Every superhero has his sidekick - every Batman needs a Robin. In fact, there are very few athletes in sports who have attained championships on their own. Even the greatest sports heroes of all time with their gaudy numbers, like Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain or John Elway were unable to win the big one until they had a talented number two man, or a go-to guy. Quarterbacks have often had the coveted positon – they get the acclaim as fans fawn over them. They get the highest salaries – until Randy Moss came along. They are the faces of franchises and their team’s hopes of success hang on their throwing arm. However, history shows us that most hall of fame quarterbacks also had a hall of fame caliber wide receiver to throw the ball to. The two need each other to succeed. They feed off each other, and they count on each other in the clutch. In the game of football there are no lone-rangers, no one man can do it all, but he must rely on those around him.
There are different factors that could be taken into account on such a subject as this: will it be measured in touchdowns, yards, victories, or championships? Should it be a measurement of stats over an entire career or just a few prime years? The NFL that we have today sees very few men stay with one organization for an entire career, making it necessary to also take into account what certain quarterback/wide receiver duos have done over certain, smaller time-periods. There were so many to choose from, and inevitably some had to be left out. Not everyone will agree with the author’s choices, but nonetheless here it is: the top 20 quarterback/wide receiver duos in NFL history.
21 Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss – 2000-2004
These two men spent four years together in Minnesota. Randy Moss was full of highlights for Sportscenter. What these two men accomplished in just a few years is nothing short of astounding. The two of them connected for a total of 376 completions, amassing 5,648 yards, and scoring an unbelievable 49 touchdowns. Culpepper's career dwindled after their separation and Moss didn't regain his form until landing in New England with Tom Brady throwing him the ball.
20 Joe Montana to Dwight Clark – 1979-1987
Joe Montana is arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game. He was a cool-headed field general who knew how to win football games when it counted. He made the other players around him better. Many people know about Jerry Rice, but some don’t recall Dwight Clark. Dwight Clark was Montana’s go-to man before Rice came along. In nine seasons together they connected for more than 500 passes, nearly 7000 yards, and 41 touchdowns, and they won two Super Bowls together (’82 and ’85).
19 Kurt Warner to Torry Holt – 1999-2001
In their three full seasons together the Rams were the “the Greatest Show on Turf.” Kurt Warner had three of the best seasons in NFL History – 12,612 yards 98 touchdowns and a Super Bowl victory. The two of them connected 215 times for 3,758 yards and 18 scores. It was the Rams depth though that made them the greatest show on turf. Remember too that the Rams had another great wide receiver who played at the same time, so the ball had to be shared.
18 Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce –1999-2001
During the great three year run this team had, Warner connected with Bruce 228 times for 22 touchdowns. During the Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans, Bruce made six grabs for a whopping 162 yards and a touchdown, the winning score of the game. While it lasted, this Rams team was truly amazing to watch. Don’t forget that Warner also had a guy by the name of Marshall Faulk running the ball and catching many passes from Warner as well.
17 Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch – 1951-1957
In an era of football when the run was far more emphasized than the pass this exciting duo accomplished the impossible. Norm Van Brocklin completed 333 passes to Elroy Hirsch for 7,200 yards, and 32 touchdowns with the Los Angeles Rams. To give you an idea of the era they played in – in 1951 Hirsch had a breakout year of 1,495 yards in only 12 games - his closest competition was just over 800 yards. That is astounding.
16 Tom Brady to Randy Moss – 2007-2010
This dynamic duo unfortunately was short-lived. Lord only knows what they could have accomplished together with more time. In the 2007 season Brady threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns - a record at that time. Nearly half of the 50 TD’s went to Randy Moss who snagged 23, and the team went 16-0 in the regular season. In 2008 Brady missed the season with a torn ACL, but in 2009 they played together again. That year Moss caught 13 more touchdowns from Brady. That is a remarkable 36 TDs in two full seasons together.
15 Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald – 2007-2009
In a three year span, Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald lit up the skies in the Arizona desert. They collaborated on more than 300 completed passes, nearly 4,000 yards and scored 39 touchdowns. The Cardinals made it to their first and only Super Bowl – XLIII - in 2008 losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23. Larry Fitzgerald has gone through a lot of quarterbacks in his career, and nothing compares to the chemistry he and Warner shared.
14 Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe –1992-1994
Sterling Sharpe was one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game. Unfortunately his career was tragically cut short by a spine injury. Before Brett Favre re-wrote the record books, Sterling Sharpe was first his go-to man. Though they only had three seasons together, they combined for 315 completions, 3,854 yards and 41 touchdowns. Who knows how much more they could've accomplished had Sharpe's career enjoyed a longer length.
13 Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin – 1989-1999
After Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin began clicking, this offensive duo played their parts in a dynasty in Dallas. They connected more than 700 times, for over 10,000 yards, and 49 TDs in an 11 year run. Perhaps most importantly, they also happened to win three Super Bowls together, and that is the bottom line. It's debatable as to who was more important to the Cowboys dynasty of the 90s, but no one can deny that the Cowboys would have three less Super Bowls without these two.
