I was glad Ken Stabler finally got in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, unfortunately a few months after his death, but it was long overdue. Granted, his great period of play was pretty short — only about five or six years — but he was one of the great and most iconic quarterbacks of the 1970s, a Super Bowl champion and MVP.
This column was originally going to be about Stabler and another player who has been ignored by the Hall of Fame committee. I’m glad Stabler got in (as well as Eddie DeBartolo, who was one of the great owners in the history of the NFL), but I wish the NFL would correct another great oversight, a real injustice in my view. When I was a kid, one of the great quarterbacks in the NFL was a guy named John Brodie.
I’m amazed at how many people don’t realize Brodie isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s in a bunch of Hall of Fames — the NCAA Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame (which is based in the Bay Area), but not the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It makes no sense to me. He’s part of a great legacy of 49er quarterbacks from Frankie Albert to Y.A. Tittle to Brodie to Montana to Young. (Frankie Albert is another great quarterback passed over by the Hall of Fame, though his career was really short due to World War II, only about seven years.). In fact, this article says the 49ers have the fourth-best quarterbacking legacy in the NFL, and the story doesn’t even mention Frankie Albert or another very good quarterback, Jeff Garcia.
All I can think of is Brodie has simply been forgotten about. I see Brodie as the Gil Hodges of the NFL. A really great player who has been largely overlooked, at least outside the Bay Area, where he’s literally a legend. The 49ers retired his number decades ago, though Trent Dilfer wore his number for a while with the 49ers to help lobby for getting Brodie into the Hall of Fame.). He was nominated by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce for the Hall of Fame in July of last year, but I was really disappointed that yet again, the Hall overlooked him.
Here’s some things about Brodie I bet a lot of people don’t realize. When John Brodie retired in 1973, he was:
* Third all-time in passing yardage in the history of the NFL with 31,548 yards. Only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton were ahead of him. That’s it, just Unitas and Tarkenton. Think about that!
* Fourth all-time in the NFL in passing touchdowns with 214. Only Unitas, Tarkenton and Sonny Jurgensen were ahead of him.
* Seventh all-time in wins as a starting quarterback with 74.
These rankings don’t include Len Dawson, Tittle or John Hadl because Hadl and Dawson racked up most of their stats in the AFL and Tittle played a couple of years in the All-American Football Conference. These are strictly NFL numbers, but still — third all-time in yards and fourth in TD passes? (Even including these guys who played in other leagues, Brodie still ends up fifth all-time in yards and seventh all-time in touchdowns at the time of his retirement.)
In addition, he:
* Won the NFL MVP in 1970 and was a first-team All Pro (he made two Pro Bowls total). In 1970, he was simply the best quarterback in football, hands down.
* Led the league in touchdown passes twice, led the league in passing yardage three times, led the league in completions three times, led the league in completion percentage twice, led the league in passer rating once and led the league in yards per attempt once.
His career passer rating wasn’t spectacular at 72.3, but for his time, that was pretty good — it’s higher than Hall of Famers Bobby Layne, Joe Namath, Bob Waterfield, George Blanda and Terry Bradshaw. Y.A. Tittle was 74.3. Stabler 75.3. Even Unitas, considered the best quarterback of that era, was 78.2. Not that much higher.
The only real knock on Brodie is he didn’t win any championships. He didn’t play on bad teams for most of his 49ers’ career, but he played on mediocre teams, and back then, it was extremely hard to make the playoffs, so he only started five postseason games in his career. Brodie played from 1957 to 1973 and only two NFL teams made the postseason until 1967, then after that only four out of 16 teams made the postseason. Teams commonly went 10-4 and missed the postseason back in those days. Guess what? Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen never started a playoff game in his entire career.
So, in my opinion, you can’t beat him up for playing on mediocre teams in the 1960s. The 49ers were usually one of the top offensive teams in the NFL during his era (they led the NFL in scoring twice during Brodie’s tenure, were fourth two other times and sixth two other times), but they also usually had poor defenses. I checked and virtually every year in the 1960s, the 49ers were always 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, etc. in scoring defense. Here’s just some of the scores those teams lost by — 20-61, 28-34, 41-42, 31-39, 34-35, 28-31, 21-33, 30-41, 24-45, 38-43, 20-30 (and a 30-30 tie) — and man that was in the 1960s … in the NFL, not AFL. They just had no defence for years. Their defence was never in the upper half of the NFL for about eight straight years. Still, without much help on the other side of the ball, Brodie managed to go a respectable 74-77-8 for his career. It’s not like he was Norm Snead filling a roster spot on a bad team year in and year out. Those 49er teams in the ’60s could light it up. They just couldn’t stop anyone.
He finally got to play with a decent defense in the early 1970s, winning three straight division titles from 1970-72. He won two postseason games and played in two NFC Championship games, losing twice to Dallas in 1970 and 1971. Then, he lost a legendary heartbreaker to Dallas again in the divisional playoffs 30-28 in 1972 when the 49ers had a 28-13 lead in the fourth quarter (I think this is one of the first NFL games I remember watching). That Cowboys team went to two Super Bowls and won one of them, so they were a serious powerhouse. Brodie and the 49ers simply couldn’t get past them. They likely would have won a Super Bowl or two if they could’ve. And I wouldn’t even be writing this post because Brodie would be in the Hall.
I think the most amazing thing about Brodie is he threw for 31,500 yards in an era in which teams hardly threw the ball, especially in the NFL, because the rules at the time didn’t allow for today’s wide-open passing games. This was also an era of 12- (until 1960) and 14-game seasons. So, to get to 30,000 yards in that grind-it-out period of running offences is really impressive (By comparison, Bart Starr threw for 24,700 yards and he started 156 games.).
On top of everything else, though it really shouldn’t matter for the Hall of Fame … it’s just interesting … he also turned into a champion golfer on the PGA Seniors Tour. He actually beat Chi Chi Rodriguez in a playoff once to win a PGA Seniors Tournament event, and had 12 top 10 finishes on the tour.
So, here’s one of the strangest things I don’t get about why Brodie’s been ignored for the Hall of Fame. I check the numbers and you know whose stats are really similar to Brodie’s? Sonny Jurgensen. Jurgensen played on mostly mediocre teams during the same era for Washington. His won-loss record as a starter was 69-73-7. And as I mentioned earlier, not a single playoff start. He did get to play on some good playoff Washington teams in the ’70s, but as a backup to Billy Kilmer. Jurgensen ended up only throwing for 700 more career yards than Brodie. He did throw a few more touchdowns — 255 vs. 214 — but Jurgensen also never won an MVP. So some of their numbers are virtually the same. In fact, Tarkenton, Brodie and Jurgensen really were the three dominant quarterbacks in the NFL from 1965-1970 (Unitas faded quite a bit after 1967).
Yet, Jurgensen was elected in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. What gives? Again, I scratch my head.
Bob Griese, whose career overlapped with Brodie’s by a few years, ended up with 25,092 passing yards and 192 touchdown passes and not once passed for as much as 2,500 yards in a season. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. I guess because he did a really good job of handing the ball off to Larry Csonka in a couple of Super Bowls. A high profile helps apparently. You’ll never convince me Griese was a better quarterback than Brodie.
John is getting pretty old. He’s 80 years old and had a major stroke in 2000. I sure hope the Hall doesn’t make the same mistake they made with Kenny Stabler, of waiting until after a guy passes away to put him in the Hall of Fame.