The Greatest NFL Player Ever?

The Greatest NFL Player Ever?
Once again, NFL Films produced an excellent special series for the NFL Network. “The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players” is a copulation of what a Blue Ribbon panel of sportswriters and football executives considers to be the cream of the crop. In each segment, the ranked player is introduced and discussed by a person who either played with, played against or admired them. Various video clips of the player in action is prevalent. Audio of the ranked player explaining his thoughts about football is included and is a nice touch.

In case you missed it the series, the Top 10 players of all time are as follows:

1. Jerry Rice - WR San Francisco 49ers
2. Jim Brown - RB Cleveland Browns
3. Lawrence Taylor - LB New York Giants
4. Joe Montana - QB San Francisco 49ers
5. Walter Payton - RB Chicago Bears
6. Johnny Unitas - QB Baltimore Colts
7. Reggie White - DE Philadelphia Eagles
8. Peyton Manning - QB Indianapolis Colts
9. Don Hutson - WR Green Bay Packers
10. Dick Butkus - LB Chicago Bears

I respect the panel and their input, especially regarding players that I barely remember or only saw playing via occasional video clips. However, I think it is extremely difficult to say who is the best player ever. Football has changed dramatically in the past 75 plus years. Even from decade to decade, you really can’t compare players because it’s like comparing apples and oranges. I think comparing players in the same position within a decade is totally feasible, and, incredibly more accurate.

I’m going on the record to say that I absolutely don’t agree with Jerry Rice being ranked #1. The biggest reason I disagree is that in order for a receiver to make catches, he is totally dependent upon another player, generally the quarterback, to throw or hand him the ball. Yes, receivers often make spectacular one-handed diving catches and really deserve the accolades they receive. But, since their position relies directly upon another player, I can’t bring myself to name a WR as the greatest player ever. It’s true that football is a team sport and in order for a team to be good, all players must perform in unison. For example, a quarterback most certainly needs a great offensive line to give him time to hand off to a running back or make an accurate throw to a receiver. Same for a running back. However, once a great running back gets the ball, he often makes magical and memorable plays happen.

For the most part, I can’t really disagree with the Top 10 rankings. Except for Hutson, Brown, Unitas, and Butkus, I watched these players perform week after week. If I were part of the Blue Ribbon Panel responsible for these rankings, I would have named Jim Brown as the greatest player. During his era, he utterly dominated opponents. Brown didn’t have the benefit of technology to help him excel, just hard work, grit, and dedication. He never missed a game and punished those who dared to stop him. He was the quintessential football player and I believe he would dominate any era, including present day.

All but a few players named to the list are current or future Hall of Famers from winning teams. It’s amazing to see the breakdown of team representation on this list. For the list, team representation is based upon the first team uniform worn by the ranked player. For example, Deion Sanders is listed as the one and only Falcons player on the list, though I bet he’ll enter the Hall of Fame as a Cowboy. Here’s the team breakdown:

Bears, Cowboys = 8;
Colts, Packers, Rams, Steelers = 7;
Raiders = 6;
Browns, Giants = 5;
49ers = 4;
Chargers, Chiefs, Eagles, Lions, Patriots, Ravens, Vikings = 3;
Bills, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Redskins = 2;
Bengals, Broncos, Dolphins, Falcons, Jets, Oilers, Titans =1.

There are quite a few great players who didn’t make the list, but are great players nonetheless. As mentioned before, I love NFL Films productions. I can’t wait for the the next series.

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