12 Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates – 2006-Present
Okay, so we're cheating here a little. Technically speaking Antonio Gates is not a wide receiver – he’s a tight end. However, he is set to be the best tight end ever to play the game. He personally has 99 TDs, and over 10,000 yards to date. Out of his totals, 72 of those touchdowns came from Philip Rivers. Gates’ prolific scoring over the past twelve seasons ranks him second to only Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona in the same time period.
11 Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry – 1956-1967
This great pairing came long before the advent of the “Run and Shoot” or “West Coast,” but Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry were nothing short of brilliant in their hall of fame careers. They joined forces to score 63 touchdowns and won two NFL Championships in ’58 AND ’59 before the NFL/AFL merger. They appeared in the third Super Bowl, losing to Joe Namath’s Jets. They spent a total of 12 seasons together, combining for more than 600 receptions and 9,200 yards. Berry played his entire career with Baltimore and Unitas. To my utter amazement Raymond Berry only dropped two passes in his career, and he only fumbled once.
10 Joe Montana to Jerry Rice – 1985-1992
We come to arguably the best to ever play the game of football at their respective positions. During their eight years together, Montana and Rice dominated the NFL while connecting for 55 touchdowns, winning three Super Bowls and claiming five divisional titles. Jerry Rice left the corners in his tracks racing for six 1,000 yard seasons during their reign. Their run ended when Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
9 Dan Marino to Mark Duper – 1983-1992
Before Brett Favre and Peyton Manning came along and started lighting up the record books, there was Dan Marino. Dan Mario is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football, setting single season records for touchdowns and yardage in his time, a far tougher era for quarterbacks and receivers. Marino had the “The Mark Brothers”, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Mark “Super” Duper collected 55 touchdowns from Marino, more than 500 catches and nearly 9,000 yards in 10 seasons together.
8 Brett Favre to Antonio Freeman – 1995-2001, 2003
Brett Favre could not re-write the record books on his own, as he was blessed with some great receivers in his heyday in Green Bay. The favorite target for Brett for seven consecutive seasons was Antonio Freeman with 57 touchdowns. 6,000 plus yards and nearly 400 receptions. Freeman would sign with the Eagles for the 2002 season after feuding with coach Mike Sherman, but returned for one last season in Green Bay in 2003.
7 Drew Brees to Marques Colston – 2006-Present
When Drew Brees left the Chargers following a severe shoulder injury, many thought his career was over. The Chargers made him expendable by drafting Philip Rivers and Brees found a new home in New Orleans. His favorite target, Marques Colston, has never caught a touchdown pass from anyone but Brees. The two have connected 666 times for over 9,000 yards and 68 touchdowns, and helped lead the Saints to a Super Bowl XLIV victory against the Indianapolis Colts.
6 Jim Kelly to Andre Reed – 1986-1996
The Buffalo Bills dominated the AFC in the 1990s. In 11 seasons together, Jim Jelly and Andre Reed helped their teams to the playoffs eight times, and to the Super Bowl four consecutive years. The two combined for 700 passes and 65 touchdowns. Andre Reed was elected to the Pro-Bowl seven times, and Kelly five. Over one third of Jim Kelly’s TDs were tossed to Reed. Both have been elected into the Hall of Fame. The Bills have never quite been able to replace these players at either position.
5 Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne – 2002-2010
Peyton Manning has had a stellar career and has set the bar high for all would be record breakers. He appears on this list twice in the top five, which is very impressive. He connected with Wayne for 76 touchdowns in their nine years together. Reggie Wayne had seven consecutive 1,000 yard seasons during that period, pulling down more than 630 balls and having three 100-plus reception seasons. They won Super Bowl XLI together following the 2006 season, defeating the Chicago bears 29-17.
3 Dan Marino to Mark Clayton – 1983-1992
Dan Marino’s name is here twice in the top 10 – a testimony to his passing prowess. Mark Clayton was Marino’s chosen target on nearly 500 occasions, 79 of which were touchdowns, amassing nearly 9,000 yards in his career. During their time together Clayton had five 1,000 yard seasons, and a Super Bowl appearance against Joe Montana and the 49ers – Super Bowl XIX. Mark Clayton is privileged to have caught a touchdown pass from both Dan Marino and Brett Favre in his career.
2 Steve Young to Jerry Rice – 1991-1999
Steve Young spent four years as Joe Montana’s back up. Few people knew at that time, that he was a great quarterback in his own right. Jerry Rice appears on this list twice and retired holding numerous NFL records, most notable for the most receiving touchdowns at 197, and the most receiving yards at 22,895. Steve Young tossed the ball to Jerry for 85 touchdowns, 700 catches, and 10,000 yards. They were the greatest statistical tandem at that time, but it wasn’t only about the numbers – they won Super Bowl XXIX 49-26 against the Chargers. Steve Young was the MVP, setting a Super Bowl record with six touchdown passes, three of those going to Rice.
1 Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison -1998-2009
No other combo has scored more touchdowns – 112 - than Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison. In their illustrious career together in ten seasons with Indianapolis, they amassed 953 catches for more than 12,000 yards. Marvin Harrison retired holding the record for the most yards in a season (1,722) and most catches in a season (143). He is only the fourth player to record 1,000 receptions in his career, and the seventh to score over 100 touchdowns (128). Peyton Manning is not yet done writing the record books, but there is no other target that he will find to compare to Marvelous Marvin Harrison. They were Super Bowl Champions in 2006.