Best Quarterbacks in New York Giants History
Who Are the Best Giants Quarterbacks?
As a fan of the New York Giants for over four decades, I have had the opportunity to watch numerous Giants quarterbacks play. And as a student of the team's history, I have also learned about some of the Giants quarterbacks from earlier decades.
Individual Quarterback Performance Metrics
When comparing quarterbacks, certain individual performance metrics go a long way towards establishing a reasonable ranking. Numbers like passing yardage, touchdown passes, and completion percentage often form a reliable basis for comparison. The National Football League's (NFL) quarterback rating (or passer rating) has been a good statistical analysis tool since it was introduced in 1973.
But these metrics don't tell the whole story. Individual performance needs to be viewed in the context of the era in which the quarterback played. For example, in 1978, the NFL increased the number of games in the regular season from 14 to 16 (after increasing the length of the season from 12 to 14 games in 1961). Rule changes designed to open up offenses were also implemented in 1978. Going even farther back, changes in commonly used offensive formations also affected passing statistics.
Quarterback Leadership and Team Success
It goes without saying that leadership from the quarterback position is a key component for any successful football team. Some Giants quarterbacks have been talented players on an individual level and have also led the team to championships or playoff success. Other very good quarterbacks have not been as successful on the team level.
In their long history in the NFL, which dates back to 1925, the Giants have so far won four Super Bowl Championships, along with four pre-Super Bowl era NFL Championships. They have also played at least one playoff game in 25 other seasons. In every case, the entire team, along with the coaching staff, deserves credit for this success. Sometimes, for example, the defense has been dominant. In fact, that has frequently been true for the Giants.
To what extent, then, can the team's success be correlated with the quality of the quarterback? It is certainly not an exact science, but in preparing this ranking of New York Giants quarterbacks, it became clear to me that, with some exceptions, the two have gone hand in hand.
My Ranking Criteria
With these considerations in mind, I have put together this ranking of the five best quarterbacks in New York Giants history, along with several honorable mentions. These are my criteria:
- Length of Career as a Giants Quarterback: The Giants have been fortunate to have had several quarterbacks who have been with the team for a decade or more. It shouldn't be surprising that these players are among the best quarterbacks in Giants history. But others with shorter tenures have also been excellent. For this ranking, I have considered players who played with the Giants for a minimum of four seasons.
- Team Success: Because a quarterback needs a good team around him to have a successful season, it may not be entirely fair to include won-lost records, playoff appearances, or championships. But I do think that leadership is an important quality in a quarterback, so I have given considerable weight to the Giants' record in games started by each quarterback.
- Individual Performance Statistics and Achievements: I have compared the quarterbacks' statistics (primarily passing) and any records they set, including career numbers, seasonal totals, and in some cases, individual game performances.
- Recognition by the Giants, the NFL, and the Media: This criterion includes Pro Bowl recognition, individual awards, induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the New York Giants Ring of Honor, and having one's jersey number retired by the Giants.
Despite the metrics, the ranking is still subjective, and there is always room for debate.
5. Kerry Collins (1999–2003)
Kerry Michael Collins played for six teams in the NFL over his 17-season career. In five seasons with the Giants, he started 68 games at quarterback and led New York to the playoffs twice.
Collins was a consensus All-American quarterback at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). In his senior year, Penn State had an undefeated season, culminating in a Rose Bowl win. Collins won both the Maxwell Award for the top player in the country and the Davey O'Brien Award for the nation's top quarterback.
Collins was the first-ever draft pick of the expansion Carolina Panthers in the 1995 NFL Draft. In his second season, he led the Panthers to the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship game. He was voted to the 1996 Pro Bowl, his first of two.
From Backup to Starter: 1999
Collins joined the Giants in 1999 as the backup to starter Kent Graham. He got a start in Week 5, and then, with the Giants stalled at 5-5, he took over the starting role for good in Week 12. The Giants continued to struggle under Collins, posting only a 2-5-0 record in his seven starts. Collins's best game was a 41-28 win over the New York Jets on December 5, when he threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, and scored another touchdown on a one-yard rush.
2000 NFC Championship and Super Bowl XXXV
The 2000 season was a very successful one for the Giants under Collins's leadership. They won their first three games of the season, including wins on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears. They put together another four-game winning streak beginning in Week 6, including another win over the Eagles. They then closed out the regular season with five wins in a row to win the NFC Eastern Division (NFC East) with a 12-4-0 record. For the season, Collins passed for 3,610 yards with 22 touchdowns.
