Commentary

Digit Dominance: Ranking the best QBs by jersey numbers

Is Terry Bradshaw the best QB to wear No. 12? Or is it Tom Brady? Rudy Klancnik ranks the quarterbacks by jersey number.

Originally Published: January 29, 2008
By Rudy Klancnik | Special to ESPN.com

All-time QB numbersGetty ImagesNo. 12 was a popular choice for many legendary quarterbacks, including Terry Bradshaw. John Elway was the best QB to wear No. 7, while no player represented No. 16 better than Joe Montana.
The assignment: Rank the best quarterbacks by jersey number. The problem: Some jersey numbers haven't exactly been worn by Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks (we're looking at you, No. 6. And you, too, No. 2) while other numbers offer an embarrassment of riches (check out No. 12).

Still, that's what makes a list like this fun -- and totally unscientific. Feel free to let us know whether you agree or disagree with our picks, or if we've missed one of your favorites. And because we're ranking only Nos. 1-19, we'll apologize in advance to the memory of Slingin' Sammy Baugh (No. 33), among other "20s-plus" QBs.

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1. Warren Moon -- The best CFL quarterback ever to cross the border, Moon did everything but win a championship in his Hall of Fame career.
2 -- Yeah, not really anyone else of note. Good thing Moon was really good. He did jersey No. 1 proud.

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1. Doug Flutie -- Heisman winner wore No. 22 at Boston College and did some good things wearing the deuce in New England and Chicago. But it was while wearing No. 7 in Buffalo and San Diego that Flutie truly starred in the NFL. But we'll take what we can get with this number.
2. Aaron Brooks -- Great game one week, pathetic the next. That's the story of a roller-coaster career.
3. Tim Couch -- Could've, should've, would've been a NFL superstar as well as Cleveland's savior. Too bad close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades.

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1. Daryle Lamonica -- The Raiders' Mad Bomber earned the AFL the reputation as the "Throw Deep, Ask Questions Later" league.
2. Bobby Hebert -- Before Drew Brees came to town, this Saints tough guy fit the franchise like a snug pair of receiver gloves. Not a big stats producer, Hebert led by example and produced a solid career.
3. Joey Harrington -- The next Joe Montana never realized the promise he showed at Oregon, washing out in Detroit after getting picked No. 3 overall. Now the vagabond QB is lucky to stick in one place more than a full season.
4. Rick Mirer -- Another collegiate star (at Notre Dame, no less) who flamed out in the pros and fried the Seahawks for several seasons because of it.

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1. Brett Favre -- Some, particularly those living in Wisconsin, will argue that he's the greatest QB in the history of the game, especially now that he owns all of the league's cherished records. Surely his final pass won't be an interception that led to an overtime loss to the Giants. Say it ain't so, Brett.
2. Jim Harbaugh -- A throwback who led with grit and bravado, Harbaugh produced a good pro career after a stellar stay in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh's NFL claim to fame was leading the Colts to the 1995 AFC title game for the ages against the Steelers. Now he's trying to resuscitate the Stanford Cardinal as head coach.
3. Steve Walsh -- He actually created a QB controversy with Troy Aikman in Dallas before the Cowboys came to their senses. Walsh's subpar arm never could withstand the rigors of the zone blitz.

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1. Donovan McNabb -- Eagles fans booed him on draft day and have had a love/hate relationship with him ever since, even though he's the franchise's best player since Chuck Bednarik. The next couple of seasons may make or break his legacy.
2. Kerry Collins -- He led the Panthers to the 1996 NFC title game and the Giants to a Super Bowl, but 0-2 in those two big games pretty much summed up his career.

Honorable Mention
• Terry Hanratty -- Backing up Terry Bradshaw usually led to many shots of Hanratty standing next to Chuck Noll on the Steelers' sideline.

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1. Bubby Brister -- A tough-as-nails attitude made him a nice fit for a franchise known for steely resolve. Too bad Brister never could will his teams to the next level, although he does own two Super Bowl rings as a backup to John Elway.
2. Marc Wilson -- A great career at BYU never translated to success with the Raiders.

