The “best quarterback ever” debate is a mainstay of drunken sports discussion. Even though consensus is a near impossibility, the conversation is always lively and entertaining. And, if your booze-drowned symposiums are anything like mine, one friend will inevitably ask, “Oh, so you think Trent Dilfer is better than Dan Marino?”
No. Nobody thinks that.
So, rather than devolve into an admittedly fun — but nonetheless exhausted — discussion, I’d like to approach the topic from a fresh perspective:
If NFL quarterbacks were U.S. presidents, who would they be and why?
Before I begin, I’d like to offer a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, I’m not old enough to remember anything NFL-related before the early 1980s. And, frankly, most of that decade was spent with Ninja Turtle figures and Nerf guns. Therefore, due not to malice or lack of appreciation, but to my parents failing to have baby-making sex until 1983, I’m excluding pre-1980 QBs from my list. While I’m sure Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, and Terry Bradshaw were terrific, I was sperm at the time.
Secondly, do not attempt to correlate the quarterbacks themselves — or my categorization of them — with every characteristic of their corresponding president. I observed one or two similarities in their respective “careers.” I understand, there are more dissimilarities than similarities between Tarvaris Jackson and Millard Fillmore.
Here we go!
BRETT FAVRE / TEDDY ROOSEVELT
What’s the common thread? A little bit of good ol’ boy toughness, of course (momentarily disregarding the fact that Roosevelt is from New York).
Growing up in Minneapolis, I’ve been socialized to hate Brett Favre — that is, until he played for the Vikings during two emotionally confusing seasons. That said, it would be impossible not to appreciate the NFL iron man. For god’s sake, he started 321 consecutive games — including playoffs — in one of the most violent sports in the world. That’s 94 more than the next closest player (Peyton Manning). The dude stayed vertical from 1992 through 2010. Eighteen years. That’s longer than Justin Bieber has been alive. (Right? No? Whatever.)
This is an x-ray of Roosevelt’s ribs from October 14, 1912, taken at the hospital immediately following a speech he delivered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Notice the bullet stuck in his ribs.
Why is this significant? He was shot before the speech.
Rather than rush to the hospital, as concerned advisers — and any reasonable human being — would recommend after an attempted assassin lodged a bullet in his chest, the former president insisted on giving his 90-minute address, uninterrupted.
PEYTON MANNING / THOMAS JEFFERSON
I think Thomas Jefferson would appreciate the cerebral way that Peyton Manning plays football. Because, you know, Jefferson’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence is a lot like breaking down the Chargers defense.
I don’t know. They’re both smart. That’s all I’m saying.
Oh, and tall.
JOE MONTANA / GEORGE WASHINGTON
If the 1980s for me represents the beginning of contemporary NFL time, then Joe Montana can easily be understood as the father of modern quarterbacking. And it’s not just my conjured timeline that correlates the two. They’re each so god damn successful! Let’s compare the back of their trading cards:
Super Bowl Rings: 4 (World Record: tied)
Super Bowl MVPs: 3 (World Record: tied)
NFL MVPs: 2
Pro Bowls: 8
Independences Won: 1 (World Record: tied)
Nations Fathered: 1 (World Record: tied)
Years Spent as President: 8
Things Named After Him in America: 459,652,209
And, just as Washington abdicated the kingship of a young nation, so too did Montana relinquish his throne to Steve Young. (Though Montana did go on to quarterback the Kansas City Chiefs, whereas Washington was never the president of Canada. But you get the idea.)
TOM BRADY / ABRAHAM LINCOLN
This one isn’t a perfect fit, but I wanted a “Mount Rushmore” representing the best four quarterbacks of my lifetime (with all due respect to John Elway).
The commonality here? Best of all time.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, nobody had any idea that he’d be the iconic president he is today. More than anything, a fractured Democratic party led to his ease of election after just one term in the House of Representatives and a failed bid at the senate. Tom Brady, as NFL lore constantly reminds us, was a 6th round draft pick, never expected to become an NFL starting quarterback.
Alas, both men are legends.
Of course, Tom Brady is a handsome, model-married stud. And Lincoln was uglier than a mule’s butt. But, you know, can’t win ’em all.
JOHN ELWAY / DWIGHT EISENHOWER
The old general.
The operative word is “old.” Eisenhower was one of the oldest presidents ever elected (62 at inauguration). John Elway is still the oldest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl (38). But I suppose “general” is equally operative. They commanded men for many years — through a diverse assortment of “battle” conditions — and were highly respected around the league (and world?). It would be borderline offensive to equate winning a Super Bowl with winning World War II. But, you know, they both won! And that’s something.
And each of their last names begin with “E.”
KURT WARNER / JOHN F. KENNEDY
High-level performance over a short period of time. The Hall of Fame question is posed with the inevitable response, “Yeah, but did he do it over a long enough timeline?” Though Warner still has the three highest passing-yard performances in Super Bowl history. And JFK helped us avoid nuclear war.
DAN MARINO / WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN
William Jennings Bryan was never president. He was a favorite Democrat during the progressive era, running as that party’s candidate in three different elections. But he never won the big one.
JAMARCUS RUSSELL / WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON
High expectations. Dead shortly thereafter.