The Giants defeated the Eagles again to win the Divisional Round game in the playoffs. They then shut out the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 to win the NFC Championship. Collins played what was probably his best game as a Giant, setting franchise playoff records with 381 passing yards and five touchdown passes. Unfortunately, Collins was unable to follow up with a good performance in the Super Bowl. He was intercepted four times as the Giants lost 34-7 to the Baltimore Ravens.
2002 NFC Wild Card
The Giants fell to a 7-9-0 record in 2001, but they rebounded in 2002, claiming a Wild Card playoff spot with a 10-6-0 record. Collins set a Giants franchise passing record with 4,073 yards. A highlight of the season was the Giants' 44-27 win over the Colts in Indianapolis in Week 16. Collins out-dueled the Colts' Peyton Manning and set a Giants record with a 158.3 passer rating, completing 79.3% of his passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
The Giants lost their Wild Card game with the San Francisco 49ers in a heartbreaker, 39-38. Collins threw for 342 yards and four touchdown passes, but the Giants squandered a 38-14 lead. Collins got the Giants to the San Francisco 23-yard line with six seconds left on the clock, but a botched snap cost them a chance at a winning field goal and knocked them out of the playoffs.
Final Season: 2003
The Giants had a poor season in 2003, falling to fourth place in the NFC East with a 4-12-0 record. Although Collins put up fairly solid numbers, his quarterback rating fell from 85.4 in 2002 to 70.7, as he passed for about 15 fewer yards per game. In Week 15, the Giants replaced Collins as the starter with second-year backup Jesse Palmer, and they released him after the season.
Collins went on to play for eight more seasons in the NFL with three different teams. He had another Pro Bowl season with the 2008 Tennessee Titans and retired before the 2012 season.
- Passed for 16,875 yards, the fourth-highest total in Giants history, in only five seasons
- Led the Giants to the 2000 NFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXV
- Led the Giants to a 2002 Wild Card playoff berth
- Holds the Giants record for most passing yardage in a playoff game with 381 yards (against Minnesota on January 14, 2001)
- Holds the Giants record for most touchdown passes in a playoff game with five (against Minnesota on January 14, 2001)
- Holds the Giants record for best passer rating in a game with 158.3 (against Indianapolis on December 22, 2001)
4. Y.A. Tittle (1961-1964)
Yelberton Abraham “Y.A.” Tittle played for the Giants for only the last four years of his 17-year Hall of Fame pro football career, but he excelled in New York to such an extent that even with his relatively short tenure, he deserves a place on any list of the Giants’ best quarterbacks. In his first three years with the Giants, Tittle put together three of the best individual seasons of his career and led the Giants to three straight appearances in the NFL Championship game.
Tittle was a two-time All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) quarterback at Louisiana State University (LSU). Although he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1947 NFL Draft, he chose to play instead for the Baltimore Colts in the upstart All-America Football Conference (AAFC). Tittle was named the 1948 AAFC Rookie of the Year.
The Colts joined the NFL when the two leagues merged after the 1949 season, but the team folded after the 1950 season, and Tittle was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. He played for the 49ers for ten years and was their starting quarterback beginning in 1953. Tittle was selected for three Pro Bowls and named a first-team All-Pro and the UPI Player of the Year in 1957. But much to his disappointment, San Francisco never made it to the NFL Championship game during his tenure.
Consecutive Eastern Conference Championships 1961-1963
In August 1961, the 49ers traded Tittle to the Giants. Both teams considered the 34-year-old Tittle to be past his prime. Under new coach Allie Sherman, the Giants intended to have him share the quarterback duties with 40-year-old Charlie Conerly, but Tittle soon became the Giants’ primary starter.
He showed without a doubt that he was up to the difficult task of replacing the legendary Conerly. He led the Giants to three consecutive Eastern Conference Championships, as they recorded an overall 33-8-1 record from 1961 to 1963. Unfortunately for Tittle and the Giants, New York came up short in each of their three championship games, losing to the Green Bay Packers in 1961 and ’62 and the Chicago Bears in 1963.
Passing Records and Achievements
On an individual level, Tittle seemed to be rejuvenated in these late-career seasons with the Giants. The sustained excellence of his performance surpassed his earlier achievements. In 1961 he threw for 2,272 yards—his most since his rookie season with the AAFC Colts. In 1962 he had 200 completions for 3,224 yards. His 33 touchdown passes were a new NFL record. He threw seven of those passes in one game against the Washington Redskins on October 28, which tied another record.
