If you watched the NFL in the 1980s, you saw the entrance, and subsequent domination of the league by some of the best caliber quarterbacks the game had ever seen. Even though the decade saw the loss of two of its best — Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach — 1983 brought in the motherload: Dan Marino, John Elway and more.
During the decade we watched Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar dominate Cleveland’s skies. Then there was Dan Fouts, Joe Montana and Steve Young, not to mention Joe Theismann and all of his replacements in the decade. Even bad teams had gunslingers, like Lynn Dickey, Neil Lomax and some guys who didn’t throw the tightest spirals, but still ended up in the win column most weeks, like Jim McMahon, Phil Simms, Dave Krieg and Bobby Hebert.
The 80’s was the decade the African-American QB came to prominence, led by Doug Williams, who forged a path for Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, and suddenly others. It’s not like QBs weren’t important in the 90’s or 2000’s, but you only had a real handful of legendary signal callers; Brett Favre, Steve Young, or Troy Aikman. The rest were leftovers from the 80’s. It’s safe to say you can’t name more than five dominating QBs from the 90’s/2000’s who reached the heights of those above.
Enter the 2010’s: The return of the quarterback attack.
In the first two years of this decade, we’ve witnessed the veteran passers from the tail end of the 2000’s really rising above the rest. Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethisberger, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo and Eli Manning. Then the draft classes started to give us a factory-like production of top of the line talent. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan came in together in 2008 and took the league by storm. We started talking about how it hasn’t been done since Marino, and it was done twice. We should have seen the signs then! The very next year, three more were added by sending team saviors to the N.Y. Jets (Mark Sanchez took his team to not one, but two straight AFC Championship games), Tampa Bay (Josh Freeman and his eight fourth-quarter comebacks) and the lowly Lions of Detroit, who are lowly no more thanks to the passing of Matthew Stafford (all of a sudden a top-five statistical quarterback this season).
And it didn’t stop there. Another season, another loaded draft class of quarterbacks led by Sam Bradford taken No. 1 overall by the Rams and Colt McCoy going to the Brownies. Both are still progressing, but are high in the potential category.
This year the rage is Cam Newton who opened up his rookie campaign with two 400+ yard passing days. When you add the surprising emergence of Ryan Fitzpatrick, you realize there aren’t a lot of teams left that don’t have a franchise quarterback on their roster. While teams like Miami (Chad Henne), Arizona (Kevin Kolb) and Oakland (Jason Campbell) are waiting to see if their guy has the ‘right stuff’, they clearly cannot wait too long to make their move. Andy Dalton in Cincinnati and Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville are rookies that have already been given the chance to show their stuff, and it may not be long before the rest — Christian Ponder (Minnesota), Jake Locker (Tennessee) and Colin Kaepernick (49ers) — are given their shot in the NFL.
Not even in the pass happy 1980’s was there that much saturation of top flight passers, and right now, of all teams, the Indianapolis Colts are the only one who could be looking at life without a game-changing or potential top-of-the-line signal-caller at the helm. The only other teams with concerns are the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. That’s it, three teams, who lead the pack for an (Andrew) Luck of the draw or the consolation prizes of Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden or a few other top prospects. Either way, this decade’s NFL fans, it’s bombs away like never before.