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Tough? You Want Tough?
Paul Zimmerman
March 22, 1999
Today's quarterbacks have nothing (but money) on their counterparts of '78
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March 22, 1999

Tough? You Want Tough?

Today's quarterbacks have nothing (but money) on their counterparts of '78

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A True Quarterback Rating

How do the quarterbacks of today stack up against those of 20 years ago? Dr. Z gives the edge to the 1978 group, by a 15-10-3 count. His criteria: personality, impact on the game, boldness in throwing down the field and ability to remain the starter for the entire season.

TEAM

1978 STARTER

1998 STARTER

EDGE

NFC EAST

Cardinals

Jim Hart

Jake Plummer

Hart

Cowboys

Roger Staubach

Troy Aikman

Staubach

Eagles

Ron Jaworski

Bobby Hoying/Koy Detmer

Jaworski

Giants

Joe Pisarcik

Danny Kanell/Kent Graham

Kanell/Graham

Redskins

Joe Theismann

Gus Frerotte/Trent Green

Theismann

NFC CENTRAL

Bears

Bob Avellini

Erik Kramer

Kramer

Bucs

Doug Williams

Trent Dilfer

Williams

Lions

Gary Danielson

Charlie Batch

Danielson

Packers

David Whitehurst

Brett Favre

Favre

Vikings

Fran Tarkenton

Brad Johnson/Randall Cunningham

Tarkenton

NFC WEST

Falcons

Steve Bartkowski

Chris Chandler

Chandler

49ers

Steve DcBerg

Steve Young

Young

Rams

Pat Hadcn

Tony Banks

Even

Saints

Archie Manning

Billy Joe Tolliver/Kerry Collins

Manning

AFC EAST

Bills

Joe Ferguson

Doug Flutie

Even

Colls

Bert Jones/Bill Troup

Peyton Manning

Even

Dolphins

Bob Griese

Dan Marino

Marino

Jets

Matt Robinson/Richard Todd

Vinny TesTaverde

Testaverde

Patriots

Steve Grogan

Drew Bledsoe

Grogan

AFC CENTRAL

Bengals

Ken Anderson

Neil O'Donnell/Jeff Blake

Anderson

Browns/Ravens

Brian Sipe

Jim Harbaugh

Sipe

Oilers

Dan Pastorini

Steve McNair

McNair

Steelers

Terry Bradshaw

Kordell Stewart

Bradshaw

AFC WEST

Broncos

Craig Morton

John Elway

Elway

Chargers

Dan Fouts

Ryan Leaf/Craig Whelihan

Fouts

Chiefs

Mike Livingston

Elvis Grbac/Rich Gannon

Grbac/Gannon

Raiders

Ken Stabler

Jeff George/Donald Hollas

Stabler

Seahawks

Jim Zorn

Warren Moon/Jon Kitna

Zorn

What has happened to NFL quarterbacks? Why aren't they as good as they were 20 years ago? They are as good, you say? Puh-leeze! Sure, you've got Dan Marino, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Troy Aikman and John Elway, as well as a few guys who got hot for a season, such as Chris Chandler, Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde. But if you look past that group, all you see is a gray mass of multimillionaires. Some teams can't even decide who their starters are. Twenty years ago a team was defined by its quarterback. He had identity, a personality. "They were men in those days," says former New York Giant Phil Simms, who does his quarterbacking for CBS now.

Let's go down the line, team by team, 1978 versus 1998, and see which year had the better quarterbacks. I give '78 a 15-10-3 edge (chart), and while you can argue about some of my choices, I think I was pretty kind in my evaluations of some of the men who lined up under center in '98.

"When you look at that roster of quarterbacks 20 years ago, you get excited," says Simms. "That was just a tremendous group of real tough guys, people who were consistent week after week, who could kill you downfield. Real throwers. Quarterbacks were always looking to hurt you downfield. Now what do you get? Five receivers into the pattern, you dump it off in the flat for two yards, and the guy runs for three more. Oh, boy, a five-yard gain!

"Take a guy like [Dan] Pastorini. A tremendous thrower. Put him in the right offense with the right coaching nowadays and he'd just kill people. The guys of 20 years ago could play in the offenses of the '90s, but a lot of the quarterbacks now couldn't play then. Why? Because they can't go downfield. They're not asked to."

Go by the playbook. Take what the defense gives you. Run the horizontal offense. Don't make mistakes.

"What's lost today is personality," Simms adds. "It's lost in the system. This is all the quarterbacks hear: 'Let the system work for you.' I watched [Terry] Bradshaw and [Roger] Staubach; they were always talking to their players. Now no one talks. They just stand around waiting for the play to come in."

"Offenses have been made too complicated," says Mike Giddings, director of Pro Scout Inc., a scouting service that is used by 13 teams. "The quarterback has too many reads. His spontaneity is being taken away. The playbook is just too damn thick."

San Francisco 49ers general manager Bill Walsh, who was never accused of having a slender playbook when he coached the Niners to three Super Bowl victories, points to another problem: lack of continuity on a team. In the past, he says, "the quarterback and his receivers were together longer. Offensive lines were together longer. Now, with free agency, that's impossible."

Free agency has brought wealth undreamed of by those poor slobs who took their lumps 20 years ago. Mediocrity is being rewarded like never before. Kerry Collins bombs out with the Carolina Panthers, quarterbacks the New Orleans Saints to a 2-5 finish and cashes in with a four-year, $16.9 million package from the Giants. Rich Gannon, a part-time starter with the Kansas City Chiefs, collects $16 million over four years from the Oakland Raiders. Trent Green goes from the Washington Redskins to the St. Louis Rams for a four-year, $16.5 million deal, and the guy whose job he took in D.C., Gus Frerotte, gets a three-year, $3 million package to be a backup with the Detroit Lions. Even quarterbacks who have done little more than carry the clipboard are seeing seven figures. Doug Pederson goes from the Green Bay Packers to the Philadelphia Eagles for $4.5 million over three years, and Stoney Case, who watched Jake Plummer do his tiling for the Arizona Cardinals, signs a two-year, $2 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts to watch Peyton Manning. Can you find a potential Hall of Famer in the bunch?

"I never dreamed of that kind of money," says Ron Jaworski, one of our crop from '78 and a Super Bowl signal-caller for the Eagles. "What kills me about these guys now is their lack of fundamentals in game conditions. That's why I think the guys were better 20 years ago. I'm talking about the little things, stepping away from the center, dropping back into the pocket, setting and throwing. It's just not there.

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