If you followed the NFL at all this past season you were probably aware that it marked one century of existence for the league. From the Canton Bulldogs days to now there have been thousands of players and coaches involved in the league, but who were the best of the best? New England Patriots legendary coach, Bill Belichick and Sunday Night Football color commentator, Cris Collinsworth decided to make a list of the 100 people made up of players and coaches for the centennial team. At the end of each decade, it has been tradition to make an “all decade team” featuring the starting 11 on both sides of the ball, specialists and a head coach. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be looking at Belichick and Collinsworth’s list and picking my starting team. On offense I will pick one Quarterback, the starting five offensive linemen, one Tight End, two Wide Receiver, and two Running backs (Lined up in Tom Landry’s split backs “22 personnel”)
Included on the list: Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Joe Gibbs, George Halas, Curly Lambeau, Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh
My pick: Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers 1979-88)
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you will know how much respect I have for these coaches and it was very difficult to pick just one. The history of Pro Football can-not be told without any of these legends. However, my pick is Walsh. Similar to other coaches on this list, he took a bottom tier franchise and turned them into a dynasty that would be discusses forever more. Determined to apply what he learned as an assistant under Paul Brown in Cleveland, he came to San Francisco and installed perhaps the most flawless offense in NFL history, the West-Coast offense. A scheme which revolutionized the way football would be played forever more, as it was the first to encourage passing more than running. It turned Joe Montana and Company into legends and helped Walsh win 102 games total, including 10 post season games, six division titles and three Super Bowls. Walsh had an incredible eye for talent, drafting the likes of Montana, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, Tom Rathman, and Charles Haley. Whilst also acquiring talent such as Dwight Clark and Steve Young. Walsh, his staff and players earned the title of team of the decade in the 1980’s and have been the measuring stick for long term greatness ever since.
Included on the list: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, John Elway, Roger Staubach, Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh, and Otto Graham.
My Pick: Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins 1983-99)
Dan Marino is known as a guy who had incredible numbers but never walked off the field as a Super Bowl champion. For those of you that aren’t old enough to remember Marino, or have only seen highlights or heard stories, let me tell you he had all the best physical qualities of Peyton Manning, and Arron Rodgers. If you grew up in the 80’s Marino was the main event on highlight shows. He threw dime after dime to mostly average receivers and made the position he played, and some of the most difficult passes look easy and fun. This was thanks to his incredible accuracy and the quickest release we’ve ever seen. Marino famously said to the late, great, NFL films president, Steve Sabol in an interview “You can’t defend a perfect throw. There is no defense against a perfect pass. I can throw the perfect pass” and he backed those words up almost every Sunday.
Marino retired with almost every significant passing record in league history whilst playing in an era where the rules did not encourage passing. Quarterbacks consistently took big hits, and defensive backs could get away with a lot more contact against receivers since the 5-yard illegal contact rule didn’t exists. It was also not uncommon for receivers to take big hits after catching the ball (In my best John Madden voice “Well Pat, he thinks he’s caught the ball but then BOOM!). Marino was miles ahead of his time. The 5,084 yards and 48 Touchdown passes he had in 1984 is still the greatest regular season ever by a QB. Especially when you take into account the era that he played in and the fact that he was the first player to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season. That season the Dolphins made it all the way to Super Bowl XIX, where they faced one of the best teams in history, the San Francisco 49ers. The Dolphins lost to the better team 38-16. I don’t mean to take a shot at Montana or Don Shula but if you gave Marino Bill Walsh’s offense, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Roger Craig, there would be no debate about who the G.O.A.T. is.
Included on the list: Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, O.J. Simpson, Gayle Sayers, Marion Motley, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Steve Van Buren, Dutch Clark, and Lenny Moore
My Picks: Walter Payton (Chicago Bears 1975-1987) and Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys 1990-2002, Arizona Cardinals 2003-04)
You can’t go wrong with picking either Smith, Payton, Jim Brown, or Barry Sanders. They were all great in their own ways, but my two picks are Payton and Smith. Payton was arguably the most complete football player of all time. For the thirteen years he played in the league he was a nightmare for defenses. Payton described his running style as “A runner who wouldn’t die easy.” Which was an understatement to say the least, his highlight real makes it seem as though he was impossible to tackle. “It’s like one of those cowboy movies where a guy gets shot once and he’s still walking, and he gets shot again and again and he’s still walking… that’s the type of runner I was.” Payton’s finest moment as an individual player came in one of the most inspiring performances by any player, in any professional sport, in history. Payton rushed for a single game record of 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in a November game in 1977 at Soldier field. A record that is impressive with no context, but to add some, Payton played with a 101–degree fever and the flu. The Bears would lose in the Playoffs to the Cowboys that season, but Payton would have another chance as a member of the 1985 Bears team to reach the super bowl, which they did, and of course they won it. Payton retired as the NFL’s all–time leading rusher with 16,726 yards, surpassing Jim Brown’s previous record of 12,312 yards. A record which he achieved in 1984. President Regan called Payton after the game to congratulate him, to which he replied with “Thank you. Give my best to Nancy.”
Payton’s record stood until 2002 when it was broken by Emmitt Smith. Smith holds all of the career rushing records, retiring with 18,355 total yards, 164 rushing touchdowns and 175 in total. Smith was the driving force of a team that won three Super Bowls in four years. During those years he was the best player on the field in every game, whether he had the ball in his hands or not. He did everything you would want a Running back to do; break tackles, make defenders miss, lower his shoulder and fight for an extra yard, catch the ball and get yards after the catch, and pass block better than anybody at his position. He proved his toughness was second to none when he played through a dislocated shoulder against the Giants in the 1993 season finale to ensure the Cowboys secured home field advantage. Four weeks later the Cowboys won the Super Bowl for the second year in a row against the Buffalo Bills in a game that he was named the most valuable player.
On the list: Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Steve Largent, Raymond Berry, Don Hutson, Paul Warfield, Lance Alworth, Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, and Elroy Hirsch.
My pick: Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers 1985-2000, Oakland Raiders 2001-04, Seattle Seahawks 2004) and Randy Moss (Minnesota Vikings 1998-2004 / 2010, Oakland Raider 2005-06, New England Patriots 2007-10, Tennessee Titans 2010, San Francisco 49er 2012)
This one was a no brainer. Rice is the best receiver of all time. Rice held almost every receiving record a player could hold when he retired. 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards, 197 receiving touchdowns, and 207 total touchdowns, all of which are records that still stand today and don’t look to be broken any time soon. Rice’s career highlight came in Super Bowl XXIII when he was named MVP and set a Super Bowl record of 215 receiving yards with 11 receptions. On the last drive of the game, with the entire stadium convinced that the ball was going to Rice, fellow 49er legend Joe Montana threw a touchdown pass to team mate John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining in the game to win 20-16 over the Bengals in the final game of their beloved coach, Bill Walsh’s career. Rice would go on to help the 49ers win two more Super Bowls.
In the Twilight of Rice’s career, a guy named Randy Moss was catching some eyes and it wasn’t just because of his big personality. Moss was every quarterbacks dream, somebody that they could throw a 50/50 jump ball to, even if it wasn’t the best throw, and he’d almost certainly come down with it and make the catch’ giving birth to the term “Mossed”. Moss’s finest season came in 2007, when he played alongside Tom Brady in New England. That season the Patriots changed their offensive strategy from conservative, to throwing deep balls to Randy Moss, who made some catches that you simply must have seen to believe. Moss was such a threat that season that he set the all-time single season receiving touchdown record with 23. He was a big part of helping Brady pass for 4,806 yards and leading the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 regular season record and a trip to the Super Bowl.
On the list: Mike Ditka, Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, John Mackey, Kellen Winslow
My pick: Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots 2010-18)
Tony Gonzalez might be most people’s pick for the Tight End position, and I have no problem with anybody that picks him. My pick, however, is Rob Gronkowski. Gronk’s 2011 season was the best ever by a Tight End. Catching 90 passes for 1,327 yards, and 18 touchdowns. Gronk also holds the record amongst TE’s for yards per game with 68.3, Touchdowns per game with 0.69, and yards per target with 9.9. Gronkowski was also a true throwback when it came to blocking. He was described by long time team–mate, and fellow member of the 100th anniversary team, Tom Brady as “The most dominant blocking Tight End in the league”. Gronk had an 88.7 / 100 rating as a run blocker, paving the way to another decade of greatness from the Patriots in the 2010’s, winning three Super Bowl’s in his time with the Patriots.
Players that were included: Anthony Munoz, Forrest Gregg, Art Shell, Roosevelt Brown, Jonathan Ogden, Cal Hubbard, Walter Jones, Jim Parker, John Hannah, Larry Allen, Gene Upshaw, Dan Fortmann, Randall McDaniel, Bruce Matthews, Mike Webster, Dwight Stephenson, Jim Otto, and Mel Hein
My pick (Left Tackle): Anthony Munoz (Cincinnati Bengals 1980-92)
Anthony Munoz is widely regarded as the best Offensive Lineman of all time, and rightfully so. He was a first team All-Pro selection in nine of his 13 seasons in the league. His footwork, agility, and strength made it an impossible task for pass rushers to get to the Quarterback. His stance was interesting, he had a wider stance than most, with his left foot far back but his athleticism made it possible for him to recover and block anybody that blitzed through either gap. He consistently put Defensive linemen on the floor regardless of where they came from. His stellar offensive line play helped the Bengals win two AFC conference championships and win three AFC central division titles in the 1980’s.
My pick (Left Guard): Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers / Tennessee Titans 1983-2001)
Bruce Matthews was an All-Pro at two positions on the offensive line, Guard and Center. Former Houston Oilers Quarterback Warren Moon when asked about Matthews said that “He could have made All-Pro at all three [tackle, guard, center] positions if he wanted to.” Playing in the Run and Shoot offense, the Oilers linemen had to be faster and more athletic than on most other teams, and Matthews certainly was. What is even more impressive was how long he was able to compete at such a high level. Playing for 19 years and earning 14 Pro Bowl trips and nine First team All-Pro honors.
My pick (Center): Mike Webster (Pittsburgh Steelers 1974-1988, Kansas City Chiefs 1989-1990)
Webster was a fifth–round pick by Chuck Noll in 1974 and was soon developed into a vital piece of the Steeler dynasty of the 70’s. Perhaps going up against the “Steel Curtain” defense and having to block the likes of Joe Green every day in practice demanded that he become the greatest center in the history of the game. Webster was the most intelligent player on the Steelers offense, consistently turning around to call and audible plays to Quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, and knowing which plays would work depending on how the opposing defense lined up. If you watch any game that he played in during their hay-day, pay close attention to the holes that Webster opened for Harris and Bleier and the amount of time he gave Bradshaw to throw the ball. It’s no wonder the Steelers amounted to so much success in the 70’s.
My pick (Right Guard): Larry Allen (Dallas Cowboys 1994-2005, San Francisco 49ers 2006-07)
You may be familiar with Larry Allen, as he was widely regarded as the strongest player in the league during his career. Allen was famous for having a bench press of 705lbs, a squat of 905lbs and setting a record for bench pressing 225lbs for 43 reps at the 2006 NFL Pro Bowl skills challenge. So, as you can imagine Allen dominated competition. When I say dominated, I mean he took fully grown men that played linebacker in the NFL and force them 20 yards down the field and knocked them off their feet to create holes for Emmitt Smith. Playing against Larry Allen as a defensive lineman was a task described by fellow NFL 100th anniversary team member, John Randle as a daunting challenge. Randel said, “He would grab you, pick you up and start laughing and there was nothing you could do, it’s almost like going up against a car.”
My Pick (Right Tackle): Forrest Gregg (Green Bay Packers 1956, 1958-70, Dallas Cowboys 1971)
Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL referred to Forrest Gregg as “The finest player” he had ever coached. High praise considering he coached several hall of fame players in his time. Gregg was one of the pillars of the Packers dynasty of the 1960s. A flawless blocker, who earned the utmost amount of respect from the best defensive end of his era, Decon Jones. Jones described Gregg as “The best drive blocker” he had ever seen. Adding to his comments Jones also stated that “If you look at his tapes you will see a fundamentally sound player, and that’s what put him in Canton.” Gregg was a vital part of Lombardi’s Packers dynasty that won five world championships in the 60’s (Including the first two Super Bowls) and helped Tom Landry win his first Super Bowl in the 1971 season, his only season in Dallas, and the final year of his decorated career.
That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed reading. Have a strong differing opinion? Have anything you would like to add? Feel free to discuss. I’ll be back next week to give you my take on who were the best defensive and specialists were from the past 100 years.