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Norm Van Brocklin's Place Amongst the Pantheon of Legendary NFL Quarterbacks

Posted on May 24, 2014 at 7:15 PM
When discussing the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, names like Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach and Joe Montana are familiar—Norm Van Brocklin is not. Perception of history is subjective, and perhaps worse, predicated upon one's exposure to another's imperfect recollection of it. The public's collective understanding—regardless of flaw—then birth's the masses criteria for who qualifies to be branded a "legend." But to first be considered, you have to be remembered. Perhaps therein lies the issue.

With the advent of modern technology, fans today have a greater exposure to professional football than ever before. Statistics can be retrieved at your fingertips, depth charts can be tracked and training camp competitions can be observed on live TV, smartphones—gossiped about on Twitter, Facebook and countless extensions of social media. We're in the know, so long as we know where to look and how to interpret the information presented to us.

That wasn't the case in the 1950's and 1960's. History cherry-picked a select few quarterbacks to place on a pedestal and left the others destined to inherit the throne of footnotes. There are only 23 modern-era quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but many fans wouldn't recognize half of the names on the list.

Van Brocklin is one of those names. By virtually any measure, Van Brocklin's resumé ranks him amongst the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He was a great leader. He was a production machine. He was incredibly accurate. He was remarkably efficient. He was a multiple-time champion. He had tremendous football acumen. He shined in historic moments—defeating Otto Graham in the 1951 NFL championship and beating Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL championship.

  • Retired with 23,611 passing yards—ranking 2nd in NFL history.
  • Retired as a 9x Pro Bowl selection—shattering the previous record of six set by Sammy Baugh.
  • Was named First Team All-Pro and won NFL MVP honors in 1960—the final season of his career.
  • The only quarterback in NFL history to win a championship with two different teams (Rams, Eagles).
  • Quarterbacked the highest scoring team, per-game, in NFL history (38.8 PPG in 1950).

NFL Films' "Top 50 Quarterbacks of All-Time" ranked Van Brocklin No. 18 in 1998. Peter King Ranked Van Brocklin No. 24 in his book "Greatest Quarterbacks" in 1999. NFL Films' "Top 100 Greatest Players" ranked Van Brocklin at No. 16 amongst quarterbacks in 2010. King said the following about Van Brocklin's career in his book:

"Y.A. Tittle and Norm Van Brocklin, Nos. 22 and 24, were probably the fourth and fifth best passers (behind Graham, Unitas and Layne) after World War II and before Vietnam. Tittle was prolific and courageous, Van Brocklin quick and opportunistic." -Peter King

Where other, less productive, less accurate, less efficient, less accomplished quarterbacks got multiple pages devoted to their placement on his Top 50 list, Van Brocklin's career was reduced to remarks made in passing. Van Brocklin was better than Layne and it could be argued that he was just as good, if not better, than Graham or Unitas.

My last article detailed the absurdity of King ranking Phil Simms ahead of Tittle, with "winning" being the justification used for his inclusion within the Top 20. Not only was Van Brocklin—era for era—ages ahead of Simms in terms of production, accuracy and efficiency, but he also won more championships against much more impressive compeition. King's list was published in 1999, not long after the memories of Simms' perceived success were still fresh. But that doesn't change the reality of resumés.

Van Brocklin's career QBS (206.0) ranks ahead of Roger Staubach (178.0) and John Elway (137.0).

There have not been 16, 18 or 24 quarterbacks better than Van Brocklin—not even close. To overlook the magnitude of Van Brocklin's accomplishments by virture of not knowing one's history and/or not understanding statistics of the 1950's and 1960's, is not only a gross oversight, but it also undermines the credibility of one's opinion.

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