One-on-One: If Troy Aikman’s in HOF, Donovan McNabb should be, too. Right?

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Does Donovan McNabb have a compelling case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Mueller: There exists an old saying in sports talk radio that, on a slow news day, all a host must do, in any city, is say, “Pete Rose, Hall of Fame, yes or no?” Then watch as the callers flood in, taking care of several hours of airtime in one fell swoop.

We love to debate whether or not Player X does or doesn’t belong in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame because anyone good enough to be on the cusp can have a compelling case made for either side.

Typically, fans or media are the ones who bring up these arguments, but Donovan McNabb decided to cut out the middleman recently and make his case. That he used three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman as his foil made things interesting, and even a little spicy.

Here’s the thing, though — if individual numbers matter, then he should be in over Aikman every day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, if the story compelled you, like me, to look up Aikman’s stats, you were probably shocked by how pedestrian they are. I grew up as a kid in the early 1990s thinking that Aikman was great, but maybe he was more along for the ride than anything.


                 Comp.- Att.  |   Yds.  |   Pct.  |   TDs   

McNabb   3170-5374       37,276     59.0      234

Aikman    2898-4715       32,942     61.5      165


Three Super Bowls is three Super Bowls, but McNabb didn’t have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and an offensive line that dominated virtually every defense it came across. McNabb had Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins, both in the Hall of Fame, and … Freddie Mitchell. Give him the former group, and something tells me he would have found a way to get over the hump.

So sue me, I think McNabb is right. It looks uncool to advocate for your own worthiness, yes, but the man still has a point.

The bigger discussion is also relevant here. What exactly is the best criteria for evaluating someone’s Hall of Fame candidacy? Do stats matter more than titles? And when one player at a position is clearly superior to another, but the man with inferior stats got to the top of the mountain three times, how much should that matter?

Mar 13, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles former quarterback Donovan McNabb in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: I do feel for McNabb, even after his multiple DUIs and post-career propensity to be a social media irritant. He was a good to very good quarterback. What he truly excelled at, however, was making the right enemies, whether it was Rush Limbaugh calling him overrated as a result of the media’s desire for black quarterbacks to do well, or Eagles fans never quite embracing him or just being outright hostile to McNabb.

And, yeah, his numbers were better than Aikman’s. So what? The Hall has always been desirous of star players from dynasties. Steelers receiver Lynn Swann’s career numbers kind of suck (336 receptions, 5,462 receiving yards, 68 TDs), but he won four Super Bowls and made some exciting plays in them. It would ridiculous to claim championships don’t play a role in voters’ decision-making. I’m not saying it’s right. It just fits into several fairly arbitrary things that can decide borderline cases.

McNabb was certainly good enough to win a championship, and came awfully close once. What gets remembered about that Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, though? T.O. playing through injury and having a great game, and McNabb allegedly throwing up and moving the ball too slowly in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame, because 2004 was by far McNabb’s best season (300-469, 3,875 yards, 31 TDs), and his only MVP-caliber one.

That McNabb’s numbers were on the whole better than Aikman’s has to also be put in the context that McNabb started his career just as Aikman’s ended, and offenses in the 2000s were opening up more than those of the ’90s. Awareness of concussions was still only burgeoning, but there were efforts by the league during McNabb’s playing days to make it harder for defensive backs to jam receivers.

Finally, here’s a good example to posit: Carson Palmer has comparable career numbers — see here —  to Donovan McNabb. Do you want  Palmer in the Hall of Fame?

Mueller: McNabb being a target of some of the worst people around never made me feel any sympathy toward him, probably because I was attending Penn State during his prime years, and had to deal with that obnoxious E-A-G-L-E-S chant because the team was very good.

If anything, I feel like reconsidering his Hall of Fame credentials is a mea culpa on my part, because I used to just make fun of him for throwing the ball at his receivers’ feet too often, and never winning the big one. If I overestimated Aikman’s greatness, I underestimated McNabb’s.

Oh, and he could run, too, especially early in his career. That feels pretty relevant to his candidacy, given that he piled up 3,459 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. He was so dangerous as a passer that he never got slapped with the “running quarterback” label applied to any black quarterback who moved faster than a statue.

