The NFL turns 100 in 2020: The Pro Football Hall of Fame should have an expanded class to celebrate
Isaac Bruce is still not a Hall of Famer.
It’s hard to believe a player who ranks fifth all-time in receiving yards, was selected to four Pro Bowls and played in two Super Bowls is still awaiting enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, former Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Ty Law, former Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson, longtime Dallas Cowboys scout and executive Gil Brandt and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen are the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their selections were announced Saturday in Atlanta, a night before Super Bowl LIII. The 2019 class will be enshrined in August.
Bruce isn’t the only deserving player still waiting. There is a backlog of former players and coaches who have been passed over for years. There is only way one to clear the backlog and right several wrongs and that’s for an expanded Hall of Fame class.
The NFL will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2020, so why not go big with a 100-member class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020? Sure, the logistics will be tough. The Hall is used to enshrining just eight members each August. But this is a monumental milestone for the NFL and the Hall of Fame can hold a colossal celebration. Instead of one four-day weekend, make the celebration last the entire month of August. You only turn 100 once.
With future Hall of Famers like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, J.J. Watt, Antonio Brown and Adrian Peterson still playing, guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Gates, Jason Peters and Frank Gore nearing retirement; the recently retired Julius Peppers, Darrelle Revis, Steve Smith, Joe Thomas and Jason Witten; former players like Troy Polamalu, Patrick Willis and Reggie Wayne eligible in 2020; and Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson eligible in 2021, the backlog isn’t going to get cleared anytime soon at the current rate.
“There are tons of positions,” former Broncos safety Steve Atwater told me.
The NFL already awarded the 2020 NFL Draft to Las Vegas instead of Cleveland or Canton.
An expanded Hall of Fame class is one way Hall of Fame president David Baker and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can reward Northern Ohio for being the birthplace of professional football. When I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in June of 2018, I was told by an official that “something special” was planned for the 2020 ceremony, but an expanded class was not in the works. Hopefully they change their minds. Baker did say Saturday night that they are considering a potential 25-member class in 2020.
Here is what a 100-member Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 2020 could be. The names are listed in alphabetical order with an asterisk next to first-time eligible players.
1. Eric Allen, CB, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders – Allen is sort of a forgotten name when it comes to Hall-of-Fame-caliber players, but he was a six-time Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro in 1989 and second-team All-Pro in 1991 and 1993. He’s in the Eagles Hall of Fame and his 54 career interceptions tie him with Hall of Famers Willie Brown and Darrell Green for 21st all-time. Allen scored eight touchdowns in his career, including a quartet of pick-sixes during the 1993 season. In nine playoff games, he added four more interceptions and another defensive score in a 1992 playoff win over the Saints.
2. John Abraham, DE, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals* – Abraham was one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers from 2000-14. His 133.5 career sacks rank 12th all-time – just ahead of Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson and Derrick Thomas. Abraham was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time selection as first-team All-Pro. Though he never led the league in sacks, he recorded double-digit sack totals in eight of his 15 seasons. His 16.5 sacks in 2008 ranked third behind DeMarcus Ware’s 20 and 17.5 by Joey Porter. Abraham’s 148 career tackles for loss rank seventh all-time.
3. Ken Anderson, QB, Cincinnati Bengals – The 1981 NFL MVP led an NFL dynasty that never was. People forget just how good Anderson’s Bengals were and how bad they were when he arrived. The Bengals won just four games in Anderson’s rookie season of 1971. He had the Bengals in the playoffs two years later as AFC Central champs. Anderson was the NFL Man of the Year in 1975 when the Bengals returned to the postseason. He led them to a Super Bowl berth in 1981, but lost to Joe Montana’s 49ers. Anderson was a four-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in passing yards in 1974 and 1975. He also led the league in passer rating four times. His 32,838 passing yards are sandwiched between Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Kurt Warner.
4. Steve Atwater, S, Denver Broncos – The safety position is one that has been passed over often by the Hall of Fame and Atwater was one of the best ever. Atwater was the enforcer for Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense of the 1990s. He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times in 11 seasons, twice first-team All-Pro, won a pair of Super Bowls and was named to the NFL’s 1990s all-decade team. At 6-4, Atwater was a big safety who often played inside the box. His 1,170 tackles rank 24th all-time – well ahead of Hall of Fame safeties Rod Woodson and Brian Dawkins, and Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher.
5. Ronde Barber, DB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Barber was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2000s. A lockdown corner for the Bucs team that won Super Bowl XXXVII, Barber was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001 and his 47 career picks rank 47th – ahead of Hall of Famers Roger Wehrli, Jimmy Johnson and Jack Christiansen. His 1,028 tackles are just 12 fewer than Urlacher and 133 more than Dawkins. Barber is the only player in NFL history with at least 45 interceptions and 25 sacks.
6. Cornelius Bennett, LB, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts – Bennett was a key component of Buffalo’s four Super Bowl teams. The five-time Pro Bowler was selected first-team All-Pro three times. He recorded 1,190 tackles – 1,048 solo – and had seven interceptions, 31 forced fumbles, 27 fumble recoveries, and three defensive. At the time of his retirement following the 2000 season, Bennett’s 27 defensive fumble recoveries were the third most in NFL history.
7. Tony Boselli, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars – Boselli’s career lasted just eight seasons, but during those eight years, he was one of the best tackles in football. He went to five straight Pro Bowls from 1996-2000 and was a first-team All-Pro three times. He was the offensive lineman of the year in 1998 and is a member of the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990s.
“I know his career wasn’t as long, but for how he played, he deserves to be in,” Atwater said. “It’s not really about the length of time that you played, it’s about how effective you were when you played.”
San Francisco 49ers general manager and former Buccaneers and Broncos safety John Lynch said Boselli made playing football “look easy.”
“He was a fantastic football player,” Lynch added, “and I believe he deserves it.”
8. Bobby Boyd, CB, Baltimore Colts – Boyd’s nine-year playing career ended after the Colts lost to the Jets in Super Bowl III. He was selected to the Pro Bowl just twice, but was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection. A member of the 1960s all-decade team, Boyd led the NFL with nine interceptions in 1965 and his 57 career picks are tied with Hall of Famers Mel Blount and Johnny Robinson for 13th all-time. He returned four of those interceptions for scores and had a fumble return for a touchdown in 1963.
9. Cliff Branch, WR, Oakland Raiders – Branch was a first-team All-Pro selection four times and a four-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 1974 and touchdowns in both 1974 and 1976. But he also won a trio of Super Bowls with the Raiders, making 73 catches for 1,289 yards and five touchdowns in 22 postseason games. When he retired he had more postseason receptions and yards than anyone in NFL history. Branch’s track speed helped him record a yards-per-reception average of 17.3 – a full yard better than Steelers Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
10. Joey Browner, S, Minnesota Vikings – A member of the NFL’s 1980s all-decade team, Browner was added to the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2013. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro over a 10-year career. Browner had 37 career interceptions – the same as Dawkins, who played six seasons longer. Browner recorded more than 1,100 total tackles, forced 18 fumbles and recovered 16 of them. He also led the Vikings in nine defensive categories over his NFL career and holds the Pro Bowl record with three fumble recoveries returned for touchdowns.
11. Isaac Bruce, WR, Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams – Bruce was a Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler, but also one of the NFL’s most productive receivers. He ranks 13th with 1,204 receptions, but his 15,208 receiving yards are fifth-all-time. His 91 touchdowns are 12th with every other eligible player ahead of him already in the Hall – as are the next four behind him.
“Go back and look at the big games and how well he performed, and the key plays that he makes in those games,” former Rams coach Mike Martz told Talk of Fame last summer. “(He and Torry Holt) are difference makers that impacted their teams to make them championship teams, and they helped those teams win.
“There wasn’t a corner in this league he didn’t beat and beat him routinely. “His low center of gravity, his ability to change direction without shuffling his feet and the competitive edge that he had was beyond reproach. The best I’ve ever seen.”
12. LeRoy Butler, S, Green Bay Packers – Butler did much more than invent the Lambeau Leap. He was a versatile safety who was selected to four Pro Bowls, was first-team All-Pro four times and is in the Packers Hall of Fame. A member 1990s all-decade team, Butler’s 38 interceptions are more than Hall of Fame peer Dawkins. His 889 career tackles far surpass the total of Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams. Butler also recorded 20.5 regular-season sacks and his sack of Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI was one of the best-ever as he took down running back Dave Meggett, who tried to block Butler, in the process. The Packers won that Super Bowl and returned the next year with Butler at safety.
