No average Joe

Leading his club to 31 fourth-quarter comebacks while compiling the NFL's second-highest career...

Leading his club to 31 fourth-quarter comebacks while compiling the NFL's second-highest career passer rating, Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl, winning MVP three times. (File Photo)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

Who's the greatest of all time? That question is the basis of many heated sports debates -- in pubs, on sports radio call-in shows, even in locker-rooms. All this week, Sun columnist Eric Francis talks to athletes, refs, analysts and other assorted experts to gauge who are the greatest players in five sports: Golf, baseball, soccer, football and hockey. Francis might even throw in his two cents worth, too. We also want your opinions all this week -- log onto www.calgarysun.com to have your say.

Nobody in the history of football was as graceful under fire as Joe Cool.

Not Joe Namath. Not Joe Greene.

Joe Montana.

Leading a San Francisco 49ers franchise out of the ashes to win four Super Bowls in his 15 years, the eight-time Pro Bowler combined a solid arm and capable running abilities with a lightning-quick mind that forever allowed him to turn trouble into triumph.

Leading his club to 31 fourth-quarter comebacks while compiling the NFL's second-highest career passer rating, Montana never lost a Super Bowl, winning MVP three times. There's no one you'd rather have on your side in the big game than the NFL's greatest pressure pivot.

Dave Dickenson disagrees vehemently, pointing out Montana had Jerry Rice and plenty of other talents he could rely on. He figures the same goes for Terry Bradshaw who was also surrounded by endless talent during his four Bowl wins.

"They were clutch but I'd put John Elway ahead of them because you can't name another Hall of Famer who played with him -- he just made everyone around him better," said the B.C. Lions quarterback. "I'd put Barry Sanders on top of my list -- he made plays no one else could make and he never played with a good quarterback to help him out."

Much the same thing could be said about Walter Payton, who tops the list of the NFL's all-time scoring leader, Gary Anderson.

"The thing that stands out in my mind was playing in the 1983 Pro Bowl when nobody could tackle Walter Payton," said the Canmore resident who kicked in the NFL for 24 years. "He was a notch above everybody else and that's saying something with that much talent on the field."

Payton also had a work ethic that made him popular with fans and players during a 13-year career in Chicago that saw the man miss just one game.

"To me, longevity and consistency are big and that's what Sweetness was all about," said Flames assistant coach Rich Preston, whose father was GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1958 to 1978. "His training regimen was unparalleled. The legs on him -- holy. It showed up in games."

With eight rushing titles in nine years, Jim Brown was considered by many to be the game's purest runner ever -- earning him The Sporting News' nod ahead of Rice as the greatest NFLer. With eight rushing titles and one championship ring in nine years, the Cleveland back changed the belief the offence had to revolve around the quarterback.

"You can be the greatest at something but if you're a (jerk), do you still get the title?" asks NHL all-time penalty-minute leader Tiger Williams, well aware Brown was -- and is -- a bitter man.

"You still have to live your life after you're done playing. I've met Bradshaw and he's a decent fellow who also won four Super Bowls. He gets my vote."

Stamps GM Jim Barker was the only one to salute the CFL's greatest player, Doug Flutie, as football's No.1.

"For a guy who is 5-ft. 9-in. and was still playing at age 40 tells you about his greatness," said Barker.

"Everybody is looking for reasons to get rid of a guy like that ... He's the first guy I think of when I hear the word greatness."


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