LONGSHOTS: Brown or Rice - who's NFL's #1 of all time?
By Dave Long firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone else see NFL.com’s newly announced list of the Top 100 Players in history? While these type of things have a way of sending me around the bend, I do still love them. And this one is probably the best I’ve ever seen, because they based it on a player’s dominance in his era to balance off changes in football brought on by physical and intellectual evolution.
I can quibble with just a few things — like Mike Ditka at 59. He was ferocious his first five years and had the greatest run I’ve ever seen. But he shared time with Billy Truax his last five in Dallas. So 59 seems high and Tony Gonzalez should be ahead of him on any tight end list. At 11 Ronnie Lott seems a bit too high too, and how in the name of Chuck Bednarik can Troy Polamalu be missing from this list altogether? If actives like Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady are on this list he should be too. He’s a lot better than Deion Sanders — who’s way too low at 34. So put Troy there and move the vastly overrated Deion to where he belongs in the 90s. And then there’s Favre at 19, Brady at 20 and John Elway at 23, where I’d flip Elway and Favre and leave Brady at 20 — though after Sunday night’s reminder of just how good he is it wouldn’t be all that hard to convince me he’s ahead of Elway.
I’ve got the same guys in my Top 10 as them, just rearranged a bit. My only real issue is Jerry Rice at the very top. I like Jerry, but, sorry, if you’re not the greatest player in the history of your own franchise, how can you be number one overall? So here’s my take on that and the rest of the Top 10:
10. Don Hutson: The greatest of the early players. They have him at nine. I go 10 mainly ’cause I can go only by his stats since I never saw him play. He was an end with 105 TDs when they didn’t pass. Next best in his era was 77. Plus — he’s soooo big, Bear Bryant was simply called “the other” end at Alabama. You’ve got to be big to do that to Bear in ’bama.
9. Reggie White: He’s helped a bit because sacks, which he lead the league in only twice, weren’t an official stat until 1982. Plus I thought he got a little more credit than deserved when the Packers beat the Pats in the Super Bowl as two of his sacks came after it was decided. But he’s second overall and was a thoroughly dominant player. They had him at 7.
8. Jerry Rice: I know 207 touchdowns is the biggest stat. So I am a bit conflicted as he was a truly great player. But football is about help from teammates and he had Montana, Young, Taylor, Terrell Owens, a line led by Randy Cross and a genius coach. But the main reason he’s here is there’s a reason Bill Belichick never picked a wide receiver in the first round and Bill Parcells quit because Terry Glenn was forced on him. In terms of importance, wide out is down the list behind QB, dominant defender, big rusher and running back.
7. Peyton Manning: If he doesn’t throw that interception vs. New Orleans he probably flip-flops with Johnny U. But he did and doing that at the wrong time is the lone chink in his armor. On the other side, he’s so amazing Bill Belichick was right going for it on fourth and two at his own 30 to keep it away from him — which is like intentionally walking someone with the bases loaded. He’ll hold every good passing record when he’s done, and for good measure, he’s never missed a game. Patriot Nation won’t like this, but he’s leading you know who at the moment.
6. Johnny Unitas: Part of me says Otto Graham, who was in 10 straight title games. But Johnny U retired with the most TD passes, pioneered the two-minute drill, won three titles and played for five. So, Pats fans take solace — at least Tom Brady is the best QB in his franchise’s history, while Manning is not.
5. Lawrence Taylor: While I don’t care for his above-the-rules arrogance that now has him in serious trouble with the law, he was a phenomenal player who gave 100 percent on every play. He changed the position to be a speed rusher and spearheaded a great defense that was crucial in winning two Super Bowls under The Tuna. NFL.com had him third.
4. Dick Butkus: I admit to a huge bias for guys from my youth — but ninth? I’m going with Butkus over Taylor because he had Carl Banks, Harry Carson, Gary Reasons, Pepper Johnson and George Martin to take the heat off in NY. Ditto for play-alike Ray Lewis with Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and others. Butkus was basically by himself and people were still terrified of the Bears. Simply put: he was unbelievably scary.
3. Walter Payton: Did you know he retired as the all-time rusher (a more important stat than catches) without playing with even one Pro Bowl lineman until his second to last year? And the list of starting QBs he played with includes Gary Huff, Bob Avelini and Mike Phipps? Plus he’s the best blocking great runner I’ve ever seen. A five for NFL.com
2. Joe Montana: He, not Jerry, is the greatest 49er. Joe was more valuable than Rice when they played together and there wasn’t a person then who didn’t believe it. He won twice before Rice arrived and twice more after as his numbers rose dramatically in the playoffs. NFL.com had him at fourth — they missed by two.
1. Jimmy Brown: He won the rushing title eight times in his nine seasons. Ditto for being 1st team All-Pro. Rice’s 10 took 21 years to get. And while he had 81 more TDs, they came in 303 games for a .67 per game average. For Brown it was 126 in 118 games — better than one per game. And thanks to 12- and 14-game seasons he missed 26 games. That gives him another 30. And it’s 45 or so more if you factor in the two back system of the day cost him 100-125 carries a year or 900 carries over nine years — which is 38 percent of his 2,359 lifetime. So that brings him 201 in NINE years to Rice’s 207 in 21 pass-happy years. So while Jerry’s TDs are great they are helped by his longevity. Then throw in his most incredible stat: that as a running back he never missed a single game as he averaged 5.2 per carry in his career. So for me he’s the best ever.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts Saturday Morning Sports with Dave Long from 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM in Manchester and 900-AM in Nashua.