“It’s so hard to find those interchangeable skill sets at free safety, strong safety. LeRoy had them,” said Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout and current executive director of the Senior Bowl. “You could play him deep off the ball, he would make plays in the backfield, you could walk him up and play him like an extra linebacker.”
Former Packers teammate Edgar Bennett said Butler was a “do-it-all” safety.
“He could cover, he was strong in the box, blitz the quarterback,” Bennett said. “He’s definitely one I would pound the table for, without a doubt.”
13. Todd Christensen, TE, Oakland Raiders – Christensen was one of the best tight ends to ever play, leading the NFL in receptions in both 1983 and 1986. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. He was also part of two Super Bowl championship teams with the Raiders. He scored 41 touchdowns, including 12 in 1983 when he caught a league-best 92 passes for 1,247 yards. He joined Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow as the only tight ends in history to lead the league in receptions. Christensen’s 5,872 receiving yards pale in comparison to players of the current era, but are more than Hall of Fame tight ends of yesteryear like Mike Ditka, Dave Casper, Charlie Sanders and John Mackey. He also won more championships than each.
14. Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings – Only two running backs have ever rushed for 1,000 yards and had more than 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk is one. Roger Craig is the other. Craig accomplished the feat in 1985, when he ran for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns and caught an NFL-high 92 passes for 1,016 yards and six scores. Craig’s 566 career receptions rank eighth all-time among running backs – more than Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Curtis Martin and Thurman Thomas. Craig’s 8,189 rushing yards are more than Hall of Famers Larry Csonka, Terrell Davis and Leroy Kelly. Craig was a three-time Super Bowl champ, four-time Pro Bowler and the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 1988 when he ran for 1,502 yards and nine touchdowns with 76 receptions for 534 yards to lead the league in yards from scrimmage.
15. Bill Cowher, Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers – When Cowher took over for Hall of Famer Chuck Noll in 1992, there was no drop-off for the Steelers. Cowher was the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 1992 and reached the playoffs in each of his first six seasons – a feat only previously accomplished by Hall of Famer Paul Brown – and won an AFC championship. Cowher’s teams qualified for the playoffs in 10 of his 15 years as head coach and he coached in two Super Bowls, winning a championship in 2005. He won eight division championships and his 149 career wins are between Hall of Fame coaches Steve Owen and Marv Levy. Cowher’s .623 win percentage is better than Hall of Famers Bud Grant, Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Owen.
16. Don Coryell, Coach, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Chargers – Innovator is perhaps the best word to describe Coryell. His “Air Coryell” offense revolutionized the game and players like Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and Chargers receivers Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson and Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow thrived. Coryell’s offense made its NFL debut in 1973 with the Cardinals and he had Big Red in the playoffs the next season. But it was in San Diego where things really took flight as the Chargers won three straight AFC West crowns from 1979-81. Coryell’s teams never reached the Super Bowl, which has kept him out of Canton so far. But his coaching tree included future Hall of Famers John Madden and Joe Gibbs. Coryell won 111 games over 14 seasons as an NFL head coach, eight more wins than Madden.
Don is the father of the modern passing game. People talk about the ‘West Coast’ offense, but “Don started the ‘West Coast’ decades ago and kept updating it,” former Rams coach Mike Martz said in 2008, two years before Coryell’s death at the age of 85. “You look around the NFL now, and so many teams are running a version of the Coryell offense. Coaches have added their own touches, but it’s still Coryell’s offense. He has disciples all over the league. He changed the game.”
17. Ray Donaldson, C, Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys – Despite beginning his career with a Colts franchise that relocated in 1984 and won just 27 games over his first seven seasons, Donaldson was a six-time Pro Bowler. He last two Pro Bowl selections were in his final two seasons with the Cowboys, with whom he earned a Super Bowl ring in 1995.
“Ray was legitimate, but in a horrible situation because the Colts were a mess and cultural disaster,” former NFL defensive end Blaise Winter said. “He pops out to me because if he was on a better team, he would have already been recognized. He played a way that made you go, ‘Wow, this guy is damn good.’”
18. Corey Dillon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots – Consistency was Dillon’s best career attribute. While he never led the NFL in rushing, he did run for over 1,000 yards seven times in a 10-year career. His career high was 1,635 yards in 2004, when he finished third in the league behind Hall of Famer Curtis Martin and Shaun Alexander. Dillon was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl that season and ended his career with 11,241 rushing yards and 89 total touchdowns. He ranks 20th all-time in rushing, just ahead of Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson. There are 21 running backs who have rushed for over 11,000 yards. Of all those players eligible for the Hall, only Dillon and Fred Taylor are not in. Dillon’s touchdown total is more than Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas.
19. Henry Ellard, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins – Even in the waning seasons of a 16-year NFL career, Ellard still had it. He retired following the 1998 season, but led the NFL with a 19.5-yards-per-reception average in 1996 while with Washington. He caught 52 passes for 1,014 yards that season and ended his career with 814 receptions for 13,777 yards and 65 touchdowns. Ellard led the league with 1,414 receiving yards in 1988, when he caught 86 passes for the Rams. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. He ranks 15th in receiving yards, ahead of Hall of Famers Art Monk, Steve Largent and Andre Reed.
20. Alan Faneca, OG, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets – Faneca was perhaps the best guard in football for a decade. A member of the 2000s all-decade team, Faneca was a nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro. He was a stalwart up front for the Steelers team that won Super Bowl XL and missed just five games over a 13-year career. Faneca has been a Hall of Fame finalist four times. Hall of Fame linemen Mike Munchak and Dermonti Dawson both said last month that Faneca was a “special” player deserving of the Hall of Fame.
21. Pat Fischer, CB, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Redskins – Fischer was a lockdown corner for two NFL franchises and finished his career with 56 interceptions – tied with Hall of Famer Lem Barmey for 18th all-time and ahead of Hall of Famers Aeneas Williams, Willie Brown, Darrell Green and Deion Sanders. Fischer picked off 10 passes in 1964 and returned two of them for scores. He returned two other picks for scores and was also an effective kick returner for the Cardinals. Fischer was a three-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro selection and is honored in the Redskins Ring of Fame. When he retired, “The Mouse” had played in 213 games – then a record for cornerbacks.
22. London Fletcher, LB, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins – Undersized coming out of a Division III school, Fletcher never missed a game over a 16-year NFL career. His 2,301 career tackles rank second all-time behind only Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Fletcher and Lewis are the only players with at least 2,000 career tackles since tackles were first recorded in 1994. Hall of Famer Junior Seau is third all-time at 1,846. Fletcher helped the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV and was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time second-team All-Pro selection. One of the best all-around linebackers of his era, Fletcher had 39 sacks, 109 tackles for loss, two safeties, 23 interceptions, 20 forced fumbles and 92 passes defensed.
23. Tom Flores, Coach, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, Seattle Seahawks – Flores won two Super Bowls for the same franchise in two different cities. He had just two losing seasons in nine years with the Raiders and took the team to the playoffs five times with three AFC West crowns. His 1980 Raiders were the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl. After three disappointing years in Seattle, Flores retired following the 1994 season with a 97-87 record. He was 83-53 with the Raiders and his career win total ranks 44th all-time – just ahead of Vince Lombardi.
“I hope he gets in,” current Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of Flores. “He was a great coach, great player, one of the great people of all time.”
24. Doug Flutie, QB, New Jersey Generals, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, British Columbia Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Toronto Argonauts, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers – It’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame and Flutie accomplished more in his professional football career than most. Flutie was Pro Bowler just once in his 12-year NFL career, but his 14,715 passing yards in the NFL are more than Hall of Famer Sid Luckman. Flutie’s Hall of Fame résumé is bolstered by what he did in the Canadian Football League. He was the CFL MVP six times, won a trio of Grey Cups and was the MVP of each championship game. He began his professional career in 1985 with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL before the Bears signed him a year later. Flutie threw for more than 41,000 yards in Canada and his combined passing yards total would place him sixth all-time.
25. La’Roi Glover, DT, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams – Glover was a seventh-round pick of the Raiders in 1996, but was cut mid-season. After a year in NFL Europe – where he helped the Barcelona Dragons win the World Bowl – Glover signed with the Saints and ended his career in the team’s Ring of Honor. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 when he led the league with 17 sacks, which at the time was the second-most for a defensive tackle. Glover finished his career with 83.5 sacks, 93 tackles for loss and 16 forced fumbles. He even had two career interceptions. Glover was a six-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro and is a member of the NFL’s 2000s all-decade team.
“The production he had for so many years, with his skillset at that position, just shouldn’t have happened. It has nothing to do with his talent, it’s all the other stuff that made him special,” said Alabama defensive line coach Brian Baker, who was Glover’s position coach with the Rams. “La’Roi wasn’t this 6-4, massive, beautiful interior defensive lineman. There was nothing about him that made you look at him and think he was going to be one of the best defensive linemen to ever play the game, but yet there he is. What matters more than what you got on the outside is what you got on the inside.”
26. Randy Gradishar, LB, Denver Broncos – While at Ohio State, then-Buckeyes coach said Gradishar was the “finest linebacker” he’d ever coached. Gradishar continued to excel in the NFL with seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro selections over a 10-year career. Gradishar also had 20 interceptions, including one he famously returned for a touchdown against the Packers on Monday Night Football. That was one of four defensive touchdowns for Gradishar, who was the leader of Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense. Smart, dominant and instinctual, Gradishar collected an unofficial total of 2,049 sacks and never missed a game. He averaged better than 200 tackles per season. For context, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard led the NFL with 163 tackles in 2018.
“If you ask me to name the five best linebackers I played against, or had a chance to cover in my broadcasting career, Randy Gradishar would be on that list,” the late Merlin Olsen said in 2009. “There is no question about his credentials; Randy Gradishar belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
27. Jim Hanifan, Coach, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams – Hanifan wasn’t a great head coach – going 39-53-1 over seven seasons leading the Cardinals and Falcons. But he is arguably the best offensive line coach in NFL history. Coach “Hani” spent 22 seasons as an offensive line coach, helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl in 1999 and 2001. He was the NFL’s Assistant Coach of the Year in 1977 when the Cardinals sent three offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. One of those players was Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf, who entered the NFL in 1971 but made the first of his six Pro Bowls in 1974 – his second season under Hanifan’s tutelage.
28. Rodney Harrison, S, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots – Harrison was only selected to two Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro selection, but he made his biggest impact in the postseason. He had four interceptions in three playoff games to help the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXIX and forced nine turnovers (seven interceptions and two fumbles) in nine postseason games with the Patriots. Harrison’s two Pro Bowl selections came while with the Chargers in 1998 and 2001. His best season was 2000, when he was not selected to the Pro Bowl despite a career-high six interceptions. He also had a career-best six sacks that season and is the only safety in NFL history with at least 30 interceptions and 30 sacks. His 30.5 sacks are the most of any safety in NFL history.
“The Hall of Fame has undervalued the safety position over the years,” Nagy said. “Rodney was the ultimate tone-setter for the defense. The great players always step up and he had seven interceptions in nine postseason games. He was always up for the challenge. Leadership should play a role in these guys’ candidacy and Rodney was a tough-as-nails, by-example leader and made everyone around him better.”
29. Jay Hilgenberg, C, Chicago Bears – Hilgenberg was the center for the famed 1985 Bears team that went 18-1 and won Super Bowl XX. He went to the first of seven straight Pro Bowls that season and was a five-time All-Pro selection. Hilgenberg was the glue for a Bears offensive line that paved the way for Walter Payton to rush for 1,551 yards and nine touchdowns. Five members of the ’85 Bears are in the Hall, but nobody from that offensive line is. Hilgenberg was the anchor of the group and only Hall of Famer Mike Webster had as many Pro Bowl selections during the 1980s.
30. Chris Hinton, OL, Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings – Hinton was a seven-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro selection and is included in the Colts Ring of Honor. One of the more versatile players of his era, Hinton could play anywhere on the O-line and was a Pro Bowler at left guard, left tackle and right tackle. Hinton was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway from Baltimore to Denver during the 1983 draft. What hurts Hinton is a lack of team success, with his clubs going 57-70 over his career. Elway played in five Super Bowls while Hinton played in just four postseason games.
“I think the fact I played multiple positions hurt, and playing for three different teams also. And, to be very honest with you, I think I played out of position most of my career,” Hinton told Talk of Fame in 2016. “I was more of a natural guard. I was more of a physical, run blocking guy vs. the tackles…
“Hands down, if I played for the 49ers or the Redskins … I’d be in the Hall of Fame. If I played for championship teams and accomplished what I did, I would probably have more All-Pro seasons. And so It’s a tough one.”
31. Mike Holmgren, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks – You can’t help but wonder what Holmgren and Brett Favre would have accomplished had they remained together beyond 1998. But Holmgren left for Seattle to be both head coach and general manager – a move that ultimately didn’t work out. He did take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2005 – his third appearance as a head coach. His first two came with the Packers in 1996 and ’97, winning Super Bowl XXXI. Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for two 49ers teams that won titles in 1988 and 1989. His 161 coaching victories rank 16th all-time – ahead of Grant, Gibbs, Owen, Marv Levy and Tony Dungy.
32. Torry Holt, WR, St. Louis Rams – Holt arrived in St. Louis just at the right time. As a rookie, he caught 52 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season, but had 20 receptions for 242 yards and a score in the playoffs to help the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV. He spent the next 10 years with the Rams before capping his career with a single season in Jacksonville. Holt led the NFL in receiving yards in 2000 and 2003, when he had a league-high 117 receptions. Holt caught 920 passes for 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns while receiving seven Pro Bowl invitations. He was a two-time All-Pro selection and is a member of the 2000s all-decade team. Holt is 16th all-time in yards, just ahead of Reed, Largent and Monk, and 21st in receptions with more catches than Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, James Lofton, Charlie Joiner and Largent.
33. Chuck Howley, LB, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys – Howley is the only player to be named Super Bowl MVP despite his team losing. He was also the first non-quarterback to receive the honor. Howley had two interceptions in the Super Bowl V loss to the Colts, but the Cowboys had won the championship a season earlier. Howley was a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro with a second-team selection as well. He was the fourth member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor and said he hopes he’s considered one of the best players at his position. Howley’s 43 takeaways – 25 interceptions and 18 forced fumbles – are second all-time among linebackers to Hall of Famer Jack Ham. Howley was a Hall of Fame senior finalist in 2007, but continues to wait for enshrinement.
34. Kent Hull, C, New Jersey Generals, Buffalo Bills – Hull missed four games over an 11-year career and was the anchor of a Bills team that went to four consecutive Super Bowls. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro selection after spending three seasons in the USFL with the New Jersey Generals. Hull helped Herschel Walker set a professional football record in 1985 with 2,411 rushing yards for the Generals. Hull immediately stepped in as Buffalo’s starting center in 1986 and was a Pro Bowler two seasons later. Hull was an unsung leader of Buffalo’s Super Bowl teams, serving as team captain for the final seven seasons of his career.
35. Steve Hutchinson, OG, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings – Hutchinson never missed a game between 2003 and 2009. During that time, he was one of the best guards in football. Hutchinson was selected to seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro five times and second-team in 2004 and 2006. A member of the 2000s all-decade team, Hutchinson helped block for 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander on his way to setting an NFL record with 27 touchdowns. The Seahawks reached the Super Bowl that season. Hutchinson was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2018 and has been a finalist each of the last two years.
36. Joe Jacoby, OT, Washington Redskins – A key member of Washington’s famed “Hogs” offensive line, Jacoby played in four Super Bowls and won three. His block in Super Bowl XVII sprung John Riggins for a touchdown to seal a 27-17 win over the Dolphins. Washington set a Super Bowl record with 276 rushing yards in that game. Jacoby and the “Hogs” broke their own Super Bowl record with 280 rushing yards in a 42-10 rout of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Jacoby was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro selection while making 146 starts over a 13-year career. He’s a member of the NFL’s 1980s all-decade team and is in the Redskins Ring of Fame.
37. Edgerrin James, RB, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals – James burst on the scene by leading the NFL in rushing in each of his first two seasons. Those were the first of four Pro Bowl selections for James, who ended his career with 12,246 rushing yards and scored 91 touchdowns. He ranks 12th all-time, sandwiched between Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen. James is 13th all-time in rushing yards. Every eligible back ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame, as are the next three behind him. His 15,610 all-purpose yards has him just behind Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, but ahead of Hall of Fame backs Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis. While he just missed the Colts’ Super Bowl title in 2006, he did help the Cardinals reach the big game in 2008. He played in 13 postseason games, rushing for 852 yards and six touchdowns.