In 1963, as he turned 37, Tittle had what was probably the best season of his career. He completed a league-leading 60.2% of his passes for 3,145 yards. His quarterback rating of 104.8 also topped the league. And Tittle broke his own record from the previous year by throwing 36 touchdown passes. This record was not broken until Dan Marino threw 48 touchdown passes in 1984, and it remains the Giants’ record even as of this writing.
Tittle’s spectacular play in his first three years as a Giant did not go unrecognized. He was named to the Pro Bowl all three years and was selected as a first-team All-Pro in 1962 and 1963. He also received Most Valuable Player awards for all three years. The Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) honored him as the NFL’s MVP in both 1961 and 1963, while United Press International (UPI) named him the MVP in 1962 and the Associated Press (AP) gave him its award for 1963.
Injury and Retirement
In the second game of the 1964 season, Tittle was hit with a blindside tackle and suffered a concussion, a cracked sternum, and rib cartilage damage. He played in every game for the rest of the season, but the injury limited his effectiveness. The Giants fell to last place, and Tittle retired after the season.
- Passed for 10,439 yards in only four years with the team
- Led the Giants to three consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 1961 through 1963
- Set NFL record with 36 touchdown passes in 1963, which lasted for more than 20 years and still stands as the Giants’ record
- Named to three Pro Bowls with the Giants
- Selected twice as a First Team All-Pro with the Giants
- Won four major MVP awards as a Giant
- No. 14 jersey retired by the Giants in 1965
- Member of the original 2010 class of Giants Ring of Honor
- Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 1971
3. Charlie Conerly (1948-1961)
Charles Albert “Charlie” Conerly Jr. was a New York Giant for his entire 14-year NFL career, from 1948 to 1961. He played in 161 games, starting as a halfback and then moving to quarterback for most of his career.
Conerly played football and baseball at the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”) but interrupted his college career to serve with the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II. The Washington Redskins drafted him in the 1945 NFL Draft, while he was still overseas, but he elected to return to Ole Miss. As a single-wing tailback, Conerly was named a consensus All-American in 1946 and 1947. After he graduated in 1948, the Redskins traded him to the Giants.
Emerging Passing Star: 1948 Rookie Year
Because of his military service, Conerly was 27 years old when he started his rookie season. He played in all 12 of the Giants’ games, usually at the left halfback position. The 1948 Giants did not have a successful year, finishing 4-8 with several blowout losses due to a porous defense. But “Chuckin’ Charlie” soon established himself as a star passer.
In the Giants’ opener, he threw only two passes, but both were for touchdowns. In Week 4 of the season, the Giants and the Chicago Cardinals set an NFL scoring record with a total of 98 points. The Cardinals won 63-35, but in a sign of things to come, Conerly accounted for all five of the Giants’ scores, with four touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown.
A highlight of the Giants’ mediocre season was their upset 49-3 win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. Conerly completed 20 of 30 pass attempts for 306 yards. He did even better two weeks later in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he set an NFL record with 36 completions for 363 yards and three touchdowns.
For the season, Conerly completed 162 passes for 2,175 yards and 22 touchdowns, finishing second in the NFL in each category. He added 160 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. United Press International (UPI) named him the NFL’s Rookie of the Year.
Pre-Championship Years: 1949-1955
After his rookie year, Conerly continued to star as one of the league’s leading passers. In 1949 the Giants continued to use Conerly primarily as a halfback. He came close to his rookie totals with 2,138 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes, including an 85-yard touchdown pass—the longest NFL pass of the year—in a 35-28 win over the Chicago Bears.
In the early 1950s, head coach Steve Owen adopted the T formation, with Conerly usually starting at quarterback. Although Conerly generally threw fewer passes than he had in his first two years, and his yardage totals went down, he still finished among the top NFL quarterbacks every year in completions, yardage, touchdown passes, and quarterback rating. He was named to the 1950 Pro Bowl, the first of two in his career.
In a game against the Los Angeles Rams on November 21, 1954, Conerly threw the 100th touchdown pass of his career, a 68-yarder to Bob Schnelker. He was only the third quarterback in NFL history to reach that milestone.
Beginning in 1955, Conerly had to share the quarterbacking duties with Don Heinrich. Despite Conerly’s success, Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell instituted a two-quarterback rotation system that more often than not had Heinrich starting and Conerly coming in mid-game. Conerly took the move in stride, and he continued to thrive as the Giants’ most potent passing threat.
1956 NFL Championship
In 1956 the Giants won their first NFL Championship since 1938. Heinrich started all 12 games in the regular season, along with the championship game against the Chicago Bears. Conerly came off the bench as usual.
