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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 →

Remembering the NFL Minister of Defense Reggie White 1

Posted on October 12, 2015 by Mike Raffone

Minister of DefenseToday’s Sports Then and Now blog remembers the late Reggie White.

An ordained pastor and Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman, this NFL defender brilliantly embodied his fitting Minister of Defense nickname.

During a storied 15-year NFL career, the Minister of Defense delivered his football version of a fire and brimstone sermon by dominating opposing offenses.

Whenever Reggie White set foot on the football field, he constantly administered defensive pressure. And, when away from the gridiron, he tirelessly catered to the needs of inner-city youth and those less fortunate through his work as a Christian minister.

NFL.com rated White as the #7 NFL player of all-time, and ESPN Sports Nation named him the greatest player in Philadelphia Eagles history. His storied career validates their lofty choices.

White graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1984 after being named SEC Player of the Year during his senior season. The Minister of Defense then played two years in the now defunct USFL with the Memphis Showboats, earning the 1985 USFL Man of the Year Award.

After the USFL folded, White proceeded to the NFL and starred for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1985 – 1992. Read the rest of this entry →

Philadelphia Eagles 1988-1992: On the Edge of Greatness 7

Posted on September 30, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Reggie White (#92), Jerome Brown (#99) and Mike Pitts (#74) were part of the dominating defense of the Eagles during the late 1980s.

A new NFL Network special looks back at a time 20 years ago when the Philadelphia Eagles also had a team that many believed had the talent to win a Super Bowl. However, while three of their division rivals were able to win titles in the early 1990s, the Eagles were left to contemplate what could have been.

The documentary focuses on two of the defensive stars from the Eagles teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jerome Brown and Reggie White. Both players were key components of one of the dominant defenses of the era and both players passed away far too early (as did fellow Eagles from that era Todd Bell and Andre Waters).

Between 1988 and 1992, the Eagles posted a 52-28 regular season record and joined the San Francisco 49ers as the only teams in the NFL to post double digit victory totals in all five seasons. However, while the 49ers claimed two Super Bowl titles during that stretch and the other three were won by the Eagles’ NFC East rivals the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys, the Eagles were left waiting for a next year that never came.

Under the guidance of head coach Buddy Ryan, defense was the calling card of the Eagles during that era. Utilizing the 4-6 defense that had helped the Chicago Bears win a Super Bowl, Ryan turned the Eagles into an intimidating, ball-hawking defense that regularly created big plays on the defensive end of the game.

While the unit had many talented players, the unquestioned leader of the defense was defensive end Reggie White. The “Minister of Defense” was a defensive juggernaut and regularly punished any quarterback or running back that dared get in his way.

During his eight seasons with the Eagles between 1985 and 1992, White registered 124 sacks in 121 games, including an amazing 21 sacks in just 12 games during the strike-shortened 1987 campaign. He also forced 18 fumbles and recovered 12.

When Philadelphia made defensive tackle Jerome Brown their first pick (ninth overall) in the 1987 draft, it provided White with a rush partner that forced opposing offenses to worry about the rush from both the inside and outside.

By 1988, their third season under Ryan, the Eagles had gelled as a team and were ready to make a run at the playoffs. Read the rest of this entry →

The Best Individual Performances in Super Bowl History: 50-41 1

Posted on January 31, 2011 by A.J. Foss

Bart Starr was the MVP of the first Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is the ultimate stage for a NFL player to have a performance for the ages.

It does not have to be a superstar or future Hall-of-Famer, but role players or players that have been overshadowed throughout their careers can step in to the limelight and put together a game that fans watching on TV or in the stands will never forget.

With the help of Bob McGinn’s The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, I have comprised the 50 Greatest Individual Performances in Super Bowl History.

In this list will not only be players that won the Most Valuable Player award in the Super Bowl, but players from losing teams that gave put their teams on their back but fell just short of winning the Lombardi Trophy, through no fault of their own.

Also, there will be performances that could have been recognized as a MVP performance but were overlooked in favor of others.

In essence, just because there have been 44 Super Bowls, does not mean all 44 Super Bowl MVP winners on this list.

So with no further interruption, here are the 50 Greatest Individual Performances in Super Bowl History with today’s installment focusing on 50 through 41:

50. Roger Craig-Running Back, San Francisco 49ers, XIX
Craig became the first player in Super Bowl history to score three touchdowns in one game.

The versatile running back ran the ball 15 times for 58 yards and rushed for a two-yard touchdown run to go along with seven receptions for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers’ 38-16 win over the Miami Dolphins.

49. John Stallworth-Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers, XIV
Though he only caught three passes in the entire game, Stallworth made his presence felt in the fourth quarter of a tight contest with the Los Angeles Rams.

Trailing 19-17 early in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw launched a deep pass for Stallworth, who caught it beyond the hands of Rams safety Rod Perry at the Rams’ 32-yard-line, and ran it in for the go-ahead touchdown.

Following an Rams turnover and facing a 3rd-and-7, Stallworth caught another deep pass from Bradshaw, this time for 45 yards that put the Steelers at the Rams’22-yard-line and lead to the game-clinching touchdown, a one-yard touchdown run by Franco Harris.

Stallworth finished with 121 yards on three catches, averaging 40.3 yards per catch, in the Steelers’ 31-19 victory and fourth Super Bowl title in six years. 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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