38. Jimmy Johnson, Coach, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins – After winning a college national championship at Miami, Johnson took over a struggling Cowboys team in 1989 and had the team raising the Lombardi Trophy three seasons later. Johnson was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1990 and led the Cowboys to Super Bowl championships in 1992 and 1993 before a power struggle with Hall-of-Fame owner Jerry Jones led to his departure. Johnson took over the Dolphins in 1996 and took Miami to the playoffs in three of his four seasons.
39. Alex Karras, DT, Detroit Lions – One of the most feared defensive players of his era, Karras was a four-time Pro Bowler and nine-time All-Pro selection over a 12-year career. He’s a member of the NFL’s 1960s all-decade team. He was suspended for the 1963 season for gambling, a ban that has hampered his Hall-of-Fame candidacy. Packers running back Paul Hornung was suspended the same season for the same reason, but was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. Former Bears tight end and coach Mike Ditka considered Karras the best defensive lineman in football. Karras became even more of a household name following his playing career as an actor, most notably for his role as George Papadopolis in the sitcom, Webster.
40. Mike Kenn, OT, Atlanta Falcons – Kenn spent his entire 17-year career with the Falcons and was a five-time Pro Bowler. He was named first-team All-Pro three times and second team twice. He started a franchise-record 251 games and his No. 78 was retired by the Falcons in 2008. Kenn’s Pro Bowl years came in succession from 1980-84, when he was considered one of the most reliable tackles in football. He went 23 straight games without a penalty and the Falcons made two playoff appearances in 1980 and 1982. Kenn only saw the postseason four times, something that has kept him out of the Hall. But former 49ers coach Bill Walsh once said he never saw a tackle with Kenn’s agility or quickness.
41. Joe Klecko, DT, New York Jets – Jets fans have been banging the drum for Klecko for years. The 1981 Defensive Player of the Year was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. Sacks became an official stat in 1982, after Klecko had spent five years in the NFL. He retired following the 1988 season with an official sack total of 24. His career-best was in 1985 when he recorded 7.5 sacks for his final Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition. Klecko has been a Hall of Fame finalist several times, but has not made the cut. Hall of Fame linemen Dwight Stephenson and Anthony Munoz consider Klecko one of the best defensive linemen they ever faced.
42. Olin Kreutz, C, Chicago Bears – Kreutz was a six-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro selection in 2006. He was second-team All-Pro in 2005 and is a member of the 2000s all-decade team. Kreutz didn’t miss a game between 2003 and 2010 and was the anchor of the line that helped the 2006 Bears reach the Super Bowl. His 182 regular-season starts for the Bears are second in franchise history to only Hall of Famer Walter Payton. Kreutz was one constant on Bears teams that reached the playoffs four times during the 200s with four different starting quarterbacks.
43. Bob Kuechenberg, OG, Miami Dolphins – Kuechenberg was a six-time Pro Bowler over a 14-year career that saw him win two Super Bowls as a mainstay on Miami’s offensive line. He was a two-time first-team All-Pro and second-team selection in 1977. He started 195 games for the Dolphins, including 19 postseason games and four Super Bowls. Kuechenberg started every game for the team that went 17-0 in 1972, and started 16 games for the team that repeated as Super Bowl champions in 1973. He has been a Hall of Fame finalist multiple times, but died in 2018 without enshrinement.
“He was one of the key performers on our championship teams, leading by example every time he stepped on the field,” Hall of Fame Dolphins coach Don Shula said after Kuechenberg’s death. “That was especially true in Super Bowl VIII, when he dominated (Hall of Famer) Alan Page the entire game despite playing with a broken arm, a performance that was one of the keys to our victory over the Vikings.
“I’ve coached a lot of Hall of Fame players, including a number of offensive linemen, and Kooch was as good as any of them. I hope one day he gets that ultimate recognition by being enshrined in Canton – it’s an honor long overdue and one he certainly deserves.”
44. Elmer Layden, Commissioner– Layden was the first official commissioner of the NFL from 1941-46. Before he was named commissioner, the NFL’s chief was known as the league president. Layden and Paul Tagliabue are the only former commissioners not enshrined in Canton. Of the three previous presidents, only Carl Storck – who preceded Layden – is not in the Hall of Fame. Layden kept the NFL afloat during the difficult times of World War II when the Eagles and Steelers combined to form the Steagles in 1943. The Steagles merged with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944 to form the Card-Pitt team of 1944. The Cleveland Rams had to take a one-year hiatus in 1943 because of a lack of fighting-age men to fill rosters. But the NFL survived and, under Layden, the NFL began holding playoffs to break ties among division leaders. Overtime rules were also put into place to avoid what had become an epidemic of ties. As a result of the new rules, league attendance numbers increased exponentially. Layden led efforts to clean up rampant gambling within the league and, following the end of World War II, declared the “Star Spangled Banner” would be played before every NFL game. As a college player, Layden was a member of Notre Dame’s famed “Four Horsemen” backfield. Layden’s successor Bert Bell, who opposed Layden almost every step of the way through his tenure, was among the 17 members of the Hall’s inaugural class of 1963.
45. Albert Lewis, CB, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders – Lewis was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro selection. He had 42 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles over his 16-year career. His four Pro Bowls were consecutive from 1987-90, when he had eight of his career picks. He also had 12.5 sacks and 13 fumble recoveries and was a special teams standout. Lewis blocked 11 kicks during his 11 seasons with the Chiefs. He’s a member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame, but has yet to be enshrined in Canton.
46. John Lynch, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos – Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection in a 15-year career – 11 of which was spent in Tampa. He helped lead the Bucs to their first-ever Super Bowl championship in 2002, when he had nine passes defensed, three interceptions and four tackles for loss. Lynch has been honored by both the Buccaneers and Broncos in their respective rings of honor. The current 49ers general manager had 26 career interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and 13 sacks to go with 1,054 tackles. Lynch has been a Hall of Fame finalist for the last six years.
47. Clay Matthews Jr., LB, Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons – Matthews led the NFL in tackles four times and his 1,595 career stops rank seventh all-time. All but 34 of those tackles were solo stops. Matthews also had 16 career interceptions and 69.5 sacks since 1982, though his career began in 1978. Matthews led the NFL with 126 tackles in 1984 and had 12 sacks that season despite his team going 5-11. He was second-team All-Pro that season, but was not selected to the Pro Bowl. Matthews did go to four Pro Bowls over his career. Matthews never reached the Super Bowl because of multiple hard-luck playoff losses in the 1980s that all have names like Red Right 88, The Drive and The Fumble.
“He’s a guy I saw quite a bit and he was always great at anticipation. He was not only a physically talented athlete who was put into proper position, but he also put himself where he needed to be,” Hall of Fame voter Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News said. “Clay could be down and dirty, he could be finesse. He could be whatever you wanted him to be. He made sure everybody was in the right place at the right time. He was a coach on the field as well as often the best player on the field.”
48. Tim McDonald, S, St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers – McDonald was a six-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro selection over a 13-year career. Though he spent much of his career on bad teams, he did finally win a Super Bowl with the 49ers in 1994. McDonald’s 40 interceptions tie him with Hall of Famer Roger Wehrli for 78th all-time. His 1,138 career tackles rank 43rd, right between Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Brian Dawkins. McDonald also forced 16 fumbles, including a league-best four in 1988.
49. Willie McGinest, DE/LB, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns – McGinest was only selected to two Pro Bowls, but he won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and his 16 postseason sacks are the most ever. In a 2005 playoff game against the Jaguars, McGinest set an NFL postseason record with 4.5 sacks in the 28-3 victory. During the regular season, McGinest recorded 802 tackles, 96 for loss, with 82 sacks and 16 forced fumbles. He also had five interceptions and scored a total of four defensive touchdowns. Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew McGinest was a versatile player, so he used him at both defensive end and outside linebacker depending on the opponent’s offense.
50. Karl Mecklenburg, LB, Denver Broncos – Mecklenburg was a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro during a 12-year career spent entirely with the Broncos. He had 79 sacks, five interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries – two of which he returned for scores. Mecklenburg’s athleticism allowed Broncos coaches to move him all over Denver’s defensive front. He had 1,118 tackles over his career and played with a tenacity that earned him the nickname, “The Albino Rhino.”
