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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.

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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 →

Manning And Boldin Star; Kelly And Reid Undefeated: Week 1 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on September 11, 2013 by Andy Larmand

Lucky Seven: Peyton Manning had a night for the ages to open the season.

Lucky Seven: Peyton Manning had a night for the ages to open the season.

After seven long months of OTA’s and talking about Tim Tebow, football returned this Thursday under the lights in Denver, Colorado. And this time the lights stayed on for the whole game. The season got started with one of the best players of this generation reminding us all that he can still get it done, included a first for a veteran wide receiver, the extension of a couple of Opening Day streaks, one milestone coaching victory and a first for a Lions‘ player since the days of Barry Sanders. Here are all the important notes, interesting accomplishments and head-scratching statistics from Week 1 of the brand new season.

Peyton Manning tied the all-time single-game record with seven touchdown passes in the Broncos‘ 49-27 win over the defending champion Ravens Thursday night. He became the first quarterback to throw seven TD passes in a game since Joe Kapp in 1969. It was the 74th time in his career he has thrown three or more touchdown passes in a game – the most all-time. Denver’s 22-point win was the largest ever opening-week win by a team against a defending Super Bowl champ.

The Falcons lost their first ever season opener against the Saints as they fell, 23-17, after blowing a 10-0 first-quarter lead. Atlanta had been 6-0 all-time against New Orleans to open the season. In the loss, however, Tony Gonzalez became just the third player to record a touchdown catch in 17 different seasons, joining Jerry Rice (19) and Irving Fryar, who also did it 17 times.

With two against the BillsTom Brady has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 49 consecutive games for the Patriots – five shy of tying Drew Brees for the all-time record. He also improved to 21-2 in his career against Buffalo. New England won its 10th straight opener and they forced at least one turnover in their 28th straight game.

The Bucs fell to 0-7 all-time in road games against the Jets as New York pulled out the 18-17 win on a last-second field goal. Tampa committed 13 penalties in the game, leading to five New York first downs and helped put them in position to kick the game-winning field goal. Rookie Geno Smith helped lead the Jets with a 76.0 QBR in the fourth quarter.

Marc Trestman joined Chip Kelly and Andy Reid in winning their debuts with new teams.

Marc Trestman joined Chip Kelly and Andy Reid in winning their debuts with new teams.

A.J. Green hauled in nine passes for 162 yards to break Chad Johnson‘s franchise record for receiving yards in a season opener, but the Bengals fell to the Bears in Marc Trestman‘s debut, 24-21.Bears kicker, Robbie Gould, set a Soldier Field record with a 58-yard field goal in the win.

Seattle and Carolina combined for just 19 points in the Seahawks‘ 12-7 win. Cam Newton put up career lows in total yards (163) and passing yards (125) for the Panthers in the loss. Russell Wilson threw for 320 yards, despite managing just the 12 points and it was the first 300-yard game of his career.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for just 191 yards as the Steelers mustered just nine points and fell to the Titans, 16-9. It was the fifth time since 2011 that Big Ben threw for less than 200 yards in a game. Though this was Pittsburgh’s first loss in a home opener since 2002, Roethlisberger did go over the career 30,000-yard passing mark on the day. Pittsburgh got on the board three seconds into the game after it was ruled that Tennessee kick returner, Darius Reynaud, fielded the opening kickoff before the goal line and then took a knee in the endzone. The safety tied the fastest score in any game since the merger.

The Browns lost their ninth straight season opener, 23-10, at the hands of the Dolphins. Nine straight is the longest active streak in the league. The teams combined for just 67 rushing yards and the Browns were just 1-for-14 on third down. Brandon Weeden set a new career-high for pass attempts in a game with 53, but threw three interceptions and was sacked three times.

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2013 NFL Predictions: Division Winners, Super Bowl Champs, Individual Awards and League Leaders 8

Posted on August 21, 2013 by Andy Larmand

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It’s almost here, but if you weren’t excited enough about the NFL returning in a couple weeks, here are a few more reasons. It’s time to make some predictions that will inevitably have clear cut outomes and boggle the minds of some while sparking some pretty intense debates. I think I have them all right, though. Here are my picks for all eight division winners, the four Wild Card teams, each conference’s championship matchup, the Super Bowl, league leaders and major award recipients.

AFC East (2): Patriots – Nine straight division titles when the team has been quarterbacked by Tom Brady? Yeah, make it 10 for New England. While they undoubtedly will be transitioning on the field this season, they are still fairly high above the other three teams in the division. Plus, their quarterback never runs into butts.

AFC North (4): Bengals – Get used to hearing “Dalton to Green” and get used to seeing the Bengals in the postseason (even if it is just for one game) for the third straight year. Cleveland will probably finish fourth.

AFC South (3): Colts – The Colts made an unbelievable turnaround in 2012 and it seems to me they are not done improving. Eleven wins last season was good, but I see them hitting at least 12 this year, including making a push to overtake the Texans late in the year with a huge win over them in Week 15.

AFC West (1): Broncos – Obviously. This one will probably be the biggest division win by any team this season. I say 14-2 for Denver with San Diego the closest to them at 7-9. Welker…and Decker…and Thomas might play a role in their success as well. Read the rest of this entry →

Family Reunion In New Orleans And The Rest Of The Championship Weekend Storylines 0

Posted on January 22, 2013 by Andy Larmand

Super Bowl XLVII is set. The Ravens will take on the 49ers in the Superdome.

Super Bowl XLVII is set. The Ravens will take on the 49ers in the Superdome.

The good news? The Super Bowl is now less than two weeks away. The bad? It is the last NFL game until next September. On the second-to-last meaningful weekend of football, four teams – three that were there last year – fought for the right to travel to New Orleans and play in Super Bowl XLVII.

The 49ers and the Ravens would come out on top after the Falcons couldn’t hold a big lead and the Patriots couldn’t produce a single point in the second half. What do the two winners have in common? They are coached by a pair of brothers – who will be facing off in the Super Bowl with a pair of quarterbacks who have never been there before.

It wasn’t a good day for the high seeds and home teams as both the Patriots (28-13) and Falcons (28-24) saw their respective seasons come to a close.

For the first time ever, the San Francisco 49ers have reached the Super Bowl as the conference’s No. 2 seed with a comeback from 17 down against the Falcons in Atlanta. They will be making their sixth ever appearance in the big game and are 5-0 so far. Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards while posting a 114.8 passer rating – both franchise playoff records – but his three touchdowns were accompanied by one big interception to Chris Culliver late in the game. His record fell to 34-7 in his career at home. Colin Kaepernick didn’t have nearly the game he had last week as he ran the ball just two times for a total of 21 yards and threw for 233 and a touchdown. Coming into the game, Atlanta had allowed 8.9 yards per rush to quarterbacks in 2012. Kaepernick averaged 10.5 yards on his two carries. His passer rating of 127.7 topped Ryan’s, though, as he helped San Francisco to become the first team to reach consecutive conference championship games with two different starting quarterbacks since the Redskins did it in 1986-87. This was the first time since the Falcons migrated from the NFC West in 2002 that they have fallen to the ‘Niners. They have only won two playoff games in a season once – in 1998 (the only year they made the Super Bowl).

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Offense, Offense And More Offense: NFL Division Weekend Storylines 1

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Andy Larmand

Does it have to be over? That was one of the best weekends of sports we have ever seen. The only bad thing about the Super Bowl getting closer is less football games over the weekend.

If it looked familiar to you, there’s good reason for that. The four AFC teams in the divisional round this past weekend were the same final four as last season and it was the first time that phenomenon has ever happened. Defense was certainly hard to come by on both Saturday and Sunday. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.

Obi-WON-Jacoby: Joe Flacco's 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually shocked the Broncos.

Obi-WON-Jacoby: Joe Flacco’s 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually shocked the Broncos.

What. A. Game. The Ravens and the Broncos opened the weekend in one of the best postseason games we have seen in a while. Despite two return touchdowns from Trindon Holliday, Denver fell to the underdog Ravens, 38-35, in the first double-overtime game in the NFL since the Panthers beat the Rams in another divisional playoff game on Jan. 10, 2004 – they ended up making it to the Super Bowl that year. Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones with a 70-yard pass to tie the game at 35 with 31 seconds left in regulation and tied Eli Manning for the most road playoff wins with his fifth. If you missed it, start kicking yourself. Peyton Manning, who had won nine straight starts against the Ravens coming into the game, tied Brett Favre for the most playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history. In 12 playoff appearances, which are tied for the most ever, he is now 9-11, including eight seasons of one-and-done performances. In what has become his typical fashion, he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. The Ravens got 17 points off of those turnovers, including the game-winning field goal with 13:18 left in the second overtime period following Corey Graham‘s second pick of the night.

The game featured three return touchdowns, including two in the first 5:11 and also saw a 42-second stretch in which the Ravens scored two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead. Holliday’s 90-yard punt return was the first ever in Denver postseason history and the longest by any player ever in the playoffs. His 104-yard kick return for a touchdown was also the longest return TD in playoff history and he became the only player to ever return both a kick and a punt for touchdowns in the same playoff game. Finally, Holliday became the first player to ever score two touchdowns of any kind of 90 or more yards in a playoff game. Baltimore lost one fumble on the day and have now lost three in their first two playoff games this year after losing just five in the regular season. The 28 combined points in the first quarter of the game were more than the four games combined for in the first quarter last weekend. It was only the third time in the Super Bowl era that both teams scored 14 or more points in the first quarter of a playoff game. It was also the first ever playoff game with an offensive (Torrey Smith, Brandon Stokley), defensive (Graham) and special teams touchdown (Holliday) in the first quarter.

The 35 points are the most the Ravens have ever allowed in their playoff history. The Broncos lost their first overtime playoff contest as they had been 2-0 in such games entering this one, including the victory over the Steelers last year. Baltimore improved to 1-0 in overtime playoff games. Graham became the sixth player in the last five postseasons to pick off multiple passes in a playoff game. Three of them are Ravens. The combination of Flacco and John Harbaugh is going to its third AFC Championship game in their five seasons together (0-2). Justin Tucker‘s 47-yard field goal to win the game was his only one of the night, the fourth-longest overtime field goal in playoff history and the longest ever by a rookie. Ray Lewis made an astounding 17 tackles and will live to play another week. The game lasted 76 minutes, 42 seconds. It was the fourth-longest playoff game in NFL history and the longest since 1986. Manning fell to 0-4 in his career in the postseason when the temperature was lower than 40 degrees and his 21 career postseason interceptions are the fourth-most ever. Denver committed 10 penalties in the game for 87 yards. Smith’s 59-yard TD reception just before the half was the second-longest in Baltimore postseason history. Manning took a knee with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, still possessing two timeouts.

Well, that was a good start. The Ravens will travel to Foxboro for a rematch of their Week 3 game with New England on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

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  • 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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