My top 15 quarterbacks of the 1970s are based partly on statistics and my honest opinion, having seen all of them play. It’s also based solely on play in the 1970s, and whatever they did during the 1960s or 1980s doesn’t count.
Honorable mention to the following four players who did not make the top 15.
Dan Pastorini: 1971-1979 Houston Oilers
He led his team to the AFC title game in 1978 & 1979, and the Oilers had not played in a title game since 1967. He had a good year in 1975, gaining pro bowl honors and leading the Oilers to their first winning season since 1967.
Pastorini was a tough competitor who often played hurt.
Ron Jaworski: 1974-1979 LA Rams & Philadelphia Eagles
Jaworski didn’t get much playing time in his first three seasons with the Rams. After struggling in his first season with the Eagles, he had good seasons in 1978 & 1979, leading his team to the postseason. Jaworski had his best years in the 1980s.
Craig Morton: 1970-1979 Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants, Denver Broncos
Morton had a good season in 1970, throwing 15 touchdowns and only seven interceptions for an 89.8 passer rating. He led the Cowboys to the Superbowl but did not play well in the playoffs or Superbowl. In fairness to Morton, he was playing with an injured shoulder.
Morton also had a good season in 1977, finishing it with an 82.0 passer rating and leading the Broncos to their first Superbowl appearance. Although he did not win the award, Morton received numerous votes for NFL MVP that season.
Greg Landry: 1970-1979 Detroit Lions & Baltimore Colts
Although never an elite quarterback, Landry did have some solid seasons. In 1971 He made first-team All-Pro, and in 1976 he earned the comeback player of the year award. Playing for the Colts in 1979, he passed for a career-best 2,932 yards and threw 15 touchdowns.
Landry was also always a threat as a runner amassing 2,600 yds rushing in his career along with 21 rushing TDs. In 1971 and 1972, he ran for over 500 yards.
NOW MY TOP 15 QBS OF THE 1970S
(#15) Joe Namath: 1970-1977 NY Jets & LA Rams
Namath’s best years were from 1965–1969. Namath only played in nine of his team’s twenty-eight games in 1970 and 1971 due to serious injuries. But he made a remarkable comeback in 1972, leading the AFC in passing yardage and touchdown throws, earning him the comeback player of the year award and Pro Bowl honors.
Although Joe did not win the award, he received numerous votes for NFL MVP. After another injury-plagued season in 1973, Namath returned to have a good season in 1974, playing in all fourteen games and again winning comeback player of the year. But the next three years were not good for Broadway Joe, and he retired after the 1977 season.
(#14) Roman Gabriel: 1970-1977 LA Rams & Philadelphia Eagles
Like Namath, Gabriel’s best years were the mid to late 1960s, winning NFL MVP in 1969. He had decent seasons in 1970 & 1971, but his Rams failed to reach the playoffs. The 1972 team had their worst season since 1965, and Gabriel, bothered by injuries throughout the season, did not have a good year.
Before the start of the 1973 season, the Rams traded Gabriel to the Eagles, where he regained his confidence and form. Gabriel led the league in completions, yardage, and touchdowns, earning him comeback player of the year and Pro Bowl honors. Age and injuries limited his playing time over the next four seasons, and he retired at the end of the 1977 season.
(#13) Len Dawson: 1970-1975 Kansas City Chiefs
Dawson is another quarterback whose best years were in the 1960s, but he started off the decade of the 1970s with a Superbowl victory and a Superbowl MVP. The 1970 season was disappointing for the defending NFL Champion Chiefs and Dawson as they failed to reach the playoffs. But Dawson was back on track in 1971, leading his team to another post-season appearance and another pro bowl appearance for himself.
Age and injuries took their toll on both Dawson and his teammates in 1972, but despite not reaching the playoffs, Dawson still had a pretty good season. Dawson saw limited playing time in his final three seasons, but he still had the highest completion percentage, 66.4%, in his last season.
(#12) Dan Fouts: 1973-1979 San Diego Chargers
Fouts began his NFL career in 1973 but saw limited playing time in his first three seasons. When he did play, he showed great promise in some games while struggling in others. Injuries and a bad team were partly to blame. Fouts had a pretty good season in 1976, even though the Chargers had another losing season, their seventh in a row.
Fouts missed most of the 1977 season because of a contract dispute, playing only the last four games. He had another pretty good season in 1978, and the team had its first winning season since 1969. Fouts had most of his best seasons in the 1980s. It wasn’t until his seventh season in 1979 that he proved to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. Fouts threw for over 4,000 yards in 1979, becoming only the second quarterback in NFL history to accomplish that, the other being Namath. He placed second in NFL MVP voting and played in his first pro bowl.
(#11) John Hadl: 1970-1977 San Diego Chargers, LA Rams, Green Bay Packers, and Houston Oilers
After some outstanding seasons in the AFL in the 1960s, Hadl had another solid season in 1970. The following year he led the AFC in completions, yardage, and touchdowns. In 1972 he played in the Pro Bowl, and in 1973, playing for the LA Rams, he made first-team All-Pro and was second in the MVP votes with an 88.8 passer rating, the best of his entire career. Hadl continued playing for four more seasons, but his best years were behind him.
(#10) Archie Manning: 1971 - 1979 New Orleans Saints
Going by stats alone, you could argue that Manning should not be ranked this high, but let’s face it, the guy had great talent and never had the opportunity to play for a good team. In his 14 seasons in the NFL, he played for eleven different coaches and never played on a winning team. Despite this, Archie had some excellent seasons.
In 1972 he led the league in completions and led the NFC in passing yards. He threw for well over 3,000 yards in both 1978 & 1979 and played in the pro bowl in both seasons. Manning was also a running threat gaining 2,197 yards rushing in his career for a 5.7 yards per carrying average.
(#9) Billy Kilmer: 1970 - 1978 New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins
Kilmer, who was almost killed in a car accident in 1962, didn’t have much success in the 1960s. He was traded to the Redskins in 1971 to fill the role of backup to future Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgenson, but he took over as the starter when an aging Jurgy caught the injury bug.
While his statistics were average at best, Kilmer led the 1971 Redskins to their first post-season appearance since 1945. In 1972 he had the best season of his career, finishing with an 84.8 passer rating and leading the league in touchdown throws. Kilmer led Washington to the Superbowl and played in the only pro bowl of his career.
While Kilmer’s stats were never overly impressive, he did have three seasons in a row of an over 80 passer rating, and one can’t underestimate his leadership and toughness. His teammates rallied around him, and he led the Redskins to the post-season five times in his eight seasons with the team. His overall record as a starter for the Redskins was 52 wins and 28 losses.
(#8) Jim Hart: 1970 -1979 St. Louis Cardinals
It wasn’t until his eighth season that Hart became one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Much like Billy Kilmer, Hart’s stats were never overly impressive. His best season was in 1974 when he was named All-Pro and led the Cardinals to their first post-season appearance since 1948.
They made the playoffs again in 1975 & 1976, and Hart made the pro bowl in both seasons and 1977. Hart passed for 23,026 yards during the 1970s, second only to Fran Tarkenton.
(#7) Bert Jones: 1973 - 1979 Baltimore Colts
One could argue that from 1975–1977, Jones was one of the top three quarterbacks in the league. In 1975 he had an impressive 89.1 passer rating and led the Colts to their first playoff appearance since 1971.
The following year Jones led the league in passing yardage and again led the Colts to the playoffs. On the season, he threw 24 touchdowns, only nine interceptions, and had a passer rating of 102.5. For his efforts, he was named the 1976 NFL MVP. His success continued in 1977 as he led the league in completions, led the Colts to the playoffs again, and was named All-Pro.
Unfortunately, Jones suffered a shoulder injury in 1978, and although he occasionally showed flashes of his former self, he never fully recovered from the injury and retired after the 1982 season.
(#6) Ken Anderson: 1971 - 1979 Cincinnati Bengals
Anderson became the Bengals’ starting quarterback in 1972 and quickly established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He led Cincinnati to the playoffs in 1973 with an 81.3 passer rating. In 1974 Anderson led the league in completions, completion percentage, passing yardage, and passer rating.
The following season he again led his team to the playoffs, led the league in passing yardage and passer rating, and was named All-Pro. His 1976 season, while not quite as impressive as 1974 & 1975, was good enough to earn him a trip to the pro bowl.
After a so-so-season in 1977 and a not-so-good season in 1978, Anderson came back strong in 1979 with an 80.7 passer rating. He had more success in the early 1980s, leading the Bengals to a Superbowl and winning an NFL MVP award, but the 80s is not the 70s, so it doesn’t count. Sorry, Kenny.
(#5) Ken Stabler: 1970 - 1979 Oakland Raiders
Stabler got very little playing time in his first three seasons but finally got his chance to be the starter in 1973. He responded by leading the league with a 62.7 completion percentage and playing in the pro bowl. In 1974 he led the league in touchdown throws and finished the season with a 94.9 passer rating.
For his efforts, he was voted NFL MVP. After a not-so-good season in 1975, Stabler returned with a vengeance in 1976. He led the league with a 66.7 completion percentage, touchdowns with 27, and a passer rating of 103.4. Kenny played in his third pro bowl, placed third in MVP voting, and, most importantly, led the Raiders to their first Superbowl title.
Although he couldn’t match what he did in 1976, 1977 was another pro bowl season for Stabler. 1978 was a disappointing season for Stabler and the Raiders, but he rebounded in 1979 and even received some MVP votes. Despite the good season, the Raiders traded Stabler to the Houston Oilers during the off-season.
(#4) Bob Griese: 1970 - 1979 Miami Dolphins
The familiar knock on Griese is all he had to do was hand the ball off to Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, and Jim Kiick, but it just isn’t true. While it’s true that the Dolphins had one of the most dominant running games in NFL history, people tend to forget that it only lasted for three seasons, 1971–1973.
Griese played 14 seasons. In 1967 he won the AFL rookie of the year award. The following year Bob played in the AFL All-Star game. Griese struggled in his third season, but he came back in 1970 to lead the Dolphins to their first playoff appearance and also played in the pro bowl. In 1971 he led his team to the Superbowl, made the All-Pro team, and placed fourth in MVP votes.
Griese broke his leg in week five of the 1972 season but returned in the postseason to help lead his team to an undefeated season and a Superbowl victory. Griese again made the pro bowl in 1973 and led his team to their second Superbowl victory. 1974 was another pro bowl season for Griese, but the Dolphins did not make it back to the Superbowl, nor would they again for the remainder of Griese’s career.
Griese had a good season in 1975 until a broken toe in week ten ended his season. Miami finished the season at 10–4 but failed to reach the playoffs. 1976 was not a particularly good season for Griese or the Dolphins, but he had perhaps his best season in 1977. He led the league in touchdown throws, made the All-Pro team, and placed second in MVP votes.
Oh, by the way, Csonka, Morris, Kiick, and Griese’s favorite receiver Paul Warfield were no longer with the team. Griese missed the beginning of the 1978 season due to a knee injury in a pre-season game. But he started nine games, led the league with a 63% pass completion, made the pro bowl again, and led the Dolphins to playoffs.
Age and injuries began to take their toll on Griese, who retired after the 1980 season. In my opinion, his place in the Hall of Fame is well-deserved.
(#3) Fran Tarkenton: 1970 - 1978 New York Giants & Minnesota Vikings
After five pro bowl seasons in the 1960s, Tarkenton began the decade of the 1970s with yet another pro bowl season, leading the Giants to their first winning season since 1963 and finishing third in NFL MVP votes. But the following season did not go well for Tarkenton or the Giants, and he was traded back to his original team, the Vikings.
After a so-so 1972 season, Tarkenton led his Vikings to the Superbowl in 1973 with an impressive 93.2 passer rating. In 1974 Tarkenton made his seventh pro bowl and again led his team to the Superbowl. In 1975 at age 35, Tarkenton may have had the best season of his career, leading the league in both completions and touchdown throws. For his efforts, he was named All-Pro and NFL MVP.
In 1976 Tarkenton led the league in completions, made the pro bowl again, and led the Vikings to their third Superbowl in four years. Tarkenton’s 1977 season was an injury-shortened one, but he still led the league in completion percentage. Tarkenton led the league in completions and passing yardage in his final season in 1978.
He retired with 342 passing touchdowns, which 45 years later still ranks 11th all-time. Of course, the knock on Tarkenton is that he went 0–3 in Superbowls, but to place the blame solely on him is hardly fair. Football is, after all, a team game.
(#2) Terry Bradshaw: 1970 - 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers
To say Bradshaw struggled in his first two seasons is an understatement. He threw only 19 touchdown passes compared to 46 interceptions. His next two seasons were better but still not what the Steelers expected from him. After four seasons, it wasn’t an exaggeration to say Bradshaw was thus far a disappointment.
1974 didn’t start much better for Bradshaw as he lost his starting position to Joe Gilliam. Bradshaw won his job back and helped lead the Steelers to their first Superbowl victory. After five seasons of up-and-down performances, Bradshaw had his break-out season in 1975, throwing twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, playing in his first pro bowl, and finishing with an 88.0 passer rating, the best of his career.
To top it off, the Steelers won the Superbowl again. Bradshaw, bothered by injuries in 1976, couldn’t match his 1975 season, nor could the Steelers, as they failed in their bid for a three-peat. 1977 wasn’t a great year for Bradshaw or the Steelers, but he came back strong in 1978, leading the league in touchdown throws.
He was named All-Pro for the first time in his career and won the NFL MVP award. The Steelers won their third Superbowl, and Bradshaw was named the game MVP. Bradshaw repeated as Superbowl MVP the following season as the Steelers won Superbowl # 4. One week later, he played in his third pro bowl. Some believe Bradshaw should be ranked #1 based on his four Superbowl rings.
I can’t go along with that logic, as Bradshaw did not win those rings all by himself, but I will say this. Despite not having overly impressive career stats, Bradshaw’s postseason record is 14–5, which counts for a lot.
(#1) Roger Staubach: 1970 - 1979 Dallas Cowboys
Staubach didn’t get much playing time until he was named the starter in his third season. He led the league with an off-the-charts 104.8 passer rating, played in the pro bowl, placed second in MVP votes, and led the Cowboys to a Superbowl victory where he was named the games MVP.
Roger missed almost the entire 1972 season due to a shoulder injury, but he came back in 1973 to lead the league in both touchdowns and passer rating. 1974 wasn’t one of Roger’s better years as both he and the Cowboys struggled, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1965.
Staubach used his leadership skills the following season, leading a much younger team (12 rookies) back to the Superbowl and putting himself back into the pro bowl. 1976 was another pro bowl season for Staubach, but the Cowboys fell short of another Superbowl appearance. Roger made his fourth pro bowl in 1977, and more importantly, he helped lead the Cowboys to their second Superbowl victory.
Staubach led the league in passer rating in 1978, made his fifth pro bowl, placed fourth in MVP votes, and helped lead the Cowboys to their fifth Superbowl appearance. Roger’s final season may have been his best as he led the league in passer rating for the fourth time in nine years. He made the pro bowl for the fifth year in a row, made the All-Pro team, and placed fourth in MVP votes. Staubach’s record as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback is 96–35.
Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond. He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area.
Please Note – As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases