TALE OF THE TAPE:
BART STARR vs. BRETT FAVRE
By Mark Sandritter
Cold, Hard Football Facts cheese cutter
When Brett Favre hit wide receiver Greg Jennings on a 16-yard slant route for a touchdown Sunday, it gave the Packers a 7-0 lead. It also gave Favre the NFL touchdown pass record, the third major passing record he holds along with attempts and completions. He also became the all-time leader in victories by a starting QB earlier this season.
As impressive as Favre's career accomplishments are, they do not automatically put him atop the quarterback echelon. In fact, Favre may not even be the best quarterback in Green Bay history, let alone NFL history.
Not even Joe Montana passed the ball as well in the playoffs as did Mr. Starr, and Starr was doing it an an era dominated by running games and, more importantly, by defenders who could maul receivers until the time the ball left the passer's hand. Not so coincidentally, Starr also has the best postseason winning percentage of all time and is the only quarterback in history to lead his team to five NFL championships.
So who is the true King of the Cheeseheads? We break out a razor-sharp knife of Cold, Hard Football Facts to cut though some of Wisconsin's best asiago
and determine, once and for all, the identity of the best quarterback in Packers history.
1. That guy from "Something About Mary" can really play
Favre is a great quarterback and has been for the last decade and a half. He is the all-time leader in attempts, completions, wins and, as of Sunday, passing touchdowns. Favre is the NFL's only three-time MVP and his play during the three year span from 1995-1997 ranks amongst the best ever.
While there is typically enough media members drooling over Favre to form a moat around Lambeau Field, the one knock has always been his reckless style of play. Surprisingly his career TD-to-INT ratio, as well as his INTs per pass attempt, both rank lower than Starr's career numbers. Remember, though, Starr played in an era when it was much more difficult to pass. Defenders could knock around receivers until the ball leftt the passer's hand. As a result, back in Starr's era, TD passes were fewer, INTs were higher, and passer ratings were lower across the board.
At the height of his career, Favre may have been the best ever. And, across a career now in its 17th year, his volume production meets or exceeds that of every QB in history, including his challenger for King of the Cheeseheads.
2. But that guy from Alabama was pretty good, too
One of the great injustices in football history is the belief that Starr was a caretaker quarterback who merely held down the fort for a team of legends. It's true he was surrounded by Hall of Famers and great talent, but the Packers of the 1960s would have been nothing without Starr. Just ask his teammates, who worshipped a man described as the best leader the game's ever seen.
Starr was also far better statistically than anybody but the Cold, Hard Football Facts gives him credit for.
He led the league in passer rating five times. Only one quarterback in history has matched or exceeded that mark, Steve Young, who led the NFL in passer rating six times. (Believe it or not, but Favre never led the league in passer rating, even in his MVP seasons.)
Relative to the time he played, Starr outpaced the other quarterbacks of his era more often and far greater than Favre did in his era. Among quarterbacks who played their entire careers in the Dead Ball Era, Starr's passing rating of 80.47 is third best ever, behind fellow Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen (82.62) and Len Dawson (82.56). Favre's passer rating of 85.3 is 14th among Live Ball Era quarterbacks (1978-present).
3. Favre and Starr are both winners
Though it's true neither of these great signal callers ever played for the Raiders, it seems Al Davis's famous saying "Just Win, Baby" couldn't fit two players better. (Plus, it's not like the Raiders have been using it that much lately anyway.)
As Green Bay's starting quarterback, Favre has compiled a .623 winning percentage and an average of 10 wins per season. Since 1992, Favre's Packers have won 10 games or more eight times; in comparison the other three NFC North tea,s have won 10 games or more 10 times combined over that same stretch.
Perhaps one of the most surprising findings of this Tale o' the Tape is that Favre's Packers have been more consistent than Starr's Packers. Favre's Packers have had just one losing season. Starr's Packers fielded a shocking six losing teams, all of them before and after the arrival of Vince Lombardi. Clearly, the coach had a big impact on Starr's success. But, like any great QB-coach combo, you wonder what both would have been without the other. In Starr's case, he simply wasn't as great.
While Favre is one of the best regular-season winners to ever grace the gridiron, Starr is the greatest postseason winner ever. Period.
He has a postseason record of 9-1, including five championship victories. His 104.9 QB rating in the playoffs is by far the best in history, an even more impressive feat when you consider Starr played in an era where quarterback ratings were so low Rex Grossman would look good.
While Starr was the greatest postseason quarterback ever, the truth about Favre is simply that he did not elevate his game the way his predecessor did. Favre's playoff passer rating of 84.0 is marginally below his regular-season rating of 85.3. He's also played some of his worst games in the playoffs, including seven multi-INT games. In 2001, Favre threw six picks in a single game, tying a mark last set by Norm Van Brocklin back in the NFL Stone Age. In his most recent playoff game, a 31-17 loss to Minnesota in 2004, Favre threw four INTs in 33 attempts. Starr threw just three playoff INTs ever, in 213 attempts.
4. Favre and Starr often won without great running games
Although both Favre and Starr enjoyed great team success, they often won without the aid of a great running game.
It's surprising to see how bad Starr's Packers were at running the ball many times, becuase all football fans have this image of the 1960s Packers as one of the great running teams of all time. They were among the league leaders each year from 1960 to 1964, but after that, including their championship teams of 1965, 1966 and 1967, it was Starr and the passing attack that led the way. The Packers, for example, ranked 11th of 14 teams in rushing (3.4 YPA) in 1965 and 13th of 15 teams in 1966 (3.5 YPA). They won titles each year.
The Packers ranked in the top third in the league in rushing six times when Starr was the quarterback, but they also averaged less than 4.0 YPA (the general league-wide average year after year) six times. Excluding this season, Favre's Packers have averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry eight times and ranked in the top third of the league just twice.
The Packers averaged a No. 6 ranking during Starr's time of 12 to 16 teams, a bit higher than an average ranking of 16.5 of 28 to 32 teams in Favre's era.
Varying season lengths makes it hard to compare Favre and Starr's rush support based on total numbers, but based on rush yards per game Favre has traditionally gotten less support. However, Favre did get the benefit of the single-greatest rushing attack. The 2003 Packers averaged 5.05 YPA, compared with Starr's greatest team of 1961, which averaged 4.96 YPA. (Click here for a look at the greatest running games of all time
, based upon YPA.)
The bottom line
Overall it is safe to say Green Bay has enjoyed two of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Brett Favre will go down in history as one of the top passers of his generation evident by his handful of career records and three MVP awards.
Bart Starr, on the other hand, was also one of the best of his generation, although his career numbers are substantially lower than Favre's.
With so many numbers and accomplishments to consider, this Tale o' the Tape is as close as it gets. As a result it comes down to one thing, winning. Favre has proven to be the better regular-season quarterback but Starr is by far the better postseason performer. His .900 playoff win percentage is the best in history and his five championship rings trump Favre's one. In what is essentially a very even race, the tie-breaker is always championships and big-game performances.
And no quarterback in history was a better big-game performer or won more championships than the King of the Cheesheads, Bart Starr.