Quarterback controversy has emerged as a common narrative for the 2021 season. In New Orleans, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill are competing to be Drew Brees' successor. Mac Jones and Cam Newton are vying to be "the man" in New England. Andy Dalton is trying to hold off Justin Fields in Chicago, while Jimmy Garoppolo is trying to do the same with Trey Lance in San Francisco.
These position battles bring to mind other notable quarterback controversies over the years. While each one had its fair share of tension, the competition usually brought out the best in each player. It also led to success for their respective team, with the result often ending with a championship. Let's take a look at the five greatest quarterback controversies in NFL history, starting with an epic battle on the West Coast.
1. Joe Montana/Steve Young
Bill Walsh embraced his self-created quarterback controversy heading into the 1988 season. Acquired the previous offseason, Young played well after replacing an ineffective Montana during the 49ers' most painful loss of the Walsh era, a 36-24 decision to the Vikings in the 1987 playoffs. A star at BYU and in the short-lived USFL, Young was considered a younger, more mobile alternative to the 32-year-old Montana, who had missed 11 games to injury the previous two seasons.
Instead of naming a starter, Walsh shared the workload between his two quarterbacks for the season's first 11 games. But after watching his team drop to 6-5 following ugly losses to the Cardinals and Raiders, Walsh named Montana his starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Walsh's commitment to Montana -- along with a spirited players-only meeting -- appeared to ignite the 49ers, who went 4-1 over the final five weeks of the regular season. In a highly-anticipated rematch, Montana torched the Vikings in the divisional round before leading San Francisco to a 28-3 win in freezing Chicago in the NFC Championship Game. Two weeks later, Montana directed the most famous game-winning drive in Super Bowl history, as the 49ers defeated the Bengals in Walsh's final game on the sideline for the 49ers.
Montana would win his fourth Super Bowl and third Super Bowl MVP the following season. He was on his way to leading the 49ers to a third straight Super Bowl before an injury opened the door for the Giants to pull off a shocking upset win. Young would eventually take the reins from Montana after the latter suffered an elbow injury during the '91 preseason. With Montana sidelined, Young blossomed into a two-time league MVP in and a Super Bowl MVP in 1994. Montana ended his Hall of Fame career with the Chiefs; he defeated Young and the 49ers in his only showdown against his former team. Both quarterback's careers reside in the Hall of Fame.
2. Drew Bledsoe/Tom Brady
Bledsoe was the Patriots' greatest quarterback during the franchise's first four decades of existence. A three-time Pro Bowler with the Patriots, Bledsoe led the NFL with 4,555 yards passing in 1994. Two years later, he helped the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl for just the second time. During the 2001 offseason, he signed a record 10-year, $103 million contract two days after Brett Favre signed a 10-year, $100 million deal with the Packers.
That's why, when Bledsoe went down with a severe chest injury in Week 2, fans in New England were ready to waive the white flag on their team's 2001 season. At 0-2, the Patriots would have to turn to Brady, a second-year passer who completed one pass during his rookie season. In his first start, Brady outplayed Peyton Manning as the Patriots defeated the visiting Colts, 44-13. Four wins and seven starts later, Bill Belichick named Brady his starter barring "unforeseen circumstances" despite Bledsoe's recovery from injury.
Belichick -- whose team was 6-5 at the time of his announcement -- made his decision just after Brady and the Patriots played well in a losing effort against the Rams, who finished the regular season with the league's best record. New England wouldn't lose another game that season and would defeat the Rams in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. Brady would win five more Super Bowls in New England and a seventh during his first season in Tampa. Bledsoe would play five more years that included a fifth Pro Bowl selection in 2002. He retired after an injury opened the door for Tony Romo to begin his decorated career with the Cowboys in 2006. Bledsoe was inducted into the Patriots' Hall of Fame in 2011.
“I don’t give a s—- if you’re a first round pick. I was 199. But listen, If you get a chance to be on the field, don’t mess it up, because you may never get a second one.”— ESPN (@espn) July 29, 2020
Tom Brady shares the moment he came in for Drew Bledsoe on Peyton's Places on E+ ➡️ https://t.co/LUFl8d6DzG pic.twitter.com/02ro7bjG7g
3. Roger Staubach/Craig Morton
Like two ships passing in the night, Staubach and Morton actually rotated plays for an entire game during the 1971 season. Not surprisingly, the Cowboys lost that game, dropping the defending NFC champions to 4-3. It was then that Tom Landry finally committed to Staubach, who at 29 was desperate to get his career off the ground after spending his first two seasons as Morton's backup. The Cowboys wouldn't lose again in 1971 while tallying a perfect 13-0 record with Staubach as their starting quarterback.
