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Sports Then and Now



NFL at 100: Top 100 Players of All-Time – 25-1 1

Posted on February 02, 2020 by Dean Hybl

As part of our celebration of the NFL at 100, Sports Then and Now is finishing our list of the top 100 players in NFL history with picks 25-1.

One of the cool parts of the NFL celebrating 100 years is remembering the great moments and players that have helped shape the history of the game.

The NFL Network has been sharing their selections for the top moments, game-changers, teams and characters. They also picked their All-Time top 100 team, though they did not rank the players 1-100.

In a sport that has seen great change and evolution over 100 years, creating any comprehensive all-time list is going to be subjective and open to interpretation.

That is likely even more pronounced when trying to choose the top 100 players of the NFL’s first 100 years.

Some will certainly rely heavily on statistics as a guide, but my opinion is that while individual season statistics and the number of seasons leading the league in a statistical category can help identify greatness, career and all-time statistics are not as helpful and can be misleading when trying to pick an all-time team.

Whether it is related to the number of games played each season, move from playing both ways to position specialization or rule changes that impact offensive production, there has been enough change over the history of the game that I believe reduce the importance of career statistics.

 That is why for the Sports Then and Now list of the Top 100 Players in NFL history we chose to give greater emphasis to other factors. The things we looked at when choosing our top 100 included All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, number of times leading their league in statistical categories, how they compared to other players from within their era and peak performance. Team success was given greater weight in ordering quarterbacks, but played only a minor role in selecting players from other positions.

The result is a Sports Then and Now Top 100 list that includes many of the players selected by NFL Network, but does have quite a few differences. For our list, we made sure not to forget those players from the 1920s-1950s whose career statistics are well below players from future decades, but who were clearly all-time greats.

The distribution of players by era for the ST&N Top 100 is very interesting: 1920s-1930s: 8; 1940s-1950s: 13; 1960s: 24; 1970s: 15; 1980s: 12; 1990s: 12; 2000s: 8; 2010s: 7. However, 14 of our top 20 played a majority of their career after 1980.

You can read our players 100-76, 75-51 and 50-26 in previous articles.

25. Bulldog Turner – Chicago Bears – 4 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st Team All-Pro: A two-way star for the Chicago Bears, Clyde “Bulldog” Turner helped lead the Bears to four NFL Championships. As a rookie in 1940, he played center on offense and had an interception return for a touchdown as the Bears defeated the Washington Redskins 73-0.  Playing primarily center on offense and linebacker on defense, he was an eight-time first team All-Pro.

24. Mike Webster – Pittsburgh Steelers – 9 Pro Bowls; 5 time 1st Team All-Pro: Considered by many to be the greatest offensive center in NFL history, Mike Webster helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles. He played in 245 career games, including 150 consecutive starts from 1976-86.

Merlin Olsen

23. Merlin Olsen – Los Angeles Rams – 14 Pro Bowls; 5 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of five players in NFL history to have been selected to 14 Pro Bowls, Merlin Olsen teamed with Deacon Jones to anchor the Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome defensive line during the 1960s. As a defensive tackle, Olsen was a stalwart against the run. A durable player, Olsen missed only two games in his 15 year career. He was the NFL rookie of the year in 1962 while earning the first of 14 straight trips to the Pro Bowl.

22. Chuck Bednarik – Philadelphia Eagles – 8 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the last of the two-way players, Chuck Bednarik earned All-Pro honors as an offensive center and defensive linebacker during his career. Nicknamed “Concrete Charlie”, Bednarik was known for his ferocious hits. In the 1960 Championship Game he tackled Green Bay running back Jim Taylor at the 9-yard line on the final play of the game to ensure a 17-13 Philadelphia victory.

21. Bronko Nagurski – Chicago Bears – 0 Pro Bowls; 4 time 1st Team All-Pro: At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Nagurski was one of the largest running backs in the NFL in the 1930s and larger than many linemen of the era. He threw a touchdown pass to Red Grange to help the Chicago Bears defeat the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 in the first-ever NFL Playoff Game. Nagurski was a first or second team All-Pro in each of his first seven NFL seasons. He retired following the 1937 season, but returned to the team in 1943 and played tackle and fullback to help the Bears win the NFL Championship.

Read the rest of this entry →

Counting Down the Greatest Offensive Performances in Super Bowl History 3

Posted on February 06, 2016 by Dean Hybl

Max McGee caught more passes in Super Bowl I than he did during the entire 1966 season.

Max McGee caught more passes in Super Bowl I than he did during the entire 1966 season.

Sunday’s Super Bowl will feature a budding star quarterbacking one squad and an aged gunslinger likely facing his final showdown on the other. While we tend to focus on Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, the reality is that victory in the Super Bowl will likely hinge on the performance of someone far less known than either starting quarterback.

