clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Joe Montana: Best football player of all time?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Over the weekend, Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in a marathon 5-set classic at Wimbledon to surpass Pete Sampras for the most majors won in a career.  Naturally, folks have since been discussing his place among the all-time greats in tennis and across sports in general.  Given that he is only 27, it's safe to say his place in tennis lore is secure.  However, one of the more interesting articles comes courtesy of the Telegraph (Is it just The Telegraph, or is it the British or UK Telegraph?  Folks from the UK got an answer?).

The article decided to put together a list of the Top 20 sports stars of all time.  There was really no criteria, although name brand recognition might have played a big part (as opposed to some kind of straight statistical look). Additionally, very few sports had multiple representatives.  Cricket had two and track and field had three, although Usain Bolt was listed under "athletics."

I won't even begin to try and argue for or against the cricket guys or the rowing guy or the guy in MotoGP (motorcycle stuff).  However, I did want to point to the man they grabbed from American football, our boy Joe Montana.

Joe Montana (American football)

As you would expect, there is some debate over the greatest quarter-back of all time, but Joe Montana is always up there, most often at the top. Known for his ability to remain calm under pressure Montana, who spent most of his career with the San Francisco 49ers, was named Most Valuable Player in three Super Bowls. As a tribute, the 49ers retired his jersey number, 16, when he left the team.

It's certainly an intriguing pick.  One problem with the NFL, as is the case with many team sports, is that it's hard to separate the individual performance from the team. They chose Joe Montana, but for this purpose, let's take a look at another 49er.  Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all time.  It's not even a debate.  People make the argument he's the greatest football player of all time, but it's a tough call to determine where he falls in the "greatest player of all time debate."  A lot more difficult than declaring Roger Federer the greatest tennis player of all time, or Carl Lewis one of the greatest track stars ever.

In looking at Montana, there are arguments for and against his inclusion.  One of the easiest arguments for inclusion would be his three Super Bowl MVPs, not equaled by anybody.  Of course, on the other end is a purely statistical look.  He was a very good QB, but his career numbers are surpassed by multiple QBs.  As our upcoming all-time team vote on QB will show, numerous folks would even go so far as to argue he was not even the greatest QB in franchise history.

I won't go into the Joe vs. Steve debate at this point.  Rather, I wanted to look at the Joe vs. Jerry debate.  Rice is well known in the NFL and in America, but Joe Montana definitely has a global name-brand recognition that Rice probably doesn't have...even after Dancing with the Stars!  So, what do folks think?  And feel free to open this up to who you think is the greatest player in NFL history.  Not an easy question to answer, but still something to consider.  It's pretty hard to even begin to start comparing players, particularly when looking at position versus position and offense versus defense.