After several heartbreaking championship losses, the Cowboys finally reached the mountaintop in Super Bowl VI. They did it in emphatic fashion, defeating Don Shula's Dolphins, 24-3, behind a dominant defense, two touchdown passes from Staubach and 252 rushing yards. Staubach and the Cowboys rose to the height of popularity during the '70s, earning the nickname "America's Team" while playing in three more Super Bowls during the decade. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Staubach was named to the NFL's 100th anniversary team in 2019.
Morton would continue to serve as Staubach's backup before he was traded to the Giants six games into the 1974 season in exchange for future first and second-round picks. One of those picks was used to select Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White, who won co-MVP honors after he wreaked havoc on Morton (the first quarterback to face his former team in the Super Bowl) and the rest of the Broncos' offense in Super Bowl XII. Morton enjoyed a successful six-year run in Denver, where he won 43 of his 69 starts. He was added to the Broncos' Ring of Fame in 1988.
4. Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers
Similar to what recently transpired between Rodgers and Jordan Love, Favre wasn't a happy camper after the Packers spent a first-round pick on Rodgers in 2005. Favre kept Rodgers on the bench for the next three seasons, however, putting up a career year in 2007 that nearly resulted in a Super Bowl berth for the Packers. It appeared that Favre would choose to go out on a high note after he announced his retirement in March, thus beginning Rodgers' era in Green Bay. But Favre famously changed his mind and reached out to the Packers' brass about a return several months later. It was reported shortly thereafter that Favre formally requested his release, which was denied.
Undeterred, Favre arrived at Packers training camp shortly after applying for reinstatement. After a lengthy meeting between Favre and Packers brass, it was determined that a split was best for both parties. Favre was shortly thereafter traded to the Jets, who started the season 8-3 before an injury to Favre contributed to their 1-4 finish. Meanwhile, Rodgers (who had to win over angry Packers fans who wanted Favre to resume his career in Green Bay) enjoyed a successful rookie season despite Green Bay's 6-10 record.
Rodgers was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2009, but he lost both of his matchups against Favre, who joined the Vikings after another brief retirement. At 40, Favre had one of his greatest seasons while helping the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game. Favre's interception near the end of regulation, however, contributed to the Vikings losing to the Saints in overtime. Injuries finally caught up with Favre in 2010, as he saw his record of 297 consecutive starts come to an end. He lost both of his matchups against Rodgers and the Packers, who overcame an 8-6 start to win the franchise's fourth Super Bowl.
Memorable Moment Monday— The Green Bay Guy (@TheGreenBayGuy) January 28, 2019
October 24, 2010
The Minnesota Vikings, led by Brett Favre, look to come into Lambeau Field and beat their division rivals. Aaron Rodgers and co. had other ideas.
One of my absolute favorite games I've ever witnessed.
Have a great Monday! #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/2CFmmx5AAD
Favre retired that offseason and saw his number retired by the Packers in 2015. Rodgers, who has added three league MVP awards to his trophy case, will surely join Favre in the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.
5. Doug Williams/Jay Schroeder
While he didn't win either of his two regular season starts, Williams was 3-0 in relief duty during the 1987 season. His play off the bench in Washington's regular season finale -- a 27-24 win at Minnesota -- convinced head coach Joe Gibbs to tab Williams as his starter heading into the playoffs.
Williams (who eight years earlier led the Buccaneers to the franchise's first NFC Championship Game appearance) made the most of the opportunity. Facing the Bears infamous "46" defense and a -20 degree wind chill, Williams threw a key touchdown pass during Washington's 17-14 win in the divisional round. He threw two touchdowns the following week in Washington's 17-10 win over the Vikings in the NFC title game. After falling behind 10-0 (and briefly being replaced by Schroeder) in Super Bowl XXII, Williams and his teammates put together the craziest quarter in NFL history. During the second quarter, Washington scored 35 points, a still-standing Super Bowl record. Williams threw four touchdowns during the quarter en route to winning Super Bowl MVP. Williams, by virtue of Washington's 42-10 victory over the Broncos, became the first starting Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
A member of Washington's Ring of Fame and the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor, Williams has enjoyed successful post-playing careers as a coach and executive. He is currently serving as Washington's senior advisor. Schroeder, who was named to the Pro Bowl after helping lead Washington to an NFC title game appearance in 1986, was traded to the Raiders in exchange for Jim Lachey (who ended up being an All-Pro left tackle on Washington's 1991 championship team) during the 1988 offseason. With Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson behind him, Schroeder went 12-4 as a starter in 1990 while helping lead the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Bills, 51-3. He spent two more seasons in Los Angeles before spending one season apiece in Cincinnati and Arizona.