During the build up to the recent Super Bowl 50, much of the discussion was about Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and his relative lack of success in the playoffs. His overall playoff record is a fairly mediocre 14-13, and he has a 2-2 Super Bowl record. This got me to thinking about quarterbacks' records in title games in general. One of my pet football peeves is folks who don't seem to know, or acknowledge that the Super Bowl didn't exist for much of the NFL's history. The NFL dates back to 1920, and the first Super Bowl was played in 1967, for the 1966 season. So people who crow that the Detroit Lions haven't even made a Super Bowl are correct, but they're ignoring the fact that the Lions did win several NFL League Titles before the Super Bowl existed. So I decided to go back and look at starting quarterbacks' records in all title games, and get a complete list.
This was a little complicated. Because there were two other professional football leagues of consequence during the NFL's run. From 1946-49 the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) played, comprised of 7-8 teams. Readers might ask, "Why do we care about this inferior, knockoff league?" Because three of these teams were absorbed into the NFL for the 1950 season--the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Baltimore Colts (who only lasted a year before folding, only to be replaced in 1953 by a separate team from Dallas later renamed the Baltimore Colts again). And the Browns won the NFL title in their first season, and played in the NFL Championship game 6 times in their first 6 years (winning 3). So they were clearly up to NFL standards. Later on, the American Football League (the AFL) played from 1960-69. In 1970 they were completely absorbed into the NFL, and (with three former NFL teams the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns, and the Baltimore Colts) became the American Football Conference. During the four years when they played the NFL in the first four Super Bowls, they were 2-2. Suggesting that they were at a respectable level of football skill, and not some "Mickey Mouse League" or something. (There were other professional football leagues in this time too, like the World Football League (WFL) in 1974-75, the United States Football League (USFL) from 1983-86, and the XFL in 2001, of varying levels of competence. However, no teams from these leagues were absorbed into the NFL, and so I don't think they are worthy of our consideration. There were talented players in these leagues, especially the USFL, some of whom played for the NFL before, and/or after, but the leagues themselves were small time, minor leagues.) So, long story short, I'll list AAFC and AFL titles for quarterbacks, but not these other leagues' titles. Individual readers can choose to disregard the AAFC and AFL titles if they wish.
Moving on, there was the issue of how NFL champions were decided in its very early days. From 1920-32 there were no official playoffs, or postseason title games. The champ was determined by winning percentage. However, tie games didn't count in this percentage. So, to take the most extreme example, the 1932 Chicago Bears, who went 7-1-6 (wins-losses-ties) were champs over the Green Bay Packers, who went 10-3-1. In the early 1970's the NFL changed the system, and since then ties count as half a win, and half a loss in the winning percentage. Also, in 1974 the NFL altered their rules to allow for an overtime period even during regular season games, meaning ties became much less common (post season games, of course, couldn't ever end in a tie). Additionally, many of the early NFL teams went defunct before the 1933 season, so get ready to see some unfamiliar team names. So, from 1933 to 1965, the Eastern and Western Division/Conference champs played in the NFL Championship Game to determine the overall NFL champion.
There was one final huge problem in compiling this list. I was aware that the early NFL teams didn't pass as much, as the rules against it were more restrictive, and the ball itself was more round, and more like a soccer ball than the modern shape. But, I didn't realize the differences in the positions, too. An early quarterback was usually called a blocking back. Plus, the differences in what each position did were more nebulous. Often a player billed as the tailback or fullback actually appeared to lead the offense more, and throw most of the passes. To add to the confusion, the statistics weren't nearly as complete. For 1920's NFL teams, for example, I couldn't find player stats except for most touchdown plays. So, you have examples like the 1939 Green Bay Packers. In their title game against the New York Giants, Larry Craig is listed as the starting blocking back (quarterback), but Arnie Herber is presented as leading the action in game accounts, and is listed as throwing all the passes in the game. Even as late as the 1956 title game, Don Heinrich is listed as the starting quarterback for the New York Giants, but Charlie Conerly is credited with being the actual quarterback, the field general for the team. So, with all of these problems admitted, I did the best I could to determine the "real" quarterback for these games, even if they weren't the official listed starter. Since the 1920-32 season were so problematic, I'll list them separately, usually with 2 or 3 players who might be the main quarterback (blocking back). For 1933 and on, I'll list one (occasionally 2) best candidates, and if they're questionable I'll include an asterisk (*).
Quarterback is abbreviated "QB," blocking back as "BB," wingback as "WB," halfback as "HB," tailback as "TB" and fullback as "FB." And "Super Bowl"is "SB."
1920 Akron Pros: Harry Harris, BB, although back Rip King threw all TD passes.
1921 Chicago Staleys (later Chicago Bears): Pard Pearce, BB. Although WB-HB Chic Haley and
Dutch Sternaman threw some TD passes.
1922 Canton Bulldogs: Wooky Roberts, BB.
1923 Canton Bulldogs: Harry Robb, BB. TB Lou Smyth threw more TD passes.
1924 Cleveland Bulldogs: Wooky Roberts, BB, although Hoge Workman threw more TD passes.
1925 Chicago Cardinals: Red Dunn, BB.
1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets: Ben Jones, BB, although FB Hust Stockton threw all TD passes.
1927 New York Giants: Doug Wycoff, BB, but FB Jack McBride threw all TD passes.
1928 Providence Steam Rollers: Curly Oden, BB, but TB Wildcat Wilson threw all TD passes.
1929 Green Bay Packers: Red Dunn, BB, although TB Verne Lewellen threw some TD passes.
1930 Green Bay Packers: Red Dunn, BB appears to be starter most of the season, but TB's
Verne Lewellen and Arnie Herber had some TD passes.
1931 Green Bay Packers: Red Dunn, BB, but Paul Fitzgibbon and FB Bo Molenda also threw some
some TD passes.
1932 Chicago Bears: Keith Molesworth, BB, with John Doehring the backup.
From this point on, I'll list the player, his team(s), his title wins and losses, and what years, abbreviated with a two digit number, since we haven't hit 2020 yet.
Keith Molesworth Chicago Bears, 1 Pre-Championship Game title (32), 1 NFL title win (33)*, 1 NFL title loss (34)*.
Harry Newman, New York Giants, 1 NFL title loss (33). (Also possibly main QB in 1935 loss.)
Ed Danowski, New York Giants, 2 NFL title wins (34, 38), 1 NFL title loss (35*, 39)
Glenn Presnell, Detroit Lions, 1 NFL win (35).*
Ace Gutowsky, Detroit Lions, 1 NFL win (35)*
Arnie Herber, Green Bay Packers/New York Giants, 2 NFL wins (36,39), 2 NFL losses (38,44).
Riley Smith, Boston (later Washington) Redskins, 1 NFL title loss (36).
Bernie Masterson, Chicago Bears, 1 NFL loss (37).
Sammy Baugh, Washington Redskins, 2 NFL wins (37,42) and 2 NFL losses (40,43*)
Sid Luckman, Chicago Bears, 4 NFL title wins (40,41, 43,46), 1 NFL loss (42).
Frank Filchock, Washington Redskins/New York Giants, 2 NFL titles losses (45, 46). Also notable because Filchock was accused of taking money to throw away 1946 title and was banned from the NFL. He claimed he was innocent, and played in the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Nello Falaschi, New York Giants, 1 NFL title loss (41)*.
Tuffy Leemans, New York Giants, 1 NFL title loss (41)*.
George Cafego, Washington Redskins, 1 NFL loss (43)*.
Irv Comp, Green Bay Packers, 1 NFL title win (44).
Bob Waterfield, Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams, 2 NFL title wins (45,51*), 2 NFL losses (49, 50).
See Norm Van Brocklin info below.
Paul Christman, Chicago Cardinals, 1 NFL win (47).
Tommy Thompson, Philadelphia Eagles, 2 NFL wins (48, 49), 1 NFL loss (47).
Ray Mallouf, Chicago Cardinals, 1 NFL loss (48).
Norm Van Brocklin, Los Angeles Rams/Philadelphia Eagles, 2 NFL wins (51*, 60), 1 NFL loss (55). (The Rams apparently played Van Brocklin and Waterfield almost equally, and Van Brocklin helped Rams win 1951 NFL title, as a backup QB.)
Otto Graham, Cleveland Browns, 4 AAFC title wins (46-49), 3 NFL wins (50, 54, 55), 3 NFL losses (51, 52, 53)
Bobby Layne, Detroit Lions, 2 NFL wins (52, 53), 1 NFL title loss (54).
Ed Brown, Chicago Bears, 1 NFL loss (56)*
George Blanda, Chicago Bears/Houston Oilers, 1 NFL loss (56)*, 2 AFL title wins (60, 61), 1 AFL loss (62).
Charlie Conerly, New York Giants, 1 NFL win (56), 2 NFL losses (58, 59)
Tobin Rote, Detroit Lions/San Diego Chargers, 1 NFL win (57), 1 AFL win (63), 1 AFL loss (64).
Tommy O'Connell, Cleveland Browns, 1 NFL loss (57).
Y.A. Tittle, New York Giants, 3 NFL losses, (61, 62, 63).
Billy Wade, Chicago Bears, 1 NFL win (63).
Frank Ryan, Cleveland Browns, 1 NFL win (64), 1 NFL loss (65).
Jack Kemp, Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers/Buffalo Bills, 2 AFL wins (64, 65), 2 AFL losses (60, 61).
Babe Parilli, Boston (later New England) Patriots, 1 AFL loss (63),
John Hadl, San Diego Chargers, 1 AFL loss (65).
Ace Parker, New York Yankees, 1 AAFC loss, (46)
Spec Sanders, New York Yankees, 1 AAFC loss (47).
George Ratterman, Buffalo Bills, 1 AAFC loss (48).
Frankie Albert, San Francisco 49ers, 1 AAFC loss (49).
(Note that Super Bowls (SB) are listed by their number, not the year. And I'm not typing out the Roman numerals, either.)
Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers, 3 NFL title wins (61,62, 65), 1 NFL loss (60), 2 SB wins (1, 2).
Joe Namath, New York Jets, 1 SB win (3).
Len Dawson, Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1 AFL title win (62), 1 SB win (4), 1 SB loss (1).
Daryle Lamonica, Oakland Raiders, 1 SB loss (2)
Earl Morrall, Baltimore Colts, 1 SB win, sort of (5), as he replaced starter John Unitas with the score tied, and he led them to victory. 1 SB loss (3). Also played in SB's 7 and 8 with Miami, but as a backup to Bob Griese..
Joe Kapp, Minnesota Vikings, 1 SB loss (4).
John Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 2 NFL title wins (58, 59), 1 SB win, kind of (5). See Earl Morrall notation.
Craig Morton, Dallas Cowboys/Denver Broncos, 2 SB losses (5, 12,).
Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys, 2 SB wins (6, 12), 2 SB losses (10, 13).
Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins, 2 SB wins (7,8), 1 SB loss (6).
Billy Kilmer, Washington Redskins, 1 SB loss (7).
Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings, 3 SB losses (8, 9, 11).
Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers, 4 SB wins, (9,10,13,14).
Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders, 1 SB win (11).
Vince Ferragamo, Los Angeles Rams, 1 SB loss (14).
Jim Plunkett, Oakland Raiders, 2 SB wins (15,18).
Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia Eagles, 1 SB loss (15).
Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, 4 SB wins (16, 19, 23, 24).
Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals, 1 SB loss (16).
Joe Theisman, Washington Redskins, 1 SB win (17), 1 SB loss (18).
David Woodley, Miami Dolphins, 1 SB loss (17).
Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1 SB loss (19).
Jim McMahon, Chicago Bears, 1 SB win (20).
Tony Eason, New England Patriots, 1 SB loss (20).
Phil Simms, New York Giants, 1 SB win (21).
John Elway, Denver Broncos, 2 SB wins (32, 33). 3 SB losses (21,22,24).
Doug Williams, Washington Redskins, 1 SB win (22).
Jeff Hostetler, New York Giants, 1 SB win (25).
Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, 4 SB losses (25,26,27,28).
Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati Bengals, 1 SB loss (23).
Mark Rypien, Washington Redskins, 1 SB win (26).
Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, 3 SB wins, (27,28, 30).
Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, 1 SB win (29). Also played in SB's 23, 24 as backup.
Stan Humpries, San Diego Chargers, 1 SB loss (29).
Neil O'Donnell, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 SB loss (30).
Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers, 1 SB win (31), 1 SB loss (32).
Drew Bledsoe, New England Patriots, 1 SB loss (31).
Chris Chandler, Atlanta Falcons, 1 SB loss (33).
Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams/Arizona Cardinals, 1 SB win (34), 2 SB losses (36, 43).
Steve McNair, Tennessee Titans, 1 SB loss (34).
Trent Dilfer, Baltimore Ravens, 1 SB win (35).
Kerry Collins, New York Giants, 1 SB loss (35).
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, 4 SB wins (36,38,39, 49), 2 SB losses (42,46).
Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 SB win (37).
Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders, 1 SB loss (37).
Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers, 1 SB loss (38).
Donavan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles, 1 SB loss (39).
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2 SB wins (40, 43), 1 SB loss (45)
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks, 1 SB loss.
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts/Denver Broncos, 2 SB wins (41, 50), 2 SB losses (44,48)
Rex Grossman, Chicago Bears, 1 SB loss (41).
Eli Manning, New York Giants, 2 SB wins (42,46).
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 1 SB win (44).
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, 1 SB win (45).
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 1 SB win (47).
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers, 1 SB loss (47).
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, 1 SB win (48), 1 SB loss (49).
Cam Newton, Carolina Panther, 1 SB loss (50).
So, in conclusion, here are the quarterbacks with the most title wins.
7--Otto Graham (4 AAFC, 3 NFL)
5--Bart Starr (3 NFL, 2 SB)
4--Sid Luckman (4 NFL)
4--Terry Bradshaw (4 SB)
4--Joe Montana (4 SB)
4--Tom Brady (4 SB)
4--Red Dunn (4 Pre-NFL Championship Game Championships, maybe)
3--Troy Aikman (3 SB)
3--John Unitas (2 NFL, 1 SB (sort, see Earl Morrall notation above)
Oh, and finally, I think it's awesome that the 1920's Canton/Cleveland Bulldogs had a player who went by "Wooky" Roberts.