by Bryn Swartz… Did you ever realize that the quarterback is considered to be the most important position in all of sports, but it’s a successful running game that is considered to be arguably just as important or even more important than a good passing attack? It’s no coincidence that teams with dominant running games and average quarterbacks can win championships. Usual reigning players win championships even at pokerstars. It’s the commanding athlete who knows how to use his full potential that wins games.
Look at the Miami Dolphins of the 1970s. Was Bob Griese a great quarterback? Absolutely not. But when your team rushes for close to 3000 yards in the regular season, it’s easy to blend in and become what is now known as a game manager. Griese threw seven passes in one Super Bowl–and the Dolphins won 24-7!
Throughout history, the position of running back has changed significantly. Seasonal rushing totals have increased, partly due to a stronger emphasis on powerful offensive lines. There was a time when, even factoring in the increases in games played during the season, a 1000-yard rusher was considered impressive.
Nowadays, the majority of teams produce a 1000-yard rusher, and within the next 10 to 15 years, I predict that a half dozen or more teams yield two 1000-yard rushers.
The single season touchdown record has been broken five times in my lifetime, and will probably be broken again in the near future. However, rushing touchdowns are slightly overrated–maybe even more than slightly overrated.
Three of the five seasons–Emmitt Smith in 1995, Priest Holmes in 2003, and Shaun Alexander in 2005–failed to make my list. Only Marshall Faulk’s 2000 campaign and LT’s recordbreaking season of 2006 found their way onto my list.
Take Barry Sanders as an example. The Lions’ legendary running back averaged 5.0 yards per carry throughout his Hall of Fame career, but scored ‘only’ 99 touchdowns in 10 seasons. In 1998, Sanders carried 343 times for 1494 yards, but scored just four touchdowns.
Why? Because the Lions’ had a 234-pound fullback named Tommy Vardell who carries the ball just 18 times but scored six touchdowns! Should Barry Sanders be penalized for his lack of touchdowns? No, because he consistently put his team in position to score.
So what should a running back be rated on?
Well, my two favorite statistics for running backs are yards per carry and fumbles.
Yards per carry is the real deal. There’s no messing around. It’s plain and simple. The best running backs average in the National Football League over five yards per carry. Good running backs average about four and a half yards per carry, and average running backs average around four yards per carry.
The best thing about yards per carry is that averages have been relatively unchanged over time. Unlike passer ratings, where the league average practically doubled between the 1940’s and now, yards per attempt has always been relatively consistent–between 3.9 and 4.2 yards per attempt.
Fumbles are the worst thing a running back can do. It’s the easiest way for a rookie to get cut from a team. And it’s the quickest way for the National Football League’s single-season rushing holder to fail to qualify for this list.
In 1984, Eric Dickerson rushed 379 times for a still-standing record of 2105 yards. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns. He also fumbled the football 14 times. That’s flat-out unacceptable. A team needs to be able to trust its running back to hold onto the football at all costs.
Dickerson fumbled the football one out of every 27 carries in 1984. Imagine needing your running back to carry the ball seven times on a fourth-quarter drive to seal a victory. There would be over a 25 percent chance that Dickerson would fumble the football during the drive. No coach wants to gamble with odds like that.
The following list includes the best of the best, the greatest of the greatest, the most elite of the elite–the 10 greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history, with one season earning honorable mention. Five of these playershave already been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with two players having multiple seasons on this list. Two other players are future first-ballot Hall of Famers.
11) Beattie Feathers, Chicago Bears, 1934:
119 carries, 1004 yards, 8 TD, 8.4 avg; 6 rec, 174 yards, 1 TD; 0 fum? 10 GAMES
1934? Are you kidding me?
Feathers played for arguably the greatest team in NFL history–a team better than the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Better than the 1985 Chicago Bears. Even better than the 2007 New England Patriots.
And just like the 2007 New England Patriots, the Bears ran the table in the regular season–13 games, 13 wins–before losing to (who else?) the New York Giants in the NFL championship. Diehard football fans know of the 1934 NFL championship as the “Sneaker Game,” in which the Giants, who were losing 10-3 at halftime, switched from cleats to sneakers to account for the mud on the field. It worked, as the Giants scored an incredible 27 points in the fourth quarter to win, 30-13.
Feathers helped the Bears score an NFL-record 286 points, which was more than the five worst NFL teams combined. The Bears scored over 20 points in each of their first nine games, a feat that, when adjusted to today’s standards, is equivalent to a team scoring 45 points per game.
Feathers rushed for 1004 yards on 119 carries. He was the NFL’s first 1000-yard rusher, and the only player until Steve Van Buren rushed for 1008 yards in 1947. Feathers’ 1004 rushing yards topped three other NFL teams that season.
He averaged an unheard-of 8.4 yards per attempt. No running back in the 75 years since has come within two yards per carry of approaching Feathers’ record.
10) Jim Taylor, Green Bay Packers, 1962:
272 carries, 1474 yards, 19 TD, 5.4 avg; 22 rec, 106 yards, 0 TD; 5 fum 14 GAMES
In 1962, Jim Taylor did something that no other running back has ever done. He stole a rushing title from the great Jim Brown.
Taylor won the rushing Triple Crown in 1962. He led the league in carries (272), yards (1474), and touchdowns (19). He finished second in yards per carry (5.4).
Taylor helped perfect the legendary Packer Sweep, which helped the Packers win five NFL championships, including two Super Bowls, during the 1960’s.
Taylor’s 1962 MVP season is arguably the greatest in the history of a franchise filled with Hall of Fame football players.
9) Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears, 1965:
166 carries, 867 yards, 14 TD, 5.2 avg; 29 rec, 507 yards, 6 TD; 9 fum
16 punt returns, 238 yards, 1 TD, 14.9 avg; 21 kick returns, 660 yards, 1 TD, 31.4 avg
Sayers’ 1965 season is probably the most famous rookie season in NFL history. Ironically, Sayers wasn’t even the best rookie on the 1965 Bears. That honor belongs to middle linebacker Dick Butkus.
Sayers did it all in 1965–literally. He carried the football, caught the football, and returned the football. He scored touchdowns four different ways–running, receiving, returning punts, and returning kicks.
Sayers touched the ball 232 times in 1965, for an average of 16 touches per game. He averaged one touchdown every 10 touches, significantly more than one touchdown per game, and his 9.8 yards per touch ranked first in the NFL by two full yards.
He finished second in the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards per punt return, and yards per kick return. He finished third in yards per carry and rushing yards per game. His 22 touchdowns broke the single-season record of 20 set by Lenny Moore in 1964.
In a December game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sayers scored an electrifying six touchdowns to tie a single-game NFL record. His final touchdown came on an 85-yard punt return and was voted by NFL Films as the seventh greatest touchdown in NFL history.
No player in NFL history has done more (22 touchdowns) with less (232 touches) than Sayers in 1965.
Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos, 1998:
392 carries, 2008 yards, 21 TD, 5.1 avg; 25 rec, 217 yards, 2 TD; 2 fum
Davis is the only running back on this list to play for a Super Bowl champion.
In 1998, Davis became just the fourth running back in NFL history to rush for over 2000 yards in a season. He became the first running back to also rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season.
Davis’s 2008 rushing yards rank fourth on the single-season charts. His 21 rushing touchdowns are more than all but five players in the history of the NFL. His 392 carries are the seventh highest single-season total in NFL history. His 23 total touchdowns rank eighth on the single-season lists, and his 125.5 rushing yards per game are tenth all time.
In all, Davis eclipsed the top ten single-season list in five different categories that season.
TD earned league MVP honors. He won his third consecutive rushing title. He was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. And he was the hero in a second straight Super Bowl win, rushing for 102 yards (152 total yards) in a 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
7) Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, 1997:
335 carries, 2053 yards, 11 TD, 6.1 avg; 33 rec, 305 yards, 3 TD; 3 fum
In 1997, Barry Sanders averaged more yards per carry than any running back since Jim Brown in 1963. Sanders’ 6.1 yards per carry was more than one and a half times better than the rest of the league.
His 2053 yards are the third highest single-season total in NFL history. He ended the season by rushing for more than 100 yards in 14 consecutive games, an NFL record.
Sanders scored ‘only’ 11 touchdowns on the ground, mainly because the Lions used fullback Tommy Vardell in goal-line situations. His 14 total touchdowns were still good for third in the NFL.
Sanders also set a new NFL record with 2358 total yards from scrimmage, which has been surpassed three times.
His season stands as the greatest by an NFC running back from the Super Bowl era to the turn of the millennium.
6) OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973:
332 carries, 2003 yards, 12 TD, 6.0 avg; 6 rec, 70 yards, 0 TD; 7 fum 14 GAMES
“No matter what happens to me, I was the first man to rush for 2000 yards in a season. They can never take that away from me.” –OJ Simpson
While his 2000-yard rushing season is no longer the first thing people think of when they hear the name, Simpson still deserves to be remembered for his accomplishments on the football field.
He won the rushing Triple Crown in 1973, leading the NFL in carries (332), yards (2003–a new record), and touchdowns (12). His 143.1 rushing yards per game is the highest total in NFL history, by a full ten yards. OJ also ranked second in yards per carry (6.0), a total that has been surpassed by just one running back in the last 35 seasons.
Simpson topped 200 yards rushing three times in 1973. After 12 games, OJ had rushed for 1584 yards. He rushed for 219 yards in the 13th game of the season, and capped off a brilliant campaign with exactly 200 yards, breaking the 2000-yard barrier.
Simpson earned a million different awards in 1973, including NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors, the NFL MVP, the Bert Bell Player of the Year award, and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year award. OJ would be the last NFL player to capture AP Male Athlete of the Year honors until Joe Montana did it in consecutive seasons (’89-’90).
5) OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1975:
329 carries, 1817 yards, 16 TD, 5.5 avg; 28 rec, 427 yards, 7 TD; 7 fum 14 GAMES
1973 will always be OJ’s most famous season. But 1975 was just a little bit better.
Simpson set the NFL single-season record by scoring 23 touchdowns. He broke Sayers’ 10-year NFL record.
He led the NFL with 1817 rushing yards, then the third highest single season total in NFL history. His 129.8 yards per game have been surpassed by just two running backs since, and stand as the fifth highest total in NFL history.
Simpson led the NFL in carries (329) and touches (357). He led in yards per carry (5.5) and yards from scrimmage (2244). He even had the longest run in the NFL (88 yards). Simpson led the NFL in every single statistic that a running back could lead the league in.
He accomplished all of this despite playing in just 14 games. Had Simpson had the luxury of a 16-game season, he would have easily rushed for over 2000 yards and scored over 25 touchdowns. In fact, Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2105 yards might belong to OJ Simpson.
4) LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers, 2006
348 carries, 1815 yards, 28 TD, 5.2 avg; 56 rec, 508 yards, 3 TD; 2 fum; 2-3, 19 yards, 2 T
That’s all that needs to be said.
LaDainian Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander’s one-year old NFL-record of 28 touchdowns by more than 10 percent. That’s the equivalent of a quarterback throwing for 55 touchdowns in a season. That’s the equivalent of a wide receiver catching 160 passes in a season. That’s the equivalent of a defensive end accumulating 25 sacks in a season.
His 186 points scored set a new NFL record, breaking Paul Hornung’s 46-year-old record of 176 points. This doesn’t even account for Tomlinson’s two passing touchdowns that season, meaning he was directly involved in 33 touchdowns during the season.
LT also led the NFL with 1815 rushing yards. His 5.2 yards per carry finished second among players with at least 200 carries. He also finished second in total yards from scrimmage (2323).
Tomlinson earned every award in existence after the 2006 season, including the NFL Most Valuable Player award, Offensive Player of the Year honors, the Bert Bell Player of the Year award, and the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
Tomlinson’s magical season helped the Chargers win 14 games and capture home-field advantage in the playoffs.
3) Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns, 1963:
291 carries, 1863 yards, 12 TD, 6.4 avg; 24 rec, 268 yards, 3 TD; 7 fum 14 GAMES
Brown turned in the highest yards per carry in NFL history by a running back with 200 or more carries. His 6.4 yards per carry has not been seriously threatened since. Only Barry Sanders and OJ Simpson have averaged six yards per carry.
Brown also set NFL records in rushing yards (1863) and rushing yards per game (133.1). He also set a new NFL record in total yards from scrimmage (2131).
Brown also led the NFL in touches (315) and total touchdowns (15). He earned Bert Bell Player of the Year honors, and was named the UPI NFL Most Valuable Player.
Had Brown played in a 16-game season, he would probably still hold the single-season record for rushing yards (projected total: 2119).
What about his high total of fumbles?
Brown’s seven fumbles may seem like a lot in today’s standards. But take in mind that the average team fumbled 29 times per season in 1963. That’s over two fumbles per game! Brown’s seven fumbles in 1963 equates to just four fumbles in today’s game.
2) Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams, 2000:
253 carries, 1359 yards, 18 TD, 5.4 avg; 81 rec, 830 yards, 8 TD; 0 fum
Take a look at Faulk’s numbers in 2000. You know the first thing I see?
Not 26, as in total touchdowns scored.
How bout 0? As in, zero fumbles over the entire season, despite touching the football 334 times, an average of 24 per game (Faulk missed two games due to injury).
