The 1960’s was a pivotal decade for the National Football League (NFL) and the sport of American football. The early part of the decade highlighted the introduction of a rival league, the American Football League (AFL). Eventually, the two leagues merged in 1966. Furthermore, the 1960’s produced the commencement of the Super Bowl era, as the NFL’s Green Bay Packers faced the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Throughout the 1960’s, players became household names, especially the quarterbacks. Below are the top NFL (also considering AFL) quarterbacks of the 1960’s.
Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts
Unitas, also known as “Johnny U” and “the Golden Arm” was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Louisville in the 1955 NFL draft. Unitas never took a snap for the Steelers, as they failed to recognize his talent. He joined the Baltimore Colts in 1956 and the rest is history. Throughout the 1960’s, no other quarterback displayed the prowess under center as skillfully as Unitas. He won the MVP award in 1964 and 1967, finishing his career with four total. He threw more than 20 touchdown passes in six seasons, and threw for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons. Unitas did not win a Super Bowl in the 1960’s. It was not until 1970 when he earned his Super Bowl ring, despite being leaving the game prematurely due to an injury. He appeared in the 1968 Super Bowl against the New York Jets, and led them to their only score of the game, but he did not start due to an injury sustained in the preseason.
Over the course of the 1960’s, he threw for 26,548 yards, 182 touchdown passes, and only 165 interceptions.
Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers
Long before there was Brett Favre dazzling the cheeseheads in the “Frozen Tundra” of Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers had Bart Starr leading them the championships. Starr was a 17th round NFL draft pick in 1956 out of Alabama. It was not until his fourth in the NFL when he became the fixed starter for the Packers. He led the Packers to five NFL championships in the 1960’s, including the first two Super Bowl titles. Some detractors will claim that Starr did produce the fancy numbers that compared to Johnny Unitas, as he never threw more than 16 touchdown passes in a singles season, nor did he throw for more than 2,500 yards. They will also claim that Starr played on what was the dominant team in that era. However, it would be difficult to find any football team with the ability to win five championships without a great quarterback. He retired following the 1971 season.
Throughout the decade, Star threw for 20,771 yards, 125 touchdown passes, and only 90 interceptions.
Len Dawson, Kansas City Chiefs (Dallas Texans in 1962)
Like Unitas, Dawson was drafted by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a first round draft pick in the 1957 NFL draft. Dawson’s tenure in the pre-merger NFL was short-lived following unsuccessful stints with the Steelers and Cleveland Browns. He joined the AFL’s Dallas Texans in 1962, and immediately made an impact, as he claimed the MVP award and led them to the AFL championship. When the franchise moved to Kansas City, he led the Chiefs to two more AFL titles, and two Super Bowl appearances. Dawson and the Chiefs lost to the Packers in Super Bowl I, but they claimed Super Bowl IV with a win over the Minnesota Vikings.
In the 1960’s, Dawson threw for 19,007 yards, 183 touchdown passes, and 120 interceptions.
Honorable mentions include Sonny Jurgensen (Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins; Joe Namath (New York Jets); George Blanda (Houston Oilers); Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants)