Analyzing Peter King's Ranking of Phil Simms Ahead of Y.A. Tittle in 1999

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 11:50 AM

If you read "Greatest Quarterbacks" by Peter King, you will see his list of the Top-50 quarterbacks in NFL history, as of 1999. These lists are always subjective, with the true heart of their credibility beating within the author's criteria. King—who is in my opinion, a fantastic writer—seemed to draft his list using a hodgepodge foundation that fluctuated between valuing team accolades (e.g., championships) regardless of the context, and individual performance (e.g., statistics) often influenced by a modern-day perception of production. Ranking Dan Marino at No. 6 and Fran Tarkenton at No. 15 despite the latter's greater success—era-for-era—both statistically and in terms of conference championships, exposes this inconsistency. Nevertheless, King attempted to summarize his criteria in the book's introduction by stating the following:

"In the SI pro football world, stats are important but winning rules. I adopted this mantra as a beat reporter for Newsday in the mid-1980s. During that period in my life, I was like most of you probably are today. In the Alltime NFL Fantasy Draft, chances are you'd take Dan Marino over Otto Graham. Marino's numbers dwarf Graham's because of the different eras in which they played. But Graham leads Marino in pro championships by a touchdown, 7-zip. Seven titles to none. That makes him a better quarterback, in my book—and this is my book—than Marino. Period. End of discussion." -Peter King

Ranking Graham ahead of Marino isn't as outrageous as it may seem to the casual fan. Graham dominated the quarterback position for his five lone seasons in the league. Crediting him for "seven titles" though is beyond misleading, considering the fact that four of them were won in the AAFC—which was not the NFL's equivalent. The greater issue was King's expression of absolutism when stating that Graham's seven championships (while making no mention as to where four of them really came from) end the discussion about comparing him to Marino, who played in an expanded league, for inferior teams during a four-round postseason era. If your list's critera ignores the context of how individual players attained their respective accomplishments, it's credibility loses traction.


It's less shocking then, to see a quarterback of Phil Simms' caliber ranked ahead of a legend the likes of Y.A. Tittle. While the availability of statistics was far different in 1999 than it is today, league-rankings were readily available to anyone studious enough to do the research. The raw statistics Tittle produced during the 1950's and 1960's mean little if compared to quarterbacks who played decades after he threw his last pass. You'd have to go back to the end of Tittle's career in 1964 to truly understand just how badly he destroyed opposing defenses. Tittle was the Marino of his era—only he succeeded with two different organizations (49ers, Giants).

Tittle (career): 2,118 of 3,817 (55.5) for 28,339 yards, 212 touchdowns and 221 interceptions.

At the time of Tittle's retirement in 1964, he was the NFL's all-time leader in pass completions, passing yardage and touchdown passes. He also set the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single-season twice, retiring with the two top seasons in league history (1963, 1962). His seven touchdown passes on October 28th, 1962 vs. the Washington Redskins tied the all-time single-game record—which stands to this day—after he refused to stay in the game and run up the score by throwing an eighth. 


  • 28,339 passing yards ranked 1st in NFL history.
  • 212 touchdown passes ranked 1st in NFL history.
  • 2,118 pass completions ranked 1st in NFL history.
  • 36 touchdown passes (1963) ranked 1st in NFL history (single-season).
  • 33 touchdown passes (1962) ranked 2nd in NFL history (single-season).
  • 7 touchdown passes (10/28/62) ranked 1st in NFL history (single-game).

Using the multigenerational QBS system to level the statistical playing field, it is clear that Tittle (191.0 QBS) had a far greater career than Simms (62.5 QBS). Historically speaking, it's not even close. Tittle is best known for his 1963 MVP season where he set the all-time record for touchdown passes in a single-season (36), that stood until Dan Marino broke it 21 years later in 1984. Simms is best known for his 1986 campaign in which the Giants No. 1 defense, led by Lawrence Taylor, carried the team to a Super Bowl while Simms posted an abysmal 3.5 QBS. Tittle's staggering 36.0 QBS in 1963 was the highest of the entire decade—Simms' career-high was 13.0 in 1990.

Simms' claim to fame was his performance in Super Bowl XXI—going 22 of 25 for 268 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions—setting the Super Bowl record for completion percentage at 88.0. Ignored is the reality that he accomplished this feat against the Broncos' 16th ranked passing defense. Hence the danger of over-valuing outliers attained within a context of weak resistance. If Simms' singular performance in Super Bowl XXI was truly a mark of greatness worthy of ascension, his success would have continued within the totality of complete seasons—which failed to happen once during his 14-year career. That is not to say that Simms was a bad player. Unfortunately, comparing him to Tittle is like comparing package store wine to Dom Pérignon—similar in principle, but not even close in reality.

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