#19 - Bob Griese
Bob Griese was handed success on a silver platter in a way. He was given the luxury of playing with two great running backs, a great defense that consistently was near the top of the NFL in basically all defensive stats, and was given a truly legendary Head Coach in Don Shula. In many ways people will discredit his career for those reasons. And it is an easy argument to make. Don't we often do the same with so many other QBs? Try to say it was all their teammates, all the luxuries that they were given? Well, there is two reasons why despite being handled success, Griese deserves to be a Top-20 QB of all time. First, back in the 70s, loaded teams and franchises were all around; teams that ran the ball, played defense, and both suppressed the stats of their great QBs, and also stole a lot of their credit. And second, Griese was still the key piece of the success of the Miami Dolphins.
When you put the 1970s glasses on and take another look at the career stat-line of Bob Griese, you see a player who was consistently throughout his entire career 20%-30% above average. Let's remember that unlike in baseball, where players are routinely 80%-90% above average (OPS+ or ERA+ in the 180's or so), that doesn't happen in football. QBs are more bunched together - and Griese stat-line and years above the 120 Passer Rating+ (same methodology), puts him in elite company. Bob Griese, when you remember he played in the NFLs version of deadball, was statistically a great QB.
Don Shula had a connection with Bob Griese that was more understated than his relationship with his other two all-time great QBs (again, two men who are further up the list). Shula called him the 'thinking man's QB', a player who was 'ahead of the rest of his peers.' Griese was not playing the mad bomb style of so many of his contemporaries, and that suppressed his stats more so than even. Bob Griese was not just a great QB, he was the best 'game manager' of all time in the best sense of the word.
For the decade of the 70s, the same decade that spawned the legacies of so many legends (including four different contemporaries to come), Griese ranked #3 in completion percentage (58.4%), #3 in y/a (7.5), #2 in passer rating (82.5). All the player ahead of him on those lists are still to come. He was, at worst, the 3rd best QB of the 70s statistically, and this was a decade of Staubach, Bradshaw, Stabler and the last vestiges of Tarkenton and Roman Gabriel. This was a bountiful era of QBs playing for dominant teams that all had good running games and receivers and defenses, and Griese separated himself from that list.
Griese is also famous for what he wasn't. He didn't throw deep as regularly as some of his contemporaries (Bradshaw, especially). He didn't have notable playoff moments like some of those other guys. There were no miracles worked, like Staubach's Hail Mary, or Stabler's Sea of Hands, or Bradshaw's Immaculate Reception. In fact, Griese's playoff career is littered with performances that accentuated the other parts of the team. In Super Bowl VIII, the year after the undefeated season, Griese was 6-7 for 73 yards, and the Dolphins ran it 53 times and won 24-7. The year before he was 8-11 for 88 yards in a 14-7 win. However, there were a few gems, like his game in Kansas City in 1971.
I don't like mentioning the undefeated season primarily because Griese wasn't the starting QB for most of the year - Earl Morrall was. But is that really a knock against him? Griese played 6 games and won all of them, then started the playoffs and won all of those. It was not a great year for Griese, but the year after he started 13 games, went 12-1, with a 84.3 rating (again, great for 1973), and the Dolphins won another Super Bowl. Bob Griese was handed the keys to a Ferrarri, but drove it around twists and turns and continued to steer it at top speed.
Many QBs could have succeeded with a defense and running game that Bob was given - few would have succeeded to the historic levels that Griese did. We look back and try to take away from what Griese did. He had a great running game. He played for Shula. He had a top defense. All true, but all true of so many others. What Bob Griese did really was replay Tom Brady's 2001-2006 portion of his career, but do it when no one else was ale to see the value in doing that, in riding the coattails of greatness but raising it just one step further than most could.