Some 85 years ago, the U.S. Congress appropriated money to build the sculptures at Mt. Rushmore, which has become one of the weirdest memorials in the history of memorials. For some reason, folks thought it would be cool to honor four presidents by blasting their likenesses into the side of a mountain in South Dakota. For the next few thousand years, presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt will be literally etched in stone as the official great American presidents. At least until erosion takes place.
Just to go historical for a moment, the first three belong at or near the top of any list of great presidents. Roosevelt probably belongs a bit further down the list, but he was at least a fun and larger-than-life figure -- sorta the Broadway Joe Namath of presidents.
Anyway, throughout the off-season I'll be going through the NFC East position by position to identify the division's pantheon of great players. When you're talking about great football players, the best place to start is at the game's most important position: quarterback.
The NFC East has had its share of great signal callers, and I could easily string together a list of some of the game's all-time greats. But a Rushmore list can hold four -- and only four -- names. And oh yeah, here's one of the cool things about a Rushmore list: it doesn't have to be in order. So, in no particular order, here are the four greatest quarterbacks in NFC East history:
Sammy Baugh, Washington Redskins -- I was too young to see Baugh play -- he finished up 18 years before I was born. But he belongs on nearly any list of all-time great QBs because he virtually invented the forward pass as a key offensive weapon. Baugh was a QB, but punted and played safety as well. In 1943, he led the NFL in passing, punting and interceptions. He was part of the 17-member charter class of the Hall of Fame in 1963.
Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys -- As a life-long Redskins fan, I hated Staubach. He was a terrific passer with a knack for making the clutch throw, who could also flat-out run when he needed to. And then he was so dang nice and sportsmanlike whenever he talked, you just wanted to choke him. As I've matured, I've grown to appreciate the former Naval Academy star, who served his duty in the Navy before coming to the NFL to have a Hall of Fame-worthy career. He was a 6-time Pro Bowler and MVP of the Cowboys' first Super Bowl title.
Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys -- Another guy I couldn't stand, but Aikman was one of the "Triplets" (along with Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin) who formed a dynamic and devastating offensive unit that ruled the division for nearly a decade. It's almost impossible to decipher which of the three deserves the most credit for the team's success, but Aikman's accuracy, toughness and leadership were key ingredients. With Aikman running the offense, Dallas won three Super Bowls. Aikman went to six Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
Sonny Jurgensen, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles -- One of the greatest pure passers in league history, Jurgensen was also a leader and a first-rate play-caller. In Philly, he apprenticed under the great Norm Van Brocklin; in Washington he participated in one of the great quarterback controversies -- the Sonny or Billy debate. It was a silly question that could have happened only under a defensive-minded nut like George Allen. The Skins probably would have beaten that Dolphins team that went undefeated if Allen had the sense to play Sonny. After sitting behind Van Brocklin, Sonny had an Aaron Rogers-like breakthrough season, then had an injury-plagued season that got him traded to Washington for Sam Snead. His first year in Washington, he made the Pro Bowl. At age 40, he won his third NFL passing title, even though he was splitting snaps with Kilmer.
These are the guys who were close to the pantheon, but not quite. While they don't get their likeness dynamited into the side of a cliff, they at least rate a high-quality commemorative plaque hung at a popular viewing area. The players:
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Phil Simms, New York Giants
YA Tittle, New York Giants
Joe Theismann, Washington Redskins
Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia Eagles
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
So that's it -- my NFC East QB Rushmore. Don't agree? Post your own list in the comments or tell me where I went wrong. And remember, if you want to add a guy to the list, you have to take someone off.