The Dodger, The Bomber and The Thinking Man - Collecting the Top NFL Quarterbacks of the 1970s

Since the inception of professional football, every decade has seen quarterbacks pass through the ranks of the NFL that have dominated and defined the era. In the 1950s, it was Norm Van Brocklin, Bobby Layne, Otto Graham and Y.A. Tittle. The 1960s brought Johnny Unitas, Sonny Jergensen, Bart Starr, Roman Gabriel, Joe Namath and Len Dawson.

In the 1980s, the reigning quarterbacks of the NFL included Joe Montana, Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms. In the 1990s, it was Steve Young, John Elway, Troy Aikman and Brett Favre.

Today's QB elite includes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Layne Tittle Graham Brocklin
Starr Unitas Namath Montana
Marino Elway Young Farve

The one decade that we have noticeably passed over was the one that gave us some of the most dominating quarterbacks that will ever play the game – Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys, Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Bob Griese of the Miami Dolphins.

In looking back at the top passers of the 1970s, it would be unfair not to tip our hats to Fran Tarkenton and Ken Anderson, but the fact of the matter is that with the exception of Joe Montana's dominance of the 1990s, no decade in the NFL has been so dominated by quarterbacks as the 1970s were by Roger the Dodger of Dallas, The Blonde Bomber of Pittsburgh, and The Thinking Man's Quarterback from Miami.

ROGER STAUBACH

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Roger Staubach was raised in the suburban neighborhood of Silverton, Ohio. A graduate of Purcell High School, Staubach's collegiate career began at the New Mexico Institute before being accepted at the United States Naval Academy where he was tapped as the school's quarterback.

In his sophomore year, as a third class midshipman, Staubach got the nod from Coach Wayne Hardin to take the starting role in a game against Cornell University. In the second half of that game, Staubach put on an incredible show by leading his team to six touchdown drives. He threw for 99 yards and two TDs and rushed for 88 yards and another score.

Securing his role as the team's starter, he followed that performance by facing Navy's longtime rival Army. In a game that saw then-President John F. Kennedy perform the coin toss, Staubach led Navy to a 34 to14 victory over the favored Army team. That game saw him throw for two touchdowns and take one in himself.

Staubach

In his junior season, Staubach won the Maxwell Award and the Heisman Trophy. The Midshipmen lost only one game that season earning a final ranking of number two in the nation. During his career with the Navy, he completed 292 of 463 passes and chalked up a school record of 4,253 total offensive yards. Perhaps the most amazing stat from his college career is that despite Staubach's prolific air game, he was only intercepted 19 times.

With the Naval Academy having retired Staubach's jersey number, 1964 saw the pros come a callin'. Selected in the tenth round by the Dallas Cowboys, he signed on but never took his place with the Cowboys until he completed his military commitment. He served a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam as a supply officer for the United States Navy and then spent the remainder of his Naval career playing football on various service teams. With his commitment fulfilled, Staubach took his place in the pro ranks in 1969, when he resigned his commission and showed up at the Cowboys training camp.

The 1970 season saw Staubach overshadowed by the team's starting quarterback, Craig Morton, who held that position into the following season. Morton had a slow start in 1971 and when the Cowboys dropped a game to the lowly New Orleans Saints, Coach Tom Landry tapped Staubach for the starting assignment. Staubach's debut on NFL turf did little to serve as a harbinger for what was to come and, by the following week's outing, Landry began alternating Staubach and Morton on each play. After having the opportunity to watch both of his quarterbacks side-by-side, Landry finally made the decision to name Staubach as the Cowboy's starter in week eight. Staubach led Dallas to victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and went on to win ten more straight games, including the team's first Super Bowl victory over the Miami Dolphins. Staubach was named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player after rushing for 18 yards and hitting 12 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Having set the groundwork to be the premier quarterback in the NFL, Staubach suffered a setback in 1972 when he was benched for most of the season with an injured shoulder. He did return to the field in the post season pulling off an impressive 30 to 28 victory over the San Francisco 49ers by tossing two touchdown passes in the last 90 seconds of the game. That electrifying performance sealed the deal with Landry who gave Staubach the starting nod, a position he would hold throughout the remainder of his professional career.

