Joe Montana is nothing if not cagey about crowning a Greatest Of All Time in NFL, and he recently added another dimension to the conversation.
In an interview with Men’s Health published Wednesday, Montana apparently decided to draw a distinction between “the greatest quarterback of all time” and “the best quarterback of all time.” You see, greatest means career achievements (Super Bowl rings, Pro Bowls, passing yards), while best is straight talent.
The former has been a lively debate for years, with Montana himself weighing in a few times. On the latter, however, Montana picked a fun name: Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
Montana and Tom Brady, the former and current most popular answers for the “greatest” debate, might have more Super Bowl rings than Marino (a lot of players do, in fact), but Montana insisted no one was as good as Marino at simply playing the position of quarterback.
From Men’s Health:
“He had a quick release. I had to step into a lot of things to get enough [force] on the ball,” Montana says of Marino. “He had the perfect torque of his upper body and strength to deliver the ball quickly at a fast release with accuracy.”
Marino played 17 seasons in the NFL, accruing nine Pro Bowl nods, three first-team All-Pro selections and the 1984 MVP award, but no Super Bowl rings. He played in one Super Bowl in his career, losing Super Bowl XIX to Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in 1985.
Marino retired as the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader with 61,361, but now sits eighth on the leaderboard. He is the only person in the top 10 to have not played a game after the year 2000, which is no mean feat considering how much the NFL has changed for quarterbacks in the last 20 or so years.
The league has made every effort to make quarterbacks safer and more productive, and that’s something Montana believes Marino would have greatly benefited from had he played in the current version of the game:
“Put Marino into today’s game where he gets free release…and his receivers, holy cow, weren’t very big,” Montana proclaims. “Now these guys are 6’4,” 6’5.” I think [Marino] is probably one of the most unsung heroes of the game. People don’t talk enough about him or realize the numbers that he put up during the times that he put them up.”
It’s hard to argue with Montana here; the NFL really has changed that much. Maybe the New England Patriots would have won even more titles if they named a young Dan Marino their starter instead of Brady in 2001. Then again, it’s very easy to say stuff like this, with no chance of being proven wrong. We’ll never know if Marino wins a ring in a different era, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate him.
As for the GOAT debate, Montana’s outlook seems to slightly change by the year. In 2021, when Brady won his seventh ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Montana said Brady was “definitely” the greatest player in NFL history. He was a little less eager in 2022, noting it was hard to compare eras and claiming Otto Graham won 11 pre-Super Bowl championships in 10 seasons with the Cleveland Browns (it was actually seven).
As for 2023, it was either Montana or Men’s Health who made it sound like Montana now believes he’s the GOAT again:
“Before Montana’s alma mater, Notre Dame pummelled the Navy on August 26, he looked at the current landscape of NFL quarterbacks and decided the one closest to supplanting him as the GOAT is “by far” Patrick Mahomes. “The things he does and is able to do are so different than what any other quarterback does who’s out there,” he says.”
Check back in 2024 for our next episode of the debate that will never end.