His 26 touchdowns broke Emmitt Smith’s five-year NFL record and would stand as the record for three seasons. Had Faulk played in all 16 games, he would have likely scored 30 touchdowns and accumulated 2501 total yards from scrimmage, which would have broken his own single-season NFL record (2429 yards in 1999).
Despite finishing ‘only’ eighth in the NFL in rushing yards, Faulk led the league in rushing touchdowns (18) and yards per carry (5.4). He scored eight more touchdowns than any other player in the league and scored 160 points, which was one fewer point than the entire Cincinnati Bengals team scored that season.
Faulk helped the Rams set a franchise-record with 540 points, the fourth highest total in NFL history. The Rams accumulated 7335 yards of total offense (458 per game), shattering the previous NFL record.
Faulk earned National Football League Most Valuable Player honors, the second of three straight seasons that the MVP award would go to a member of the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf (Faulk finished second to teammate Kurt Warner in the 1999 and 2001 MVP voting).
Faulk’s season came in the midst of arguably the greatest three-year stretch of any running back in NFL history–better than Emmitt Smith (’93-’95), better than Earl Campbell (’78-’80), better than Barry Sanders (’95-’97), even better than Jim Brown (pick your three seasons).
1) Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns, 1958:
257 carries, 1527 yards, 17 TD, 5.9 avg; 16 rec, 138 yards, 1 TD; 5 fum 12 GAMES
The greatest season by a running back came in only 12 games?
In just his second season in the NFL, the 22-year-old Brown established himself as the greatest running back in the NFL.
Brown won the rushing Triple Crown in 1958, leading in carries (257), yards (1527), and touchdowns (17). He also topped the NFL in touches (273), yards from scrimmage (1665), total touchdowns (18), and rushing yards per game (127.3).
Five of these marks set single-season NFL records: rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, yards from scrimmage, and rushing yards per game. Brown’s 257 carries were the second most in the 35-year history of the NFL.
His season was so dominant that just one running back (Alan Ameche) rushed for half as many yards as Brown. Only one running back (Tommy Wilson) scored half as many touchdowns as Brown. Only one running back (Alan Ameche) averaged half as many yards per game as Brown.
Brown was the first true workhorse in the NFL. No other running back carried the ball more than 15 times per game in 1958. Brown averaged 21 carries per game.
Had Brown played a 16-game season, his numbers would have looked like this:
343 carries, 2036 yards, 23 TD, 5.9 avg; 21 rec, 184 yards, 1 TD; 7 fum
By the conclusion of the 1958 season, Brown’s numbers looked like this:
2 seasons, 2 Most Valuable Player awards.
It’s only appropriate that the greatest season by a running back came by the greatest running back in NFL history.
By Bryn Swartz… They lost six games (and failed to win a seventh) during the 2008 season.
Their franchise quarterback temporarily lost his starting job in the season’s most crucial game.
They needed a Sunday of miracles to even qualify for the postseason.
They entered the postseason as the sixth best team in the NFC and left it as the second best.
And now? What about now?
The Philadelphia Eagles are poised to enter the 2009 season as the top team in the National Football Conference.
The offseason for the Eagles’ has been one of the more interesting in the franchise’s history.
Despite the continuous calls for a big-name wide receiver such as Chad Johnson or Anquan Boldin, head coach Andy Reid refused to provide quarterback Donovan McNabb with a proven receiving threat.
He also allowed Brian Dawkins, arguably the most popular player in the history of the franchise, to leave the team and join the Denver Broncos. And he failed to resign two of the more accomplished offensive tackles in the history of the franchise.
However, Reid made what is now being realized as a tremendous splash in both free agency and the NFL draft.
Reid drafted Jeremy Maclin with the first pick in the 2009 NFL draft. The speedy wide receiver from Missouri just turned 21-years-old and is poised to be a legitimate receiving threat for Donovan McNabb. He will also compete with second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the position of punt returner.
Fullback Leonard Weaver, a 2008 Pro Bowl alternate as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, replaces converted defensive tackle Dan Klecko, giving the Eagles much-needed depth at an extremely neglected position over the years.
In 2008, the Eagles lost two conference games after failing to convert on a fourth-and-one late in the game.
Weaver will be blocking for 20-year-old LeSean McCoy, who has been described by ESPN as “lightning in a bottle every time he touches the ball.” In May of 2004, McCoy ran a 4.25 40-yard dash at the State College Nike Training Camp. McCoy was 15-years-old. \
By comparison, Michael Vick and Randy Moss, two of the fastest players in the history of the National Football League, never ran a 4.25 in the 40.
Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters was signed from the Buffalo Bills to replace aging three-time Pro Bowler Tra Thomas. Peters suffered through a disappointing 2008 season, but is expected to power the Eagles’ rushing attack next year. Andy Reid has even gone as far as to call Peters the “best left tackle in football.”
Right tackle Stacy Andrews was acquired from the Cincinnati Bengals and will replace Pro Bowl tackle Jon Runyan. Andrews, who can play guard or tackle, will play alongside of his brother on the offensive line. The massive Andrews’ brothers (combined weight: 675 pounds) give the Eagles one of the largest and most successful offensive lines in the NFL.
Sean Jones was signed from the Cleveland Browns in the hopes of replacing the legendary Brian Dawkins at free safety. Jones possesses playmaking ability, as he ranks third among safeties in interceptions since 2006. Jones’s consistency makes him one of just four players in the NFL to intercept four or more passes in each of the past four seasons.
The Eagles’ new acquisitions may provide the much-needed depth to get the Eagles’ over the hump in the NFC.
Although quarterback Donovan McNabb still lacks a legitimate No. 1 receiving threat, his receiving core is significantly above average. It can be argued that no team in history has possessed as much speed as the Eagles. The third fastest wide receiver on the Eagles is Kevin Curtis, who will join DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as big-play threats.
Brian Westbrook turns 30-years-old this season and is coming off a disappointing injury-plagued season, in which he still managed to set a career-high with 14 touchdowns. Westbrook’s injuries last year have left concern for his future, and McCoy was specifically drafted to complement Westbrook in the backfield.
Following a second consecutive disappointing season, the Eagles parted ways with tight end LJ Smith. Likely starting next season will be 24-year-old Brent Celek, who showed his potential late last season with 19 catches and three touchdowns in the postseason, including two scores in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Backing up Celek will be rookie Cornelius Ingram, who has been described as one of the steals in the draft. A former quarterback, Ingram switched to tight end, where he will provide the Eagles with a solid receiving target in the red zone.
Joining Jason Peters and the Andrews’ boys on the offensive line will be left guard Todd Herremans and center Jamaal Jackson. Herremans has provided the Eagles with solid depth as a starter over the past three seasons.
Jackson has started 56 consecutive games for the Eagles, the third longest streak among active NFL centers. In 2008, the Eagles’ powerful offensive line set a franchise record by allowing just one sack for every 27.3 pass attempts.
On the defensive line, the Eagles will incorporate a steady dose of the following eight players: ends Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Darren Howard, Victor Abiamiri, and Chris Clemons; and tackles Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, and Trevor Laws.
Cole was voted by his teammates’ as the team’s Defensive Most Valuable Player following the 2007 season, and is the most experienced member of the defensive line.
Bunkley and Patterson anchor the middle of the defensive line, where they have helped the Eagles rank sixth in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game over the past two seasons. Darren Howard led the Eagles with ten sacks in 2008, ranking first in the NFL in sacks among players who didn’t start a game.
Ironically, four of the Eagles’ defensive linemen have scored touchdowns in their career, with Parker and Clemons scoring last season. Parker’s 55-yard interception return sealed a victory against the San Francisco 49ers and is one of the more underrated moments of a roller-coaster 2008 season.
Clemons’ 73-yard fumble return helped the Eagles dominate the Cowboys and clinch a playoff spot in the final game of the season.
Anchoring the Eagles’ linebacking corps will be 25-year-old middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. Bradley possesses an impressive combination of size and speed, with a nose for the football. Last year, he was selected to the Sports Illustrated All-Pro team following his first season as a starter.
Despite losing two Pro Bowl players—Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard—the Eagles’ secondary might be the strongest group of players on the team.
Cornerback Asante Samuel is one of the more accomplished defensive players in recent NFL history. Samuel’s 20 interceptions since 2006 rank second among all NFL players and he is the all-time postseason leader in interception touchdowns. Samuel was selected to his second Pro Bowl following the 2008 season.
Strong safety Quintin Mikell earned All-Pro honors in his first full season as starter, while Sheldon Brown didn’t allow a single touchdown pass in the regular season. Mikell has the potential to step up as the Eagles’ defensive leader during the 2009 season.
Brown, who is currently in the middle of a contract dispute, will likely play next season. Newly acquired Sean Jones will likely beat out Quintin Demps for the starting job.
With Akers and Rocca returning, and the return duties being handled by two of the following four players—Demps, Jackson, Ellis Hobbs, and Maclin—the Eagles’ special teams will continue to be among the best in the league.
In the 2008 season, the Eagles underachieved. There’s no denying the obvious. Teams that outscore their opponents by 127 points should not need a miraculous season finale to earn a playoff spot. The Eagles could very easily have won 15 games, with the blowout to Baltimore being the only loss by more than a single score.
The Eagles’ biggest weakness in 2008 was probably their inability to convert short plays on third and fourth down. Signing Leonard Weaver will prove to be one of the more underrated transactions of the offseason.
The 2009 team has more speed than possibly any team in the NFL. They have strength and size. The best thing about this team is that they have depth at virtually every position, with either a Pro Bowler or a solid starter at each of the 22 positions.
No one player is worth more than the entire team, and while injuries are never a positive factor, the Eagles could stand to suffer an injury or two and still remain extremely competitive next season.
Heading into the 2009 season, the Eagles are considered to be one of the top teams in the NFC. With quarterback Donovan McNabb turning 33-years=old in the middle of next season, the Eagles—specifically their quarterback—are running out of time in their quest for a Super Bowl title.
The time is now.
By Bryn Swartz… They are my favorite team in NFL history and I never even saw them play.
The Eagles entered into their third season under head coach Buck Shaw. The 1958 season had marked disaster, as the club won just 2 of 12 games. The 1959 campaign produced five more wins than the previous campaign, and sparked excitement for the 1960 season.
Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin had already announced that the 1960 season would be his last. Aging center and linebacker Chuck Bednarik, the last of the NFL’s two-way players, had reached the age of 35. The Eagles were under immense pressure to contend for the league crown. However, many experts viewed the Eagles as nothing more than a slightly above average football team.
The season began with a disappointing blowout loss against Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns.
The Eagles then turned in a team-record nine game winning streak.
They squeaked out two-point road wins against the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns. The Browns’ game ended with an improbable walk-off field goal by kicker Bobby Walston, and is described by Hall of Fame analyst Ray Didinger as the game that launched the Eagles toward their championship crown.
They won back-to-back games against the New York Giants, both times coming from behind in the fourth quarter.
The first of the two Giants’ victories is remembered for the massive hit that Bednarik laid on running back Frank Gifford, now called one of the most incredible hits in NFL history. Bednarik described the hit as a “Volkswagon going down a one-street, with a Mack truck coming the opposite way.” The Mack truck won.
The image of Chuck Bednarik, right fist clenched, standing over Gifford’s unconscious body, is arguably the most memorable image in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Giants’ kicker Pat Summerall remembers the incident: “They carried Frank off the field on a stretcher, and unknown to us, some fan that day had had a heart attack in the stands. The man had unfortunately died in our locker room. They were taking him out with a sheet over his face, just as we started to walk in, and we all thought that Bednarik had killed Gifford.”
In all, the never-say-die Eagles turned six potential losses into six fourth quarter victories.
“We would bite, scratch, kick, gouge, anything we could do to win a game. It just seemed like we had a guardian angel over us or something.,” said wide receiver Tommy McDonald.
The team’s Most Valuable Player–in fact, the league’s MVP–was Norm Van Brocklin. “If ever a single player lifted a team that was average into winning a championship, it was him, and he did it by the sheer force of his personality, his will, and his skill,” said Philadelphia sports columnist Larry Merchant.
Despite ranking 10th out of 12 teams in defense, Bednarik’s men forced an incredible 45 turnovers in 12 games, including six each versus the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Buck Shaw’s powerful Eagles’ squad won 10 of 12 games on the season and captured the NFL East championship.
They earned the right to host the Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship. The Packers featured an absolutely awesome lineup, including ten future Hall of Famers. They were coached by Vince Lombardi, who many consider to be the greatest coach in the history of the National Football League.
The Eagles were underdogs for the championship game, despite winning two more games in the regular season than the Packers, and playing at home.
The Packers outplayed the Eagles for virtually the entire game, until Ted Dean’s five-yard touchdown run gave the Eagles a 17-13 lead with five minutes to play.
With eight seconds left, the Packers had the ball on the 25-yard line. Running back Jim Taylor caught a short pass and quickly broke two tackles. He was promptly leveled by Bednarik, who held Taylor down on the ground as the last few seconds ticked off the clock. When the clock reached zero, Bednarik stood over Taylor and exclaimed, “You can get up! This f—— game is over!”
The Philadelphia Eagles were the champions of the National Football League.
The 1960 Eagles have been called “a team with nothing but a title.”
“The 1960 football season was like a genie that came out of a bottle in City Hall courtyard, and for one year, it granted Philadelphia’s football fans their every wish,” said Didinger.
“It was just a strange, unique group of guys that suddenly decided that the most important thing in the world to them was to win a championship,” says tight end Pete Retzlaff.
No Eagles team in history has ever taken its fans on such a thrill ride as the 1960 team.
Not the 1991 squad playing without a quarterback. Not the 1980 team that reached the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Not even the 2004 team that dismantled all but one of its opponents before resting its starters and reaching a second Super Bowl.
In Philadelphia, winning is everything. It’s not optional. It’s not a bonus.
It’s a necessity.
Before 2008, people would ask me my favorite Phillies team and I would tell them that I didn’t have one. Sometimes I would choose the ‘80 team. Now I have seen a world championship from our baseball team.
I have never seen a winner from our football team.
I’ve seen a team that I will argue was the best team in the NFL (2004). I’ve seen a true-life Rocky team (2006). I’ve seen extreme roller-coaster rides (2008). I’ve seen overachievers (2003) and underachievers (2007). I’ve seen one-man teams (2000).
But I have never, in my 19 years, seen a champion. I can’t even remember 1960. My dad doesn’t even remember 1960.
I would give anything to have lived through the times of Van Brocklin and Bednarik.
The 1960 season produced the most memorable, wild, roller coaster ride in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles, culminating in dramatic fashion, with the arrival of the team’s third NFL championship.
And their last, to date.
By Bryn Swartz… I love football history. I love reading about it, writing about it, and learning about it. I have a whole slew of players from the Eagles that I would have loved to see play—Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Eric Allen, Randall Cunningham, and Seth Joyner.
But if there was one player throughout NFL history that I could watch, it would be an outside linebacker for the New York Giants.
The legend of Lawrence Taylor began in the 1970s, when the 15-year-old catcher switched from baseball to football. Taylor is one of four future NFL players to attend Lafayette High School in Virginia. He attended the University of North Carolina on a football scholarship.
At UNC, Lawrence Taylor, who had been recruited as a defensive end, switched to linebacker. He became one of the most dominant players in the country.
His assistant coach, Bobby Cale, recalls, “As a freshman playing on special teams, he’d jump a good six or seven feet in the air to block a punt, then land on the back of his neck. He was reckless, just reckless.”
LT tallied 16 sacks in his final season, earning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors. His jersey number has since been retired by UNC, and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest players in college football history.
A poll was taken before the draft and 26 of the 28 general managers in the NFL announced that they would draft LT if they had the first overall pick. However, the New Orleans Saints, who had the first pick, were one of the two teams not interested in Taylor.
Instead they selected running back George Rogers, and LT was drafted with the second pick by the New York Giants.
Although he had a clean slate entering the NFL draft, Taylor caused some controversy from the day he was drafted.
Before the draft, LT had made it clear that he was asking for a salary of $250,000 per year, an absolutely insurmountable figure for a rookie. Taylor’s teammates were furious and several threatened to leave the team if Taylor received his money.
Almost immediately after training camp began, Taylor had developed a reputation. His teammates began calling him Superman and teams around the league began hearing about the “rookie from UNC.”
He was so feared that his own quarterback, Phil Simms, could hardly wait for the regular season to begin so Taylor would stop hitting him in practice.
Taylor’s rookie season was one of the most memorable by a defensive player in NFL history. He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, as well as Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Giants won six more games than the previous season, including an upset win in the playoffs.
Taylor’s second season was even better than his first. He again captured Defensive Player of the Year honors, giving him one of the most prestigious honors for the second consecutive season.
For the next eight seasons, Taylor became the most dominating defensive player in the history of the National Football League.
Seven times, Taylor posted double-digit sack totals, including a career high of 20.5 in 1986.
He earned a Pro Bowl selection every single season, giving him 10 in a row after the 1990 season.
Taylor was named First-Team All-Pro from 1983-1986, and 1988-1989, as well as his first two seasons. His eight First-Team All-Pro selections are an NFL record for a linebacker.
His 1986 season will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, seasons ever by a defensive player. Taylor posted 20.5 sacks, an all-time single season record for a linebacker, and the fifth highest single season total in NFL history.
Taylor not only won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for the third time in his career, he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. He became just the second defensive player to capture the award, and the first to do so unanimously.
In the playoffs, the Giants steamrolled the San Francisco 49ers 49-3 and the Washington Redskins 17-0. They continued their dominance in the Super Bowl, crushing the Denver Broncos, 39-20.
Taylor missed four games in the 1987 season due to the player’s strike, but still led the team with 12 sacks, in just 12 games.
Taylor’s first brush with controversy came during the 1988 season. He was suspended for 30 days for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the second time.
Taylor missed the first four games of the season, instead undergoing rehab for his cocaine addiction. He returned in typical dominating fashion, posting 15.5 sacks in the season’s final 12 games.
One of Taylor’s most memorable games came near the season’s end, when he recorded seven tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles in a game with playoff implications.
Even more incredibly, Taylor played through a torn pectoral muscle so serious that he was forced to wear a shoulder harness for the remainder of the season. Giants’ head coach Bill Parcells called the game “the greatest game I ever saw.”
Taylor continued playing through pain during the 1989 season. He played the final five games of the season with a fractured tibia. He still managed to post 15 sacks and lead the Giants to a 12-win season. He was also named defensive co-captain, an honor he shared with teammate Carl Banks.
Taylor said that “playing in pain was simply a matter of tricking yourself into believing that you aren’t hurt.”
Taylor’s controversy continued into the 1990 season. He held out of training camp until three days before the start of the season, arguing for a larger contract. He still turned in a great season, posting 10.5 sacks and leading the Giants to a 13-3 record, including a 10-0 start.
In the postseason, the Giants annihilated the Bears, 31-3, and squeaked by the 49ers, 15-13, to face the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. The Giants came away with a 20-19 victory, thanks to a missed 47-yard field goal by Scott Norwood on the final play of the game.
The 1991 season was the most disappointing of Taylor’s career, to date. He ended his record-setting streak of 10 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. He missed two games due to injury, for only the second time in his career. And he had to adjust to a new head coach, as the two-time Super Bowl champion Bill Parcells was replaced with Ray Handley.
Taylor suffered through two more disappointing seasons, as he ruptured his Achilles tendon in early November of 1992, costing him the final seven games of the season. The Giants were 5-4 when Taylor played, and 1-6 without him. Taylor considered retiring after the 1992 season, but expressed his desire to play for new head coach, Dan Reeves.
Taylor was determined to end his final season without an injury, and he managed to play in all 16 games during the 1993 campaign. He posted only six sacks and was no longer the same player he had been through the entire decade of the 1980’s. The Giants did, however, lead the entire NFL in total defense.
In the postseason, the Giants defeated the Vikings, 17-10, before the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers throttled the Giants, 44-3.
Taylor retired after the game, saying, “I think it’s time for me to retire. I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve been to Super Bowls. I’ve been to the playoffs. I’ve done things that other people haven’t been able to do in this game before. After 13 years, it’s time for me to go.”
Throughout his career, Taylor’s on-field success was almost overshadowed by his off-field antics. Only after his career was over did Taylor admit that he had been using drugs as early as 1982, his second season in the National Football League.
Taylor had originally failed a drug test for cocaine in 1987, but the NFL didn’t reveal this information, as was policy, until he failed his second test the following year.
Taylor gave up drugs in 1988, because a third failed drug test would have ended his career.
However, he began using drugs again immediately after his retirement. He was arrested twice over the next five years for trying to buy cocaine from undercover police officers. Taylor admitted that “things had gotten so bad that my house was almost like a crack house.”
Taylor’s story has a happy ending though. He has lived a clean lifestyle since 1998 and is currently pursuing a career as an actor.
His impact on the game is what Taylor should be remembered for. It could be argued that no player, certainly no defensive player, has ever changed the game as much as LT.
Taylor is credited with changing the position of outside linebacker from “read and react” to an attacking, aggressive position.
As he recalls, “A linebacker was just a linebacker. He would cover a little, stop the run, stop the pass. I would make so many mistakes in the pass coverage. I would supposed to be covering here, and I wouldn’t. My answer to everything was just to rush the quarterback. See what happens.”
Taylor also is credited with being the first to chop the ball out of the quarterback’s hands upon impact. His theory was simple: “If you’re going to take down the quarterback, why not take the ball also?” Taylor forced 34 fumbles over his career, the majority of them taken from quarterbacks.
Taylor was so dominant as a linebacker that future Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins literally invented new offensive formations to contain LT.
Gibbs invented the two-tight end offense and the position of h-back to account for Taylor’s blitzing. Instead of having a running back try to block the blitzing Taylor, Gibbs utilized offensive linemen, usually the left tackle, to contain Taylor.
Taylor was fearless, reckless, and intimidating. He was probably the most intense player to ever play in the National Football League.
“What makes LT so great, what makes him so aggressive, is his total disregard for his body,” says Bill Belichick, the Giants’ defensive coordinator during Taylor’s tenure.
From sending prostitutes to the hotel rooms of his opponents’ the night before a game in an attempt to tire them out, to submitting his teammates’ urine to pass drug tests, to playing through unbelievable injuries to help the Giants win football games, Lawrence Taylor is truly one of a kind.
“I live my life on the fast lane. I always have and I always will,” says Taylor.
The comparisons to Lawrence Taylor still exist. Nearly every great defensive player in college football is compared to the Giants’ legend.
Ray Lewis. Brian Urlacher. Julius Peppers.
In reality, we will probably never again see one like No. 56.
The greatest defensive player in NFL history.
By Bryn Swartz… Everybody knows who the greatest athletes in the world are. Guys like LeBron James. Alexander Ovechkin. Albert Pujols. Michael Phelps. And many more.
These are the athletes who dominate their respective sports to the point of absurdity. They win Most Valuable Player trophies, championships, and gold medals. They set records and make millions of dollars.
So I found it somewhat shocking when I heard about a man doing some of the most unbelievable acts of physical fitness in the history of mankind, and I didn’t even know his name.
Meet Dean Karnazes, the world’s greatest running machine since…well…ever.
That’s right. A runner. It’s what Dean does, every day, for several hours. He doesn’t run 5K’s or 10 K’s. He doesn’t just run marathons either.
“I seek extremes. Why run 10 miles when you can run 100? Moderation bores me. For me, a marathon is just a warm up. I run 50-mile races, 100-mile races. I’ll run 24 hours and more without sleep, barely pausing for food and water, or even to use the bathroom.
“I’ll run up and down mountains; through Death Valley in the dead of summer; at the South Pole. I push my body, mind, and spirit well past what most humans would consider the limits of pain and exertion.”
Dean Karnazes was born on Aug. 23, 1962 in Los Angeles. One of his earliest memories came in kindergarten when, to save his mother the trouble of picking him up from school, he ran home–every single day.
Karnazes enjoyed the running so much that he began creating new routes to take home from school. He increased the length of these routes to an unnecessary extent, simply running for fun.
As he recalls, “Running gave me a sense of freedom and exploration that school never did.”
Karnazes began competing in more running events over the next few years, many of which he organized himself. He became more passionate about physical exercise, specifically pushing his body to extremities.
By age 11, he had biked across the Grand Canyon. He also climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.
As a middle schooler, Karnazes was introduced to long distance running. His track coach, Jack McTavish, lived by the simple philosophy: “If it comes easy, if it doesn’t require extraordinary effort, you’re not pushing hard enough: It’s supposed to hurt like hell.”
Karnazes states that this advice helped him win the one-mile California State Long Distance Championships.
Karnazes’ freshman track coach, Benner Cummings, believed that a runner should “run with their heart.” Karnazes lived by this motto, and was awarded “Most Inspirational” member. He also ran his first marathon that year.
However, Karnazes had a falling out with his track coach. He reacted by hanging up his running shoes for 15 years.
When he turned 30, he had a sudden panic attack, which he now considers his midlife crisis.
Karnazes went on a spontaneous 30-mile run, in which he transferred from a “drunken yuppie fool into a reborn athlete.”
And on that day, a legend was born.
In the last 17 years, Karnazes has become one of the world’s greatest athletes. He has accomplished more as a runner than many would have thought was humanly possible.
Eleven times, Karnazes completed the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile race through mountain trails in California.
He ran 148 miles on a treadmill in a 24-hour span in 2004.
He completed the 199-mile Providian Saturn Relay six times.
He won the 2004 Badwater Ultramarathon in 120-degree weather. The Badwater Ultramarathon is described as “a 135-mile trek across Death Valley to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States….widely considered the ultimate test of endurance and human resolve…or just plain insanity.”
He joined a team of runners to become the first men to complete a marathon at the South Pole, finishing in second place, with a time of nine hours and 18 minutes.
He completed the North Face Endurance 50, which is 50 marathons…in 50 states….in 50 days. The day after Karnazes completed his final marathon, he decided to run home: from New York to San Francisco.
But Karnazes’s single most impressive accomplishment came in 2005, when the 42-year-old businessman ran for 350 consecutive miles without stopping. Yes, 350 miles. As in, the equivalent of 13 and a half marathons in a row.
So why? Why does Karnazes run for such great distances?
“Running great distances was a release, and, on some level, my boundless energy needed an outlet. Running great distances is my way of finding peace. It’s a sense of adventure that keeps me running.
“I love nothing more than to put a credit card in my pocket, tuck the kids in for the night, and head out the door for an all-night run. If I want a latte, I stop by Starbucks and grab one. If I see something interesting, I stop and check it out. It’s never tedious when I’m immersed in the adventure.”
Karnazes isn’t satisfied with running for 350 miles either.
His goal? To run for 500 consecutive miles without stopping.
The biggest challenge? Not the actual running.
“The biggest challenge for running 500 miles is the sleep deprivation. I’ve fallen asleep while running before on several occasions. I didn’t fall over or anything–just kept “sleep running” for a fair distance.
Initially I thought this was a bad thing, but I realized that when I awoke I was actually refreshed. So now I’m going to try to train myself to sleep-run as a way to overcome sleep deprivation.”
Some things about Karanzes’s running may surprise you.
Not only does Karnazes need to eat during his runs to, well, stay alive, but he literally eats whatever he wants.
He’ll order enormous pizzas with everything on them, topped off with chocolate eclairs or a gigantic cherry cheesecake. He doesn’t gain weight from it either. He’ll burn 9000 calories during a 24-hour run.
Karnazes has, as you may have imagined, developed some pretty intense sores from running. He has lost dozens of toenails, and will often take off his shoes after a run to find his feet covred by giant, foot-devouring blisters. Want to know Karnazes’s chosen methods of treatment?
Krazy Glue and duct tape.
That’s right. Karnazes’s blisters are popped open, filled with Krazy Glue, and sealed with duct tape. As he says, “I feel like a raft having a leak repaired.”
Whether or not Karanzes ever runs his 500 miles, there is no doubt that he is one of the most dominant athletes in history. But Karnazes doesn’t have the heart of a champion because of how fast he can wrong. Running great distances isn’t about speed.
“Being a champion means not quitting, no matter how tough the situation becomes, and no matter how badly the odds are stacked against you. If you have the courage, stamina, and perseverance to cross the finish line, you are a champion. And if you can’t run, then walk. And if you can’t walk, then crawl. Do whatever you have to do. Just keep moving forward and never, ever give up.
Karnazes’s final piece of advice for future runners?
“Dreams can come true…especially if you train hard enough. Sometimes you’ve got to go through hell to get to heaven.”
by Bryn Swartz… There are some things in sports that one just accepts without hesitation. The New York Yankees are the greatest franchise in professional sports history. Michael Jordan is the greatest clutch player in basketball history. And Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
However, what if a closer examination revealed…that the general public might be wrong?
What if Jerry Rice really isn’t the greatest wide receiver in NFL history?
What if somebody 50, 60, even 70 years ago was better?
Accept it. It’s true.
Meet Don Hutson, wide receiver of the Green Bay Packers from 1935-1945.
Don Hutson, the greatest wide receiver in the 89-year history of the National Football League.
To compare Hutson and Rice, I have chosen five different topics to focus on: supporting cast, longevity, postseason, impact on the game, and most importantly, a statistical analysis.
1. Supporting Cast
Let’s be honest. Jerry Rice was truly blessed throughout his entire career.
Rice had the luxury of playing for two of the five greatest quarterbacks in NFL history: Joe Montana and Steve Young. He also played for Jeff Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler. And as a member of the Oakland Raiders, he caught passes from Rich Gannon, who captured the 2002 MVP award.
Overall, Rice played 20 seasons in the NFL, during which his quarterbacks went to the Pro Bowl 13 times and earned five—count ‘em, FIVE—Most Valuable Player awards.
Rice never played for a quarterback who was anything short of spectacular.
What about Hutson?
Hutson played for three very, very good quarterbacks: Arnie Herber, Cecil Isbell, and Irv Comp. Herber is currently a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Isbell was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Comp was a good quarterback who played like a great quarterback during the three seasons he played with Hutson. The year after Hutson retired, Comp threw for one touchdown pass and eight interceptions, while posting a single-digit passer rating (yes, single digits).
However, as great as Herber, Isbell, and Comp were, they were never better than Sammy Baugh or Sid Luckman.
Baugh and Luckman were always the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. Their rivalry was arguably the most intense in NFL history (sorry Colts and Patriots fans).
Whoever quarterbacked the Green Bay Packers, as in, whoever had the luxury of throwing to Don Hutson, was generally considered to be the third best quarterback in the 10-team National Football League.
Advantage: Hutson, easily
Jerry Rice played 20 seasons in the National Football League. He played every single game of every single season, except for 1997, when he missed 14 games due to a torn ACL suffered in the season opener, after a facemask tackle by Warren Sapp.
Rice returned in the season finale, catching his lone touchdown pass, but cracking the patella in his left kneecap upon landing.
In all, Rice played 303 regular season games in his NFL career, and another 29 in the postseason. He played in more games than any non-kicker in NFL history and holds numerous longevity records, including oldest player to score a touchdown (40) and the oldest wide receiver to play in the NFL (42).
His training regime was legendary, as he was particularly noted for his fondness of running up hills in the offseason, a method also utilized by the great Walter Payton.
Hutson played 11 seasons in the National Football League. He played wide receiver and defensive end. He also kicked field goals and extra points.
He played in 116 of 120 games during his 11 seasons, missing three games in his rookie season and one in 1938. Playing both ways–all three ways–Hutson played in 96.7 percent of games during his NFL career, slightly higher than Rice’s 95.6 percentage.
In essence, Hutson literally played all 60 minutes of every single football game.
Advantage: Rice, but only by a little bit.
Yup, we’re addressing the postseason before the regular season. Why? Because the regular season is much more important.
Jerry Rice has been just as successful–and consistent–in the postseason as he has been in the regular season.
In 28 postseason games, Rice caught 151 passes for 2245 yards and 22 touchdowns. Projected over a single season, Rice’s stats would look like this: 86 receptions, 1283 yards, 13 touchdowns.
Rice caught three touchdown passes in two different Super Bowls. His 215 receiving yards in Super Bowl XXIII are a single-game record.
Rice played in four Super Bowls. Three times he walked away on the winning team.
What about Hutson?
Well, Hutson played for two championship winning teams. He played in four total NFL championship games.
Unfortunately, game statistics cannot be found from these championship games, so we have no idea how Hutson performed.
All that is provided from these games is the boxscore, meaning we know that Don Hutson scored on a game-winning 48-yard touchdown reception in the 1936 NFL championship game. He didn’t score in any of the other three NFL championship games. One touchdown in four championship games is not at all impressive, but chances are pretty good, though, that the greatest player in the NFL had a major role in his team’s two championships.
He may not have dominated quite like Rice, but then again why couldn’t he have? Great players step up their game when it counts.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know how Hutson played, besides his lone touchdown.
4. Impact on the Game
Rice showed that a wide receiver can excel–even dominate–without being the biggest, the strongest, or the fastest.
Longtime Cardinals’ coach Dennis Green calls Jerry Rice “the greatest route runner I’ve ever seen.” Rice is also universally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, blocking receiver in NFL history.
Well, Don Hutson completely revolutionized the position of wide receiver in the National Football League. He was the first great receiver in league history. On Hutson’s first play from scrimmage in his first NFL start, he caught an 83-yard touchdown pass. The Packers won the game 7-0 and a legend had been born.
Hutson is said to have literally created the art of “route-running” among wide receivers. He is credited with creating the buttonhook, the hook-and-go, and Z-outs. It was said that there wasn’t a single defender in Hutson’s era who could cover him one-on-one. Not one.
Hutson literally created the position of wide receiver in the National Football League. He didn’t just revolutionize it for future generations. He created the position.
I wish Dennis Green (or any of us) could have seen Don Hutson play.
…where Rice blows Hutson away. Right?
I have one small issue with the success of Jerry Rice.
Rice had fantastic stats, stats that look much better on paper than Don Hutson. But nobody in the NFL dominated the rest of the league like Don Hutson.
Take Rice’s 1995 season: 122 catches, 1848 yards, 15 touchdowns.
Rice’s season is easily one of the greatest in history, right?
Nope. A case could be made that Rice was just the fourth best receiver in the NFC that season.
Herman Moore caught 123 (a new single-season record) passes for 1686 yards and 14 touchdowns, despite having Scott Mitchell as his quarterback (career Pro Bowl selections: zero).
Isaac Bruce caught 119 passes for 1781 yards and 13 touchdowns. His quarterback(s)? Chris Miller and Mark Rypien. The next leading receiver on the St. Louis Rams was the ever-dangerous Troy Drayton, a 260-pound tight end who hauled in 47 passes for 458 yards and four touchdowns during the season.
Cris Carter caught 122 passes for 1371 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdowns, while helping to coax one final great season out of the 39-year-old Warren Moon.
Michael Irvin caught 111 balls for 1603 yards and 10 touchdowns. Nine different players caught 100 passes that season. The list goes on and on.
Now, not to take anything away from Rice, but he wasn’t quite as dominant as some people may realize.
In his 20 seasons in the National Football League, Rice led the league in receptions twice, yards six times, and touchdowns six times. In all, he led the league in 14 different categories during his career, all between 1986-1996.
His 22 touchdown catches in 1987 set an NFL single-season record. Even more incredibly, they came in just 12 games, due to a strike-shortened season.
He caught 122 passes in 1995, the second highest single-season total in NFL history. His 1848 receiving yards did set a single-season record.
Rice hauled in 100 passes four times, 90 passes six times, and 80 passes 12 times. He topped 1000 yards receiving in 14 different seasons. He caught double-digit touchdowns nine times, including five seasons of over 15. All of these are NFL records.
What about Hutson?
Hutson was literally the greatest wide receiver in the National Football League every year for 11 consecutive seasons. He might have been the best PLAYER in the National Football League in half of those seasons.
Hutson led the NFL in receptions eight times. He topped the league in receiving yards seven times. He finished first in touchdown catches nine times. In all, Hutson finished first in 24 different receiving categories in his 11 seasons. He finished second seven times, third once, and sixth once. He finished in the top three in all three receiving categories in 32 of 33 possible chances. The only exception? A sixth place finish in receptions in his rookie season.
You want to give Rice an advantage because he played in a league with 30 teams, compared to Hutson, who played with 10 teams?
Realistically, that’s fair.
Let’s count all of Rice’s top three finishes in receiving statistics, while only counting Hutson’s number one finishes.
Rice finished in the top three in receptions six times, receiving yards ten times, and touchdowns nine times. That’s equal to 25 first place finishes, which would give him a minuscule advantage (25-24) over Hutson.
Hutson’s 1942 season is the greatest season by a wide receiver in the history of the National Football League. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. Hutson caught 74 passes for 1211 yards and 17 touchdowns. In today’s game, this season would look fantastic. In 1942, Hutson’s season was simply out of this world.
The league’s second, third, and fourth leading receivers combined for 74 receptions for 1336 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those are the TOTAL statistics of the next best three wide receivers COMBINED. Projected over a 16 game season, Hutson’s statistics would look like this:
108 catches for 1761 yards and 25 touchdowns
That’s WITHOUT any way to compare the difference in eras. You think that passing was considered to be legit in the 1940s? Passing the football was considered risky! The forward pass was considered dangerous so most teams utilized two or three running backs (and often two or three quarterbacks).
Hutson’s season was Ruthian. He caught more touchdown passes than eight of the nine TEAMS in the National Football League. He had more receiving yards than four NFL teams and more receptions than three teams.
In any given year, for Jerry Rice to dominate the rest of the league the way Hutson did, Rice would need approximately:
300 catches for 4200 yards and 45 touchdowns.
That’s never going to happen. Ever. Only one player has ever gotten half of any of those statistics in a single season, and that was when Randy Moss caught 23 touchdown passes in his record-breaking 2007 season.
Let’s look at how each player performed in their typical season. We’ll give Rice an advantage and pick his best 11 seasons, meaning we exclude his rookie season (1985) and every season after 1997. For Hutson, we can simply use his entire career, which was 11 seasons.
In Rice’s 11 best seasons, he caught 1001 passes for 15450 yards and 151 touchdowns.
In Hutson’s 11 seasons, he caught 488 passes for 7991 yards and 99 touchdowns.
It’s not even close. Rice blows Hutson away. Now let’s look at their average season.
Rice averaged 91 catches for 1405 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Hutson averaged 44 catches for 726 yards and 9 touchdowns.
When adjusting to a 16 game schedule, Hutson’s average season looks like this:
67 catches for 1102 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Rice still wins by a decent amount.
But there’s still one more adjustment to be made—accounting for the difference in eras played. When Hutson played, the average team passed the ball approximately 20 times per game. In Rice’s era, teams passed approximately 30 times per game. The final adjustment shows Hutson’s average season looking like this:
101 catches for 1653 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Those are Don Hutson’s statistics on an average season, projected to today’s game.
You want to see his 1942 season again, with all of the adjustments?
162 catches for 2641 yards and 38 touchdowns.
And for the final comparison?
Let’s see Hutson’s 11-year career compared to Jerry Rice’s 20 seasons, when adjusted for relative to eras.
Hutson: 1110 catches, 18389 yards, 225 touchdowns, 16.4 yards per catch
Rice: 1549 catches, 22895 yards, 197 touchdowns, 14.8 yards per catch
Despite a nine-year disadvantage in career length, Hutson managed to outscore Rice by 28 touchdowns, despite playing in the football equivalent of the Dead Ball Era.
Rice caught about 400 more passes for 4000 more yards, which, if distributed among those extra nine seasons, is equal to 49 catches for 501 yards per season. Those are the numbers of a solid number three receiver.
Ignoring the difference in eras is the biggest mistake one can make when comparing two players. On paper, Rice appears to blow Hutson away, but in reality, it’s Don Hutson who leaves Jerry Rice in the dust.
Advantage: Hutson, by a solid margin.
Calling Jerry Rice the greatest wide receiver in NFL history is probably the safest argument for a football fan to make.
However, I highly doubt that most football fans have even considered the other side of the fence—that there is in fact somebody better than Rice.
Hutson led the NFL in the three major receiving statistics 24 out of 33 times. He finished in the top three 32 times. He led the league in either receptions, yards, or touchdowns every single season of his career.
He won the receiving Triple Crown five times, including four consecutive seasons (1941-1944). He caught a touchdown on 20 percent of his receptions, compared to 13 percent for Jerry Rice.
Don Hutson is the only wide receiver in NFL history to win the Most Valuable Player award, which he did twice (1941 and 1942).
Hutson was a winner, as shown by his four championship game appearances and two victories.
He didn’t have the career length that Jerry Rice did, but he also never lost a step, retiring at the top of his game. Rice, however, never again produced an elite season after his ACL injury at the age of 35.
When his career statistics are adjusted due to the time periods, Hutson matches up quite well with Rice.
When their average seasonal statistics are compared, Hutson blows Rice away.
There’s no other way to look at it. The greatest wide receiver in NFL history is not a 6′2″, 200-pound first-round draft pick from Mississippi Valley State—it’s a 6′1, 183-pound walk-on at the University of Alabama.
by Bryn Swartz… Steve Sabol, President of NFL Films, once stated, “There are so many definitions of toughness. There’s the toughness of getting the snot knocked out of you, and the can’t-be-intimidated, never-quit kind of tough. And then there’s the injured tough, which is no-regard-for-your-body-and-play-with-broken-bones tough. Then there’s mental toughness, when you’re tough under pressure and not losing your poise. Then there’s the toughness a person has, an aura, that he can intimidate other people by his play or his toughness.”
And then there’s the players below who contain all of these qualities. It’s incredibly debatable, but here is my attempt to rank them in order for toughness.
40. Sam Huff, Linebacker, New York Giants & Washington Redskins (1956-1969)
“A pro football linebacker is just naturally tough. You don’t mess with him. If we were fighting a war, the linebackers would be the first guys to get killed. Why? We invariably would attack a bunker from where the enemy is shooting machine guns. We’d attack the bunker, and the quarterbacks would be sitting in a tank with the general saying, ‘Well, what kind of attack are you planning?’ “
39. Hines Ward, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers (1998-present)
Hines Ward played wide receiver, tailback, quarterback, and punt returner in college. He is famous for his crack-back blocks, and broke the jaw of Cincinnati rookie Keith Rivers in a 2008 contest. The Baltimore Ravens placed a bounty on Ward, to which the former Super Bowl MVP responded, “Bring it on.” He was voted the smartest offensive player in the NFL (non-quarterbacks) and is considered the best blocking receiver in the NFL.
38. Don Meredith, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys (1960-1968)
“Meredith was really tough. He got beat up so bad in his early years. His last game, up in Cleveland, he came out of the hospital to play with a broken rib, a punctured lung, and pneumonia. I saw Meredith’s nose broken so bad that it spread all over his face. Looked like a raccoon.” —Bob Lilly
37. Ernie Stautner, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers (1950-1963)
“Ernie Stautner comes in the huddle, and his thumb is broken back against his wrist. There’s a tear near the break, and his bone is sticking out. He has a compound fracture of the thumb. He takes his thumb in his hand and wrenches it down into his fist. Doesn’t show it to anybody. Doesn’t say anything.
So he stayed there for the rest of the series, and then we came off, and I’m watching him because I’m the only guy who saw that he had a compound fracture. I saw the bone. So I’m figuring now he’s going to ask for the doctor, and he may have to go to the hospital because this thing could get infected, and he says, “Give me some tape.” So they throw him some tape and he just starts taping this huge ball. He makes this big fist. Then we go back in. He plays the entire game. Never misses a down. I’m just astounded, and he’s using this hand that is broken as a club. He’s beating people with it. After the game, we go into the locker room and he says, “Hey Doc, I think I got a problem.” —Andy Russell, linebacker
36. Jon Runyan, Tackle, Houston/Tennessee Oilers & Titans, Philadelphia Eagles (1996-present)
Runyan has started 180 consecutive games at right tackle, and has played in the postseason on seven occasions. He is regarded as the second dirtiest player in the NFL and a 2008 poll revealed that one of the scariest things in the NFL is being blocked by Runyan on a screen pass. He has played through numerous injuries, including a broken bone in his back.
35. Jack Youngblood, Defensive End, Los Angeles Rams (1971-1984)
Youngblood played the final three games of the 1979 NFL playoffs, including the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a heavily-taped broken leg. He was called the “John Wayne of Football” by John Madden.
34. Mark Bavaro, Tight End, New York Giants & Cleveland Browns & Philadelphia Eagles (1985-1990, 1992-1994)
Nicknamed “Rambo” for his tough play and physical resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, Bavaro broke seven tackles on one catch across the middle against the 49ers in a 1986 game. He dragged Ronnie Lott twenty yards. Bavaro’s play inspired the Giants, who went on to win the game, and the Super Bowl.
33. Bill Romanowski, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers & Philadelphia Eagles & Denver Broncos & Oakland Raiders (1988-2003)
NFL tough guy was fined for: kicking fullback Larry Centers in the head (1995); breaking Kerry Collins’ jaw on a preseason helmet-to-helmet hit (1997); throwing a football at linebacker Bryan Cox and hitting him in the groin (1999); punching tight end Tony Gonzalez (1999); and breaking the eye socket of teammate Marcus Williams in a scrimmage, forcing him to retire (2003). He also received fines for three illegal hits in the 1999 season. In 1997, he spit in the face of wide receiver JJ Stokes. Romanowski played in 243 consecutive games, a record for a linebacker, and played for four Super Bowl champions.
32. Larry Wilson, Safety, St. Louis Cardinals (1960-1972)
Larry Wilson is best known for inventing the safety blitz. Wilson intercepted 52 passes in his career, but the one that stands out is the 91-yard interception touchdown from 1965—a pass he intercepted despite casts on both of his broken hands. Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne has called Wilson “pound for pound the toughest player in the NFL.”
31. Conrad Dobler, Guard, St. Louis Cardinals & New Orleans Saints & Buffalo Bills (1972-1981)
Dobler, in an ESPN poll, was named the dirtiest professional athlete of all time. He spent the week prior to a game building up his hatred over the opponent. Among Dobler’s principal offenses were biting, gouging, punching, kicking, and grabbing the face mask. In 1974, he used a cast on his broken left hand as a weapon. Dobler punched Pittsburgh’s Mean Joe Greene in the solar plexus and kicked the Rams’ Merlin Olsen in the head. He spit in the face of Eagles’ safety Bill Bradley as he lay injured on the ground. When Giants defensive tackle Jim Pietrzak wished him good luck in the playoffs, he punched him. He bit one tackle so many times that the player requested a rabies shot. Dobler swore that he would never intentionally blind someone, only blur their vision.
30. Deacon Jones, Defensive End, Los Angeles Rams & San Diego Chargers & Washington Redskins (1961-1974)
The NFL’s unofficial record-holder with 26 sacks in the 1967 season, Deacon coined the term “sack.” Jones said that toughness is defined not by playing through pain, but by avoiding pain in the first place. Deacon perfected the “head slap,” a move that would be eventually banned by the NFL because it was “too effective.”
29. Walt Garrison, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys (1966-1974)
In a playoff game in 1970, Garrison broke three ribs in the first quarter and continued playing after he was carried off the field. He rushed for over 100 yards, caught several passes, and helped the Cowboys continue their path to the Super Bowl. Garrison has also played through a separated shoulder, a severely broken nose and a broken collarbone. Teammate Charlie Waters recalls the time that Garrison accidentally cut his thumb with a knife so that it was dangling from his hand. Garrison wrapped his thumb in tape and played the next day, rushing for over 100 yards.
28. Walter Payton, Running Back, Chicago Bears (1975-1987)
Gary Fencik: “I had the displeasure of tackling, by accident, Walter only once in my 12-year career. And boy, the rest of the day was hell for me.” The ironic part? Fencik, a Bears safety, speaks about a hit that occurred in practice.
27. Jerry Kramer, Guard & Kicker, Green Bay Packers (1958-1968)
Kramer endured 23 operations and required over 500 stitches in his NFL career, including a colostomy, which he described as “a horror movie that hasn’t been made yet.”
26. Jim Marshall, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings (1960-1979)
Could someone please explain to me why Jim Marshall is not in the Hall of Fame? As a 248-pound defensive end, he played in 282 consecutive games. Every game. For 19 straight seasons. He maintained his streak despite pneumonia, an ulcer, and a shotgun wound to the side. Marshall earned his fame as a member of the Purple People Eaters of the early 1970s.
25. Mike Curtis, Linebacker, Baltimore Colts & Seattle Seahawks & Washington Redskins (1965-1978)
Curtis was nicknamed “The Animal” and was one of the angriest men to ever play in the NFL. He was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1970 and once knocked unconscious a fan who entered onto the playing field during a game. He chewed through the bars of his face mask and reportedly ate the window panes of the team bus. He proudly stated that he played football because it was the only way he could hit someone and get away with it.
24. George Trafton, Center, Chicago Bears (1920-1921, 1923-1932)
Red Grange called George Trafton the “toughest, meanest, most ornery critter alive.” The 235-pound center had his college days cut short after he was expelled from Notre Dame and was considered the dirtiest player of his time. Trafton played before the NFL enforced late-hit, roughing, or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. As a rookie in 1920, he angered the Rock Island Independents so bad that they sent four players into the game on a mission to destroy Trafton. Within 12 plays, Trafton had knocked each player out of the game, sending one of them to the hospital with a broken hand and an 11-inch cut across the forehead. Nicknamed “The Brute,” Trafton broke the leg and ended the career of halfback Fred Chicken by throwing him into a fence. The Rock Island fans were so angered that a rock-throwing mob chased him from the field.
23. Ronnie Lott, Cornerback & Safety, San Francisco 49ers & Los Angeles Raiders & New York Jets & Kansas City Chiefs (1981-1995)
Ronnie Lott was a cornerback who hit like a linebacker. His claim to fame occurred in 1985 when his left pinkie was caught between the shoulder pads and helmet of Cowboys running back Timmy Newsome, shattering the bone. When Lott’s finger didn’t heal properly, he told the doctors to cut it off, and they amputated his pinkie at the third knuckle. Over his 14-year career, which included Pro Bowl selections at safety, cornerback, and linebacker, Lott endured many injuries, including a broken leg and torn knee cartilage.
22. Bucko Kilroy, Guard, Philadelphia Eagles (1943-1955)
Giants lineman Al DeRogatis once accused Kilroy of biting him on the nose. Kilroy denied the charge. “I didn’t bite his nose,” he said. “I bit his ear.” Kilroy, who played back in the days when offensive linemen weren’t allowed to extend their arms to block, was considered the dirtiest player in the NFL, and he helped Philadelphia win back-to-back NFL championships.
21. Jim Brown, Running Back, Cleveland Browns (1957-1965)
Arguably the greatest combination of power and speed the game has ever seen, Brown missed one game in his nine-year career. He won eight rushing titles before abruptly retiring at the age of 30. He gave the following advice to future Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey: “Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts.”
20. Emmitt Smith, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys & Arizona Cardinals (1990-2004)
Emmitt Smith transformed the epitome of toughness on national television in the last game of the season in 1993. With the Cowboys and Giants fighting for the NFC East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Emmitt played the entire game with a sprained and separated right shoulder. He ran 32 times for 168 yards and caught 10 balls for 61 yards. The Cowboys won the game, earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and captured the Super Bowl title. When asked why he played through the pain, instead of watching from the sidelines, Smith calmly responded, “This is why they pay me.”
19. Steve McNair, Quarterback, Houston/Tennessee Oilers & Titans & Baltimore Ravens (1995-2007)
Steve McNair is the definition of playing through pain. The former Titans star quarterback has injured nearly every part of his body at one time or another. He has played through numerous injuries such as a separated right clavicle, an infected right shoulder, a dislocated ring finger on his right hand, torn cartilage in his right knee, a strained calf, a hip pointer, a ruptured disk, back spasms, strained rib cartilage, severely bruised ribs, a left knee sprain, an MCL sprain, a left ankle sprain, severe turf toe, a cracked bone spur in his left ankle, a bone spur in his toe, and a severely bruised sternum. The 2003 NFL MVP, McNair has never missed a playoff start and led the Titans to the Super Bowl in 1999.
18. Dick Plasman, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears & Chicago Cardinals (1937-1947)
Plasman refused to wear a helmet. Flat-out refused—that is, until the league made him. Teammate Hugh Gallarneau claims that, “He had a piece of cement for a head.” He once dove into a brick wall attempting to catch a pass, busted open his head, and was carried off semiconscious. His first words: “Did we score?” Believe it or not, Plasman suffered from blindness and post-concussion syndrome until his death at age 67 in 1981.
17. Larry Csonka, Fullback, Miami Dolphins & New York Giants (1968-1974, 1976-1979)
Csonka was a bull in a china shop. He was one of the best 4th-and-1 runners in NFL history. Csonka also broke his nose 10 times in his career, causing it to be permanently deformed, and would remain in the game despite blood pouring out of it. In 1972, he thought he broke his back on a hit by a Minnesota Vikings linebacker, so he crawled off the field. Minutes later, he set up the winning touchdown with a fake handoff. Csonka is also the only player in the history of the NFL to be penalized while carrying the ball—a forearm shot/right cross that knocked a safety unconscious.
16. Rocky Bleier, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers (1968, 1971-1980)
Bleier’s story is one of the greatest in the history of sports. He was drafted into the U.S. Army after his rookie season and endured shrapnel wounds to his right leg. Told by doctors that he would never play football again, Bleier, recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, spent two full years attempting to return to the NFL. He finally returned after a three-year absence. Bleier eventually played on four Super Bowl championships and earned a reputation as both a fearsome blocker and a powerful runner. Today, he tours the country giving motivational speeches.
15. Jack Tatum, Safety, Oakland Raiders & Houston Oilers (1971-1980)
He was nicknamed “The Assassin.” He knocked out future Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey in the first game of his career. He knocked the helmet off Minnesota receiver Sammy White in the Super Bowl—probably the hardest hit I have ever seen. He paralyzed wide receiver Darryl Stingley in a preseason game in 1978 on a clean hit. He liked to think that his best hits border on “felonious assault.”
14. Mel Hein, Center, New York Giants (1931-1945)
Hein played fifteen seasons with the Giants and never missed a play. He only called timeout one time and that was to reset his broken nose. Hein remains the only offensive linemen to ever win the MVP award (1938).
13. Bob Lilly, Defensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys (1961-1974)
In his 14 seasons, Lilly never missed a game. Not one. He endured torn-up knees, broken hands, broken ribs, and an acutely-painful hamstring tear but never missed a game. He played in 11 Pro Bowls and is considered one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history.
12. Tommy McDonald, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles & Dallas Cowboys & Los Angeles Rams & Atlanta Falcons & Cleveland Browns (1957-1968)
McDonald was the last NFL player to not wear a facemask. In one game, he was knocked unconscious by a 49er defender. With a broken jaw wired shut, McDonald could only drink milkshakes and watched his weight plummet from 175 to 143. In the Eagles’ next game, against the Giants, McDonald caught three touchdowns and returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. McDonald suffered exactly zero broken noses and knocked out teeth in his career.
11. Earl Campbell, Running Back, Houston Oilers & New Orleans Saints (1978-1985)
“I can’t think of anyone who even comes in a close second, when you say, “Running backs—who really hurts? It’s Earl Campbell.” –Gary Fencik, safety
10. Chuck Bednarik, Center & Linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles (1949-1962)
“The greatest collision of all time was Bednarik hitting Gifford. It was a good, clean hit. Nothing dirty about it. I thought he killed Frank. I walked by Frank, and he was laid out. He missed the whole next year of football. You couldn’t be upset about the hit; it was clean and legal.” –Sam Huff
Bednarik was the last NFL player to play offense and defense. He led the Eagles to championships in 1949 and 1960. He had a game-winning tackle of future Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor in the closing seconds of the Eagles 17-13 win in 1960. Bednarik was nicknamed “Concrete Charlie” and to me, will always be known for the phrase I heard him say at training camp one year: “Today’s football players are underplayed and overpaid.”
9. Hardy Brown, Linebacker, Brooklyn Dodgers & Chicago Hornets & Baltimore Colts & Washington Redskins & San Francisco 49ers & Chicago Cardinals & Denver Broncos (1948-1956, 1960)
190-pound linebacker Hardy Brown was the hardest-hitting player who ever lived. Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff said, “Hardy Brown was a designated hitter. He was not a great linebacker. Is he in the Hall of Fame? No. But I’ll tell you what—he had more knockouts than any of us.” Brown fractured the face of an Eagles running back, broke another player’s vertebrae, and knocked a Steelers’ running back’s eye out of its socket. In 1951 alone, he knocked out 21 players. In one game, he knocked out the entire Washington Redskins backfield one by one. His famed right shoulder was responsible for dozens of broken noses and jaws. The origin of the since-outlawed helmet-to-helmet hit is sometimes traced to Brown.
8. Ray Lewis, Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens (1996-present)
The desire of Ray Lewis to be the greatest linebacker in NFL history is fueled by an inner toughness that manifests itself on the football field. Lewis is one of the greatest playmakers and natural team leaders the game has ever seen. Lewis’s toughness peaked when he dislocated his elbow so seriously that a teammate was forced to help him put on his jewelry. Lewis missed two games, returned wearing a heavy brace, and registered 11 tackles against Pittsburgh. Ray Lewis has won a Super Bowl MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and has earned nine Pro Bowl invitations.
7. Bronko Nagurski, Running Back, Chicago Bears (1930-1937, 1943)
As Giants linebacker Johnny Dell Isola said during their playing days years ago, “I had heard a lot about him, but I thought most of it was exaggerated. We were at the Polo Grounds when I first ran up against him. It was 1st and 10, and they gave the ball to Nagurski up the middle. Well, a huge hole opened, and I saw him coming. I put my head down and charged into the hole. We met at the line of scrimmage, and you could hear the thud all over the Polo Grounds. I had my arms around his legs, and my shoulder dug into him. It was the hardest tackle I ever made, but I made it, and I said to myself, “Well, I guess that will show you, Nagurski!” Then as I was getting up, I heard the referee shout, “Second down and 2!”
George Halas: “Nagurski blasted through two would-be tacklers as though they were a pair of old saloon doors and kept on going right into the endzone. His head still down, Nagurski ran full speed into the brick outfield wall there at Wrigley Field. He went down, then got up and trotted off the field. As he approached me on the sideline, he shook his head and said, “That last guy really gave me a good lick, coach.’ “
Nagurski once knocked unconscious four would-be tacklers on a kickoff return touchdown in his rookie season. Nagurski became a professional wrestler after his NFL career and was a two-time world heavyweight champion. In 1995, Nagurski was honored when the Football Writers Association of America voted to have his name attached to college football’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
6. Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker, New York Giants (1981-1993)
LT was easily the most disruptive defensive force in NFL history. He was double-teamed, every play, for his entire career. He played a game against the Saints with a dislocated shoulder. He recorded three sacks and forced two fumbles with a severely torn pectoral muscle. He played three games with a fractured tibia. He ended the career of MVP quarterback Joe Theismann with a compound leg fracture in a Monday Night game in 1985. Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett calls LT “an old-school player. He played with pain and didn’t come out. He played the game like it was supposed to be played, with pain and passion.”
5. Johnny Unitas, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers & Baltimore Colts & San Diego Chargers (1956-1974)
Unitas could intimidate without being one of the physical players. He played in an era when quarterbacks did not receive much protection, specifically on late hits. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, this three-time NFL MVP played with a number of injuries, including a badly broken nose, broken fingers, ripped arm tendons, and torn knee cartilage. In 1958, with three broken ribs and a punctured lung, he led the Colts to the NFL title while wearing a protective harness. Two years later Unitas played the entire season with a broken vertebrae. Unitas missed most of the 1968 season due to injury but returned in the Super Bowl to lead Baltimore on its only touchdown drive in a 16-7 loss to the Jets.
4. Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-1981)
Nicknamed “Mean,” Joe Greene was one of only a handful of defensive players in NFL history who could singlehandedly change the outcome of a game. He helped the Steelers win four Super Bowl titles in a six-year span in the 1970’s and is probably the most important player in team history. As a rookie, he was notorious for threatening veterans and starting fights in training camp. In a playoff game in 1972, Greene recorded five sacks, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and blocked a field goal in a 9-3 win vs. Houston. Greene was notorious for kicking a player when he was down and had to be ejected from a game in 1975 for repeatedly kicking a Cleveland Browns player in the groin. He defined toughness as, more of a mental aspect than a physical power, saying, “Toughness doesn’t necessarily mean physical prowess; it’s more mental.”
3. Jim Otto, Center, Oakland Raiders (1960-1974)
Otto played fifteen seasons and never missed a game, despite 10 broken noses and over 40 back, knee, and shoulder operations, including 28 to his knees alone. Otto now suffers from arthritis, and severe neck problems. He has fought off three life-threatening bouts of infections to his arthritic joints, and almost died on the handicapped table once. He had his right leg amputated in 2007. He said, “Football is tough. You want to spell football: T-U-F-F. It’s not for weak-hearted guys. It’s a tough sport. If you want to get into something else, play with the girls.”
2. Brett Favre, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons & Green Bay Packers & New York Jets (1991-2008)
Favre has started 287 consecutive games, including the postseason, an all-time record for a quarterback. Favre has played through unbelievable injuries, including a broken and sprained thumb on his right hand, a badly sprained left ankle, a sprained left foot, a sprained left knee, a torn ligament in his left knee, a severely bruised left hip, and a separated left shoulder. He suffered a cracked vertebra, a concussion, and crushed intestines during a car crash before his senior year of college. He underwent surgery to have 30 inches of his intestines removed, and returned for the second game of the season. Favre has earned three MVP awards and led the Packers to a championship in 1996.
1. Dick Butkus, Linebacker, Chicago Bears (1965-1973)
Dick Butkus was the angriest, most ferocious, menacing, and yes, toughest player to ever play the game of football. Butkus’s opponents claimed that Butkus was like an odor that you could feel or sense on the field. Anything loose—a knee pad, a shoe, a chin strap—would be ripped off by a Butkus tackle. Butkus has bitten officials, bitten opponents in the groin, scratched, punched, everything. Going across the middle against Dick Butkus was considered attempted suicide. Butkus was a turnover machine and earned eight Pro Bowl selections in his nine seasons. Steve Sabol had the following to say about Butkus: “His career stands as the most sustained work of devastation ever committed on any field of sport, anywhere, any time.”
What makes a quarterback great? There are so many things: Statistical accomplishments. Winning—in the regular season and the postseason. Leadership, both on and off the field. The strength of the receiving corps. Intelligence.
This is my attempt to rank the 32 best quarterbacks in the National Football League—right now. Not in 2005. Not for what they did over their career. This is about right now. The NFL, probably more than any other sport, is a “What have you done for me lately?” type of league.
Quarterbacks with a “+” next to their name are on the rise. Guys like Tyler Thigpen, who played much better than most people realized with a pretty pathetic offense around him, will have a “+.” There are also those guys with a “-.” These are the guys with something to prove to me. The 33-year-old quarterbacks coming off multiple injuries. Can they still bring the heat? Are they still in the NFL because of their successful past or because of their actual talent?
So, this list won’t include all 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Buffalo doesn’t have a quarterback on this list. Neither does Detroit (shocking, isn’t it?). However, some teams have two quarterbacks. New England has two quarterbacks, as does Seattle.
Right from the very start to the very end, this list is debatable. Very debatable. But here you go.
32. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
Is the former No. 1 draft pick a flop? No, not yet. Not even close. But Russell hasn’t been living up to the expectations people had of him. He threw for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions during the 2008 season, ranking 26th in the NFL with a 77.1 passer rating. He also fumbled 12 times and failed to help the Raiders improve on a now-NFL record six straight seasons with 11 losses.
31. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens +
Diet Pepsi’s winner for NFL Rookie of the Year, Flacco can best be defined as a “caretaker” quarterback. He plays the game and usually makes the necessary big play or two for the defense to win the game. He led the Ravens into the postseason with an 11-5 record and became the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.
Flacco completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for almost 3,000 yards during the season. However, he also threw just 14 touchdown passes, fumbled 12 times, and ranked near the bottom of the league in passer rating. He also played extremely poorly in the postseason, completing 44 percent of his passes with a 50.8 quarterback rating.
30. Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers -
Delhomme had an up-and-down season in 2008. All things considered, he gets a passing grade for leading the Panthers to a 12-4 record and their first playoff appearance since 2005. He threw 15 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions and ranked 18th in the NFL in passer rating. He led the NFL with 13.4 yards per completion. However, he self-destructed in the postseason, throwing five interceptions and losing a fumble in a home loss to the eventual NFC-champion Arizona Cardinals.
29. Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams -
Bulger’s last two seasons have been garbage. Total garbage. In 27 starts, he has exactly four wins. He has thrown for 22 touchdowns and 28 interceptions with a passer rating of 70.8. Bulger was a top eight or top-10 quarterback just a few seasons ago, but has done absolutely nothing since 2006.
28. Kerry Collins, Tennessee Titans
Kerry Collins made the Pro Bowl. I still think he’s a below-average quarterback. He led the Titans to a 13-3 record and home-field advantage in the postseason before—as many people expected of him—struggling against the mighty Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoffs. Collins threw for only 12 touchdowns and averaged just 160 passing yards per game. He did rank fifth in the NFL in lowest interception percentage and he set a record with a 12-year gap between a player’s first and second Pro Bowl appearances.
27. Kyle Orton, Chicago Bears
Well, he’s better than Rex Grossman. Then again, so am I. Orton did almost lead the Bears into the playoffs, despite ranking 25th in the NFL with a 79.6 passer rating. He tossed 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 15 games of play. Orton is a decent quarterback, but could use a playmaker to expose his talent. What’s the difference between him and a guy like Joe Flacco or Kerry Collins? Nothing, really.
26. Shaun Hill, San Francisco 49ers +
Hill is a productive quarterback with a bright future. He won five of eight games in 2008—including the final two in the fourth quarter—and is the first 49ers quarterback since Steve Young with a winning record. Hill threw 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, with an 87.2 passer rating. He has a bright future for the 49ers, although he will already be 29 years old next season.
25. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings +
Jackson played well in limited action, throwing for nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. He led the Vikings to the postseason before throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown in a home loss to the Eagles. With a 95.4 passer rating, Jackson will be the Vikings’ starter next season.
24. David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars did nothing in 2008, but Garrard actually had a decent season. He ranked in the top 10 in the league in completions (335), attempts (535), and yards (3,620). A lot of his troubles came from an offensive line that allowed Garrard to be sacked for the most lost yards (288) of any quarterback in the NFL. Despite a career-high 13 interceptions, Garrard ranks as the second-least intercepted quarterback in NFL history (tied with Donovan McNabb) and looks to rebound from a disappointing season.
23. Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns
Derek Anderson lost out to Charlie Frye for the starting job before the start of the 2007 season thanks to a coin toss—yes, a coin toss. After Frye was ineffective in the first quarter of Week 1, Anderson took over. He proceeded to throw for 29 touchdowns and 3,787 yards. He led the Browns to a 10-6 record, just missing the playoffs.
However, he was largely ineffective throughout the 2008 season, throwing for five touchdowns and eight interceptions in limited action. He will have to compete with Brady Quinn for the starting job in the 2009 season.
22. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks -
Just a few years ago, Hasselbeck was the best quarterback in the NFC. Maybe even in 2007. Now his future in football is in jeopardy. He was injured throughout most of the 2008 season, and threw for just five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating (57.8) was worse than the NFL average for completion percentage.
However, he not only suffered from a bulging disk in his back that started during the preseason, but he also hurt his knee in the season opener, and even suffered minor brain damage after a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Arizona Cardinals. Hasselbeck may never play in the NFL again.
21. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans +
Schaub played much better than many people realized in the 2008 season. Despite playing in only 11 games, he tossed 15 touchdowns and threw for 3,043 yards. He ranked second in yards per passing attempt (8.0) and seventh in passer rating (92.7). He also completed 66 percent of his passes while helping the Houston Texans post back-to-back non-losing seasons for the first time in team history.
20. Tyler Thigpen, Kansas City Chiefs +
Everything considered, Thigpen played well for the Chiefs in 2008. Originally a third-string quarterback, Thigpen was unexpectedly thrust into action following injuries to Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle. Thigpen tossed 18 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions. He threw for over 2,600 yards, although his quarterback rating was only 76.0. Thigpen set a single-season franchise record for quarterbacks with 386 rushing yards (6.2 yards per carry, three touchdowns) and will be the starting quarterback for the Chiefs next season.
19. Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Garcia is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. Despite being 38 years old, he completes his passes, doesn’t throw interceptions, and even makes plays with his feet. The Buccaneers almost made the postseason, until a late-season record-setting collapse. Garcia tossed 12 touchdowns and had only six interceptions, ranking fourth in the NFL in lowest-interception percentage. Garcia ranked ninth in passer rating (90.2) and completion percentage (64.2). He came within one win (or tie) of leading his third team to the postseason.
18. Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins +
I bet you didn’t know that Jason Campbell is the least intercepted quarterback in the history of the NFL. He doesn’t have enough attempts to officially qualify, but Campbell is intercepted just one out of every 50 pass attempts. His 1.2 percent interception percentage led the NFL in 2008 and is the fourth-lowest total of all time.
However, 13 touchdown passes in over 500 attempts is ridiculous, and is the reason his quarterback rating (84.8) ranked only 19th in the NFL. Campbell is a slightly above-average quarterback, and easily could have quarterbacked teams like the Ravens or the Titans into the postseason.
17. Seneca Wallace, Seattle Seahawks +
Wallace did a pretty good job replacing Matt Hasselbeck for 10 games in 2008. He threw for 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His 1.2 percent interception percentage led the NFL and ranks as the fourth best single-season total in NFL history. Wallace ranked seventh in passing touchdown percentage (4.5 percent) and set a team record with a 90-yard touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles.
16. Matt Cassel, New England Patriots +
Cassel emerged from the shadow of the greatest quarterback since Joe Montana to lead New England to an 11-5 record and a second-place finish in the highly competitive AFC East. Cassel played behind a hideous offensive line and still ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in completions (327), attempts (516), yards (3,693), touchdowns (21), and passer rating (89.4). He threw just 11 interceptions and helped the Patriots finish as the greatest non-playoff team in NFL history.
15. Brett Favre, New York Jets -
Many moons ago, Brett Favre was the best quarterback in the NFL. He collected three consecutive MVP awards and led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 1996. Now, his time has passed. Favre had a decent season, completing almost 66 percent of his passes for 3,472 yards and 22 touchdowns. But his passer rating ranked 21st in the NFL. He led the NFL with 22 interceptions. He fumbled 10 times and he failed to lead the Jets into the postseason after starting the season with an 8-3 record.
14. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons +
Statistically, Matt Ryan didn’t blow anybody away in 2008. But in terms of winning, Ryan’s season was a huge success. He started all 16 games and led the Falcons to an 11-5 finish, their first playoff berth since the Michael Vick era. Ryan earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after tossing 16 touchdowns and throwing for 3,440 yards. Ryan ranked second in the NFL in yards per completion (13.0) and fourth in yards per pass attempt (7.9). Next year, Ryan looks to lead the Falcons to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in team history.
13. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers +
I don’t understand why people say Rodgers’ season was a disappointment. Yes, he failed to lead the Packers to a fourth-quarter comeback. But what did he do? He emerged from the shadow of one of the greatest passers in NFL history to throw for 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while also rushing for four scores. Despite a poor offensive line, Rodgers ranked in the top 10 in just about every passing category and his 93.8 passer rating topped all first-year starters. Green Bay fans should be excited for his very promising future.
12. Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins
Pennington’s performance for the 2008 Miami Dolphins was nothing short of spectacular. He led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record, a 10-win improvement over the previous season. In the process, he picked up his second Comeback Player of the Year award in three seasons. The all-time leader in completion percentage topped the league with a 67.4 percent mark and was the third least-intercepted quarterback in the league (1.5 percent) before self-destructing in the postseason (four interceptions against the Baltimore Ravens).
11. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
I still think Romo is the biggest choker in NFL history. But there’s no denying that he’s a good quarterback. He threw for 26 touchdown passes and almost 3,500 yards, despite missing three games with a broken pinkie finger. He ranked eighth in the NFL in passer rating (91.4).
However, there’s also no denying that Romo should be playing much better with talent like Marion Barber, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, and Roy Williams. He needs to cut down on his interceptions (one per game is too many) and fumbles (13, the second-most in the NFL). He needs to be a leader, both on and off the field. And he needs to win a playoff game.
10. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals
Palmer had a throw-away 2008 season, but is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, although he did lead the NFL in interceptions in 2007. In limited action in the ‘08 season, he threw for three touchdowns and four interceptions, but should rebound in the 2009 season.
9. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli silenced critics for a long time with his brilliant performance in the 2007 postseason. Good thing, because his Giants lost their first playoff game at home to the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles. Eli turned in easily the best season of his career, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with an 86.4 passer rating. He cut down on his fumbles (four) and led the Giants to 12 wins in the regular season. However, he struggled without Plaxico Burress and played poorly in the postseason (zero touchdowns, two interceptions).
8. Jay Cutler, Denver Broncos +
Cutler is one of the more promising young quarterbacks in the National Football League. He almost led the Broncos into the postseason in his third year in the NFL, until the team suffered a historic late-season collapse. Cutler earned his first selection to the Pro Bowl after ranking second in attempts (616), third in completions (384) and yards (4,526), seventh in touchdowns (25), and 10th in yards per pass attempt (7.3).
Cutler benefited greatly from a strong offensive line that allowed him to be sacked the seventh-fewest times in NFL history (1.7 percent of his pass attempts), but much of this can also be contributed to Cutler’s quick release. Cutler is erratic though, as his 18 interceptions were the second-most in the NFL.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger erased any worries about a disappointing 2008 season with a stellar postseason performance. In the regular season, he threw just 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. He led the NFL with 14 fumbles and ranked 24th in the NFL with an 80.1 passer rating. The Steelers finished with a 12-4 record despite Roethlisberger’s troubles.
In the postseason, Big Ben came alive, tossing three touchdowns and one interception. His 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with under a minute remaining capped off an incredible two-minute drive in which Roethlisberger established himself as one of the best clutch quarterbacks in the NFL.
6. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
Yes, he didn’t know that an NFL game could have ties. He got benched in the middle of the season. And ‘he’ lost in the NFC championship game for the fourth time. He also threw for 23 touchdowns, set a franchise-record with 3,916 yards passing, and set career highs in completions and attempts.
He ranks first in NFL history (among quarterbacks with 1,500 attempts) in lowest interception percentage. Donovan led the Eagles to two road playoff wins and posted a combined 148.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter of his three playoff games (19-of-26, 293 yards, 3 touchdowns).
5. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals
Before the season started, Kurt Warner’s chances for the Hall of Fame were iffy. Now he’s almost a lock. The 37-year-old took the Arizona Cardinals somewhere they had never been before—the Super Bowl.
Warner led the Cardinals to their first division title in 32 seasons, throwing for 30 touchdowns and over 4,500 yards, while setting career highs in completions and attempts. He ranked third in the NFL with a 96.9 passer rating. In the postseason, Warner threw for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, including 377 yards in the Super Bowl—the second highest total in one Super Bowl.
4. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Rivers hasn’t missed a game in his three seasons as the starting quarterback, leading the Chargers to a 33-15 record. He has a less-than-impressive postseason record (2-3), but is the only active quarterback to lead his team into the postseason in every season as a starter (minimum three seasons). In the 2008 season, he led the NFL in touchdown passes (34), passer rating (105.5) and yards per attempt (8.4). He led the Chargers from a 4-8 record to a division title and an overtime playoff win in the wild card round.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Until the end of the season, Brees was considered a candidate for Most Valuable Player, despite playing for a last-place team. Brees threw for the second most yards in one season in NFL history (5,069) and was selected to his third Pro Bowl.
The NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year led the league in completions (413), attempts (635), yards (5,069), touchdowns (34), and net yards per pass attempt (7.68). Brees also ranked fourth in the NFL in passer rating (96.2) despite throwing to mediocre guys like Lance Moore, Billy Miller, Devery Henderson, and an injured Marques Colston.
2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
For the third time in 11 seasons, Manning was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, leading the Colts on a nine-game winning streak after a 3-4 start. He threw for 27 touchdown passes and topped 4,000 yards passing for a record ninth time.
However, for the sixth time in nine tries, Manning failed to lead the Colts to a victory in a postseason game. Manning is “only” 32, though, and will likely one day break all of Brett Favre’s career passing records (except for interceptions).
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady is still ranked as the NFL’s top quarterback even though he missed virtually the entire 2008 season due to a torn ACL. Brady led the New England Patriots to Super Bowl victories following the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons.
In 2007, he led New England to the first 16-0 season in NFL history, while throwing for an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes in the regular season. He suffered a season-ending injury in the first week of the season and is expected to return to the Patriots by the beginning of the 2009 season.
10. Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos fans are underrated. I don’t hear much about them, but they always rank in the top five in attendance. The team has sold out 301 consecutive home games and they have a season-ticket waiting list of 27,600. They also routinely have lots of support at away games, sometimes as much as one-third of the stadium.
They were ranked as the eighth most loyal fans in the NFL. They also have one of the wackiest forms of celebration—every time the opposing quarterback throws an interception, they stand up and scream, “INCOMPLETE!” at the top of their lungs.
9. Buffalo Bills
Give these fans credit. The Bills haven’t fielded a playoff team since the 1999 season but that doesn’t stop the fans from showing up to games. Last season, the Bills possessed the most season-ticket holders since the team went to the Super Bowl following the 1993 season.
That’s pretty impressive for a franchise that has suffered through four consecutive Super Bowl losses, the Music City Miracle, and zero Super Bowl wins in its history.
Give the fans more credit for showing up, considering the Bills’ home-field situation—they are the only NFL team to have two home sites, one in New York, and the other in Canada. Bills’ fans are famous for their tailgating, with parties frequently lasting the entire weekend leading up to a game.
They also routinely deal with -10 degree weather on game days.
8. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins ranked second in attendance during the 2008 season, despite finishing in last place in the NFC East. Fans have filled the stadium to capacity in six of the past eight seasons, sporting their trademark feathers and face paint.
They have sold out 327 consecutive games, dating back to the 1960s. This is the longest streak in the entire NFL. They also have a season-ticket waiting list of 200,000, which is the largest waiting list in the NFL.
Their fans were voted the 10th most loyal fans in the National Football League. Their stadium is located 45 minutes away from anything resembling civilization, but fans still flock the stadium.
Their patience is well-known and admired throughout the NFL, which has come in handy with the recent string of head coaches.
7. Dallas Cowboys
There’s no way I could leave Dallas Cowboys fans out of my top 10. Trust me, I wanted to, but it just wouldn’t be right.
I went through all 32 NFL teams today. There are more Dallas Cowboys writers than any other team on Bleacher Report.
The reference “America’s Team” may be debatable, but the Cowboys are the definition of a love ‘em or hate ‘em team. The Cowboys have fans in every city across the United States and no conversation with a Cowboys fan is complete without the phrases “five rings,” and “America’s Team.”
The Dallas Cowboys’ star has become a thing of legend. The only knocks against Cowboys’ fans are as follows:
- Many are bandwagon jumpers from the dynasty in the early 90’s who have now transformed into ‘diehards.’
- Texas Stadium was a joke. Matt Mosley of ESPN called Texas Stadium “one of the safest places in the league to wear an opposing jersey.”
6. Kansas City Chiefs
It’s simple: Kansas City is the sixth smallest market in the National Football League, yet they have had the second highest attendance over the past decade.
They haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, despite three home games (1995, 1997, 2003). But their fans still show up and turn the stadium red. The Chiefs have sold out almost 150 consecutive home games. Their stadium is frequently referred to as the loudest stadium in the entire NFL.
How could anyone not admire a Chiefs fan?
The Chiefs are also famous for their barbecue, easily the best in the NFL. The Chiefs are often referred to as the “Green Bay of the AFC,” which, as you’ll see, is a huge compliment.
5. Oakland Raiders
Oakland Raiders fans are awesome. I admire them more than any other fan base, with the possible exception of the Cleveland Browns. They have suffered through one of the most pathetic recent strings of losing in the NFL, maybe in all of professional sports.
Since going to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, they have become the only NFL team to lose at least 11 games for six straight seasons. The 2006 Raiders team is frequently considered one of the worst teams in NFL history. But they still attract fans. Lots of fans.
Younger fans don’t realize the history of winning that is associated with the Oakland Raiders. They won the Super Bowl three times: 1976, 1980, and 1983. They’ve been to the Super Bowl five times, and they have won 15 division titles.
“Raider Nation” is one of the rowdiest fan bases in the history of the NFL, particularly the Black Hole section of the Oakland Coliseum. Sitting in the Black Hole is not a safe place for an opposing fan.
One lifetime Raider fan, asked to describe “Raider Nation,” responded with, “The massive Raider Nation is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and wackos ever assembled.”
Raiders fans dress up in ridiculous costumes for all of their home games. ESPN described them as “maybe the most fun group of fans in the entire league.”
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
My only complaint with Pittsburgh Steelers fans: They are possibly the most annoying fan base in the entire world. Every argument, every sentence, every breath, begins and ends with mention of the phrase “five rings.”
Why are the Steelers the best team in NFL history? Because the Steelers have five rings. Why do the Steelers have the best fans? Because the Steelers have five rings. Why is Troy Polamalu the best safety in the game? Because the Steelers have five rings.
But there’s no denying the unbelievable passion. The Terrible Towel has become “arguably the best-known fan symbol of any major pro sports team.” Since 1996, sales from the Terrible Towel have helped to raise $2.2 million for people with physical disabilities.
They have sold out every single home game since the 1972 season, a streak of 307 consecutive games. They have an incredible fan base on the road, and are often the only reason that the Cincinnati Bengals would sell out for a home game.
In November of 2007, the Steelers were ranked as the most popular local sports franchise out of all 122 teams in the MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA. They also have the highest percentage of female fans in the NFL, ranking twice as high as the average city.
“Steeler Nation” has become legendary and will continue to expand if the Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl.
The only problem: The stats don’t back up their reputation. They were ranked as the 21st most loyal fans in the National Football League. They rank just 16th in percentage of seats filled since 1996, despite winning seven division championships in the last 13 years.
3. Cleveland Browns
Why are Browns fans so great? Their teams have never won—ever—and they continually support their franchise. They were ranked first out of all 32 NFL teams in “fan loyalty.” They routinely fill their 73,000-seat stadium despite cold temperatures and a dismal recent history, which includes zero postseason wins since the 1994 season.
They have the number one fan group in all of professional sports, the “Browns Backers”, which can be found in literally every city in the United States, and even in different countries.
Their fans can be visibly present at home games in the famous “Dawg Pound”, which is located in the east end of the stadium. Fans where dog paraphernalia to all of the games.
The Browns may have lost their team for four seasons, but they never lost their incredible passion.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Everybody has heard stories about Philadelphia Eagles’ fans, most of them exaggerated. But face the facts.
They have the second highest capacity rating since 1996 (percentage of seats filled), only topped by the newly-established Houston Texans, who play in a much warmer atmosphere.
They were ranked as the third most loyal fans in all of football, trailing just the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs.
Their fans are also knowledgeable. Ask an Eagles fan the quarterback before Donovan McNabb. He’ll know.
Their season ticket waiting list is over 70,000 and they rank in the top three in merchandise sales just about every season. The amount of fans that travel to watch the Eagles in summer training camp sessions is almost legendary, with up to 20,000 fans on some days. They have the most famous fight song in the National Football League.
The booing that is so regularly associated with Philadelphia fans, only Philadelphia fans, and nothing but Philadelphia fans?
Eagles’ fans want to win. Now. They don’t play the “wait till next year” game. No offense to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but Eagles’ fans want a championship every season, and if—when—they don’t get one, they’ll let their players know. Players like Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter thrive on this type of treatment.
Philadelphia talk show host Glen Macnow once commented, “You could drop a Martian into Philly the day after a game, and within three minutes, he’d know whether the Eagles had won or lost.”
It’s toughness. Raiders’ fans do it. Sports Illustrated once claimed that Raiders fans are the only other group of fans that Eagles’ fans respect. Both pride themselves in bullying the opposition.
There’s nothing wrong with installing fear in the enemy. The old 700 level at the Vet—the Nest of Death—was the last place in the world a fan would want to wear a Cowboys’ jersey. The 700 level was worse than one of Dante’s levels of hell.
What is the favorite team of a Philly fan? The Eagles and whoever is playing the Cowboys.
1. Green Bay Packers
The greatest fans in the world. Better than Steelers fans. Better than Browns fans. Even better than Eagles fans.
The Green Bay Packers ARE Wisconsin. Nobody cares about the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s all Green Bay, all the time. Lambeau Field has been sold out in every game since 1960: win or lose. That’s almost 300 consecutive sellouts. Their season ticket waiting list is 78,000.
The fans brave the frequent sub-zero temperatures (remember the Ice Bowl?) to attend every single game. They’re loyal also—they were voted the fifth most loyal fans in the NFL.
Four things place the Packers above every other fan base:
- The Lambeau Leap, which is the most famous touchdown celebration of all-time, giving the fans a brief moment to interact with the players.
- The cheeseheads—those crazy yellow pieces of plastic Green Bay fans insist on wearing to each and every home game.
- The owners. You know who owns the team? The fans. The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major professional sports team in the country.
- The respect they give to their players. Never have I seen any team worship one player more than Packers’ fans worship Brett Favre. It’s more than the Bulls and Jordan, the Yankees and Jeter, and the Patriots and Brady.
The late, great Reggie White, a man I admire more than just about any athlete to ever live, agrees with me. Reggie had the pleasure of playing in front of the two best fan bases in the NFL, but he picks the Packers as the best fans in the world.
ESPN agrees with me. Before the 2008 season, the Packers tied with the Steelers as the best fans in the entire NFL. The edge was given to the Steelers, thanks to a tiebreaker decided by Pittsburgh native John Clayton (thoughts, Packers’ fans?).
Clayton was wrong. Green Bay, the team with more championships than any other team in the NFL, has the best fans in the world.
by Bryn Swartz…
1. Brian Westbrook
The Eagles’ superstar running back has been virtually shut down the entire postseason. This won’t last. It can’t last. Westbrook will rebound from two of the worst rushing performances of his six-year career with a big game against the Cardinals.
On Thanksgiving night, Westbrook scored four times against the Cardinals’ defense—twice on the ground, and twice through the air. McNabb may be the most important member of the Eagles’ offense, but Westbrook is the most dangerous.
2. Brian Dawkins
The future Hall of Fame safety is playing the best football of his 12-year career. Dawkins forced a fumble against the Vikings in the wild-card round and totaled 10 tackles against the Giants.
His mere presence on the football field is downright scary. With his future as a professional football player in doubt, Dawkins will do whatever it takes to earn a ring.
3. DeSean Jackson
The explosive rookie wide receiver and punt returner for the Eagles brings back memories of Brian Westbrook in 2003, who electrified fans with two regular-season punt-return touchdowns.
Jackson returned a punt 63 yards against the Vikings and set an Eagles single-game record with 105 punt return yards. He caught four passes for 81 yards against the Giants, including a clutch 48-yard reception.
4. Andy Reid
There’s a reason that he chose to grow a playoff beard. Seriously, though, Reid is much more postseason experienced than Ken Whisenhunt. He has led the Eagles into the playoffs seven times, winning five NFC East titles, with one Super Bowl appearance.
Reid watched his sons go to prison last year. Rumors circulated about the future of his job this season. He is a Super Bowl ring away from the Hall of Fame.
Kurt Warner knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs in the 2001 NFC Championship game. Seven Eagles still remain from that team—Donovan McNabb, AJ Feeley, Correll Buckhalter, Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Brian Dawkins, and David Akers, as well as head coach Andy Reid.
In 2001, the Rams were the far superior team, winning 14 games en route to their second Super Bowl in three years. But times have changed. The Eagles have been the best team in the NFC since 2001.
The Eagles are the most experienced playoff team of the decade. The NFC Championship game will be their 17th playoff game of the decade, tying the New England Patriots for the most in the new millennium.
No team in the history of the National Football League has played in more postseason games in one decade. The Cowboys of the 1990s? 16 games. The 1980s 49ers? 17 games. The 1970s Steelers? 17 games. The Eagles will set a single-decade record with 18 postseason games if they win on Sunday.
7. Defense wins games
Defense wins championships. The Eagles’ defense has been the hottest in the NFL over the past six games. They’ve allowed four offensive touchdowns in their past six games. In that same span, the defense has contributed four touchdowns, and missed a fifth by one yard against the Giants last Sunday.
8. David Akers
He is the hottest kicker in the NFL right now. After a dismal start to the 2008 season, Akers rebounded to set an Eagles’ single-season record for field goals made and points scored.
His 51-yard field goal against the Vikings set a team postseason record, and he has a current streak of 18 consecutive postseason field goals without a miss, an NFL record.
The Eagles are the hottest team in the National Football League—so hot, that they beat the Vikings and the Giants by 12 points each, without their offense clicking during most of the games. They have won six of their past seven games, including two straight on the road.
This team was counted out and left for dead just six weeks ago. Now they’re one win away from a second Super Bowl in the last five years.
10. Kurt Warner
The two-time MVP quarterback has always struggled against Jim Johnson’s defense. In five games, his team has won two games and lost three. Warner has thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, mediocre statistics at best. The immobile Warner will be heavily pressured by the Eagles’ powerful defensive line all game.
11. Donovan McNabb
The five-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles should have won Comeback Player of the Year. He is playing with a chip on his shoulder. McNabb is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time to not win a Super Bowl.
He has done more with less over the past ten years than any quarterback in the National Football League. Here’s my favorite Donovan McNabb fact: In his last five full seasons, he has led the Eagles to five NFC championship game appearances.
12. The Phillies
You think the city’s baseball team winning the World Series has nothing to do with the success of the Eagles? Wrong. Philadelphia had a history of losing over the past quarter century. It took 25 dedicated ballplayers to break one of professional sports’ most famous curses, and the Eagles desperately want to join the Phillies as the toast of the town.
All 22 starting players, plus most of the backups, have contributed to the Eagles playoff run. Every game has a new hero. Chris Clemons. Jason Avant. Victor Abiamiri. Kyle Eckel. David Akers. Quintin Mikell.
If the offense has a bad game, the defense takes over. If the defense struggles, the offense dominates. This team is anything but one-dimensional.
14. Are the Cardinals really this good?
The Philadelphia Eagles are superior in virtually every category. No matter which way you compare the teams, Philly comes out on top. There’s a reason the Eagles are favored, despite playing on the road. They ranked fourth in the NFL in point differential during the regular season (+127). The Cardinals ranked 18th in point differential (+1).
The Eagles dismantled the Cardinals during the regular season, 48-20. They have outscored their opponents by an average of 15 points per game over the last seven games, despite playing opponents with a combined record of 60-37. They have been in the postseason seven times in the past decade and are desperate for football’s ultimate prize.
This team is on a mission. Donovan McNabb is 32 years old. Brian Westbrook will be 30 years old next season. Tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan might not be back next season. And Brian Dawkins is considering retirement following the season.
The nucleus of this football team has been around for years, longer than most teams. They’ve seen failures year after year after year. They were left for dead just six weeks ago, with the future of their head coach and quarterback in jeopardy. Now they have risen from the ashes.They’ve destroyed every team in their path and they’re not going to stop until they reach the ultimate goal: the Lombardi Trophy.