Super Bowl history includes a mixture of Hall of Fame players rising to the occasion on the biggest stage of the game and second tier players who picked the Super Bowl to have a career day.

This article marks part two of our look at the top 50 individual offensive performances in Super Bowl history. Of the 50 performances picked for the list, 32 were by players who either are in the Hall of Fame or should realistically expect to receive a bust in Canton at some point. However, when you look at the “best of the best” performances, 19 of the top 25 were by players who are Hall of Fame caliber.

Here is a look at our picks for the 25 best individual offensive performances in Super Bowl history. For this list we looked at statistics, but also considered game situations. That is why the Super Bowl where Joe Montana threw 5 touchdowns was highlighted in the first look at performances 50-26, but his most clutch performance is featured here. We did take into account whether the team won the game, but did not give any weight to who won the game MVP Award as there have been many occasions where you can scratch your head at who received that award.

Be sure to check out part 1 with numbers 50-26. I welcome your comments or ideas as to which performances you think should be on this list.

25. Max McGee – Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl I – 7 rec., 138 yards, 2 TD
It was no surprise that the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, but it was quite a shocker that one of the stars of the game was aging wide receiver Max McGee. Having caught just four passes in limited action during the season, McGee expected his biggest score of the weekend to be when he broke curfew the night before the game. Yet, after Boyd Dowler suffered a broken collar bone in the first minutes, McGee made history by scoring the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.

24. Kurt Warner – St. Louis Rams – Super Bowl XXXIV – 24-45, 414 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Before the 1999 season Kurt Warner had thrown all of 11 passes in the NFL. In Super Bowl XXXIV he threw the ball 45 times for 414 yards (still the single game Super Bowl record) to lead the Rams to a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Rams marched up and down the field, but were held to just three field goals in the first half and the Titans came all the way back to tie the score at 16. Warner then connected with Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown that proved to be the game winner.

23. Eli Manning – New York Giants – Super Bowl XLVI – 30-40, 296 yards, 1TD, 0 INT
With his team trailing 17-9 after the New England Patriots scored on the first drive of the second half, Eli Manning completed 17 of 23 passes for 176 yards to lift the New York Giants to their second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in five years. He was especially impressive when marching the Giants down for the game-winning touchdown as he completed five of six passes for 74 yards.

22. John Elway – Denver Broncos – Super Bowl XXXIII – 18-29, 336 yards, 1TD, 1INT; 1 rushing TD
In his final NFL game, John Elway went out in style by passing for 336 yards and a touchdown and scoring another touchdown on the ground as the Broncos won their second straight Super Bowl. The Broncos seized control early with Elway’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith giving them a 17-3 lead. Read the rest of this entry →

Counting Down the 25 Greatest Individual Offensive Performances in Super Bowl History 4

Posted on January 30, 2014 by Dean Hybl

Has there ever been a better Super Bowl performance than Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIII?

Has there ever been a better Super Bowl performance than Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIII?

Sunday’s Super Bowl will feature the most prolific offense in NFL history against a squad that has a dominant running back and budding star at quarterback. Who will rise as the greatest star of the biggest game of the year? While Super Bowl history is full of second tier players having a career day, it is also full of future Hall of Famers who rose to the ultimate occasion.

This article marks part two of our look at the top 50 individual offensive performances in Super Bowl history. Of the 50 performances picked for the list, 31 were by players who either are in the Hall of Fame or should realistically expect to receive a bust in Canton at some point. However, when you look at the “best of the best” performances, 19 of the top 25 were by players who are Hall of Fame caliber.

So, as we look toward Sunday, expect the cream to rise to the top and the top performers to be from marquee players like Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Russell Wilson. However, I wouldn’t put it past Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, Golden Tate, Percy Harvin or Doug Baldwin to emerge as a Super Bowl hero.

Here is a look at our picks for the 25 best individual offensive performances in Super Bowl history. For this list we looked at statistics, but also considered game situations. That is why the Super Bowl where Joe Montana threw 5 touchdowns was highlighted in the first look at performances 50-26 and two others where he arguably wasn’t as statistically dominant are included here. We did take into account whether the team won the game, but did not give any weight to who won the game MVP Award as there have been many occasions where you can scratch your head at who received that award.

Be sure to check out part 1 with numbers 50-26. I welcome your comments or ideas as to which performances you think should be on this list.

25. Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XIX – 24-35, 331 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT; 5 rushes, 59 yards, 1 TD
Even though Joe Montana already had a Super Bowl ring prior to facing the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX, he was generally considered the “second quarterback” entering the big game. Conventional wisdom was that Miami’s big armed quarterback Dan Marino was going to blow away Montana and the 49ers. As it turned out, Montana and his team proved dominant in a 38-16 victory. Montana passed for 13 more yards and tossed three touchdowns with no picks, compared to one TD and two interceptions for Marino.