“He played just about every position on the defensive line and did everything,” the 6-4 Atwater said of his former teammate. “He was a massive human. He was one of the first people I met when I first got to the Broncos and I was like, ‘God, this is what a football player looks like.’ He was smart, fast, strong and deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
51. Sam Mills, LB, Philadelphia Stars, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers – Before Mills starred for the Saints and Panthers, he was a stud in the USFL. Mills was overlooked by NFL teams when he left Division III Montclair State in 1981 because he was only 5-9. After leading the Stars to a pair of USFL championships and being named All-USFL three times, the “Field Mouse” got another NFL shot with the Saints in 1986. He was a Pro Bowler in 1987 and was selected to the Pro Bowl another four times. He was first-team All-Pro in 1996 with the Panthers, who have retired his No. 51 and still use his “Keep Pounding” mantra. Mills is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame. His 1,319 tackles rank 20th all-time, well ahead of former Saints teammate and Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson. Former Stars, Saints and Colts coach Jim Mora had Mills in Philadelphia and New Orleans and called Mills the best player he ever coached.
52. Brian Mitchell, RB, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles – Mitchell only ran for 1,967 yards and 12 touchdowns with another 255 receptions for 2,336 yards and four scores. But it was as a kick returner that Mitchell was most dangerous. He had 13 kick returns for touchdowns and led the NFL in all-purpose yards four times. Hall of Famer Jim Brown is the only other player to lead the league in all-purpose yards four or more times. Mitchell’s 23,330 all-purpose yards are second to just Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Mitchell won Super Bowl XXVI with the Redskins and was a Pro Bowler in 1995. He was selected first-team All-Pro three times and is the NFL’s all-time leader in return yards.
53. Tom Nalen, C, Denver Broncos – Though undersized, Nalen excelled at center thanks to his perennially sound technique. Nalen was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and won a pair of Super Bowls with the Broncos in 1997 and 1998. Six different running backs had 1,000-yard rushing seasons behind Nalen and the Broncos’ offensive line. Nalen didn’t miss a game from 1996-2001 and started 201 games, including 13 postseason games, for the Broncos during his 14-year career.
54. Nate Newton, OG, Tampa Bay Bandits, Dallas Cowboys – Newton was one of the NFL’s most dominant offensive linemen during the 1990s and went to six Pro Bowls. He was a two-time All-Pro and helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls between 1992 and 1995. He started 196 games, including 16 in the playoffs, for the Cowboys after spending two seasons in the USFL. Newton played his final game in 1999 for the Panthers and likely would already be in the Hall had it not been for his drug arrest in 2001. Newton spent 30 months in prison for drug trafficking, but has turned his life around since his 2004 release. The Pro Football Hall of Fame voters are not supposed to consider off-field incidents (O.J. Simpson and Lawrence Taylor are still enshrined in Canton) and Newton’s feats on the field are Hall-worthy.
“All-Pro. Check. Pro Bowls. Check. Super Bowls. Check,” Glover said. “He fits all the boxes.”
55. Hardy Nickerson, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers – While Nickerson was a fifth-round draft pick of the Steelers in 1987 and spent five years with the organization, he didn’t really shine until he got to Tampa in 1993. He led the NFL with 214 tackles as a 4-3 middle linebacker and went to the first of five Pro Bowls. He was also first-team All-Pro that season, the first of four selections. A member of the all-decade team for the 1990s, Nickerson was the NFLPA’s Man of the Year in 1997. He finished his career with 1,584 tackles to rank eighth all-time and had 21 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions. He saw action in just eight playoff games, and never played in a Super Bowl. While team success didn’t coincide with his career, Nickerson was one of the most productive linebackers of his era.
56. Jay Novacek, TE, St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys – Novacek was a five-time Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro in 1992 and second-team in 1991. He was also the security blanket for Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and the Cowboys teams that won a trio of Super Bowls in the 1990s. Novacek was a reliable outlet for Aikman and caught 422 passes for 4,630 yards and 30 touchdowns. Though a converted wide receiver, the 6-4, 234-pound Novacek became a solid blocker for Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. Novacek played his best football in the postseason, catching 62 passes for 645 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games.
57. Ken Norton Jr., LB, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers – Norton battled injuries early in his career, but became one of the NFL’s most productive linebackers. He ranks 19th in tackles, just behind Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and well ahead of Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion. He was also second-team All-Pro in 1993 with the Cowboys and first-team All-Pro in 1995 with the 49ers. He had 12.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and five interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns in 1995. Of Norton’s 1,274 career tackles, 1,130 of them were solo to rank 17th all-time.
58. Leslie O’Neal, DE, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs – After the Chargers selected O’Neal eighth overall in the 1986 NFL Draft, he was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording 12.5 sacks and two interceptions – returning one for a score. O’Neal went on to record 132.5 sacks, tying him with Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor for 13th all-time. He added two sacks and an interception in a 1992 playoff game against the Chiefs. O’Neal was a six-time Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro three times. O’Neal is the Chargers’ all-time sack leader and a member of the franchise’s 50th anniversary team.
59. Lemar Parrish, CB, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins – It’s hard to imagine a guy who went to eight Pro Bowls and was a five-time All-Pro selection isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but such is the plight of Parrish. His 47 career interceptions are more than Hall of Famers Roger Wehrli and Mike Haynes. He was the best defensive back in football for the 1979 season, when Football Digest tabbed him as such. Parrish forced 16 fumbles, recovered 13, and scored seven defensive touchdowns. He was also a dynamic return specialist, returning four punts for scores and a kickoff return for a touchdown in 1970. Parrish’s 13 non-offensive touchdowns are the fifth-most behind only Devin Hester, Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson, and Ronde Barber.
60. Jimmy Patton, S, New York Giants – Patton’s 52 career interceptions are more than Hall of Famer Yale Lary and tie him with Hall of Famers Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson. Patton helped the Giants win the NFL championship in 1956, when he started nine games and had an interception and two forced fumbles. He also had an interception in the title game, whch was a 47-7 victory over the Bears. Patton’s first of five Pro Bowl selections came in 1958, when he had a league-high 11 interceptions. He was first-team All-Pro that season, the first of five such selections. He was a second-team All-Pro in 1963, when he had six picks and two fumble recoveries.
61. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers* – Polamalu will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, even without an expanded class. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and an eight-time Pro Bowler. He was named first-team All-Pro four times and second-team twice more. A member of the NFL’s 2000s all-decade team, Polamalu also helped the Steelers win a pair of Super Bowls and play in a third. Polamalu recorded 32 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, 12 sacks and 107 pass breakups to go with 778 career tackles – 56 for loss. He also scored six defensive touchdowns, including one in the 2008 playoffs.
62. Dan Reeves, Coach, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons – Reeves was a solid running back for the Cowboys from 1965-72, leading the NFL in touchdowns with 16 in 1966. But he is best known as a coach who led four teams to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, like Hall of Famers Bud Grant and Marv Levy, Reeves lost all four championship games. Reeves led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 1986, ’87 and ’89 – losing to the Giants, Redskins and 49ers, respectively. He returned with the Falcons in 1998, ironically losing to the Broncos. Reeves ranks 10th all-time with 190 coaching victories, ahead of Hall of Famers Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, Steve Owen, Tony Dungy, Grant and Levy. Outside of Bill Belichick, who is still coaching, Reeves is the only coach with at least four Super Bowl appearances not in the Hall of Fame.
63. Simeon Rice, DE, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Rice was a three-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro selection over his 12-year career. His 122 career sacks rank 20th all-time and he added 93 tackles for loss with 471 career tackles. He had 15 or more sacks three times, including 2003 when he led the NFL with six forced fumbles. Rice had 28 forced fumbles over his career and five interceptions. Rice racked up 12.5 sacks in 1996 to be named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. When the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2002, Rice recorded 15.5 sacks and a safety during the regular season and added four more in the playoffs with three forced fumbles.
64. Ken Riley, CB, Cincinnati Bengals – Only four people had more career interceptions than Riley. The other four are in the Hall of Fame. Riley’s 65 career picks between 1969 and 1983 exceed the total of more than 20 defensive backs enshrined in Canton. Riley was never selected to the Pro Bowl, but was a four-time All-Pro selection. He had at least one interception in every season, recording multiple picks in all but one year. His career-high was nine interceptions in 1976, but he was a ballhawk until the end. He had eight interceptions and two of his five career pick-sixes in his final season. Riley holds several Bengals team records, but has downplayed his Hall-of-Fame candidacy despite the belief that he deserves to be in.
