Top 10: NFL: Quarterbacks of the 1970s

Oh, the 1970s. Back when plaid pants and feathered hats were all the rage. Atari was just starting. Clairol launched a shampoo called “A Touch of Yogurt“. And defense ruled the NFL. Being a quarterback in the NFL in the 1970s was a brutal, brutal job. There were hardly any rules to protect you or allow you to complete passes, while a linebacker like Jack Lambert could come up, flip tackle you and break your neck on the spot. It was a daring position, one that had its perks, and the 70s were filled with legends that are remembered today.

Honorable Mentions (2)

Steve Bartkowski (1975-1979)

Steve Bartkowski

Although Steve Bartkowski was not the king of the stat sheet in the 1970s, he turned a laughingstock franchise (one that had gone 6-35-1 over three seasons at one point) into a credible organization. He’s not on the list because during his time in Atlanta during the 70s, he only had two seasons of a winning percentage of .500 or above, 1977 and 1978.

Jim Plunkett (1971-1979)

Jim Plunkett

Jim Plunkett is best remembered for his Super Bowl win for the Raiders in 1980 and his help in their 1983 championship season. Well, for those of you without eyes, both of those years take place in the 1980s. Plunkett began his career in 1971 as the No.1 overall pick for the Patriots. While he was there, he started all of their games, save nine of them in his final season, never accumulating a winning record. He was then shipped off to San Francisco, where he went 11-15 in two years as a starter. In 1979, he began his career in Oakland, and we know the rest. During his time with the Patriots and 49ers, Plunkett never finished with a quarterback rating of over 52, but consistently passed for over 2,000 yards with the Patriots, despite throwing for career highs in interceptions there. These setbacks make him barely miss the top 10.

Other considerations: Dan Pastorini, Steve Grogan

10. James Harris (1970-1979)

James Harris

James Harris was a man who very quietly helped break the racial barrier in football. In those days, black men could not play quarterback, as they “could not think” like white men could, or in Harris’ case, the complaint was that he threw too hard. Well, he might have had a strong arm, but it certainly didn’t hold him back. Although he spent three seasons as a Buffalo Bill, Harris had his best years as a Los Angeles Ram, taking them to three consecutive NFC title games from 1974-1976. Even though they lost all three games, Harris is remembered fondly. During his ten seasons in the 1970s, Harris completed 53.2% of his passes for 7,866 yards, a 44 TD – 58 INT ratio, and a rating of 67.3. He had a starting record of 25-15. Although his statistics are not fantastic, all quarterbacks who played in that era weren’t.

9. Archie Manning (1971-1979)

Archie Manning

I’m joking, right? I can’t be serious, putting Archie Manning ahead of James Harris. Well, even though Harris had wins, he was surrounded by a great running game, a stiff defense and renowned head coach Chuck Knox. Well, Archie Manning had none of those things. Caught in a vortex of the miserable Saints teams of that era, Manning still managed to put up slightly better numbers than Harris. In fairness, New Orleans had to throw a lot more due to the stale running game, so he has more attempts/yards/completions. Manning rounds out his nine-season span in the 70s with a 54.3% completion rate, 16,568 yards, an 87 TD – 123 INT ratio, and a 65.4 rating. I’ll excuse the interceptions because Manning was running for his life most of the time, being sacked on nearly 10% of his dropbacks in the decade.

8. Jim Hart (1970-1979)

Jim Hart

Jim Hart is a guy who often gets lost in football history, but that shouldn’t be so. Hart was very productive with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 70s, putting up very good numbers considering how much defense dominated the league at that time. During the decade, Hart completed 51.4% of his passes for 23,026 yards, while tossing 137 touchdowns and 145 interceptions for a rating of 68.9. Out of all his starts in the decade, Hart finished with a 62-57-3 record.

7. Bert Jones (1973-1979)

Bert Jones 2

Houston Chronicle journalist John McClain knocked it out of the park during an NFL films presentation.

When I think of Bert Jones, I don’t think the best of anything.

