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Lowell Cohn: Five tops among all-time favorite quarterbacks

  • New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Drew Brees is the reason for this column. I got to thinking I love Drew Brees the quarterback, love to watch him work and play.

Then I asked myself: “Who are my top-five, all-time favorite quarterbacks?” Not the best. The five I love or loved to watch more than anyone else. I'm limiting my discussion to the 1980s and after. Sorry, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw and Y.A. Tittle. Sorry, John Brodie.

It turns out my five are all pretty good. Note: I'll get back to Brees anon. (Don't know if I ever wrote the word “anon” before.) Here they are.

Joe Montana

Duh. I was lucky. I got to cover most of Montana's career — before he went to Kansas City. You might say I was blessed. So, I'm not going to dissect what Montana did, although I will say he's the best quarterback I ever had the privilege to watch.

Instead, I'll tell you a story. A Bill Walsh story. Toward the end of his life, Bill and I talked on the phone a lot. I got the feeling he was lonely, needed to talk. He would phone and we'd go on about the old times and, sometimes, the new times. This one call, I don't remember if Bill was dying or if it was before that.

There's a haze in my head.

He said he was preparing for a speech, a speech on Montana. To get ready, he watched tape of Joe. “He was beautiful, Lowell,” Bill said. “Every pass was perfect, exactly where it had to be.”

Bill was an emotional man — one of the lovely things about him. He didn't just say Joe was beautiful. He gushed it. He sighed it. He sang it. This was decades after Bill and Joe worked together, and it's like Bill had discovered Joe a second time on that film, discovered Joe's other-worldly precision and calm. And I'll tell you something else — Bill fell in love with Joe all over again. Joe was a natural at the footwork it took Steve Young years to learn. Dwight

Clark told me something amazing. Before he ran a route, Joe would say what part of Clark's body the pass would come to — which shoulder, which area of his chest.

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