Jim Irsay’s list of all-time Top 5 players includes John Elway, excludes Peyton Manning

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After news broke Friday that Jim Brown had died, he was remembered by many people as the greatest player in NFL history. Colts owner Jim Irsay was one of those people, but when Irsay tweeted a list of the Top 5 players in NFL history, it was some other names that raised eyebrows.

“On my list of Top 5 Greatest NFL Players of All Time, in our 103 year History, I have Top 5 as 1)Jim Brown 2)Tom Brady 3)John Elway 4)Deacon Jones 5)Reggie White,” Irsay wrote.

So Irsay included John Elway, who refused to play for the Colts when they drafted him in 1983. Elway so badly did not want to play for the Colts, then owned by Jim’s father Bob Irsay, that he threatened not to play pro football at all and instead pursue a baseball career. Eventually the Colts relented and traded him to the Broncos.

And Irsay did not include Peyton Manning, who won four league Most Valuable Player awards with the Colts and led them to the only Super Bowl they’ve won in the half century the Irsays have won the team.

After getting some criticism for that tweet, Irsay followed up.

“No doubt Peyton,Barry Sanders and Jerry Rice in Top 10 it’s just that Elway didn’t have great offensive players around him til the end,when he won 2 in a row and his feet we’re remarkable,from baseball talents,” Irsay wrote.

Irsay did not explain why he left Manning out of his Top 5.

104 responses to “Jim Irsay’s list of all-time Top 5 players includes John Elway, excludes Peyton Manning

  1. I can’t believe anybody’s Top 5 would not include Lawrence Taylor. For me the greatest player I have ever seen – an awesome game wrecker.

  2. Peyton not in the top 5? What’s up with that?
    Peyton must have left the toilet seat up in Indianapolis before leaving for Denver. Unforgivable!

  3. If Irsay put Manning on his list people would’ve been calling him a “homer”. Can’t win.

  4. 1)Brady does not belong there due to Patriots cheating.

    2)Lawrence Taylor should be on the list.

  5. Apparently Elway losing a Super Bowl 55-10 with a 10-26 108 yards 0 TDs 2 INTs stat line puts him ahead of other QBs like, oh the GOAT#2 who also played in the same game with the following stat line:

    22-29 297 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs

    No wonder the Colts are a losing organization. Irsay’s standards are apparently different from the everyone else.

  6. Elway refused the Colts because their Head Coach Frank Kush was out of his mind. Jack Elway told his son John to not play for Kush.

  7. Very difficult to pick a top 5 list. Everyone’s top 5 would be different. Mine would have included Walter Payton.

  8. Irsay is an absolute mess, and an embarrassment. But what do you expect from a guy who has never had a real job. He’s on my top 5 worst owners list.

  9. Top 5 is subjective, especially when you are comparing different positions and eras.

    While Irsay not wrong, it’s a kick in the nads that your prior employer values, out loud, a player that refused to play for the organization that you gave your career for. Manning could have easily played more years and won more Super Bowls had he been in one of 28 other teams. The Colts let him walk because he couldn’t grip the ball anymore after his neck was fused due to years of having a swiss cheese O line.

  10. The Broncos paid players under the table to circumvent the salary cap in those two Super bowl years. Word. Also, agree with Lawrence Taylor comment above.

  11. I’d take the same picks except Elway. The player in his place is still playing and has played in 3 of the last Super Bowls winning 2.

  12. For once I’m going to agree with Irsay. Peyton is in the top 5 of most overrated though

  13. If he had Peyton all these comments would be saying he is biased because Mr. Manning played there. He probably left him off on purpose, plus QBs are not the only position.

  14. Its HIS top 5, not yours. Why can’t someone understand that. His opinion. I like his top 5. Mine is Randy Moss instead of Elway & Lawrence Taylor instead of Jones. Whats yours?

  15. You can argue about who he didn’t list in his top five, but who on his list is not a top five player?

  16. I feel like football is the hardest sport to pick a top 5. Granted Brady and probably Montana are in there, but guys like LT, Sanders, White, etc. It’s so tough to really get a true top 5. It’s why football is such a great sport

  17. If he had included Manning for partisan reasons, it would diminish his list. At least he called it as he saw it.

    And if we ever get to the point of not having these all-time greatest lists, it would be a terrific step forward…

  18. The owner to the Cavs and Lebron seemingly have no relationship other than anger. This could be a similar situation for the Colts and Peyton. Even Tom and Bill … although I believe Bill has said Tom is the bear to ever play. EGOs are such a big part of all aspects of life and it’s almost always negative

  19. What a clown. I love John Elway,he was my top QB of all-time until Peyton Manning/ Aaron Rodgers, with Patrick Mahomes ever ascending. The other QB on Irsay’s list – coaches, teams, Spygate.