65. Eugene Robinson, S, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers – Robinson may have played for four teams, but he was a durable playmaker at every stop. His best years were in Seattle, when he led the NFL with nine interceptions in 1993. He went to his second straight Pro Bowl that year and added another Pro Bowl invitation in 1998 with the Falcons. He played in three consecutive Super Bowls with the Packers in 1996 and ’97, and Falcons the next year. Robinson had at least one interception in each of his 16 seasons and his 57 career picks have him tied with Hall of Famers Mel Blount and Johnny Robinson, Bobby Boyd, and Everson Walls for 13th all-time. Despite having more interceptions than Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Aeneas Williams, Blount and Robinson are the only Hall of Famers in the 57-pick club.
66. Kyle Rote, WR, New York Giants – Rote was a four-time Pro Bowler and was twice selected as second-team All-Pro for the 1950s Giants. He did a little bit of everything for the G-Men: catching 300 passes for 4,797 yards and 48 touchdowns, rushing for 871 yards and four scores, throwing for 194 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and adding another 295 yards in kickoff returns. Rote caught a 9-yard touchdown in New York’s 47-7 win over the Bears in the 1956 NFL championship game. His most important contribution to football came off the field. Rote helped organize the NFL Players Association in 1956 and was the union’s first president.
67. Chris Samuels, OT, Washington Redskins – Until a neck injury ended his career in 2009, Samuels was considered by many to be the NFL’s premier left tackle. He was selected to six Pro Bowls in 10 seasons and rarely missed a game. Until his injury cost him most of the 2009 season, Samuels had started all but seven games over the previous nine years. Former Redskins running back Clinton Portis had six seasons of at least 1,200 yards with Samuels at left tackle. Following the retirement of Samuels, Portis had a total of 721 rushing yards in two seasons. Samuels even paved the way for Ladell Betts to have an 1,100-yard season in 2006 when Portis was injured and Stephen Davis to rush for 2,750 yards in two seasons prior to the arrival of Portis in 2002. Samuels was one of the most athletic linemen of his day and that athleticism allowed him to be an adept pass rusher with near-flawless technique. Former Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel called Samuels “Gilligan” because Samuels could be trusted to be isolated on his own island on the left side of the line.
68. Jeff Saturday, C, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers – Saturday excelled on Sundays and got to snap the ball to two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Both Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers lauded Saturday as a teammate. Saturday was a Pro Bowler in his final season and his only season with Rodgers and the Packers. He was a perennial Pro Bowler with the Colts, helping Manning’s team win the Super Bowl in 2006 and return in 2009. Saturday was selected to six Pro Bowls and was a four-time All-Pro selection. Saturday recovered two fumbles during the 2006 run to the Super Bowl, including a recovery in the end zone to score a touchdown in the AFC championship game. The final snap of his career was at the 2013 Pro Bowl when he jumped over to the AFC team for one last hike to Manning.
69. Dick Schafrath, OL, Cleveland Browns – Schafrath has long been overlooked for the Hall. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and named first-team All-Pro four times. The stalwart left tackle helped the Browns win the 1964 NFL championship. He entered the NFL in 1959 at 220 pounds, but quickly gained weight and become of his eras most dominant linemen. Schafrath helped pave the way for future Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly.
70. Marty Schottenheimer, Coach, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers – Schottenheimer has seemingly never gotten his just due. He is one of seven coaches to win 200 games and his .613 winning percentage is better than Hall of Famers Bill Walsh and Tom Landry. Schottenheimer’s teams went to the playoffs 13 times and won seven division titles. But he never won a championship. Neither did Hall of Famers Marv Levy or Bud Grant. What hurts Schottenheimer is a 5-13 playoff record and that he never got a team to the Super Bowl. His best season was his last season when he led the Chargers to a 14-2 mark in 2006, but the Bolts were bounced in the divisional round by the Patriots. Schottenheimer was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2004 when he turned the Chargers from a 4-12 team to a 12-4 club. But another early playoff exit followed with a divisional round overtime loss to the Jets. Despite the lack of postseason success, Schottenheimer is seventh all-time in wins and every eligible coach ahead of him is in the Hall.
71. Richard Seymour, DT, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders – Seymour was a finalist for the first time in 2019. He won a trio of Super Bowls with the Patriots and was a seven-time Pro Bowler over a 12-year career. He was also selected first-team All-Pro five times and second-team twice. A member of the 2000s all-decade team, Seymour collected 57.5 sacks, 91 tackles for loss and 79 quarterback hits. He even had 10 pass breakups in 2003 – his first All-Pro season. Seymour forced four fumbles, recovered eight with a touchdown and picked off two passes.
“His physical and mental versatility, as well as his ability to master multiple techniques, made him dominant as an inside or outside player,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick wrote in a letter to the Hall of Fame selection committee. “As an example of his skills as a complete football player, Richard was a force on field goal blocks for us and, early in his career played on the punt return unit. Richard was effective versus the run and pass from a variety of alignments. It is extremely uncommon to see a player of his size, at any position, be capable of doing so many things so well. In addition, Richard was a well-conditioned athlete with the Patriots and he had the stamina to compete for an entire 60 minute game.”
72. Sterling Sharpe, WR, Green Bay Packers – A neck injury cut Sharpe’s career short in its prime. Over the last three seasons of his seven-year career, Sharpe was the best receiver in football while Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin were still playing. Sharpe set the NFL single-season receptions record in 1992 with 108 catches and then broke his own record the following season with 112. Now in a time when multiple receivers catch 100 passes each season, Sharpe paved the way and was the first to do it multiple times. His final season was 1994 and he caught 94 passes for 1,119 yards with an NFL-best 18 touchdowns. Sharpe led the NFL in receptions three times, yards once and touchdowns twice. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro and his 72.6 receiving yards per game are more than Hall of Famers Randy Moss, Don Hutson, Steve Largent and several others. When Shannon Sharpe, Sterling’s younger brother who spent 14 seasons in the NFL with the Broncos and Ravens, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, he got a standing ovation when he said he’s the only Hall of Fame member who is the second-best player in his own family. Sterling was sitting to Shannon’s left, holding back tears.
“Sterling is a deserving, worthy guy because of what he brought to those Packers teams was special,” Carucci said. “Jon Gruden said he was a real cerebral player who understood the game. He studied and did it well enough that he set an example for other players. I think that gets overlooked because of his athletic talents. He was the best receiver in the game at the time. No question.”
Atwater said Sharpe should “absolutely” be in the Hall of Fame.
“He was the best receiver I ever coached,” Gruden said. “Best player I ever saw.”
73. Clark Shaughnessy, Coach, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears – Though he was an NFL head coach for just two years, guiding the Rams to a 14-8-3 mark over the 1948 and ’49 seasons, Shaughnessy was an innovator of the game. A defensive genius for the Bears in the 1950s, Shaughnessy found a way to defend the T-formation used by most offenses then. He devised a 5-3-3 system that left outside linebackers available to defend against end runs and passes in the flat. To combat increasingly popular aerial attacks, Shaughnessy stressed man-to-man coverages and later developed various zone coverages and blitz packages. Most of his game plans were unprecedented. He was the first to install what we now call a zone blitz. Shaughnessy was a Hall of Fame finalist in 1970, ’75 and ’76 and was up for consideration again in 2010, but has yet to receive enshrinement.
“He definitely belongs in that (contributor) category,” Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells told ESPN in 2009. “He lent a lot of ideas to the game.”
74. Donnie Shell, S, Pittsburgh Steelers – Shell was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2002, but has not been since. One of the best safeties of his era, Shell was a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro selection and helped the Steelers win four Super Bowl championships. He had 51 career interceptions, 19 fumbles recoveries and four defensive touchdowns during the regular season. Shell added four more turnovers in postseason games. Shell presented former teammate Tony Dungy for his Hall induction in 2017 and Dungy used his Hall of Fame speech to petition for Shell to be enshrined.
“He was a dominant player on four Super Bowl teams,” one Hall of Fame voter told me. “He came out of a small school and became a great player for several years. He’s a guy I would pound the table for.”
75. Del Shofner, WR, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants – Shofner led the NFL with 1,097 receiving yards in 1958. He had 51 receptions that season and ended his career with 349 catches for 6,470 yards and 51 touchdowns. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro who helped the Giants reach the NFL championship game three times. Unfortunately for Shofner and the Giants, they ran into Lombardi’s Packers in 1961 and 1962 and fell to the Bears in 1963. He also served as the Rams punter from 1957-60 and had an average of 42 yards. Shofner is a member of the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1960s.
