AFC East: Franchise players
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
|Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images|
|Tom Brady has guided the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles.|
Readers' pick: Tom Brady, QB
With the exception of young franchises such as the Houston Texans or Baltimore Ravens, active players can be difficult to vote for as the greatest ever. Their careers are still unfolding, their legacies changeable.
Despite 48 years of players, Tom Brady's career towers over all other New England Patriots.
Part of Brady's colossal stature is that only two career Patriots -- guard John Hannah and outside linebacker Andre Tippett -- have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But even a crowded field would have trouble touching Brady.
Through their first 42 years the Patriots won zero championships. Brady has since guided them to three Super Bowl titles, claiming the game's MVP award twice. That's enough to cement his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Brady last year directed perhaps the most merciless offense in NFL history. He threw for a record 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, propelling the Patriots to an unprecedented 16-0 regular-season record and two playoff victories. His ankle injury in the Super Bowl played a role in their inability to close out their perfect campaign.
He owns the best winning percentage (.782) of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era, higher than Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr. Brady owns the second-highest playoff winning percentage (.824) behind only Starr.
Not many active players can be mentioned in the same sentence as those names.
|Tony Tomsic/Getty Images|
|Joe Namath was the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.|
Readers' pick: Joe Namath, QB
Four decades later, when you think of the New York Jets, you still think of Joe Namath.
Jets fans whose fathers weren't even born when Namath made his famous Super Bowl III guarantee know all about it. They've seen the slow-motion trot into the Orange Bowl tunnel, his finger defiantly wagging No. 1 after beating the favored Baltimore Colts.
Namath received the most votes in our poll, finishing ahead of defensive end Mark Gastineau and running back Curtis Martin, who last year had the team's MVP award named after him. Namath's favorite target, Don Maynard, was a distant fourth.
But there was little doubt Broadway Joe would be chosen the greatest Jet.
His celebrity magnetism and majestic passes drew fans to the AFL and forced the NFL to acknowledge the brazen start-up. Namath helped revolutionize the passing game. He was the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season -- in 14 games, no less.
"Some guys have had a lot of accomplishments," John Madden said while criticizing Namath's omission from the NFL's 75th anniversary team. "But with Joe, here's a guy who made a league."
Let alone a franchise.
|Paul Spinelli/Getty Images|
|Only one Hall of Fame quarterback had a better passer rating than the 84.4 Jim Kelly retired with.|
Readers' pick: Jim Kelly, QB
The other three AFC East teams offered clear-cut selections for their best franchise players: Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Joe Namath. Each garnered more votes than the other candidates combined. Marino and Brady won in landslides.
The Buffalo Bills offered the most players who warranted serious consideration, which is why Jim Kelly won with less than a third of the votes.
Kelly received the third-lowest percentage of all 32 winners in our poll. He edged all-time sacks leader Bruce Smith.
The franchise's first genuine superstar, O.J. Simpson, finished third.
Kelly and Smith were pivotal to the Bills' dominance in the early 1990s, but it could be argued Thurman Thomas was more important. The versatile Hall of Fame back inexplicably finished fifth in the voting, one spot behind linebacker Darryl Talley (certainly not a Hall of Famer).
Kelly's selection gave quarterbacks a division sweep. He played a prestige position with a linebacker's grit, winning over a blue-collar city that was desperate for a charismatic field general. Only one Hall of Fame quarterback had a better passer rating than the 84.4 Kelly retired with.
|Andy Lyons/Getty Images|
|Dan Marino was a rookie All Pro and the youngest quarterback to start a Pro Bowl.|
Readers' pick: Dan Marino, QB
There was no way possible to get this one wrong. Dan Marino is the greatest Dolphin like the Beatles are the greatest band from Liverpool.
Marino finished with the third-highest percentage of any player in our franchise polls. Only by Barry Sanders and John Elway received higher shares.
Take a look at these numbers and then try to justify voting for Bob Griese:
Marino was a first-ballot Hall of Famer who retired as the most prolific passer in NFL history. His records, many since broken by Brett Favre, included most attempts (8,358), completions (4,967), yards (61,361) and touchdowns (420).
Marino was a rookie All Pro and the youngest quarterback to start a Pro Bowl. In his second season, he threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. He had six 4,000-yard seasons. He passed for 400 or more yards 13 times and 300 or more yards 63 times, both NFL records. His 37 fourth-quarter comeback drives are second to Elway's 43.
OK, so Griese won a pair of Super Bowls and Marino didn't win any -- the only accomplishment missing from a stellar resume.
Marino never had the runners, never had a Larry Csonka or a Jim Kiick or a Mercury Morris. Year after year, he slung the Dolphins over his shoulder without a complete offense around him.
"The greatest disappointment as a team owner and a Dolphins fan," Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga said at Marino's retirement announcement in March 2003, "is that you never won a Super Bowl."
That was the only disappointment.