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1. John Elway -- From "The Drive" to the pair of Super Bowl victories to cap his career, Elway is arguably the greatest fourth-quarter quarterback the game has ever known.
2. Joe Theismann -- Remembered mostly for the way he left the game (a nasty broken leg from a Lawrence Taylor sack on Monday Night Football), Theismann had a stellar career as the Redskins' inspirational leader.
3. Ben Roethlisberger -- In his second year, he became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, guiding the Steelers to a win in SB XL, and last season he showed he can put up numbers with the best and brightest in the NFL. The future looks bright … as long as he stays away from his motorcycle.
4. Bert Jones -- Once upon a time Baltimore did have good quarterback play … back in the '70s when Jones was calling the shots for the then-Baltimore Colts.
5. Boomer Esiason -- Boomer came within 58 seconds off pulling off a monumental upset of the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII. He put up big numbers in Cincy and later for the New York Jets.

Honorable Mention
• Craig Morton -- He ignited the city of Denver during a glorious Orange Crush rush to the Super Bowl. Cowboys fans remember Morton wearing No. 14.
• Ron Jaworski --The most obvious nickname in football history, Jaws led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl berth.
• Dan Pastorini -- If not for the Steel Curtain, Pastorini might have led Houston to a couple of Super Bowl victories.
• Michael Vick -- Maybe it should be dishonorable mention, given his current circumstances. But there's no denying the unique skills he brought to the position.

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1. Troy Aikman -- He barely edges Steve Young because of championships (3 to 1) and because the Cowboys defined the '90s.
2. Steve Young -- Replacing Joe Montana isn't for the faint of heart, yet Young managed to continue the 49ers' dominance even though the Cowboys often stood in their way.
3. Archie Manning -- Running for his life is the way most remember his days in New Orleans, but his knack for making plays where none existed deserves notice. Oh yeah, fathering two Super Bowl quarterbacks is a nice encore.
4. Mark Brunell -- The Jaguars' best-ever player, Brunell helped put Jacksonville on the NFL map.
5. Matt Hasselbeck -- After emerging from Favre's shadow to start in Seattle, Hasselbeck is the league's best-kept secret thanks in large part to his address in the Pacific Northwest.

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1. Jim McMahon -- OK, he might not be your top No. 9, but between the "Rozelle" headband, wearing shades indoors and saying practically anything at anytime and anywhere, McMahon is our man. He also won a Super Bowl with the '85 Bears, arguably the best team in NFL history (well, until this year perhaps).
2. Sonny Jurgensen -- A rocket right arm and determination unmatched by his opponents, Jurgensen was the Redskins' go-to guy in the late '60s.
3. Steve McNair -- McNair nearly became a household name, but his receiver came up just short of a game-tying TD as the Rams edged the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. McNair is considered one of the toughest to ever play the position.
4. Carson Palmer -- The Heisman winner looks like a bona fide NFL star every time he drops back and throws a laser beam pass for the Bengals. But for some reason, it's just not translating into success in the standings.
5. Drew Brees -- His first season in New Orleans was nothing shy of miraculous … for the team and the city.

Honorable Mention
• Tony Romo -- We can't put him into the top five until he wins a playoff game, but his brilliant regular season was the stuff of Cowboys legend. Word of advice: Date someone we don't know.

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1. Fran Tarkenton -- Hall of Fame scrambler was ahead of his time when it came to improvisation. Tarkenton established most of the big numbers that Dan Marino and Brett Favre destroyed. Oh, and he also starred in everyone's favorite show, "That's Incredible." Too bad he was 0-3 in Super Bowls.
2. Jim Zorn -- He helped establish a franchise with his southpaw darts to Steve Largent for the Seahawks.
3. Trent Green -- Big numbers without big success translates into a solid fantasy football career and little more.
4. Marc Bulger -- Sort of the same as Green. In fact, have you ever seen these guys together?
5. Eli Manning -- He'll vault in front of Zorn if his Giants win Super Bowl XLII. Peyton's little brother changed a lot of minds in December and January.

