gets in and who doesn’t, and where.

b. Really good reporting by Anderson. He found a tutoring place in New England that, in a four-day boot camp for college-bound high-schoolers, works on the essay and the extra-curricular goals, and charges kids $16,000.

c. Madness.

d. Podcast of the Week: The “Radiolab” episode, a previously released pod from 2016 on how the Gary Hart scandal in 1987 changed the way politics was covered forever.

e. Shows like “Radiolab” and “This American Life,” not to mention the news programming during the week and on weekends, make public radio (WNYC in this case) never go off in our house. We are proud supporters.

f. Movie of the Week: “Battle of the Sexes,” about the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match that took America by storm in 1973. King was the best women’s tennis player in the world, Riggs the 55-year-old former competitive men’s player who claimed he could beat any woman in the world. They played a best-of-five match at the Astrodome before the largest crowd ever to watch a tennis match, and this movie is about that match. It’s about more, really, and Emma Stone and Steve Carell capture the main characters exceedingly well. I am so glad the makers of the movie didn’t stick to sports. Stone is terrific capturing the personal side of King, who was married but unsure of her sexuality. The scenes of her falling in love with a woman are heartfelt and important. I really liked the movie. Carell’s magnificent in it.

g. Coach Pronouncement of the Week: From Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, on the occasion of LGBT Night before the Warriors-Toronto game: “Maybe, if you are coming to the game tonight, and your child says what does that [LGBT] mean, explain it to them. Explain the importance of loving the person next to you and respecting him no matter who they are and where they come from. They are human beings, we are all human beings and we are all in this together.”

h. Beernerdness: While I limp to the finish line of Sober October (29 days down, two to go, and it hasn’t been too bad, thanks to my wife/partner in temperance), I thank all of you for helping fill the column with your beer choices. It’s Nathan Gross of Raleigh, N.C., today: “I am lucky with the sheer number of great breweries in my backyard, but one that has stood out to me is an new-ish brewery in Charlotte, Blue Blaze Brewing. The beer is really amazing. I’m a hop-head, but Blue Blaze’s Black Blaze Milk Stout really has me hooked. It’s got a coffee-like taste to it that isn’t off-putting and gives it enough depth to make it really interesting, whether you like coffee or even stouts at all. It’s not overly heavy and you can drink more than one in a sitting, which you can’t say about most stouts.” Excellent job, Nathan. Thanks.

i. Alex Bregman, you can play third base for my team any day. What a defender.

j. I love that Fox super-super-slo-mo replay of the pitches on their way to home plate—so agonizingly slow that you can see the tumble of the curve, the stitches of the ball.

k. Jose Altuve. Great player. Really likes to spit.

l. Judging from the 217 camera shots (so it seemed) in Game 4 of the World Series showing Sen. Ted Cruz in the second row behind home plate, he likes nachos, and Coors Light in the silver bottle.

m. Good call by Joe Buck on the George Springer homer that broke up the Alex Wood no-hitter and the Game 4 shutout with two out in the bottom of the sixth: “Alex Wood gives up one hit. It was loud, and it went far.”

n. In that circumstance—season on the line, any shot at the national title on the line—J.T. Barrett’s fourth quarter has to be one of the most clutch quarters any college quarterback has ever played: 13 of 13, 170 yards, three touchdowns, coming back from 11 down with five minutes left. Completing 85 percent for the game in that environment … that’s a wow.

o. Burn those unis, Ohio State. Man, those gray things, with the bright red shoes. Awful.

p. Another way for me to sound like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino: What’s wrong with having uniform uniforms?

q. 2015: Megyn Kelly, proving to be a tough and formidable moderator in a Republican Primary debate, asks the question of all presidential-debate questions to Donald Trump, about why he has called women he didn’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals.”  

r. 2016: In an interview with Kelly on Fox five months before the election, Trump tells Kelly in another headline-maker that if he does not win in November, “I will consider it to be a total and complete waste of time, energy and money.”

s. 2017: Kelly hosts a segment on the “Today” show about how to dress your dog for Halloween.

t. Just find that strange.

u. Joe Girardi’s Yankees averaged 91 wins in his 10 seasons as manager, and they got to within one win of the World Series in a rebuilding year this year, and he was fired Thursday. Dead serious when I say I can’t draw any definitive judgment on whether he deserved to go, but other than results, one thing always impressed me about Girardi: He had a lot of high-profile guys to manage, and sometimes he had to put a Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench because the player was underperforming, and I do not remember one instance of a player ripping him publicly. (Maybe there was one or two; I just don’t recall one.) That’s a pretty big deal when you manage in New York.

v. Just what we thought about the early days of the NHL season: Vegas and Jersey, combined, are 16-3.

w. Happy 50th birthday (Saturday), Julia Roberts.

x. The University of Florida is going to pay Jim McElwain $13 million to not coach its football team. Somebody help me with that.


Who I Like Tonight

Kansas City 20, Denver 16. So you were expecting Kansas City 30, Denver 6? I’m not. I think Denver makes incremental strides on offense; Trevor Siemian is not as bad as he has played. First four Denver games: 24.5 points per game. Last two: 5.0. Tonight, I expect the Broncos to call on homecoming Jamaal Charles, and not just for a nice standing ovation from the all-red crowd. Charles says he’s healthy as a horse, but he’s carried it only 14 times in the last three games. He wants it more—and I believe he’ll get 10 or 12 touches tonight and be a factor in keeping this game tight.


The Adieu Haiku

Seattle-Houston.
That was beautiful football.
More, please. Lots more, please.

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