76. Dennis Smith, S, Denver Broncos – Smith was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Broncos from 1981-94 and was second-team All-Pro in 1989. He had 30 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries to go with 15 career sacks. Though not selected to the Pro Bowl in 1983, it was probably his best season. He led the NFL with 114 tackles, four interceptions and five sacks. Smith’s 1,158 career tackles rank 39th all-time, just ahead of Hall of Fame safeties Rod Woodson, Ronnie Lott and Brian Dawkins.
77. Justin Smith, DL, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers* – Bull-strong and high-motor are two ways to describe Smith’s dominant play from 2001-14. He should be a cinch Hall of Famer, retiring as a five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. He 880 career tackles, including 119 for loss, to go with 87 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He also broke up 30 passes and was the writers’ choice for Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 when he 7.5 hits, six TFLs and a career-high 20 quarterback hits. Smith had at least five sacks in all but two of his 14 seasons while splitting time between defensive end and tackle. He was named All-Pro as both a D-end and tackle in 2011 and 2012.
78. Neil Smith, DE, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos – Smith was a defensive force in the AFC West as a six-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL with 15 sacks in 1993 and was named first-team All-Pro. He was a second-team All-Pro selection three other seasons. Smith helped the Broncos win a pair of Super Bowls in 1997 and ’98 and retired with 104.5 sacks. He also had four interceptions and 30 forced fumbles, including an NFL-best five in 1994. Each of his Super Bowl titles and Pro Bowl berths came during the 1990s and Smith was selected to the NFL’s all-decade team. He added 9.5 postseason sacks and three fumble recoveries in the playoffs. He returned one fumble 79 yards for a touchdown in the 1998 playoffs and his fumble recovery in Super Bowl XXXII set up a Broncos field goal. Smith even forced the NFL to make a rule change in his honor. The new law in 1998 prohibited defensive linemen from flinching to induce a false start by the offense. Smith’s No. 90 has been retired by the Chiefs, who also added him to their Hall of Fame.
79. Mike Stratton, LB, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers – Stratton might be overlooked because the bulk of his career was spent in the AFL, where he was a six-time All-Star. Along with fellow linebackers Harry Jacobs and John Tracey (both two-time AFL All-Stars who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame), Stratton helped lead the Bills to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. He’s a member of the Bills Wall of Fame, finishing his career with 21 interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He also returned a fumble for a score and recorded a safety. He added an interception in the 1964 AFL championship game against the Chargers.
80. Pat Swilling, OLB, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders – The 1991 Defensive Player of the Year, Swilling was selected to five Pro Bowls and named an All-Pro four times. He led the NFL with 17 sacks in 1991 and ended his career with 107.5 sacks. Swilling spent seven season with the Saints and was added to the team’s Hall of Fame in 2000. He also recorded six interceptions, including three in 1993, and forced 36 fumbles with 11 recoveries. Adding to his stellar 1991 season, Swilling returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown. Swilling played in six playoff games, including five straight seasons from 1990-94, but unfortunately his Saints and Lions teams were unable to win any of them. One NFL scout and former player was stunned Swilling has not yet received his call to Canton.
81. Darryl Talley, OLB, Buffalo Bills – Talley was one of the leaders of a Bills defense that dominated the AFC for the first half of the 1990s. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and helped the Bills reach four straight Super Bowls. They famously lost all four, but Talley had two interceptions – returning one for a touchdown – with two fumble recoveries and 6.5 sacks in the postseason. He finished his career with 38.5 sacks in the regular season to go with 12 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles and 1,252 tackles to rank 21st all-time. The Bills added him to their Wall of Fame in 2003.
82. Steve Tasker, WR, Houston Oilers, Buffalo Bills – Though not the most talented receiver to ever play, Tasker had an innate ability to shine on special teams and is considered perhaps the best special teams player of all time. Tasker was selected to seven Pro Bowls and was a key player of the Bills teams that made four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. He was also a five-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was the Pro Bowl MVP in 1993, becoming the only special teams player to claim the award. Tasker caught 51 passes for 779 yards and nine touchdowns over a 14-year career, but he also forced nine fumbles – two in the postseason.
83. Fred Taylor, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars – As stated with Corey Dillon above, of all running backs with at least 11,000 rushing yards, Dillon and Taylor are the only eligible players not in the Hall of Fame. Taylor went to just one Pro Bowl in 2007 and was second-team All-Pro that season, but he led the NFL in yards per game in 2000 – rushing for 1,399 yards in just 13 games. Taylor battled injuries throughout his career, playing in all 16 games just twice. He still finished his career with 11,695 rushing yards and a 4.6-yards-per-carry average to tie him with Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. His YPC is more than Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson. Taylor also caught 290 passes for 2,384 yards and eight touchdowns. He scored 74 total touchdowns and his 66 rushing scores are more than Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson, Larry Csonka and Thurman Thomas. Taylor’s 14,079 yards from scrimmage surpass the totals of Simpson and fellow Hall of Famers Steve Largent, John Riggins, Andre Reed and Cris Carter. In eight postseason games, Taylor had 100-yard efforts and ran for a total of 613 yards and four total touchdowns.
84. Joe Thomas, Executive, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers – Thomas was a failed general manager with the Colts and 49ers – his teams going 39-63 with two playoff losses during his tenure. He was the head coach of the Colts in 1974 and went 2-12. While he didn’t succeed as coach or GM, Thomas was one of the best talent evaluators the league has ever had. He helped to build dynastic teams in Minnesota and Miami before becoming the Colts GM in 1972. Thomas was the director of player personnel for the Vikings from 1960-65 and Dolphins from 1965-71. The Vikings were an expansion team in 1960 and with Thomas leading college scouting efforts, they drafted future Hall of Famers Fran Tarkenton in 1961 and Carl Eller in 1964. The Dolphins had their first season in 1966 and Thomas drafted future Canton enshrines Bob Griese and Larry Csonka and Pro Bowlers Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris, Jake Scott and Dick Anderson. He also engineered trades for Pro Bowl linebacker Jim Marshall in Minnesota and Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield in Miami. The Vikings went to four Super Bowls in the 1970s with teams Thomas helped create. The Dolphins went to three straight Super Bowls from 1971-73 – beating the Vikings in ’73 to win their second straight championship.
85. Zach Thomas, LB, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys – Thomas was a tackling machine with 1,727 career stops to rank fifth all-time – just ahead of Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. Undersized out of Texas Tech, Thomas was a high-energy leader in the middle of the Dolphins and Cowboys defenses. A member of the 2000s all-decade team, Thomas was selected to seven Pro Bowls and named to seven All-Pro teams. He spent most of his career in Miami, where the Dolphins included him in their Honor Roll. Thomas led the NFL in tackles in 2002 and 2006 and ended his career with 74 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, 17 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. He returned four interceptions for touchdowns. Thomas played in eight playoff games, tallying 60 tackles.
86. Jessie Tuggle, LB, Atlanta Falcons – Tuggle’s 1,640 solo tackles are the most ever and his 1,804 combined stops rank fourth behind Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Junior Seau, and Fletcher (see above). Tuggle was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro who had ten forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, 21 sacks, six interceptions and five defensive touchdowns. He led the NFL in tackles four times – 1990-92 and 1995. He played in six playoff games and helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl in 1998. From 1989-1995, Tuggle had at least 150 tackles in six of those seven seasons. He made 129 stops in 1994. He had two more 100-tackle seasons in 1988 and 1996. Tuggle’s No. 58 has been retired by the Falcons, who added him to their Ring of Honor in 2004.
87. Jeff Van Note, C, Atlanta Falcons – Van Note was drafted as a linebacker from Kentucky, but moved to center where he was a six-time Pro Bowler and twice selected as an All-Pro. An 11th-round draft pick in 1969, Van Note played in 246 games, with 226 starts, over an 18-year career. The Falcons retired his No. 57 in 2006 and he is in the team’s Ring of Honor. Van Note missed just four games over his career and was described for former player and current NFL agent Tom Condon as one of the most reliable players of his era.
