CANTON, OHIO Something like this was attempted in 1994 by a committee composed of media members and league personnel. Their goal was to elect the NFL's all-time team to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the league.
Today, the debate continues at the game's most important position. And with Joe Montana being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, it seems as good a time as any to pose the question: Is he the greatest quarterback who ever lived?
"Yeah, Montana is one of the greatest of all time," said Dan Fouts, himself a Hall of Fame quarterback. "But if somebody says (Johnny) Unitas, it just depends on how his skills are as a debater."
In 1994, the committee entrusted with the task narrowed it down to four players: Montana, Unitas, Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham.
Montana is known for his cool in big games. A three-time Super Bowl MVP, Montana guided the 49ers to four Super Bowls in his 10 years as the regular starter. But if it's championships you're looking for, no quarterback in history compares to Graham, the Babe Ruth of the position.
Graham played 10 seasons for the Cleveland Browns from 1946-55 and guided them to 10 division or league titles during that time. He led the Browns to four championships in the All-America Football Conference before the team moved on to the NFL.
Bill Walsh might be biasedOK, of course, he's biasedbut he ranks Montana as the greatest ever because he said it is almost impossible to compare quarterbacks from different eras. However, he said it is difficult to separate Montana and Unitas.
"I believe Joe Montana, along with two or three other people, would have to be considered the greatest quarterbacks of all time," said Walsh, a Hall of Fame coach who coached Montana for 10 years.
"And those other people would come from recent era and in the past, all the way back to Johnny Unitas. Prior to that, it's really hard to judge quarterbacks, the game was so different at that time. It's hard to relate them. Johnny Unitas was one of the truly great football players."
Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to championships in 1958, '59 and '70. He was a three-time league MVP, played in 10 Pro Bowls and during one stretch threw a TD pass in 47 consecutive games.
"I knew (John) Brodie and (Y.A.) Tittle, and being my team, those were my heroes," said Fouts, a San Francisco native. "But when Unitas came to town, he was going to beat the 49ers every time. Unitas was my guy."