This is probably true for all of us, but Jones was no innocent bystander during the decade. He completed 55.9% of his passes during his time in the 70s, for 78 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. His 80.3 rating is the best on the list so far. However, Jones had one of the best quarterback seasons ever in 1976, completing 60.3% of his passes for 3,104 yards, 24 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions, and a rating of 102.5, one of only 3 men to earn a passer rating of over 100 in the decade. During that season, Jones was named NFL MVP and NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

6. Ken Anderson (1971-1979)

Ken Anderson

Kenny Anderson. King of the Crop Duster. In the 1970s, he was forced to take over a fledgling Cincinnati Bengals franchise, and did a fantastic job. He is a pet-Hall of Fame candidate for many, and he was a very good quarterback during the decade. He completed 56.4% of his passes for 20,030 yards and finished with a 125 TD – 101 INT ratio, with a rating of 78.9. He only had a starter record of under .500 three times during the decade.

5. Bob Griese (1970-1979)

Bob Griese

This might cause a few head scratches. Although Griese didn’t have a spectacular statistic career during the 1970s, he took the Dolphins to three Super Bowls, winning 2 of them. Some might argue that he did nothing during the 1972 season, getting injured in the fifth week, but there is 1971 and 1973. A few more knocks against Griese are that he played in a run-first offense, under a Hall of Fame coach, and he was a babysitter quarterback for a ferocious defense. Well, I don’t care. He has good stats and he has rings, and that’s what matters on the list. Griese ended the decade with a 58.2% completion rate, throwing for 140 touchdowns, 118 interceptions and 18,129 yards. His 84-31-1 starter record during the decade is one of the best on the list. In 1977, Griese threw 6 touchdown passes in a Thanksgiving Day blowout win over the Cardinals.

4. Fran Tarkenton (1970-1978)

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton was a confusing guy to try and stop to the primordial defenses of the 1970s. He could pass, and he could run. What was this? Quarterbacks are supposed to drop back and throw, not run all over the place! Well, Tarkenton blew the curve. He played on a team with an outstanding defense in the 70s with the Vikings, although offensive help was limited. He took them to the Super Bowl in 1973, 1974, and 1976, but he’s not higher because he went 0-3 in the big game. Tarkenton completed 59.7% of his passes for 23,863 yards, 156 touchdowns and 132 interceptions. Tarkenton finished his career holding numerous passing and rushing records. He was also named the NFL’s MVP in 1975.

3. Ken Stabler (1970-1979)

Ken Stabler

Oh boy, Ken Stabler. The Snake. Whether or not that was his actual nickname or a euphemism, Ken Stabler was an imposing quarterback in the 70s. He played for the Raiders all those years, engineering famous plays like Ghost to the Post, The Sea of Hands and The Holy Roller Play. Stabler completed 59.9% of his passes in the decade, for 19,078 yards, 150 touchdowns and 143 interceptions. He finished with a nice overall rating of 80.3, but also finished with a rating of 103.4 in 1976. Stabler was indeed a hard partier, often garnering jokes for his frequent overnight stays with (sometimes multiple) women.

2. Terry Bradshaw (1970-1979)

Terry Bradshaw

The Bradshaw/Staubach debate will never end. Ever. It was the Brady/Manning debate of that era, and it’s still a hotly contested topic today. Bradshaw made the most Super Bowl appearances in the decade with 4, winning all of them with an absolutely loaded Pittsburgh team. He finished with 19,918 yards, a 51.6% completion rate, and a 147 TD – 163 INT ratio. He’s only #2 because of how much talent his team had on it. Hall of Famers were everywhere. In the backfield, Franco Harris. On the offensive line, Mike Webster. Receivers, two of them, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. On the defense, Mean Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, the list goes on. Bradshaw might have called his own plays, and he might have been a really winging quarterback, but he barely misses out to our #1 spot.

1. Roger Staubach (1970-1979)

Roger sTaubach

So here we are, the No.1 quarterback of the 1970s, the clean-cut Cowboy. America’s Hero. Roger Staubach was often compared to Terry Bradshaw, and for good reason. They both played on dominant teams, and they met in the Super Bowl twice. Staubach in my eyes has the better stats, with a 57.1% completion rate, 22,279 yards, a 152 TD – 107 INT ratio, and an overall rating of 83.6. Staubach took his team to 5 Super Bowls, winning 2. Although his head coach was the stoic Tom Landry and he had the Doomsday Defense on the other side of the ball, Staubach’s offensive options were extremely limited. It was showcased no better than in Super Bowl XIII, where in the final quarter, TE Jackie Smith dropped an extremely easy touchdown pass when he was wide open in the endzone, costing the Cowboys the victory. Staubach gets the nod over Bradshaw for accomplishing more without a bevy of Hall of Famers.


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