 

Max McGee was an unlikely hero in Super Bowl I.

Max McGee was an unlikely hero in Super Bowl I.

24. Max McGee – Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl I – 7 rec., 138 yards, 2 TD
It was no surprise that the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, but it was quite a shocker that one of the stars of the game was aging wide receiver Max McGee. Having caught just four passes in limited action during the season, McGee expected his biggest score of the weekend to be when he broke curfew the night before the game. Yet, after Boyd Dowler suffered a broken collar bone in the first minutes, McGee made history by scoring the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.

23. Kurt Warner – St. Louis Rams – Super Bowl XXXIV – 24-45, 414 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Before the 1999 season Kurt Warner had thrown all of 11 passes in the NFL. In Super Bowl XXXIV he threw the ball 45 times for 414 yards (still the single game Super Bowl record) to lead the Rams to a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Rams marched up and down the field, but were held to just three field goals in the first half and the Titans came all the way back to tie the score at 16. Warner then connected with Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown that proved to be the game winner.

22. Eli Manning – New York Giants – Super Bowl XLVI – 30-40, 296 yards, 1TD, 0 INT
With his team trailing 17-9 after the New England Patriots scored on the first drive of the second half, Eli Manning completed 17 of 23 passes for 176 yards to lift the New York Giants to their second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in five years. He was especially impressive when marching the Giants down for the game-winning touchdown as he completed five of six passes for 74 yards.

21. John Elway – Denver Broncos – Super Bowl XXXIII – 18-29, 336 yards, 1TD, 1INT; 1 rushing TD
In his final NFL game, John Elway went out in style by passing for 336 yards and a touchdown and scoring another touchdown on the ground as the Broncos won their second straight Super Bowl. The Broncos seized control early with Elway’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith giving them a 17-3 lead. Read the rest of this entry →

Counting Down the 50 Greatest Individual Offensive Performances in Super Bowl History: 50-26 2

Posted on January 26, 2014 by Dean Hybl

Despite losing Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens, Colin Kaepernick still had one of the finest performances in Super Bowl history.

Despite losing Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens, Colin Kaepernick still had one of the finest performances in Super Bowl history.

Since Super Bowl I in 1967, the “big game” has become the premier stage for NFL players to either create or cement their legacy. The first 47 Super Bowls are full of special Super Bowl performances. Some were by familiar names that used the Super Bowl to either put a stamp on a Hall of Fame career or propel them into a spot in Canton. But not every Super Bowl hero was a household name before their performance on the big stage. There have been several players whose otherwise unspectacular career includes one shining performance in front of one of the largest television crowds of all-time.

In this article and the second part (which will be posted later this week), we are looking specifically at the 50 best individual performances on offense in a Super Bowl. This list includes only offensive performances and not kickers or special teams players.

To develop the list we did take into account game statistics, but also looked at game situations when analyzing which players and moments were worthy of inclusion. For example, though Joe Montana tossed five touchdowns as the 49ers routed Denver in Super Bowl XXIV, he actually was ranked higher in other Super Bowls because his performance in critical moments was instrumental to their victory.

In ranking performances whether the team won the game was considered, but there have been some Super Bowl performances by players on losing teams that were clearly among the most important. One thing that received little consideration was who was awarded the Super Bowl MVP as there have been numerous occasions when the MVP award has gone to someone other than the player who seemingly provided the best performance.

So below is a countdown of performances 50-26.

50. Colin Kaepernick – San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XLVII – 16-28, 302 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 7 rushes, 62 yards, 1 TD
If he has been able to lead the 49ers to a final touchdown and victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Kaepernick’s performance in his first Super Bowl would have certainly been higher on the list. However, even in defeat the first year starter led his team to a near-comeback victory using both his arm and feet.

49. Mark Rypien – Washington Redskins – Super Bowl XXVI – 18-33, 292 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Utilizing a talented receiving corps that included Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, Rypien picked apart the Buffalo Bills with a pair of touchdown passes and time consuming drives to lift the Redskins to their third Super Bowl in a decade (all with a different starting quarterback).

48. Kurt Warner – Arizona Cardinals – Super Bowl XLIII – 31-43, 377 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
For a fleeting moment, it appeared that Kurt Warner was going to be the first quarterback to lead two different franchises to Super Bowl victory. He and the Cardinals played well enough to win, but a late Pittsburgh drive denied them of victory. Interestingly enough, Warner holds the record for the top three passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history with his 377 yards in Super Bowl XLIII ranking second.

47. Rod Smith – Denver Broncos – Super Bowl XXXIII – 5 rec., 152 yards, 1 TD
While Terrell Davis and John Elway are the best remembered offensive players from their back-to-back Super Bowl wins, receiver Rod Smith also played an important role in their win over the Falcons. His 80-yard reception in the second quarter helped break the game open and he finished with 152 receiving yards.

46. Michael Pittman – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Super Bowl XXXVI – 29 rushes, 124 yards, 0 TD
While the defense garnered all the headlines during the Buccaneers victory over the Raiders, Michael Pittman was the workhorse for the offense. He rushed for 124 yards, including 75 in the first half as the Buccaneers established control of the contest. Read the rest of this entry →

Broncos Outlast Cowboys, Patriots and Seahawks Fall From Perfection: Week 5 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on October 08, 2013 by Andy Larmand

As we took off into the second quarter of the season (for most teams), the fascinating phenomena kept rolling in. Included in this week’s list is something that hasn’t happened to the New England offense in seven years, a first for any quarterback since the merger, the continuation of home dominance for one NFC North team, a record-tying day for one tight end and an offensive outburst in Dallas. Here are your Week 5 NFL headlines.

Travis Benjamin had a career night in the return game for the red-hot Browns.

Travis Benjamin had a career night in the return game for the red-hot Browns.

The Browns scored their first rushing touchdown of the season (and it wasn’t Trent Richardson) in their fifth game and stayed perfect when starting quarterback Brian Hoyer as they beat the Bills, 37-24, on Thursday night. They did, however, lose Hoyer for the season with a partially torn ACL suffered early in the game. Cleveland punt returner, Travis Benjamin, tied a franchise record with 166 punt return yards in the win for the first-place Browns. Their 37 points were the most they have scored in a game since putting up 41 back in 2009. Since Week 3, they are averaging 28.3 points per game after averaging eight points per game in the first two weeks.

The Patriots fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and the Bengals improved to 6-22 against the AFC East since 1998 as New England managed only six points in the 13-6 loss. The six points were the fewest for the high-powered New England offense since being shut out on Dec. 10, 2006, 21-0, in Week 14 against Miami. The Bengals’ 5-22 record had been the third-worst against one division in that span. Andy Dalton’s first-quarter interception in the red zone was the first red-zone pick of his career. Tom Brady fell two short of the all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass as he failed to record one in game No. 53. The Pats had won 63 straight games when allowing 13 points or less with their last such loss coming in 2001. Read the rest of this entry →

Chiefs, Giants Among Surprises, Luck Ties Impressive Mark: Week 4 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on October 01, 2013 by Andy Larmand

The Saints' offense, led by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, has them off to a 4-0 start.

The Saints’ offense, led by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles (43), has them off to a 4-0 start.

For the first time in 2013, the NFL traveled across the pond to Wembley Stadium in Week 4 for a matchup of a couple of surprise 0-3 teams and did not disappoint the locals. Also featured is Andrew Luck matching an impressive quarterback mark, a double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback in Houston, Denver scoring and then scoring some more and the Chiefs improving to 4-0. Perhaps more notably, the blue team in New York is now 0-4.

The 49ers and Rams began the week in an NFC West showdown on Thursday night and after two straight losses in Weeks 2 and 3, the Niners kept a three-game losing streak off of Jim Harbaugh’s resume with a 35-11 rout of St. Louis. Harbaugh has still never lost three in a row as 49ers head coach. The Rams finished the night with 18 total rushing yards on 19 attempts. They have now recorded less than 100 yards on the ground in nine straight games. Also, they were the first team since 2008 with 19-plus rush attempts and 18 or fewer yards. They were also the last team to do that. San Fran improved to 5-0 all-time when Colin Kaepernick throws two or more touchdown passes.

The Vikings scored a first-quarter touchdown for the eighth straight game as Christian Ponder connected with Greg Jennings from 70 yards out to help them get up, 10-0, on the Steelers in London. The eight straight with a touchdown in the first quarter is a team record for them. Pittsburgh is 0-4 for the first time since 1968. Jennings needs just two more 70-yard touchdown receptions to tie the all-time record of nine held by Jerry Rice.

Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Rocky Colavito: Super Slugger
      March 30, 2020 | 7:24 pm
      Rocky Colavito

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was just the fifth player in Major League Baseball history to have 11 straight seasons with 20 or more home runs, yet could not sustain that greatness long enough to earn a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

      In some sense, the legend of Rocco “Rocky” Colavito Jr. began long before he ever started pounding home runs at the major league level.

      Born and raised as a New York Yankees fan in The Bronx, Colavito was playing semipro baseball before he was a teenager and dropped out of high school at 16 after his sophomore year to pursue a professional career. The major league rule at the time said a player could not sign with a pro team until his high school class graduated, but after sitting out for one year, Colavito was allowed to sign at age 17.

      Read more »

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