Heinrich was a very good quarterback, and as the starter, he gets the “official” credit in the record books for the Giants’ 8-3-1 record and the Championship win. But more often than not, it was Conerly’s offense that led the team to victory. During the regular season, Conerly completed 90 passes in 174 attempts (51%) for 1,143 yards (more than triple Heinrich’s yardage) and 10 touchdowns.
In the NFL Championship game, Conerly came off the bench late in the first period with the Giants already in the lead. He completed seven of ten passes (70%) for 195 yards and two second-half touchdown passes to put the game out of reach and lead the Giants to a convincing 47-7 win. Conerly was named to his second Pro Bowl after the season.
Post-Championship Career: 1957-1961
The 1956 Championship marked the beginning of what can fairly be called a Giants dynasty. In the remaining five years of Conerly’s career, until his retirement after the 1961 season, the Giants finished first in the division three times but lost the Championship game each time. (The dynasty continued under Tittle for two more years after Conerly retired.)
Conerly continued to share playing time with Heinrich in 1957, ’58, and ’59, but he did start more games than in the previous two years. Heinrich left the Giants after the 1959 season, but the quarterback rotation system continued into 1960 with George Shaw replacing Heinrich.
The Giants again reached the NFL Championship game in 1958, and again Conerly did not start. The Baltimore Colts had a 14-3 lead at halftime, but Conerly engineered an exciting second-half comeback with two big scoring drives to put the Giants ahead 17-14. Unfortunately for the Giants, the defense did not hold. The Colts tied the game on a field goal with seven seconds left and won in sudden-death overtime. Many observers, including then-NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, called it “the greatest football game ever played.”
Conerly had a great season in 1959. He started nine games and won eight of them, passing for 1,706 yards with 14 touchdowns. His 102.7 quarterback rating led the league, and he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA).
Conerly had good seasons again in 1960 and ’61, but he found himself a backup quarterback in 1961 when the Giants acquired Tittle. He decided to retire after the 1961 season.
- Spent his entire career (14 seasons) as a Giant
- Passed for 19,488 yards with a career completion percentage of 50.1%
- Total of 173 touchdown passes far surpassed any other Giant when he retired and is still good for third place all-time
- Compiled a 57-31 record in games he started as a quarterback, not including his games as a halfback or games when he came off the bench in the Giants’ 1950s quarterback rotation system
- Led the Giants to the 1956 NFL Championship and appearances in three other NFL Championship games
- Two-time Pro Bowl selection
- NFL Most Valuable Player in 1959 with a league-leading quarterback rating
- No. 42 jersey retired by the Giants in 1962, the year after he retired
- Inducted into the inaugural 2010 class of the Giants Ring of Honor
2. Phil Simms (1979-1993)
Phillip Martin “Phil” Simms was a Giants quarterback for his entire 15-year NFL career. Although he suffered more than his share of injuries, Simms played in 164 regular-season games with the Giants from 1979 to 1993 and started 159 of them.
Early Career: 1979-1983
The Giants drafted Simms out of Morehead State University in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft with the seventh overall pick. He got his first taste of action in the Giants’ fifth game (and fifth loss) of the 1979 season when starter Joe Pisarcik was ineffective. Simms completed eight passes for 115 yards and one touchdown. His performance earned him his first start in the Giants’ next game. With Simms at the helm, the Giants beat the previously undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Simms had a standout performance in his next game, passing for 300 yards in a win over the 49ers. He started every game for the remainder of the season, leading the Giants to a 6-5 record in his 11 starts. He threw for 1,743 yards with 13 touchdown passes and was selected to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team.
Over the next several years, Simms’s play was inconsistent, and he suffered multiple injuries, including a late-season shoulder separation in 1981 and a preseason torn knee ligament in 1982, which sidelined him for the entire 1982 season. Backup quarterback Scott Brunner took over, and although Simms was ready to come back in 1983, new Giants head coach Bill Parcells decided to bench Simms and start Brunner instead. When Simms did get an opportunity to play in a game against the Eagles, he was injured yet again.
Playoff Seasons: 1984 and 1985
Simms became the Giants’ starter again in 1984. He responded with a solid season, completing 53.7% of his passes for 4,044 yards and 22 touchdowns and leading the Giants to the playoffs. The Giants again made the playoffs in 1985 with 10 wins, their most in over 20 years. In the Giants’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on October 13, 1985, Simms threw for 513 yards, which surpassed Tittle’s single-game Giants record from 1962 and is still the most ever by a Giants quarterback. Simms was voted to the 1986 Pro Bowl and was named the Pro Bowl MVP.
