It's the Super Bowl this Sunday, so I thought I'd take a break from my 2013 top fives to celebrate the American variety of football and the stars of one of it's key positions. More than ever these are my favourite Quarterbacks rather than an indication of greatness (though I'm sure a few of these qualify for that too). I've been watching American football since 1982 and I think I've got a pretty good appreciation of the sport but I don't think I can talk with any authority about the intricacies of the game.
1. Joe Montana - Montana was the winning Quarterback (and MVP) in the 1st game I ever saw. BBC Grandstand showed extended highlights from the 1982 Super Bowl between Montana's San Franciso 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. I was hooked from the off. The colourful uniforms, the end to end action and the late drama. The following season Channel 4 started showing weekly highlights and Montana was a star throughout my peak interest. He led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins (1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990) and I got to see him play live, albeit briefly, at Wembley in 1992 (beating the Redskins in a pretty poor pre-season game).
2. Joe Theismann - Joe Theismann is in many ways the reason I've ended up a Washington Redskins supporter. Launched in November 1982, Channel 4 picked up highlights for the 1982 NFL season and hot on the heels of that '82 Super Bowl I mentioned above. I was a keen viewer from the off though the '82 season was shortened due to a player strike. After a poor pre-season Washington did really well once the league actually started and finished top seed in the NFC. Theismann grabbed my attention early on, he had a big on-field personality, and didn't seem afraid to run with the ball if the pass options were lacking. He played a big part in taking an unfancied team all the way to the Super Bowl (though John Riggins also played a big role).
Joe didn't have a conventional route into the NFL either. Turning down a contract with the Miami Dolphins, after also being selected to play baseball for the Minnesota Twins, and starting his pro-football career in the Canadian Football League. He joined the Redskins in 1974 where he completed his first season as punt returner, eventually becoming their starting Quarterback in 1978. In the '83 Super Bowl he threw two touchdown passes and made arguably the most important defensive play of the game. The Redskins were trailing 17–13 in the third quarter when Joe made a pass that was deflected & intercepted for what appeared to be a certain touchdown. However, Theismann managed to knock the ball out of Miami lineman Kim Bokamper's hands, keeping the score close enough for Washington to stick to their run-heavy, John Riggins inspired, strategy and claim victory. Theismann also led the Redskins to Super Bowl XVIII the following year, losing heavily to the L.A. Raiders (a game I've still not entirely got over), and would go on to set several Redskins franchise records before seeing his career cut short by injury.
3. Brett Favre - Green Bay are one of the teams I have a soft spot for. They were pretty poor in the 80s when I first started watching football, but I kind of liked them. There was something special about games at Lambeau Field, especially if it had snowed and I began to take more of an interest. I soon found out more about NFL history and Green Bay's sixties heyday and took an interest in their results from then on. Having been regular NFL championship winners before the AFL / NFL merger, Green Bay had gone on to win the first two Super Bowls. When Brett Favre joined the team in 1992 it had been a long time since Green Bay had got anyway near the Super Bowl but Favre, under the leadership of head coach Mike Holmgren, helped change that. Favre led Green Bay to their first Super Bowl victory in 1997 ending a 29 year wait for a third World Championship. Favre was another quarterback with a huge on-field presence. He was very mobile and didn't seem afraid to mix it up with the big men outside of the pocket. At times American Football can seem like a precision chess game but Favre showed it can be more flexible and a lot of fun.
4. Peyton Manning - Peyton Manning has been thrilling this season setting new records for passing touchdowns & passing yards. He's exciting to watch and (apologies to my Fulham/New England pal Russ Goldman) just edges out Tom Brady in my list of favourites. Manning impressed early in his career playing for the less fancied Indianapolis Colts. He got the Colts their first Super Bowl win, in 2007, since the franchise move from Baltimore and took them back again in 2009 (though on the losing side that time). After losing a year to injury in 2011 he was released by the Colts and eventually picked up by the Denver Broncos in 2012. I wonder how much Indy regret that decision now. 2013 has been an incredible year for the Broncos who are back in the Super Bowl for the first time since the days of John Elway.
5. Tom Brady - Much like Green Bay I have also had a long standing soft spot for New England. When I first started watching football they seemed perennial underdogs. When they won the 2002 Super Bowl it re-ignited my interest in the NFL. All the more so as their Quarterback that day, Tom Brady, was only a second year pro and had stepped in to cover for their first choice QB who got injured early in the season. He's gone on to be one of the most successful QBs the league has ever seen taking the Patriots to 5 NFL Championship Games in 11 seasons.