The Super Bowl is obviously important, and making huge plays on the way to victory should count for something, but not everything. The list of quarterbacks with similar careers to McNabb has a pretty striking line of Hall of Fame demarcation — if you won at least one title, congratulations, you’re in. If you didn’t, sorry, you’re not. Unless you’re Jim Kelly, in which case smashing into the same wall four straight times earns you a sort of lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps if McNabb had better NFC title game luck, or if he hadn’t very literally puked in the biggest moment of his career, he’d already be in. Neither factor should keep him out any longer.

Do I want Palmer in? No. He was a compiler, and ran the show for a handful of very good teams, but some truly mediocre to awful ones. Most of all, he doesn’t pass my most basic Hall of Fame worthiness test; did I watch him and say, “This man is one of the all-time greats?”

During his playing career, McNabb didn’t pass that test either. Unlike Palmer, I’m now ready to admit the error of my ways.

Tunison: Don’t feel too bad. After all, neither of us are actually HOF voters. I’m sure Canton will ask me  once I get 30 years’ experience happily granting NFL GMs anonymity to say nasty things about their players. 

Original Article

The Greatest NFL Quarterbacks Of All Time

30. Phil Simms

Sports Illustrated once called Phil Simms the most underrated NFL quarterback of all time, and it’s a fair argument. Even with the career of Eli Manning, who has broken nearly all of Simms’ team records, many still consider him the greatest passer in New York Giants history.

Simms led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins but only went to two Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro selection just once. Even if his yearly stats weren’t too astounding — he only topped 4,000 passing yards once and never surpassed 22 touchdowns — his performance in 1987’s Super Bowl XXI is the stuff of legend. He completed 88 percent of his passes (22 of 25) and had a passer rating of 150.9, arguably the best performance by any QB in Super Bowl history.

11 NOV 1989: NEW YORK GIANTS QUARTERBACK PHIL SIMMS LOOKS TO THE SIDELINES DURING THEIR 31-7 WIN OVER THE LOS ANGELES RAMS AT ANAHEIM STADIUM IN ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell/ALLSPORT

29. Randall Cunningham

A true revolutionary at the quarterback position, Randall Cunningham could basically do it all.

In terms of passing, his career numbers are right there with some Hall of Famers from the same era in the ’80s and ’90s but it was with his legs that Cunningham separated himself from the pack. He broke virtually every record for rushing at the quarterback position and averaged 30.6 rushing yards per game, which is still second all-time among QBs.

His postseason record is suspect but he also didn’t have the luxury of getting much protection up front, as only two other NFL players were ever sacked more times than Cunningham.

10 Jan 1999: Quarterback Randall Cunningham #7 of the Minnesota Vikings in action during the NFC Play Offs Game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Cardinals 41-21.

28. Troy Aikman

If winning big games was everything, Troy Aikman would be much higher on this list. He won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, never losing once in the title game. Aikman was also a six-time Pro Bowler, but was an All-Pro only once, which is the higher honor. Aikman was arguably the quarterback of the ’90s, playing from 1989 to 2000 and racking up 90 wins in that decade, which was more than any other QB.

Aikman earned his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his ability to lead a great team but his individual statistics were never too impressive, as he never topped 3,445 yards and only threw for more than 20 touchdowns one time.

15 Oct 1995: Quarterback Troy Aikman #8 of the Dallas Cowboys throws a pass during their game against the San Diego Chargers at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. The Cowboys defeated the Chargers 23-9. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/Allsport

27. Sid Luckman

One of the first great quarterbacks in pro football history, Luckman led the Chicago Bears to four NFL championships from 1939 to 1950.

He also led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating three times, being named a first team All-Pro five times. Luckman revolutionized the throwing game, passing for seven touchdowns in a game once, a record that still hasn’t been topped even in today’s pass-heavy league — and he was the first guy to ever throw for 400 yards in a game.

Nearly 70 years after he played his final NFL snap, Luckman still ranks second all-time in yards per pass attempt.

Bear Flipper Sid Luckman, former Columbia star and now with Chicago Bears, does some practice passing at Polo Grounds for Sunday’s tussle with Jints. (Photo By: /NY Daily News via Getty Images)

26. Ken Anderson

Before legendary coach Bill Walsh went on to make Joe Montana into an icon with his West Coast Offense in San Francisco, Walsh ran it with quarterback Ken Anderson in Cincinnati.