Super Bowl XXI
In the 1986 season, Simms and the Giants compiled a 14-2 record en route to the Giants’ first Super Bowl. Simms threw for 3,487 yards and 21 touchdowns in the regular season. He added another 226 yards and five touchdowns in the first two rounds of the playoffs. In Super Bowl XXI against the Denver Broncos, Simms played the finest game of his career and one of the best games in Super Bowl history. In leading the Giants to a 39-20 win, Simms completed 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. His 88% pass completion percentage and 150.9 passer rating were—and remain—Super Bowl records. Deservedly, Simms was named Super Bowl MVP.
Post-Super Bowl Career: 1987-1993
Simms played well in the strike-shortened 1987 season and again in 1988 and ’89. In 1989 he passed for 3,061 yards, leading the Giants to 11 of their 12 wins and a playoff berth.
Simms’s 1990 season was cut short when he broke his foot during the Giants’ 14th game. Simms had been having a great season. The Giants had an 11-3 record, and Simms had the league’s best quarterback rating at 92.7%. But with Simms out, veteran backup Jeff Hostetler took over and led the Giants to a win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
The 1991 and 1992 seasons were see-saw affairs for the Giants’ quarterbacks. Hostetler was named the starter at the beginning of the 1992 season, but when he broke his back in Week 13, Simms took over for the rest of the season. Simms began the 1992 season as the starter, but his season ended with a shoulder injury in Week 4.
In 1993, new head coach Dan Reeves chose Simms as the starter and released Hostetler. Simms played all 16 games, completing 61.8% of his passes for 3,038 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Giants finished with an 11-5 record and a wild-card win in the playoffs, and Simms was voted to his second Pro Bowl.
Simms had shoulder surgery after the season but was expected to be ready for the 1994 season. Much to his surprise, however, the Giants released him during the offseason, and he decided to retire.
- A New York Giant for his entire 15-year NFL career
- Led the Giants to a 95-64-0 record in the 159 games he started—a 59.7 winning percentage
- Passed for 33,462 career yards and 199 touchdowns
- Added 1,252 yards on the ground with six rushing touchdowns
- Led Giants to their first Super Bowl win in the 1986 season and was named Super Bowl MVP
- Voted to the 1979 All-Rookie team
- Named a first-team All-Pro 1986
- Selected for two Pro Bowls and named MVP for the 1986 Pro Bowl
- His No. 11 jersey was retired by the Giants in 1995
- Inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor in 2010
1. Eli Manning (2004-present)
Like Simms and Conerly, Elisha Nelson “Eli” Manning began his pro football career with the Giants. The 2019 season was his 16th year with New York, and it is highly likely that he will retire as a lifelong Giant. As of this writing, he has played quarterback for the Giants in 248 regular-season and playoff games, by far the most in Giants history.
Manning played college football at Conerly's alma mater, Ole Miss. He won numerous awards and honors for his outstanding play, including the Maxwell Award for the nation’s top player. In light of his subsequent career with the Giants, it is especially interesting that Manning was a two-time winner of the Conerly Trophy for Mississippi’s best college player.
Early Career: 2004-2006
The San Diego Chargers drafted Manning with the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. However, Manning had made it clear that he would not play for the Chargers, so the Chargers traded him to the Giants in exchange for the Giants’ first-round pick, Philip Rivers.
The Giants’ primary quarterback in 2004 was future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who was making a one-year stop with the Giants after six years with the St. Louis Rams and before five with the Arizona Cardinals. Manning started for the first time in the Giants’ tenth game of the season, on November 21, 2004, against the Atlanta Falcons. Although the Giants lost the game, Manning was impressive as he engineered two long scoring drives and threw his first touchdown. Manning started for the rest of the season, but the Giants’ record in his seven starts was only 1-6-0.
Manning started every game in the 2005 season. He passed for 3,762 yards and 24 touchdowns, leading a Giants offense that scored 422 points, their highest total in 42 years. The Giants won the NFC East with an 11-5 record but lost their Wild Card game to the Carolina Panthers. In 2006, Manning and the Giants made the playoffs as a Wild Card but lost the Wild Card game to the Philadelphia Eagles.
2007 Season: Super Bowl XLII Champion
The Giants won another Wild Card spot in 2007 with a second-place 10-6 finish in the NFC East. This time they won the first three rounds of the playoffs to advance to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the AFC champion New England Patriots were unbeaten in the regular season and came into the Super Bowl as heavy favorites.
But Manning and the Giants emerged with a truly stunning 17-14 win. After three quarters, the Patriots led 7-3. Early in the fourth quarter, Manning put the Giants up 10-7 with a touchdown pass to David Tyree. But the Patriots came back to take a 14-10 lead with only 2:45 to go.
With the Giants needing a touchdown, Manning came through with an 83-yard touchdown drive. It culminated with a pass to Plaxico Burress for the score with 39 seconds left. But the most memorable play of the drive, and one of the most remarkable plays in Super Bowl history, was Tyree’s “helmet catch” with just under a minute left in the game. On third down, with Manning under pressure, he threw a 32-yard pass over the middle that Tyree caught against his helmet.
The Giants had their third Super Bowl victory, and Manning was named Super Bowl MVP.
Between the Super Bowls: 2008-2010
In 2008, the Giants won the NFC East with a 12-4-0 record, but they lost to the Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. They missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. Manning completed over 60% of his passes each year, for a total of more than 11,000 yards. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2008.
2011 Season: Super Bowl XLVI Champion
Manning had one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2011, throwing for 4,933 yards—his highest total ever—and 29 touchdowns. He set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
After winning the NFC East title with a 9-7-0 record, the Giants won the NFC Championship and again faced the favored Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The Giants led 9-0 after the first quarter on a safety and a Manning touchdown pass, but the Patriots came back to take the lead. With the Giants down 17-15 with 3:46 remaining in the game, Manning engineered an 88-yard touchdown drive for the win. Manning was awarded the Super Bowl MVP trophy for the second time. He was also voted to the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Career Since the Super Bowls: 2012 to the Present
Manning was named to the Pro Bowl again in 2012, but the Giants were unable to sustain the momentum of their 2011 Super Bowl Championship year. After missing the playoffs for the next four years, they earned a Wild Card bid in 2016 but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. They fell to last-place finishes in the 2017 and 2018 seasons and a third-place finish in 2019.
Manning continued to put up big numbers, including four more seasons with over 4,000 passing yards. In 2015, he recorded career highs with 387 completions, 618 attempts, 35 touchdown passes, and a 93.6 passer rating. His 35 touchdown passes were the second-most in Giants history after Tittle’s 36 in 1963. He was twice named NFL Offensive Player of the Week, and he was named to his fourth Pro Bowl.
After starting every game for the Giants since his debut as a starter on November 21, 2004, head coach Ben McAdoo benched Manning for the Giants’ 12th game of the 2017 season in favor of backup Geno Smith. The benching ended Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive regular-season starts for the Giants. At the time it was the second-longest regular-season streak of consecutive quarterback starts in NFL history.
After starting the Giants’ first two games in 2019, Manning was replaced as the Game 3 starter by first-round draft choice Daniel Jones. Manning started two more games late in the season when Jones was injured, but Jones returned as the starter when he recovered. Whether or not Manning comes back in 2020, he has already cemented his legacy as the Giants’ greatest quarterback.
- Has spent his entire NFL with the Giants (16 years to date)
- Passed for 57,023 yards and 366 touchdowns (through 2019)
- Started as the Giants’ quarterback in 210 consecutive regular-season games and 12 playoff games
- Selected for four Pro Bowls
- Won four NFC Offensive Player of the Week awards and one NFC Offensive Player of the Month award
- Led the Giants to the playoffs in six seasons
- Won two Super Bowl Championships: Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI
- Earned two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Awards
- Co-winner of the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2016
I'll be the first to acknowledge that my ranking of the top five quarterbacks in Giants history omits at least a few other excellent quarterbacks.
Several great quarterbacks did their best work with other NFL teams. Some did great work with the Giants but only played for a couple of years.
Some had roles that were maybe more limited than their talent deserved, sharing the job with another more prominent quarterback or being used primarily in a backup role. Some just played before the modern era, so that it is virtually impossible to compare them to their successors in later years.
With that being said, here are a few excellent Giants quarterbacks that did not quite make my top five list but are certainly deserving of an honorable mention.
Ed Danowski (1934–1939, 1941)
Edward Frank "Ed" Danowski played for the Giants for his entire seven-year career. He played in 71 games and started 40 as a quarterback or tailback. Although the NFL did not keep win-loss records for starting quarterbacks during that era, Danowski's leadership can be gauged by the Giants' overall record of 53-23-5 during his career with the team. They had only one season with a losing record and reached the championship game five times, winning twice.
Danowski quarterbacked the Giants as they won their second and third NFL Championships in 1934 and 1938. In the 1934 title game against the Chicago Bears, he engineered a 27-point Giants' comeback in the fourth quarter to give the Giants a 30-13 win. One touchdown came on a 28-yard Danowski pass, and he scored another on a nine-yard run. In the 1938 championship game, Danowski threw touchdown passes of 21 and 23 yards to lead the Giants to victory over the Green Bay Packers 23-17.