Retiring in 1979, Staubach earned six Pro Bowl invitations and was a driving force in the Cowboys Super Bowl XII victory following the 1977 season. Along with the Cowboys two Super Bowl wins, Staubach led Dallas to Super Bowl appearances in Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XII, meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers on both occasions.

Throughout his professional career Staubach was renowned as one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the NFL. He was dubbed Roger The Dodger for his ability to scramble and was also known as Captain Comeback for the wins he pulled out of his hat in the waning moments of numerous contests. Staubach led the Cowboys to 23 come-from-behind fourth quarter wins during his career, with all but six being decided within the last two minutes of the games.

When it came to his last minute wins, Staubach is most remembered for the 1975 Hail Mary pass he tossed against the Minnesota Vikings. With less than a minute remaining and the Cowboys down by four points, Staubach hauled off with a half field toss to his wide receiver, Drew Pearson, who snagged the ball and took it the distance to see Dallas win the games by three points. In the locker room following that game, Staubach revealed to the press that he had said a Hail Mary before launching the ball. That comment gave football a new term that would go on to become an accepted play – the Hail Mary pass.

Staubach wrapped up his 11-season NFL career with 1,685 completions for 22,700 yards and 153 touchdowns. He only threw 109 interceptions and gained an incredible 2,264 rushing yards, scoring 20 TDs on 410 carries. When he retired, he was the highest-rated passer in football history and was tapped as a Pro Football Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Staubach as number 29 on their list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.

In Staubach's post-football life, he established a successful real estate company that he just recently retired from. He also worked briefly as a color commentator for CBS Sports. Today, he is in partnership with Troy Aikman in the ownership of Hall of Fame Racing, a NASCAR Nextel Cup team.

The Staubach Card

Clearly considered to be in the top 40 of the most important and desired football sportscard ever produced, the 1972 Topps #200 Roger Staubach card is his only recognized rookie offering, and by far, the most desired card in this popular set. The card is fairly difficult to find in high grades due to the poor production quality that was rampant in cards manufactured during the 1970s.

TERRY BRADSHAW

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Terry Bradshaw attended Woodlawn High School where he first gained attention due to his athletic prowess. He led his high school gridiron team to the AAA High School Championship Game where they were defeated, and also set a national record for javelin throwing by making a 245-foot toss.

As his high school career came to an end, Bradshaw made the decision to matriculate at Louisiana State University. That decision was however derailed when he turned in a dismal performance on his college entrance exam. Having to go to a plan B, Terry enrolled at Louisiana Tech.

During his junior season, Bradshaw threw for 2,890 yards, a feat that saw him ranked as #1 in the NCAA. That year also saw him lead his team to a 9 and 2 record and an impressive victory over Akron in the Rice Bowl. The following year, his senior season, he chalked up 2,314 passing yards. That statistic is perhaps a bit misleading. He did throw close to 600 less yards than the previous season; but it should be taken into consideration that Bradshaw was replaced by the team's second string quarterback on numerous occasions because Terry had given the team such a large first half lead.

Bradshaw was the first player selected in the 1970 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and took over the role of the team's starting QB by the following season. Bradshaw's start in the NFL was shaky. The Pittsburgh sportswriters called him erratic and frequently questioned his intelligence dismissing him as a back woods country bumpkin. Still, there was something about Bradshaw that seemed to resonate with Pittsburgh fans. There was a perceived value to this guy that many believed just needed to be properly honed.

Bradshaw

That honing occurred and by 1972, Bradshaw was sitting atop the NFL as the league's premier passer. He would go on to lead his team to eight AFC Central Championships and establish a dynasty that eclipsed every other NFL team throughout the remainder of the decade. Along with Bradshaw's skills at the helm, the Pittsburg team boasted a powerful defense that earned the name The Steel Curtain. They also had an incredible offensive force in running back Franco Harris.

While the 1970's Steelers seemingly had everything going for them, it was Bradshaw's passing prowess that was given credit for the fact that Pittsburgh owned the decade. If Roger Staubach made history with his famous "Hail Mary" pass, Bradshaw sealed his place in NFL history in 1972 by throwing another ball that was labeled with religious overtones – The Immaculate Reception.

It is almost unimaginable for NFL fans to remember that, during the mid-1970s, Bradshaw was actually dropped from the first string role for a short time. In 1974, he was replaced by Joe Gilliam at the beginning of the season. Bradshaw had been in a bad place both personally and professionally in 1974. His marriage to Melissa Babish had ended in divorce, he had suffered a shoulder injury that prevented him from executing his trademark deep bombs, and he was known to be depressed and standoffish in a way that was out of character for him.

Bradshaw commented on that difficult time in his autobiography, Man of Steel. Calling it one of the most difficult times of his life, Bradshaw wrote that he was only capable of putting his life and career back together by rededicating himself to his core values.

Once Bradshaw proved to the Steelers head coach and front office that he was getting his life back on track, he once again took over the reins and led his team to the 1974 AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders. That contest saw Bradshaw launch a fourth quarter pass to Lynn Swan that resulted in a TD, a 24 to 13 victory, and a pass to the Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl IX, the Steelers took on the Minnesota Vikings. Bradshaw hit on nine of the 14 passes he threw that day. Those passes included a fourth quarter TD toss that sealed the deal for the Steelers as they went on to down the Vikings by the score of 16 to 6. Returning to the Super Bowl following the 1975 campaign, Bradshaw turned in an impressive performance. He threw for 209 yards as the Steelers defeated Dallas 21 to 17.

During the 1976 season, Bradshaw suffered injuries to his wrist and neck that sidelined him for four games. When he returned to the active roster he turned in a stellar showing by hitting on 14 out of 18 passes for 264 yards. The Steelers were looking to three-peat for the Lombardi Trophy but those hopes were dashed when Oakland handed them a crushing loss in the AFC Championship Game.

In a career that stands out as one of the best in NFL history, Bradshaw chalked up his single best season during the 1978 campaign. The Associated Press named him the NFL's Most Valuable Player largely due to the incredible numbers he posted – he completed 207 of 368 passes for 2,915 yards and a league-leading 28 touchdown passes. That year also saw Bradshaw named All-Pro and All-AFC.

Super Bowl XII saw the Steelers once again take on Dallas and Bradshaw capped off his best season by being named the big game's Most Valuable Player. He had connected on 17 of the 30 passes he threw that day for a then-record 318 yards and four TDs as Pittsburgh narrowly edged out the Cowboys by the score of 35 to 31.

In 1979, Bradshaw again collected the Super Bowl MVP award for his performance in Super Bowl XIV. He chalked up 309 passing yards and threw for two touchdowns as the Steelers bettered the Los Angeles Rams 31 to19. That year also saw Bradshaw share Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" award with baseball great Willie Stargell.

As the following two seasons went by, it appeared to many that Bradshaw had hit his peak and was on the downside of his career. Eliminated from the playoffs, Bradshaw suffered an elbow injury in the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season. Despite the injury he suited up, played and unbelievably threw 17 touchdown passes. In what would prove to be Bradshaw's final postseason game, he connected on 28 of 39 passes for 325 yards and two TDs. The game ended with the San Diego Chargers bringing the curtain down on the Steelers dynasty by handing them a 31 to 28 loss.

After the 1982 season, Bradshaw finally had his damaged elbow attended to by surgery. He was benched for most of the 1983 season and when he took to the field against the New York Jets, he threw what would be his final pass as a pro – a touchdown! That TD would however be bittersweet. According to Bradshaw, he felt a pop in his arm as the ball left his hand. He was taken out of the game and never played again.

In his highly impressive 14-season career, The Blonde Bomber connected on 2,025 of the 3,901 attempts he made. He hit with receivers for 27,989 yards and 212 touchdowns. He also took the ball himself 444 times for 2,257 rushing yards and scored 32 touchdowns. As the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he won 107 games while only losing 51. He led his team to the playoffs 10 times and was named to the Pro Bowl three times.

Upon his retirement from football, Bradshaw signed on with CBS as an NFL game analyst. He was teamed up with Verne Lundquist to cover games and the duo became fan favorites. In 1990, Bradshaw joined Greg Gumbel as an analyst for The NFL Today and continued on in the booth on game day for FOX NFL Sunday. He has also authored or co-authored five books and recorded six country and western and gospel albums. Like Staubach, Terry has also become a part of NASCAR by joining with HighLine Performance Group racing team to form FitzBradshaw Racing.