88. Dick Vermeil, Coach, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs – Vermeil had two coaching breaks during his career. The first was 17 years; the second a mere single season. But he led two franchises to their first-ever Super Bowl appearances and led all three teams he coached to the playoffs. Vermeil took over the struggling Eagles in 1976 and suffered through two losing seasons. Philadelphia was in the playoffs in 1978 and reached the Super Bowl in 1980 before losing to the Raiders. The Eagles did not have a first-round draft pick from 1976-78 because of previous trades. Vermeil felt burnt out following the 1982 season and retired. He worked in broadcasting for the next 15 years before taking over a struggling Rams team. The Rams had seven straight losing seasons when Vermeil took over and two more with him in charge. The broke through in 1999 despite losing starting quarterback Trent Green in a preseason game. Undrafted quarterback Kurt Warner began his Hall of Fame career by leading the Rams to their first Super Bowl berth and championship in 1999. Vermeil again stepped away following the title, but got back into coaching in 2001. The Chiefs were another floundering franchise, but Vermeil led them to an AFC West title in 2003. Vermeil won 120 regular-season games and was 11-6 in the playoffs. He won more games than Hall of Famers Bill Walsh, Vince Lombardi, George Allen and John Madden.
89. Troy Vincent, CB, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills – Now the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Vincent began his professional playing career in 1992 as a first-round draft pick from Wisconsin. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2002 with a second-team selection in 2001. After four years in Miami, Vincent spent most of his 15-year career with the Eagles. He led the NFL with seven interceptions in 1999 and passes defensed in 2001 with 27. He retired following the 2006 season with 47 interceptions, 102 passes defensed, 12 forced fumbles, 5.5 sacks and 890 tackles. His 47 picks tie him with Barber, Ray Buchanan, Parrish and Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson. Vincent is the only player in history to have received the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, NFL Players Association Byron Whizzer White Award, Sporting News No. 1 Good Guy and NFL Athletes in Action Bart Starr Award.
90. Everson Walls, DB, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns – Walls was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. He won Super Bowl XXV with the Giants and led the NFL in interceptions three times. His 57 career picks tie him for 13th all-time. Walls and new Hall of Famer Ed Reed are the only players to lead the NFL in interceptions three times. Ever the ballhawk, Walls had four Pro Bowl interceptions and added four more in 10 postseason games.
91. Herschel Walker, RB, New Jersey Generals, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants – Walker was arguably the best player the USFL had in its three years of existence. The 1982 Heisman Trophy winner from Georgia rushed for 5,582 yards and had 1,484 receiving yards and scored 61 touchdowns in three seasons. Then he got to the NFL and scored 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Cowboys. Walker led the NFL with 1,606 yards from scrimmage in 1987 and rushed for 1,514 yards the following year with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. But the Cowboys changed two franchises in 1989 with an infamous trade that sent Walker to Minnesota in exchange for a slew of draft picks that helped build Dallas’ Super Bowl teams. While he had Minnesota’s first 100-yard rushing game in over three seasons in 1990, he wasn’t able to get the Vikings over the hump. He signed with the Eagles in 1992 and again had a 1,000-yard rushing season. Walker ended his NFL career with 8,225 rushing yards and 4,859 receiving yards and 82 combined touchdowns. He appeared in just four playoff games, tallying 192 yards from scrimmage. Walker was a dangerous kick returner, leading the league in all-purpose yards in 1990 and taking two kicks all the way back. Walker was a two-time Pro Bowler and twice an All-Pro. His combined professional rushing yards would rank him sixth all-time.
92. Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Ward was a four-time Pro Bowler, thrice named second-team All-Pro, and a two-time Super Bowl champion. He was also the MVP of Super Bowl XL for catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, and he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass in the win over Seattle. Ward set a Steelers franchise record in 2002 with 112 receptions. That has since been broken by Antonio Brown. Ward ended his career with 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. He is one of just 14 receivers with 1,000-plus receptions and his 85 touchdowns tie him with Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Paul Warfield for 15th all-time. Ward’s receiving yards total is more than Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Don Maynard and Alworth. A versatile receiver with reliable hands, Ward was also one of the best downfield blockers the game has ever had.
93. Ricky Watters, RB, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks – Like Roger Craig, the versatility of Watters has long been overlooked. He had seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 10 years and caught 40 or more passes eight times. He led the NFL with 1,855 yards from scrimmage in 1996 with 1,411 rushing yards and 51 receptions for 444 yards. Watters rushed for 10,643 yards and 78 touchdowns with 467 catches for 4,248 yards and 13 scores. He also threw a touchdown pass in 1998 for the Seahawks. His 91 touchdowns tie him with Bruce, James and Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell and Tony Dorsett. Waters was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. He had 877 rushing yards and 719 receiving yards with 11 touchdowns during the 1994 regular season and another 282 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the playoffs to help the 49ers win Super Bowl XXIX. Watters scored three times in the Super Bowl win over the Chargers.
94. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts* – One would think Wayne would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2020 after catching 1,070 passes for 14,345 yards and 82 touchdowns, but nothing is certain for receivers because of the backlog at the position. Wayne was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection for the Colts, who added him to their Ring of Honor in 2018. He led the NFL with 1,510 receiving yards on 104 receptions in 2007 – a year after helping the Colts win the Super Bowl. The Colts returned to the Super Bowl in 2009 with Wayne catching 100 catches for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season. Wayne played in 21 postseason games, accumulating 93 receptions for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns. Wayne ranks 10th in both career receptions and receiving yards and is 24th in touchdowns.
95. Richmond Webb, OT, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals – Webb went to seven Pro Bowls during his 13-year career and was named All-Pro four times. He was added to the Dolphins Honor Roll in 2006 after starting 163 games in 11 seasons in Miami. Injuries plagued Webb late in his career, but in his prime he was a supreme left tackle. He set a Dolphins record with 118 consecutive starts and had another 13 postseason starts. Webb was named to the NFL’s 1990s all-decade team. In 14 games against Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the all-time sack leader, Webb allowed just 3.5 sacks.
“I know there are other guys who are deserving but who haven’t made it to the Hall of Fame,’’ Webb told Talk of Fame in 2017. “So, if it happens, good. If it doesn’t, I’m good. But in the back of my mind I know I played at that level. I know my résumé speaks for itself. I don’t sit around and dwell on it and say, ‘Oh man I should have gotten in.’ I’m happy for all my brothers. I’m happy for each guy who makes that achievement. I think that’s the way to approach it, and that’s the way I always have.’’
96. Ed White, OG, Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers – White has been honored by both the Vikings and Chargers as one of the best players to ever wear their respective uniforms. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time second-team All-Pro over a 17-year career. His first nine seasons were with the Vikings, whom he helped reach the Super Bowl as a rookie in 1969. He was a role player that season, but became a full-time starter in 1971 and turned into one of the most dominant guards in football. Condon could not heap enough praise on White, calling him a steady leader and dominant player for nearly two decades. He joined the Chargers in 1978 and started all but one game for the next four seasons. He retired following the 1985 season with 241 games played and 210 starts.
“When he retired, nobody had played in more games as an offensive lineman than Ed White,” former teammate and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts said. “They don’t have many statistics for offensive linemen other than Pro Bowls and Super Bowls, but Ed would be a leader. He was one of the most feared offensive linemen in the game.”
97. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers* – A nagging foot injury forced Willis to retire after just eight seasons, but he was regarded as the NFC’s best middle linebacker for most of those eight seasons. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading the league with 174 tackles in 2007. He went to the first of seven Pro Bowls that season and was a six-time All-Pro selection. He led the league in tackles again in 2009 and finished his career with 950 stops, 40 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles. Running backs like former Ram Steven Jackson used games against Willis as a measuring stick for their own abilities. Willis had eight career interceptions and another in the 2013 playoffs when the 49ers advanced to the NFC championship game. Despite missing two games that season because of a broken hand, Willis still recorded 104 tackles. Willis had 26 tackles in three postseason games in 2012 to help the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.
98. Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona Cardinals – Wilson may have “only” had 27 career interceptions, but no safety lived in the offensive backfield more than Wilson. He led all safeties with eight sacks in 2005 and had 25.5 for his career to go with 81 tackles for loss. Wilson finished his 12-year career with 893 tackles, 16 forced fumbles and four defensive touchdowns. He is one of just six players with at least 25 sacks and 25 interceptions – joining Hall of Famers Brian Dawkins and Ray Lewis, Ronde Barber, Rodney Harrison and former Eagles linebacker William Thomas. Wilson was selected to five Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro selection. A year after his eight-sack campaign, Wilson had four interceptions and two fumble recoveries – returning one of each 99 yards for touchdowns.
99. Steve Wisniewski, OG, Oakland Raiders – Wisniewski played in every game for 13 seasons, missing just two starts. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and named to eight All-Pro teams while helping the Raiders qualify for the playoffs five times. He was named to the 1990s all-decade team and his eight Pro Bowls were a Raiders record at the time of his 2002 retirement. