Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All-Time QB Matchups Between Two-Time (or better) Champions

Maybe Past Interference is a little obsessed with the topic of two-time (or better) championship quarterbacks, but PI uncovered some more information that was too good not to share. Once again let’s dredge up the short list of matchups between quarterbacks who’ve each led their teams to two or more Super Bowl rings:

11/14/76 PIT 14 MIA 3
11/05/78 MIA 23 DAL 16
01/21/79 PIT 35 DAL 31, Super Bowl XIII
10/28/79 PIT 14 DAL 3
12/30/79 PIT 34 MIA 14, Divisional Playoffs
09/22/85 SFO 34 LAR 10

Just six such matchups total with the last happening a quarter century ago. The first five all featured two of the following three quarterbacks: Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach. Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett faced off in the sixth and most recent matchup. But the Super Bowl era began in 1966 and the NFL was around a long time before that. PI was curious if matchups between multiple-ringed QB’s were more common in the olden days. So we spent a little time at Pro Football Reference and found out that yes, the NFL used to have a lot more of these battles, over twice as many in just a 25-year period. BUT, almost all of those games can be accounted for by maybe the two greatest quarterback rivalries in NFL history. The first takes us back to the days of leather helmets and two-way players. Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh. Luckman won back-to-back titles for the Chicago Bears in 1940 and 1941. Baugh followed suit with his second title with the Washington Redskins in 1942. So when the Bears and Redskins battled on November 21, 1943, it was the first contest in NFL history between quarterbacks who had each won two NFL titles. Baugh came out on top. But Luckman didn’t have long to wait for revenge. The best kind of revenge. The two men played again for the NFL championship a month later. Their third championship game battle but first as two-time champions. Not only did Luckman triumph, he actually knocked Baugh out of the game with a big hit administered as Slingin’ Sammy tried to bring him down (he played defense too!). The game remains incredibly historic. While first three-time championship QB, and to this day remains only one of six QB’s to win at least three rings. After their titanic 1943 matchups, the two men played five more times, the last coming in 1949. Here’s the complete list:

11/21/43 WAS 21 CHI 7
12/26/43 CHI 41 WAS 21 NFL Championship Game
11/18/45 WAS 28 CHI 21
11/17/46 CHI 24 WAS 20
10/26/47 CHI 56 WAS 20
11/28/48 CHI 48 WAS 13
11/20/49 CHI 31 WAS 21

So by themselves Baugh and Luckman top the Super Bowl era list by one. And the same goes for the great QB rivalry of the 1960’s. Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas brought us seven more matchups between two-time champs (though Starr would have a total of five titles by the time their rivalry was concluded).

09/29/63 GB 31 BAL 20
09/20/64 BAL 21 GB 20
10/18/64 BAL 24 GB 21
09/26/65 GB 20 BAL 17
09/10/66 GB 24 BAL 3
12/10/66 GB 14 BAL 10
11/05/67 BAL 13 GB 10

Starr’s Packers and Unitas’ Colts actually played many more times in the Sixties than Luckman and Baugh did in the Forties, but injuries to Starr, Unitas, or both wiped out six more potential meetings. The most unfortunate being the 1965 playoff tiebreaker game that both missed with injuries (Starr played but got hurt on the first play from scrimmage and never returned). Strangely the game wound up an all-time classic without the two legends, the second overtime game in NFL history. But it would have been the only postseason battle between the era’s two greatest quarterbacks had both men been healthy.

So 14 games total, seven for Baugh/Luckman, seven for Starr/Unitas. But we’re not quite done. PI scoured the record books, looked high and low, left no stone unturned in this matter. The great quarterback rivalry between Baugh/Luckman and Starr/Unitas was between Bobby Layne and Otto Graham in the 50’s. The two faced off in three straight championship games. Layne’s Detroit Lions took the first two and Graham’s Cleveland Browns the third, Graham’s second NFL title. Paul Brown convinced Graham to return for one more season and he did, winning a third NFL Championship, but Graham and Layne didn’t play each other that season and never would again. Other potential matchups never happened. Layne never played Unitas in 960, 1961 or 1962. Bob Waterfield didn’t play Baugh in 1952 in what proved to be both men’s final season. And like John Elway almost 40 years later, Norm Van Brocklin retired right after winning his second title and thus never had the chance to battle another multi-ringed QB. So who does that leave us?

Tommy Thompson’s kind of a forgotten player now, but he led the Philadelphia Eagles to back-to-back titles in 1948-1949. Thompson played one more season in 1950 and his team twice squared off against Sammy Baugh’s Washington Redskins. Pro Football Reference does not have complete box scores for games that old, but they do show Baugh didn’t start the week 6 matchup with the Eagles. This old newspaper article shows the Redskins actually benched the 36-year-old Baugh in favor of 24-year-old phenom Harry Gilmer. But five straight losses must have cost Gilmer the starting job as Slingin’ Sam started the week 8 matchup with the Eagles. It didn’t matter. The Eagles beat the Gilmer-led Redskins 35-3 and they beat the Baugh-led Redskins 33-0. But the latter game it did give us yet another meeting between quarterbacks with two or more championships.

11/12/50 PHI 33 WAS 0

And that would complete our list at 15. Except World War II happened.
Sammy Baugh’s got the reputation as NFL’s first true downfield passer. But some experts believe that honor belongs to a Hall of Famer named Arnie Herber. Herber was certainly a trailblazer in one big way. He’s the first man to ever quarterback a team to victory in two championship games. Her led the Green Bay Packers to NFL titles in 1936 and 1939, then retired after the 1940 season. But his NFL story wasn’t quite over as it turned out. Thanks to WWII, military service took precedence over NFL service, and NFL teams suffered a huge drain of talent during the war years. Desperate for some quality players the New York Football Giants coaxed Herber out of retirement for the 1944 and 1945 seasons. The Giants never played Luckman’s Bears during those two seasons, but they did play Baugh’s Redskins. Four times. Problem is, without boxscores I have no idea if both men actually played each other in any of the four games. Baugh and Herber could have played against each other four times, no times, or somewhere in between. All I can find are scoring summaries for each game. And in not one of those four games did both QB’s throw a TD pass! Great. Baugh tossed a TD in three of the games and Herber tossed three, all coming as luck would have it in the one game where Baugh didn’t throw one. In 1944 the Giants and Skins actually played back-to-back games, the last two of the season. Baugh threw for a TD in the first game and Herber didn’t. Herber tossed his three the next week. Surely Baugh would play a week later too right? Well, he's credited with starting only 4 games and playing in 8 out of 10 in '44. He wasn't hurt either. And he wasn’t suspended. No, according to this book Baugh missed big chunks of time in 1944 “because he had to tend his cattle ranch, as the government was making heavy demands for beef during the war.” Now that is an original excuse. So who knows if Baugh played in week 10 or if Herber played in week 9. Herber’s credited with starting only 3 games in 1944 but he is listed as active for all 10. So maybe he started or maybe he didn’t start but came into the game later. In 1945 Herber didn’t start any games and split time at QB with a couple other guys. He again is listed at being active for all 10 games. It was a different game back then; teams were still making the adjustment from single-wing to the T-formation and most players were still two-way players. Herber also played tailback, blocking back and defensive back. He could have played in those games but not as a QB. Of course he was an older player who’d already retired once. Seems unlikely he’d have done much blocking or defending at the end of his career. Maybe the Giants didn’t want to overwork him at QB. He did throw the vast majority of his team’s passes in ’44 but split more of the passes in 1945. But if Herber only played parts of games should that even count as a QB matchup with Baugh? Based on the information we have, Past Interference just has absolutely no idea how many official Baugh-Herber matchups took place in 1944-1945. If anybody out there has more info on this matter please let me know. Here’s the four games:

12/03/44 NYG 16 WAS 13
12/10/44 NYG 31 WAS 0
10/28/45 WAS 24 NYG 14
12/09/45 WAS 17 NYG 0

So through 2009, the NFL’s seen a total of between 21 and 25 games featuring matchups between quarterbacks who have each won two or more NFL championship games.

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