Anderson spent 16 seasons in the NFL, all with the Bengals, and put up some spectacular numbers along the way, including four seasons where he led the league in passer rating. His accuracy was also never questioned, as he posted a career 59.3 completion percentage and retired in 1986 with the records for single-season completion percentage and single-game completion percentage.

Anderson has largely been overlooked in these discussions because he played in a small market and never won a Super Bowl but he was a successful guinea pig for a system that would launch several star QBs.

2 Sep 1984: Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson throws a pass during game against the Denver Bronos at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos won the game 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Allsport /Allsport

25. Terry Bradshaw

Pittsburgh Steelers lifer Terry Bradshaw benefited greatly from being surrounded by Hall-of-Fame offensive skill players and one of the greatest defenses in history. He never led the league in passing yards or passer rating — and his career total for both of those stats won’t blow you away — but he never lost in the big games. He guided the Steelers to four Super Bowls and won every one of them.

You can knock Bradshaw for throwing nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in his career, but with that defense backing him up, who can blame him for taking some risks?

Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw prepares to throw a pass to one of his fellow teammates.

24. Tony Romo

It might shock you to know that, among all retired NFL quarterbacks, Tony Romo has the highest career passer rating. It’s also the highest career passer rating for any QB who never played in a Super Bowl, which is the part of Romo’s legacy that may keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

He never had much luck in the playoffs but his career numbers in statistics like yards per pass attempt and completion percentage — he ties Peyton Manning in the latter category — are among the best ever. In roughly the same number of seasons, Romo’s numbers are better than fellow Cowboys great Troy Aikman, but he had the misfortune of playing without the Hall of Famers his predecessor did.

ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 04: Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys gestures against the Detroit Lions during the second half of their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at AT&T Stadium on January 4, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

23. Jim Kelly

For eight out of 11 of his NFL seasons, Jim Kelly passed for at least 3,000 yards and averaged about 3,200 yards per season for his career. He also led the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl four times, which means he made it to the big game in more than one-third of all the seasons he played. Of course, the Bills lost all four times and Kelly didn’t play at his best in them, but he clearly had a gift for winning in the regular season and playoffs.

12 Nov 1995: Jim Kelly #12 of the Buffalo Bills gets ready to pass the ball during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills defeated the Falcons 23-17.

22. Warren Moon

After unequaled success in the Canadian Football League, where he won five championships, Warren Moon went on to have a great career in the NFL despite having virtually no playoff success.

Moon threw for more than 3,000 yards every time he played a 16-game season and topped the 4,000-yard mark four times. Moon’s gun-slinging style led to a fair share of interceptions and an average career passer rating but he was extremely popular, being named to nine Pro Bowls. Moon currently sits at 10th all-time in NFL career passing yards and 10th all-time in game-winning drives led.

If he hadn’t spent six years playing in the CFL, it’s scary to think what his final NFL totals would’ve been.

ATLANTA, GA – CIRCA 1980’s: Quarterback Warren Moon #1 of the Houston Oilers throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during a mid circa 1980’s NFL football game at Atlanta Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Moon played for the Oilers from 1984-93. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

21. Sonny Jurgensen

Arguably the league’s earliest long-ball passer, Jurgensen was a legend with the Eagles and Redskins who posted a career losing record as a starter but was still a marvel. He led the league in passing yardage five times, topping 3,000 yards in all those seasons, and was a touchdown machine. His 255 career passing touchdowns total still put him at 19th all-time, despite playing during the so-called “dead-ball era,” when running backs ruled the league.

While with the Eagles in 1960, he won his lone NFL championship, handing Vince Lombardi’s Packers their only playoff loss ever.

Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen (9) of the Washington Redskins looks for an open receiver during the Redskins 14-3 victory over the Detroit Lions on December 15, 1968 at D.C. Stadium in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Nate Fine/NFL) *** Local Caption ***

20. Donovan McNabb

Severely overlooked because he never won the big game, Eagles legend Donovan McNabb is one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to collect 30,000 passing yards, 200 passing touchdowns, 3,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns — and all of them are on this list.

He’s tied with Jim Kelly as the QB with the most playoff wins with no ring and finished his career with more passing yards and a better passer rating than that Hall of Famer. In 2004, McNabb had one of the greatest seasons a quarterback has ever had, becoming the first ever to throw for more than 30 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions. For some reason, he’s still not in the Hall.

ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 03: Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Full List