Even in this age of sports medicine, all of us know that athletes slow down in their early 30s. An average quarterback can look great on a great team; and a great quarterback can look at best average on a bad team. That explains why some quarterbacks had their best years past their prime.
Prior to the 1968 season, the Baltimore Colts obtained Earl Morrall from the New York Giants. Their main man, the legendary John Unitas, had tendonitis. It rhymes. Morrall was never more than a spot starter and backup in his previous 11 years with four teams-San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and as stated New York. Earl Morrall in 1968, age 34, was the Player of the Year and the NFL’s Leading Passer. Baltimore went 13-1 during the season; defeated Minnesota 21 to 9 in the Conference Playoff; doused Cleveland 34 to 0 in the NFL Championship Game; and lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets 16 to 7.
For years later just before 1972, the Dolphins picked Morrall up from the Colts. Bob Greise was injured. Morrall at 38 had another fine season as Miami went undefeated. Griese returned for the postseason. The Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins 14 to 7 in the Super Bowl.
Also in 1972, Norm Snead, now with the Giants, was NFL’s leading passer, age 34, in his 12th pro season. The Giants at 8-6, were only one game above .500. Craig Morton’s best was in 1977, age 34, 12th season, as the Denver Broncos went to the Super Bowl. Three years ago, I thought Brett Favre was washed up. He had a fantastic season in 2007 with Green Bay and likewise now in 08 with the New York Jets.
Where did this trend begin?-Again in New York. Charlie Connerly had his best seasons in the 1956-60 timeframe. The New York Giants won three Conference Championships and one title. Connerly aged from 35 to 40. After 1960 , the Giants acquired Y. A. Tittle from the San Francisco 49ers. Tittle was 34 in 1960 and on the bench virtually all season. In 1961, Y.A. Tittle eased passed Connerly as the number one quarterback. His record setting and best years were 1962 and 1963. The Giants in 61-63 went to three consecutive NFL Championships but lost each time. Tittle played in 1964 and was very bad as the Giants’ dynasty ended in last place at 2-10-2. Y. A. regretted not retiring after 1963.