  20. It’s not surprising that Peyton is not on Irsay’s list. If he were, then his kicking Peyton to the curb would look even worse in hindsight.

  21. Irsay and Peyton had a public feud when they parted ways. That should give the list a bit more context. Any list should begin with Brady period.

  22. Most people have it that way. I think the guy who paid Manning a quarter of a bil can say so. I disagree with him not having the real LT on his list though.

  23. I prefer my own top 5 players to be different positions.

    QB = Brady
    RB = Sanders
    WR = Rice
    LB = Taylor
    CB = Sanders

  24. Elway is not even in the top ten. I’m not a Patriots fan but Brady is number one without a doubt. I put Barry Sanders ahead of Jim Brown.

  25. Always is the most overrated QB of all time. 79.9 career QB rating is pathetic.

  26. This is so crazy it’s laughable. Manning is statistically better than Elway in every category. The one that really sticks out is Manning has 239 more career touchdown passes despite only playing 2 more seasons than Elway.

  27. Elway isn’t even the best QB from his draft class. Terrell Davis won him his rings.

  28. It’s not about Peyton Manning. It’s about The Great One, Jim Brown. Peyton Manning isn’t included in most lists of top 5 all time NFL players. This is just an opportunity to pick on Jim Irsay. Believe me, I’m no fan of Irsay’s. I actually feel sorry for the man. I’d give him a break. The thing that jumps out of this list for me is that he left the best all time player off his list of top ten. Joe Montana. I have no fan bias when I say this. It’s all from the eyeball test from closely following the NFL for well over 50 years. I was just a couple years too young to have seem Jim Brown so Montana was the best I ever saw. Peyton was awesome, but most likely not a top 5 all time player. I’d challenge anyone to write out their top five. Probably not many include Peyton. Just because Irsay was the owner, doesn’t mean he has to lie. Lying is still a bad thing, even though it’s become mainstream lately.

  29. For someone who hasn’t accomplished a single thing in life, he sure has a big pie hole

  30. I always felt like Peyton was the better QB than Brady but Brady’s longevity and number of rings are tough to argue against. But football is a team sport. Brady had great coaches and defenses his whole career and that factors heavily into Super Bowls and team wins. Manning had a 5-3 MVP edge and 3-2 playoff H2H record edge.
    Both great players and it was a great rivalry for 15 years. Right up there with Magic-Bird for greatest player rivalries in sports history. And both guys are class acts.

  31. It’s very difficult to fit in a top 5 all time in any sports. As of football, I would go with a top 5 for QB’s and a top 5 for other positions to ease up the debate.

  32. In no particular order:
    Tom Brady
    Jim Brown
    Jerry Rice
    Lawrence Taylor
    Reggie White

  33. The same reason Clyde Drexler gets overlooked as GREAT in the NBA. He played in the same era as the GOAT, so Irsay’s logic was to only list Brady and not have 3 QBs on the list. I would swap Elway with Jerry Rice but there’s probably a reason he has Elway so high. It could have been one play or a game in which he recalls and witnessed greatness. These things are always so subjective and makes for great debate. That’s why you see these types of questions all over social media.

  34. His follow-up tweet tells you everything you need to know.

    “Elway didn’t have great offensive players around him til the end,when he won 2 in a row”

    He believes Peyton did have great offensive players around him and only managed to win one with the Colts.

  35. I won’t argue about QBs or where Elway belongs on a list (he wouldn’t be in my top 5), but he’s definitely one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen. In a total team sport, he’s the only person I’ve ever felt who actually won a few games singlehandedly. Not “took over a game” and dominated but won the damn game by himself. Sheer will is more important than statistics in a real football game. It’s not enough, though, in a Super Bowl, and the Broncos made a few they probably shouldn’t have. But he was an amazing one to watch for a long time.

  36. There would probably be an Irsay on the list of “Five most-hated owners in NFL history.”

  37. Agree with Philly, but would have Montana instead of Brady. Montana won 4 out of 4 Superbowls and played in a time when quarterbacks were not protected. Brady is great, but the league protected him, allowing him to play much longer.

  38. put Jim Brown on the Patriots instead of Tom Brady and they win zero Super Bowls

    ditto for John Elway on the Bronco’s

    Jim Irsay – time to go back to school

  39. Elway?

    His TD/INT ratio stunk, was an embarrassment in Super Bowls and cheated with the greatest NFL scandal ever, moving his contract off the books with Terrell Davis to be able to circumvent the cap in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

    Irsay certainly knows a few things about cheating himself. What a fraud.

    Manning can’t make the list because he used HGH after it was banned in 2014.

  40. Who cares how a person whose only accomplishment is being born to a millionaire ranks people who have actually accomplished things in life.

  41. My memory is fuzzy I remember Elway as being an impressive baller but his stats aren’t amazing or anything.

  42. To me, Peyton was all-time best QB. If Colts had a defense, he would have won more SBs. Tom Brady had the defense carry him for at least 3 of the SBs. They should have never beaten the Seahawks and the Beast. Elway never dominated like Peyton. Brees never dominated like Peyton. Brady never dominated like Peyton (except maybe for the 16-0 season). Who even compares to Peyton??? Staubach, Bradshaw, Unitas? I don’t think so. Peyton scared every defense he played against. He was almost washed up, and then killed it at the Broncos in that first year, making two SBs, and limping to win one. He was the best!

  43. Regardless of whether he’s right or wrong about who belongs in the top 5 list, it was something he didn’t need to tweet about. It just seems like he was trying to cause a little controversy and get some attention.

  44. Peyton carried your franchise you perennial loser.

    As Depeche Mode once said. Enjoy the silence. It’s gonna be a long, long time for your team to ever be relevant again.

  45. Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders, Reggie White, Barry Sanders, Randy Moss, Aaron Donald, Patrick Mahomes – THAT is your top 10.

  46. Walter Payton and Jim Brown were the greatest player of all time without a doubt. Brady would have no chance, he would probably even admit it.

  47. Peyton hardly will weep over this. He played in Indy becuase he had to kt by choice. All his toes now are Denver, lives there etc.

    His family realized that he got stuck in Indy, and told Eli not to not make the same mistake play somewhere he didn’t want to/in obscuriry (though I would play in SD 100/100 times over Indy), which is why the Giants got him.

  48. Sammy Baugh is the greatest of all time. He was Washington’s QB from ’37 to ’53. He was All Pro at QB , Safety and Punter . In one game against the Lions in ’43 he threw 4 TDs , intercepted 4 passes and punted for a 52 yd ave. . His 70+ yr record of 50 yd ave for a season was just broken .

  49. Elway that high is absurd. He had more interceptions than TD passes after 8 or years in the NFL. Fact. People forget that. Marino was miles ahead of him as a QB, but Elway got a running game and defense at the end of his career, that got him two rings. Very physically talented, but vastly overrated as an all-time QB. Jim Irsay making this comment is just more crazy talk.

  50. Why should he have to explain? He’s not wrong about Manning. Of course, he’s wrong about Elway, too.

  51. Picking a top 5 of all time is impossible, the game is so different. It would be interesting to see your list of the 5 best players you’ve seen. I’m 60 years old (no disrespect to Walter Peyton, but east coast viewers didn’t see him play on TV very often), in no order:
    – Lawrence Taylor
    – OJ Simpson (the player, not the murderer)
    – Jerry Rice
    – Bruce Smith/Aaron Donald/Reggie White (I can’t pick)
    – Manning/Brady (because when they needed a 1st down, they always got the yardage needed)
    Honorable mention: Bo Jackson/Earl Campbell

    Patrick Mahomes is fun to watch, but hard to see if it’s him or the system, the same can be said about Joe Montana. West coast offense was so new, no one knew how to stop it, until 85 Bears came along. No one could block 46 defense-until Joe Gibbs figured it out.

  52. We need to cut the guy some slack here. There are 20 guys who belong in the top five (he says with a smile). Can’t blame a guy for leaving fifteen of them out.

  53. Peyton won 5 mvps more then anyone all time
    Rice has every career receiving record from an Era where 300 yard passing games were exceptional.

    It’s hard to put Elway as the second best qb all time ahead of montanta and manning.

  54. A top 5 list meshing eras, offense, defense, and positions is an impossible task.

    Having said that, I never felt Elway was remotely close to being as good as advertised. The whole argument for him is his teammates sucked, so ignore the stats and lopsided losses. Elway is not even close to top 10 in my book, and Manning isn’t top 5 either.

    I always feel like Ray Lewis and Tomlinson should get more love.

  55. Just because I am addicted to NFL football, I would like to try to narrow down to my Top 5. It is extremely tough to do, for obvious reasons, especially us old-timers ( I am 68) who watched all those games with the older players on the list. I never saw Jim Brown play, but have done enough reading to feel he must be on anyone’s list. Here goes nothing:

    In no particular order:
    – RB Jim Brown
    – QB Tom Brady
    – LB Lawrence Taylor
    – RB OJ Simpson
    – WR Jerry RIce

    (Some reasons: Brown was like a man among boys, had his way versus any defense; Brady was the sharpest mind and most efficient in breaking down a defense + longevity unheard of; LT was a true game-wrecking phenom. Able to destroy opponents’ game plans by himself; OJ was a freak of nature with the vision to exploit the opposition. The best feature he had was an extra gear I have not seen since on any RB. When healthy, he was virtually unstoppable, Go watch videos of his prime.; I struggled with the final spot, but Jerry Rice is hard to leave off, because he was always in top condition, knew how to get separation, and then could run away from any pursuit. Would find a place on any All-time team and played a long time. Had to have him on this list.)

