NFL Network's Top 100 Players Great but No Way John Elway No. 23

NFL Network creates an abundance of amazing programming, especially when in comes to historically significant footage.

NFL Films fabulously and feverishly covers everything football and Steve Sabol is the czar of football footage.

One of their most recent productions breaks down the Top 100 NFL players of all time, an arduous undertaking to say the least.

A committee of writers, media and others closely involved with the NFL voted on the list, coming as close as possible to a consensus, comparing football stars of the past and present.

What makes the 10-part documentary series so compelling is how NFL Films gathered contemporaries, many times adversaries of the great players to describe their awe-inspiring play from the viewpoint of an opponent.

Make no qualms about it, if you are a football fan, you must see this series.

Of course, when comparing footage and when comparing stats of players whose careers spanned over some seven decades the task of determining "The Greatest Ever" is seemingly impossible.

How do we compare a quarterback to a wide receiver to a line backer and so on?

But the committee was determined and they decided where the all-time greats stood.

Undoubtedly, the committee knew the list wasn't perfect and that football fanatics would have their complaints, which is where this piece is rooted.

John Elway, unquestionably the greatest Denver Bronco player in history, was the only one to wear orange and blue to make the list, and his ranking was high.

At No. 23 all-time, Elway is ranked higher than his contemporary Dan Marino (25) and higher than old-timers Bart Starr (51) and Terry Bradshaw (50), but he's also behind Joe Montana (4), Johnny Unitas (6), Peyton Manning (8) and Tom Brady (21), which is just wrong.

Give Montana and Unitas their due--Montana is still widely considered the best QB ever, with Unitas not far behind--but Manning and Brady are not on par with Elway or the other two.

Not to take anything away from either current stars--Manning and Brady are by far the best QBs in the game today--but their legends don't stack up against Elway's.

John Elway started five Super Bowls, more than any other quarterback, and at the time of his retirement he had gathered the most wins of any QB (148).

Elway was, beyond anything else, a winner and he did it with teams that were talent-less compared to Brady's Patriots or Manning's Colts.

Name the starting running back for the Broncos' Super Bowl teams in the 80s.

You can't. (Trivia Answer below)

Name the star receiver on those three AFC Champion teams in four years.

Vance Johnson? Mark Jackson? Ricky Nattiel? The Three Amigos were good but far from great.

Especially compared to Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Dion Branch, Randy Moss etc.

And the comparison between Elway's line and the two current gun-slinger's isn't one--Elway was sacked more than any other QB at the time of his retirement, Manning and Brady hardly ever get touched.

Elway was a warrior, he took the punishment and kept right on going, which anyone can see when the 50 year old hobbles as he walks.

The Broncos of the 80s had the Orange Crush D, with Karl Mecklenburg, Tom Jackson, Dennis Smith and lots of others--they kept the team in the game and Elway willed them to win.

Basically, the Broncos of the 80s sported a decent defense and a mediocre offense--Elway led them to those Super Bowls.

Elway was a dual threat, he could run and pass, he is the only player to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 200 yards in seven straight seasons (1985–1991). He finished with 3,417 rushing yards, sixth all-time in the NFL for a quarterback.

He made plays with his legs, avoiding blitzing defensive lineman, rolling out to his right or left to rifle the ball downfield.

And John Elway could definitely rocket the ball--80 yards on the on the fly if he wanted--his arm strength was straight-up legendary.

In 1995, Ed McCaffery's first year in Denver, the 35 year old Elway still had the arm strength to give Ed an "Elway Cross." Elway threw the ball so hard, the point would compress and the two seams would create an impression of a cross.

In fact, McCaffery was the first receiver Elway had to throw to that was taller than 5'10", another testament to Elway doing the best with what he had.

John Elway never said die in any one game or in his career, his perseverance was stoic, his drive legendary.

Elway was branded the "Comeback King" during his 16 year career due to so many memorable late-game drives that resulted in points that either tied or won the game for the Broncos.

The most memorable was "The Drive," a 98-yard gem orchestrated by Elway in Cleveland against the Browns in the 1986 AFC Championship game. Elway threw the ball remarkably, for 73 yards, while running for 12 and eventually passing the game-tying touchdown. He took Denver down the field at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in overtime and Rich Karlis kicked the winning field goal.

His 47 game-tying or winning drives orchestrated still stand as the benchmark for coming from behind in the NFL. It again shows that John Elway was so important to the team, so crucial to the Broncos' success for most of his career and that the talen around him was sub-par.

Elway was so good, he led by example so well that he gave teammates the confidence to know they would win no matter how slim their chances seemed to be.

When John Elway rode off into the sunset, a mile high after winning back-to-back Super Bowls, he was only the second player at the time to reach the 50,000 passing yard mark, the third to hit 300 touchdowns.

If you were building a prototypical football player, John Elway had exactly what you want; he was tough, athletically gifted all around, he was a leader, he never gave up and persevered until he won.

If there were one game to win, my quarterback would be John Elway.

But decide for yourself, is Elway really greater than Manning and Brady? How does he compare to Montana and Unitas? Here's a statistical breakdown of their respective careers:

       NFL Net. Ranking   YDS   TDs    Wins   Super Bowl Wins-Losses  Super Bowl MVPs  All-Pro Seasons

Montana (4)                  40,551   273    117       4-4                                       3-time SB MVP         8-time All-Pro

Unitas (6)                     40,239    290    118   2 World Championships, 1-1 in SBs                         5-time All-Pro

Manning (8)                  54,828   399     131        1-1                                       1-time SB MVP       5-time All-Pro

Brady (21)                     34,744   261      97        3-1                                       2-time SB MVP        2-time All-Pro

Elway (23)                     51,475   300     148       2-3                                       1-time SB MVP        5-time All-Pro

 

 

(Trivia Answer: Sammy Winder, Steve Sewell among others were Denver's running backs in the 1980s.)

 

Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being the CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman is a Denver Nuggets and NBA Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com, the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for stadiumjourney.com, a weekly contributor to milehighhoops.com and a contributor to milehighreport.com writing on the Denver Broncos.

Rich also heads up PR for K-Biz and Beezy, a Colorado-based rap group.

Please follow Rich Kurtzman on Facebook.

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