Being left-handed isn’t always easy. There was a time when school teachers would force children to write with their right hand because they believed using the left hand was evil. Nothing quite that dramatic exists in sports, but there are some limitations to being a southpaw. You can’t play shortstop in the major leagues. The last catcher to receive left-handed was Pittsburgh’s Dale Long, and he did so more than half a century ago. But take heart, lefties. The NFL offers no such restrictions. In fact, we can even play the position with the most glamour–quarterback.
There are a lot of reasons why there have not been a lot of lefty signal-callers. Some receivers find it harder to catch a ball thrown by a lefty because the rotation of the spiral is different. Most offensive lines and offensive schemes are designed around protecting what would be a lefties front side rather than his blind spot. Hell, maybe it’s just because they can make more money throwing a baseball. I mean I know I’d rather see Clayton Kershaw on the mound than under center. But this does not mean there have not been some very fine lefties at the helm of NFL offenses, and here’s my list of the best. Don’t worry, Tim Tebow does not appear.
The Top 5 Left Handed Quarterbacks Of All-Time
5. Michael Vick
Unfortunately, Michael Vick has become better known for his cruelty to animals and 18 months in prison than for his exceptional talent. There may never have been any quarterback, lefty or righty, who possessed the combination of blinding speed and incredibly powerful arm possessed by the first overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft.
Although he sometimes had trouble reading defenses and throwing accurately as a young player, his talent was undeniable. He took an irrelevant Atlanta Falcons team and made them a contender. In just his second season, he led the Falcons to a playoff berth and the first-ever playoff win by a road team in Green Bay. Two years later, he had the Falcons a win away from the Super Bowl before falling to Philadelphia in the NFC title game. He even led Philadelphia to the playoffs when injuries put the then backup quarterback under center after his return from incarceration. He’s thrown for 22,462 yards and 133 TDs, and most recently served as a backup for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh in 2015.
4. Mark Brunell
There is one constant in the NFL: Expansion teams stink. But Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars turned that notion on its ear in 1996. Brunell, who had spent time sitting on the bench in Green Bay before arriving via the expansion draft, had taken over for Steve Beuerlein during the Jaguars unimpressive 4-12 inaugural season. He led Jacksonville to a 9-7 mark that secured them a playoff spot. That in itself would have been impressive enough.
Brunell used his accurate arm and superb running to lead the Jags to playoff victories over two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Jim Kelly and John Elway, before succumbing to New England in the AFC title game. He would lead Jacksonville to the playoffs in 1997 and 1998, and back to the AFC title game in 2000. He would leave Jacksonville In 2005 but is still their all-time leading passer with 25,698 passing yards and did eventually get a Super Bowl ring as Drew Brees‘ backup in 2010.
Although Jim Kelly and the Bills popularized the fast-paced no-huddle offense they called the “K-Gun”, Boomer Esiason and the Cincinnati Bengals like to say they invented it. And though Buffalo may have had a more sustained run with it, this lefty quarterback had his time in the sun.
The Long Island native came to Cincy in 1984, and his strong left arm began to lead a renaissance in the Queen City. By 1988, he was not only an MVP but headed to the Super Bowl. Thanks to Joe Montana and John Taylor, he was ultimately denied a championship. But Esiason would go rack up over 37,000 passing yards and 4 Pro Bowl selections. He spent time with the Jets and Cardinals before returning to the Bengals to finish his career in 1997. One has to wonder if he still thinks about that final drive in Super Bowl XXIII.
2. Ken Stabler
There might not have ever been a quarterback who better encapsulated the team he led than Kenny “The Snake” Stabler. The Alabama-born gunslinger was the 2nd lefty to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sadly, he did not live to see his induction in 2016, but at least his deeds were finally recognized.
At a time when the Raiders were an AFC powerhouse, Stabler was a force. His numbers didn’t wow you the way Tom Brady‘s would. But he was a master of finding a way to win. Whether it was hurling a last-second miracle touchdown against the Dolphins in the 1974 “Sea of Hands” playoff game or the so-called “Holy Roller” play in which Stabler pitched the ball forward to be covered for the winning touchdown in a 1978 game in San Diego. Okay, so it may have been illegal (or at least it is now for sure), but that’s what the Raiders were all about in the 70’s.
Stabler became the first left-handed quarterback to win the Super Bowl in ’76 when he managed to finally beat the mighty Steelers and bring a championship to Oakland. He was traded to Houston in 1980 and later moved on to New Orleans for where he took his final snap in 1984. There may be no greater tribute to his ability as a winner than his 11-11 record as a starter at the helm of a consistently pathetic Saints team.
1. Steve Young
The greatest lefty quarterback ever began his career with Los Angeles of the USFL. Once the league folded, Steve Young was the property of the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If he’d stayed there, he’d have likely been forgotten as another Heisman Trophy winner who flopped in the pro ranks. But legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh saw something in Young and pushed for his acquisition in 1987. Young sat 2nd chair as Joe Montana led the Niners to consecutive championships in 1988 and ’89 but got his chance due to an injury suffered during the Niners unsuccessful attempt at a threepeat in 1990.
Leading the 49ers in Montana’s stead, Young did so well that Montana himself was traded to Kansas City to make room for the lefty QB to take the helm without competition. In his first two full seasons as a starter, Young led the team to the NFC title game. In 1995, he finally broke through and guided them to a win over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. His 6 TD passes in that 49-26 rout still stands as a record.
Young’s legs gave him a dimension that other greats of his time did not have. He could scramble out of trouble and throw on the run, or he could take off on foot. His toughness and his head-first sliding style won him the admiration of his teammates, but it would lead to the end of his career. After suffering a severe concussion early in the 1998 season, he was forced to retire at the age of 38. Despite spending a fair portion of his career as a bench player, Young’s brilliant efforts during his 7 full seasons at the helm earned him election to the Hall of Fame in 2005
No current NFL team is led by a lefty, and only one pass attempt was thrown by a left-hander in 2016. While the immediate future of the lefty quarterback seems to be in jeopardy, we always have these five men to look back on with pride. Besides, maybe Tim Tebow will make a comeback.