5 Dan Fouts
Dan Fouts may not have gone to a Super Bowl, but his passing game ensured his rightful place among football greats. Three years running, the San Diego Charger quarterback threw more than 4,000 yards, an NFL first. He threw the most yards of any league QB in four consecutive seasons. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1982 and went to six Pro Bowls. Fouts threw 254 touchdown passes. Number 14 retired with an 80.2 percent passer rating but a mediocre 86-84 win-loss record. The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomed him as an inductee in 1993.
4 Warren Moon
Best known as a Houston Oiler, Warren Moon also played for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs in his 17 years with the NFL. He went to nine Pro Bowls and had nine passing seasons of 3,000 or more yards, four of them in the 4,000-yard range. Despite completing 58.4 percent of his passes and chalking up a career passer rating of 80.9, he never experienced a Super Bowl or even a conference championship game. Retiring ringless doesn’t tarnish Moon’s 2006 election to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
3 Jim Kelly
Another Pittsburgh native, Jim Kelly, entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002 without winning a Super Bowl. Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls — losing them all to smash the record for futility. He went to the Pro Bowl four times and, in 1990, had an NFL-leading passer rating of 101.2. During his 11 seasons wearing a Bills jersey, Kelly’s name and “no huddle offense” became synonymous. Kelly threw the ball for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns. He retired with a career passer rating of 84.4—sixth best in league history, a 60.1 percent pass completion rate and eight 3,000-yard passing seasons.
2 Fran Tarkenton
Before Dan Marino’s 1995 season, Fran Tarkenton held the NFL passing crown for completions, attempts, total yards and touchdowns. He set the pace for a record-setting career in his first professional game by throwing four touchdown passes—a feat no other rookie QB has matched. Tarkenton, a nine-time Pro Bowl player, also rushed for more than 3,600 yards and scored 32 touchdowns in the process. Although he played six seasons for the New York Giant, he began and ended his 18-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. Tarkenton and the Vikings lost Super Bowls VIII, IX and XI. His 80.4 passer rating helped land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
1 Dan Marino
By all statistics except number of Super Bowl wins, Dan Marino was a winner. He closed his 17-year career wearing number 13 for the Miami Dolphins with a 147-93 win-loss record. When he retired after the 1999 season, Marino had thrown a football the equivalent of 35 miles—61,361 yards—and set a record with 420 touchdowns. No matter how you measure his passing game, Marino had a record that put him atop the QB ladder in his era, including the first to throw more than 5,000 yards in one season. The Pittsburgh native and 2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee earned an 86.4 career passer rating, made the Pro Bowl nine times and had one unsuccessful shot at a Super Bowl ring.