Bradshaw appeared in various television commercials and made cameo appearances on shows such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Married... With Children. He has also been seen on the big screen in the 1978 film Hooper, the 1980 film Smokey and the Bandit II, and 1981's Cannonball Run. Since then he has also appeared in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and in the 2006 film Failure to Launch.

In 1989, Bradshaw was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ten years later, The Sporting News listed Bradshaw as number 44 on their list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, and in 2006, Bradshaw donated his College Football Hall of Fame ring, his four Super Bowl rings, his Hall of Fame bust, four miniature replica Super Bowl trophies, and a helmet and jersey he wore in Super Bowl play to Louisiana Tech. The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the few NFL teams that have established a policy not to officially retire uniform numbers. That said, to date no Pittsburgh player has ever dared ask for the number 12.

The Bradshaw Card

Like Staubach, Bradshaw's rookie offering is in the top 40 of the most desired cards in football history. The 1971 Topps #156 is his only official rookie card and it is rather tough to come by in very high grade. The biggest problem this card suffers from is due to its red border. As with any color-bordered card, it is extremely susceptible to chipping and even the slightest show of wear is evident.

BOB GRIESE

Robert Allen Griese of Evansville, Indiana was a two-time All-American at Purdue University. The Boilermaker's quarterback was also the runner-up for the 1966 Heisman Trophy. During his collegiate career he led his team to the 1966 Big Ten Championship and assisted the Boilermakers in getting to the Rose Bowl for the first time (where they were bettered by USC by one point).

After graduation, Griese was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 1967 Common Draft. He hit the ground running with the Fins by turning in a rookie performance of 2,005 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. He was also named an AFL All-Star during his first two years of professional play.

Griese

Throughout the 1970s, Griese led the Dolphins to nine winning seasons. Never known for the strong arm like Staubach or Bradshaw, Griese became known as an excellent on-field strategist who was willing to let his backs get most of the scoring glory. Unlike most quarterbacks of the era, Griese was conservative in throwing the ball. A case in point would be Super Bowl VII, in which he only threw 11 passes of which he hit on 8.

By 1972, Griese was being called The Thinking Man's Quarterback, and while he may not have generated the excitement of his colleagues, he was respected as a solid winner. That respect was solidified that season when Griese and company turned in an undefeated season capped off with a Super Bowl win over the Washington Redskins. The following season, going on to win back-to-back Super Bowls, Griese and the Fins were the only team to register a blip on the screen during the Dallas and Pittsburg dominated decade.

In 1977, Griese revealed a secret that few outside of his family, Head Coach Don Shula, and teammates were aware of – that he was legally blind in his right eye. That revelation did little to hinder his play and he went on to win the NFL passing title.

In Griese's 14-year professional career, he threw for 25,092 yards and 192 touchdowns. He also rushed for 994 yards and seven TDs. He was named to the roster of two AFL All-Star games and six Pro Bowls. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984, Griese was also named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. Since retiring from active play, he has served as a television commentator for college football on ABC. In 2006, Griese appeared on Wheel of Fortune as a celebrity player. The Thinking Man won the game and donated all of his winnings to "Judi's House," a charity to help grieving children that was established by his youngest son, Brian, who also played quarterback in the NFL.

The Griese Card

Griese's recognized rookie card is the 1968 Topps #196. While not considered to be in the same league as the more desirable rookie cards of Staubach and Bradshaw, Griese's rookie offering is still a popular card. Along with Griese, the set includes the rookie cards of Jim Hart, Craig Morton, Floyd Little and Jim Nance. It is a set that is also rich with the heavyweights of the NFL including Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Gale Sayers, Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and many others. This 1968 Topps football card set is a two series set consisting of 219 cards. This set marked the beginning of a 21 year stretch that Topps was the only producer of football cards and it was also the debut year of the AFL. All the cards in that set are vertical except cards for the players of the previous year's Super Bowl teams. The reverse sides of these cards are also known for their rub-off cartoons. The Griese card is known to have print defects associated with it including a "snow" problem where white spots are sprinkled in the blue background.