Danowski was named a first-team All-Pro in 1935 when he led the league in pass completions, attempts, passing yards, and touchdowns. In 1938, he was selected as a first-team All-Pro for the second time and was also named to the Pro Bowl, as he led the league in completions, completion percentage, and passer rating.
For his career, Danowski passed for 3,817 yards in the regular season, at a time when the offense utilized frequent laterals along with forward passes. He threw 37 touchdown passes. In addition to his passing, he ran for 1,173 yards and scored 4 touchdowns on the ground.
Don Heinrich (1954–1959)
Donald Alan “Don” Heinrich played in 43 games with the Giants over six seasons in the 1950s. For most of his Giants career, he shared playing time with Charlie Conerly in head coach Jim Lee Howell’s quarterback rotation system. More often than not, Heinrich was the starter and Conerly would come off the bench mid-game.
Although Heinrich could not compete with Conerly’s elite passing numbers, he was a big factor in the Giants’ success under Howell, including their 1956 NFL Championship season. He started all 12 of the Giants’ games during that season, throwing for 369 yards and five touchdowns and helping to lead the Giants to an 8-3-1 record.
Heinrich passed for a total of 1,760 yards and 13 touchdowns in his Giants career. The team had a 20-10-2 record in the games that he started. In his six seasons, the Giants put together a cumulative record of 47-23-2 with three first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference, including the NFL Championship year—one of the best stretches in their history.
Fran Tarkenton (1967-1971)
Francis Asbury “Fran” Tarkenton played with the Giants for five seasons between two longer stints with the Minnesota Vikings totaling 13 seasons, from 1961 to 1966 and then again from 1972 to 1978.
In his 69 starts for the Giants, Tarkenton threw for 13,905 yards, with 103 touchdowns. His yardage total is fifth all-time in Giants history, and his touchdown pass total is fourth-best. Tarkenton also added yardage on the ground, rushing for 1,126 yards, second only to Simms among Giants quarterbacks, and scoring 10 touchdowns on the ground to tie with Conerly.
These are very good numbers, of course, but in my opinion, Tarkenton does not quite break through into the top five ranking of Giants quarterbacks. Although he did make the Pro Bowl in four of his five Giants seasons, Tarkenton had his most successful seasons with the Vikings rather than with the Giants.
Tarkenton’s first season with the Giants, 1967, was probably his best in New York. He had his highest yardage and touchdown pass totals, with 3,088 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in his next three seasons as well. But during his five seasons with the Giants, New York had only one winning season and never made the playoffs.
By contrast, during his second tour with Minnesota after he left the Giants, Tarkenton led the Vikings to the playoffs five times, including three Super Bowl appearances. He was selected for three more Pro Bowls, and in 1975 he won multiple MVP and Player of the Year awards and was named a first-team All-Pro.
Tarkenton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the class of 1986, and of course, his years with the Giants played a part in his election to the Hall. But if not for his multiple playoff appearances and awards with the Vikings, his career would look quite different.
Jeff Hostetler (1984-1992)
William Jeffrey "Jeff" Hostetler played in 91 games with the Giants over seven seasons. In his first five seasons, he saw limited playing time as the third-string quarterback behind Simms and Jeff Rutledge and a holder for the kickers. He got one start in 1988 and another in 1989 and led the Giants to wins in both games.
Hostetler’s breakout opportunity came in Week 15 of the 1990 season when Simms broke his foot and was out for the rest of the season. Hostetler started the remaining two games of the Giants’ 13-3 season. Under Hostetler, the Giants won both games as well as their first two playoff games, setting up a Super Bowl XXV matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills were heavily favored, but Hostetler led the Giants to their second Super Bowl Championship, completing 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown. The memorable game went down to the wire, but the Bills missed a last-second field goal to give the Giants a 20-19 win.
Hostetler began the 1991 season as the starter but gave way to Simms after an injury. In 1992, Hostetler again replaced Simms when Simms went down.
In his seven years with the Giants, Hostetler threw for 4,409 yards and 20 touchdowns, compiling a 16-9-0 record in his 25 starts. His biggest accomplishment as a Giant, no doubt, was leading them to five straight wins to become the Super Bowl XXV Champions.
Final Thoughts on the Ranking
Like any ranking, this one is open to debate. I expect that many Giants fans will disagree with who is included and who is not, or with the order in which they are ranked.
Feel free to disagree, especially if I've omitted one of your favorites. Football is a game of records and statistics, but it's also a game of opinions and passions. That's what makes it so much fun!
Did You Know?