Honorable Mention
• Kordell Stewart -- Any QB that goes by the nickname "Slash" because of his ability to play multiple positions earns some kudos. Unfortunately, quarterback was possibly his weakest position.
• Chad Pennington -- An arm injury has hindered what looked like a promising career in the Big Apple.
• Don Strock -- Perhaps the greatest backup quarterback in NFL history; there should be a clipboard with his name on it in Canton.
• Vince Young -- It's too early to know what to make of the former Longhorns stud.

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1. Norm Van Brocklin -- The Dutchman split time with Bob Waterfield with the Rams in the early 1950s. He eventually led the Eagles to their first title in 1960.
2. Danny White -- Following in the footsteps of Roger Staubach has no upside. His inability to get the Cowboys to a Super Bowl is held against him. But don't forget how productive this guy was in Big D.
3. Phil Simms -- He defined the term "managing the game" and has a Super Bowl MVP for his management duties with the Giants.
4. Joe Kapp -- Wore No. 22 during his CFL days in Calgary, but reduced it in half in Minnesota. Led the Vikings to Super Bowl IV.
5. Greg Landry -- Lions legend suffered through some tough times for some bad teams. He later returned to the club as its QB coach.
6. Drew Bledsoe -- Being replaced by Tom Brady in New England and by Tony Romo in Dallas might be his legacy. Bledsoe was an excellent QB in his own right, especially early on in New England after being selected No. 1 overall.

Honorable Mention
• Daunte Culpepper -- Pro Bowler in Minnesota when throwing to Randy Moss. Just another QB when not throwing to Moss.
• Mark Rypien -- Super Bowl MVP and Joe Gibbs' third different QB to win the big game.
• Tony Eason -- No completions in his Super Bowl debut. But it was against the '85 Bears so give Tony a break.

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1. Terry Bradshaw -- Four Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl MVPs. Sorry Tom, not just yet.
2. Tom Brady -- His 100-26 record as a starter is the best of any QB (with 40 starts) in the Super Bowl era. Another big performance Sunday could push Brady above Bradshaw.
3. Joe Namath -- His guarantee to beat the Colts in Super Bowl III earned him headlines. Delivering on that promise made him a legend.
4. Roger Staubach -- That Roger the Dodger ranks just fourth on this list shows you how deep the talent pool is at No. 12.
5. Jim Kelly -- 0-4 in the Super Bowl shouldn't cloud this guy's Hall of Fame career. But, of course, it does.

Honorable Mention
• Bob Griese -- Back-to-back Super Bowl titles, one that included a perfect season, isn't too shabby for the always-under-control Griese.
• Ken Stabler -- The Snake epitomized the Raider Nation before it was called the Raider Nation. The Holy Roller remains one of our favorite highlights.

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1. Dan Marino -- He did for the NFL what Wayne Gretzky did for hockey and Michael Jordan did for basketball. Marino was the unofficial highlight film for more than a decade. One big difference: Unlike the Great One and His Airness, Marino never claimed the biggest prize in his sport.
2. Kurt Warner -- The former Arena Football League star won a Super Bowl for the Greatest Show on Turf and produced one of the best-ever comeback stories in league history.

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1. Dan Fouts -- He piloted Air Coryell and put up pinball machine tallies for the Chargers throughout the 1980s.
2. Y.A. Tittle -- Hall of Famer for the Giants, he tossed 36 touchdowns in 1963 during an era when the throwing downfield was not exactly en vogue.
3. Otto Graham -- He helped the fledgling Browns become feared and also won a title in professional basketball for the Rochester Royals. Now that's a two-sport star.
4. Steve Grogan -- Don't let the neck brace fool you. Grogan could take a licking and come back strong. He was the face of the Patriots during his tenure.
5. Ken Anderson -- Underrated signal caller from Cincinnati, Anderson would have been a star had he played in New York or Los Angeles. He threw 29 TDs during the Bengals' first Super Bowl run.

