Fran Tarkenton is Easily One of the Top 20 Players of the 1970's

Posted on June 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Recently, NFL Media analyst Elliot Harrison revealed his list of the top-twenty players of the 1970's. The list included four quarterbacks—none named Fran Tarkenton.

Roger Staubach (2nd), Terry Bradshaw (11th), Ken Stabler (17th) and Bob Griese (20th) all made the cut.

The QBS system was developed, in part, for ranking situations such as this. Because many people are unfamiliar with statistical discrepancies found between different eras, they tend to rely more on "perception of accomplishment" than actual performance on the field to develop their rankings. Even traditional statistics reveal Tarkenton to be the decade's leader in pass completions (2,056), passing yards (23,863) and touchdown passes (156).

Would Johnny Unitas be omitted from the 1960's top-twenty players list? Dan Marino from the 1980's? Brett Favre from the 1990's? Peyton Manning from the 2000's?

When compared to his peers of the 1970's using the QBS system, Tarkenton out-performed all of the quarterback's on Harrison's list—both per-season and in totality.

Total QBS (1970's)


  • Fran Tarkenton: 217.5
  • Roger Staubach: 178.0
  • Ken Stabler: 134.0
  • Bob Griese: 121.5
  • Terry Bradshaw: 71.0

QBA (1970's)

  • Fran Tarkenton: 24.16
  • Roger Staubach: 22.25
  • Ken Stabler: 19.14
  • Bob Griese: 13.50
  • Terry Bradshaw: 7.10

Neither Staubach nor Griese won an MVP during their careers, and Tarkenton's 1975 MVP campaign easily trumps Stabler's in 1974 and Bradshaw's in 1978. To put things into perspective, Tarkenton's 37.0 QBS in 1975, at the age of 35, stands as the second most impressive single-season performance of the decade and still ranks amongst the greatest passing seasons in NFL history. Prime-for-prime, per-season and in totality—Tarkenton stands atop the pack of 1970's quarterbacks.

Pundits will be as quick to point to the multiple championships won by Tarkenton's contemporaries as they will be to utterly ignore the context of how those championships came about. During the decade, Staubach was coached by Tom Landry and surrounded by eleven Hall of Fame teammates. Bradshaw was coached by Chuck Knoll and surrounded by eight Hall of Fame teammates. Making it to three Super Bowls with the Vikings was arguably more impressive than winning four titles with the Steelers.

Such lack of recognition has been typical of Tarkenton's legacy. Not only was he extremely underrated during the 1970's, but as the decades have passed, resumés of quarterbacks who played during the "dead ball era" continue to be misunderstood. Instead, "team accomplishments" and NFL Films presentation have become the driving forces behind collective perception. Don't believe me? Compare the air-time Bradshaw's bombs to Lynn Swann got in comparison to Bert Jones' brilliant 1976 season.

Perception isn't always reality—conversely, it's often very distant from it.

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