  56. He’s an idiot like his father. He names no Baltimore Colts. Johhny u built the NFL

  57. This guy is an embarrassment. Who let this guy buy a team?

    Oh right, if he wasn’t born into it, he’d be a nobody. That’s right.

  58. 1. Jim Brown
    2. Lawrence Taylor
    3. Tom Brady
    4. Joe Montana
    5. Gardner Minshew’s Mullet.

  59. Everbody has their own list of top players. Some people are not too bright. Some forget that the game has changed since Norm Van Broklin, Sammy Baugh, etc. Personally I think John Elway was a great Quarterback. I also think Dan Marino was better. And John Elway owes his first Super Bowl victory to Terrell Davis. But I also never rooted for or liked Elway. Again….it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

  60. Amazing how so many of you other NFL franchise owners would rather attack him and/or his list than just enjoy the topic and give your top 5. A bunch of IDGETS!

  61. TB Grifter says:
    Irsay certainly knows a few things about cheating himself. What a fraud.


    Like BB and Tom.

  62. Two players change the game in the 80s. Lawrence Taylor and John Elway. The QB always had to know where Taylor was when he broke huddle and no game plan neutralized him. Defenses had to cover the entire field on every play with Elway. Whenever a QB rolled out, defenses would roll with him effectively cutting the field in half. Elway was the only one who would roll one way and throw a rope to the other side of the field to an open receiver in stride. And if the defense covered the field shallow & derp, Elway would just beat you with his legs. If Reeves would have designed offenses for Elway the way Shula did for Marino, Elway would have most records & more rings at the end of his career. Instead Reeves run/run/pass offenses just gave Elway the record for most 4th qtr comebacks when he retired.

  63. Top 5 best names in NFL history (in no order): Nail Diggs, Spider Lockhart, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Bronko Nagursky, Dick Butkus

  64. Lots of Elway haters. Clearly younger folks who don’t know how the game was played then compared to now. Elway (and Marino, and Montana, and etc…) would dominant today’s rules. Elway was the first true cannon arm with great running mobility QB. And back then, defense was allowed to play hard against the QBs.

  65. All these lists are very hard and very personal.
    Many people have mentioned LT. He is certainly deserving. So is Joe Montana. Everyone is entitled to their opinions in a subjective matter like this. But some selections are a bit out of whack.

  66. Should have tweeted out Jim Brown at #1 and 9 other guys tied for 2nd. No way to confine this to a consensus 5 players.

  67. Tom Brady, Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice, Reggie White …. in that order.

  68. Elway = Brady

    It wasn’t always pretty, but the guy just found ways to win. Like few I have ever seen.

    .. with his mobility, he would be an absolutely unstoppable force in the League right now, if this was his era.

  69. I can’t believe anybody’s Top 5 would not include Lawrence Taylor.

    5 is tough beacuse most people are going to have 2 QBs on their list.

    For me its Reggie V LT.. Reggie dominated for a longer period of time. LT mailed it in his last few years.

  70. To me, Peyton was all-time best QB. If Colts had a defense, he would have won more SBs.

    5 of 8 seasons with Dungy they were a top 10 defense. 2007 they were #1, 2005 #2.

    4 years with Denver, he had a top 5 defense twice.

    He had plenty of legit chances.

  71. It was a reasonable diss. Peyton had nine playoff one and dones after helping his team win at least 12 games in the regular season. He threw 3 touchdowns to 5 interceptions in four career super bowls, including two pick sixes. Elway’s stats are even worse. Neither Elway nor Peyton belong on a top 5 list. Just saying. When Brady messed up, he bounced back more often than not.

  72. Hes a crazy ass dude! We all know this..Colts rapidly becoming Raiders East

  73. primalnumber says:
    May 20, 2023 at 3:20 pm
    Elway was to Manning as Burrow is to Mahomes. Close, but net better.


    Your Elway comparison couldn’t be more wrong…The only time Elway and Manning played at the same time in the NFL was 1998. Manning was a rookie and it was Elways last year in the NFL. The Colts went 3-13 that year and the Broncos went 14-2 and won their second consecutive SB. Elway was the SB MVP then retired.

  74. charliecharger says: “The thing that jumps out of this list for me is that he left the best all time player off his list of top ten. Joe Montana.”

    – – – – –

    He listed only 8 names in his so called Top 10 so it is possible he might add Montana and Lawrence Taylor to it.

    My own personal Mt Rushmore QBs are Brady, Manning, Montana, and Elway. The top 3 is unimpeachable but the 4th spot is negotiable.

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