Honorable Mention
• Eddie LeBaron -- Before the Cowboys became America's Team, LeBaron did his best to make them respectable. He often came up short.
• Craig Morton -- He wore No. 14 in Dallas and shared the QB duties with former midshipman Roger Staubach.

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1. Bart Starr -- Two Super Bowl MVP awards on a decade-defining team playing for a legendary head coach. Dare we say more?
2. Jack Kemp -- Presidential candidate, U.S. congressman. Yeah, Kemp did more than just play football. But his days as the leading man in Buffalo are fondly remembered by AFL historians.
3. Earl Morrall -- The disappointment of a shocking loss to Namath's Jets never really faded, although his heroics during the Dolphins' perfect season do deserve special attention.
4. Jeff Hostetler -- After six-plus years holding a clipboard, Hoss got his shot when Phil Simms broke his leg. All he did was engineer a Super Bowl run that culminated with a victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
5. Vince Ferragamo -- Hollywood good looks and a powerful right arm were nearly too good to be true. All he needed was a Super Bowl win over the Steelers. And he came thisclose to pulling off that miracle.

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1. Joe Montana -- Four titles, countless historic performances and the best two-minute operator in football history. No matter the jersey number -- this guy is No. 1.
2. George Blanda -- The old man kicked field goals later in his career, but he could sling it for the Raiders in his prime.
3. Jim Plunkett -- Two Super Bowl wins and one MVP award, the Raiders have their favorite No. 16 on their side of the Bay Bridge (not to mention parts of L.A.).
4. Len Dawson -- Super Bowl IV MVP was a nice follow-up for the AFL after Namath's heroics.
5. Vinny Testaverde -- He may someday supplant Blanda as the oldest player in NFL history. Don't be surprised if he shows up in Miami with Bill Parcells.

Honorable Mention
• Norm Snead -- Played 16 seasons for five different teams, and made the Pro Bowl four times. Threw for more than 30,000 yards and nearly 200 TDs.

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1. Don Meredith -- Dandy Don lost two of the most heart-breaking title games in Cowboys history, but his legacy is that of a fun-loving cocky QB who put Dallas in the spotlight.
2. Doug Williams -- In one quarter, Williams forever put his name into Super Bowl lore with four TD passes against the Broncos.
3. Billy Kilmer -- It wasn't pretty, but it was inspirational. The former UCLA star was known as much for his partying as his on-field exploits. He did connect on a league-leading 19 TDs during the Redskins' first-ever Super Bowl season.
4. Brian Sipe -- The Dawg Pound was formed because of guys like Sipe, whose touchdown throws to Ozzie Newsome ignited Cleveland football in the '80s.
5. Jim Hart -- The Cardinals became a serious contender with Hart under center. The former Southern Illinois great later became the school's athletic director.

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1. Peyton Manning -- Puts up phenomenal numbers, whether it's throwing the football or endorsing another product. Watching him and Brady duel every season continues to be the best rivalry in the NFL.
2. Roman Gabriel -- The first Asian-American (he's of Filipino descent) to start at quarterback in the NFL, Gabriel was a prolific passer for the Rams and Eagles. He won the league MVP in 1969.
3. Tobin Rote -- A three-time All-Pro player despite throwing more interceptions (191) than TDs (148) in his 13-year career.

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1. Johnny Unitas -- Before the game truly took to the airways and airwaves, Unitas was firing downfield to guys like Raymond Berry as if he was from the future. Maybe he was.
2. Bernie Kosar -- When the Browns drafted the former Miami Hurricane star, Cleveland owner Art Modell encouraged him to go with No. 19 to honor Johnny U.
3. Joe Montana -- Watching him wear No. 19 in Kansas City took some adjusting, but some of Montana's magic returned.

Rudy Klancnik is a freelance writer based in Texas.

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