- During a 1947 SEC game between LSU and Ole Miss, Tittle (who played defense as well as offense) intercepted a pass by Conerly.
- Tittle was the first professional football player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, appearing on its 15th issue dated November 22, 1954. While with the Giants, he appeared on the cover of the November 20, 1961, issue and also on the cover of SI's football preview on September 7, 1964. Tittle appeared on his fourth cover in 1965 after his retirement.
- Tittle is credited with coining the term "alley-oop" to describe a high pass play with a leaping catch. He came up with the term after devising the play with receiver R.C. Owens in 1957. The nickname was also sometimes applied to Owens himself.
- Impressed with Conerly's rugged, masculine good looks, cigarette maker Philip Morris chose him as the first "Marlboro Man" in their Marlboro cigarette print ads.
- Simms was the first player to respond with the iconic phrase "I'm going to Disney World!" when asked "What are you going to do next?" in a Disney promotion after winning the Super Bowl.
- Manning and his brother Peyton Manning are the only two brothers to play quarterback in the Super Bowl and the only two to win the Super Bowl MVP award. Peyton won the award with the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
- Manning's streak of 210 consecutive starts at quarterback was two games longer than Peyton's streak of 208 starts with the Colts.
- Speaking of Peyton Manning, Collins was the quarterback who broke Peyton's consecutive-start streak, when he started for the Colts in Week 1 of the 2011 season.
Manning and 2019 draft pick Jones played for the same college coach, David Cutcliffe—Manning at Old Miss and Jones at Duke.
Giants Starting Quarterbacks by Season
Hinkey Haines / Bruce Caldwell
Benny Friedman / Hap Moran / Red Smith
Hap Moran / Jack McBride
Ed Danowski / Tony Sarausky
Tuffy Leemans / Emery Nix
Charlie Conerly / Paul Governali
Charlie Conerly (8) / Travis Tidwell (3)
Charlie Conerly (11) / Travis Tidwell (1)
Charlie Conerly (11) / Tom Landry (1)
Charlie Conerly (11) / Arnie Galiffa (1)
Charlie Conerly (10) / Bob Clatterbuck (2)
Don Heinrich (8) / Charlie Conerly (4)
Don Heinrich (12)
Charlie Conerly (8) / Don Heinrich (4)
Charlie Conerly (6) / Don Heinrich (6)
Charlie Conerly (9) / Don Heinrich (2) / George Shaw (1)
Charlie Conerly (7) / George Shaw (5)
Y.A. Tittle (10) / Charlie Conerly (4)
Y.A. Tittle (14)
Y.A. Tittle (13) / Ralph Guglielmi (1)
Y.A. Tittle (11) / Gary Wood (3)
Earl Morrall (14)
Earl Morrall (7) / Gary Wood (6) / Tom Kennedy (1)
Fran Tarkenton (14 each season)
Fran Tarkenton (13) / Randy Johnson (1)
Norm Snead (13) / Randy Johnson (1)
Norm Snead (7) / Randy Johnson (7)
Craig Morton (7) / Norm Snead (4) / Jim Del Gaizo (3)
Craig Morton (14)
Craig Morton (12) / Norm Snead (2)
Joe Pisarcik (11) / Jerry Golsteyn (3)
Joe Pisarcik (12) / Jerry Golsteyn (2) / Randy Dean (2)
Phil Simms (11) / Joe Pisarcik (4) / Randy Dean (1)
Phil Simms (13) / Scott Brunner (3)
Phil Simms (10) / Scott Brunner (6)
Scott Brunner (9)
Scott Brunner (12) / Jeff Rutledge (4)
Phil Simms (16 each season)
Phil Simms (9) / Jeff Rutledge (4) / Mike Busch (1) / Jim Crocicchia (1)
Phil Simms (15 each season) / Jeff Hostetler (1 each season)
Phil Simms (14) / Jeff Hostetler (2)
Jeff Hostetler (12) / Phil Simms (4)
Jeff Hostetler (9) / Phil Simms (4) / Kent Graham (3)
Phil Simms (16)
Dave Brown (15) / Kent Graham (1)
Dave Brown (16 each season)
Danny Kanell (10) / Dave Brown (6)
Danny Kanell (10) / Kent Graham (6)
Kent Graham (9) / Kerry Collins (7)
Kerry Collins (16 each season)
Kerry Collins (13) / Jesse Palmer (3)
Kurt Warner (9) / Eli Manning (7)
Eli Manning (16 each season)
Eli Manning (15) / Geno Smith (1)
Eli Manning (16)
Eli Manning (4) / Daniel Jones (12)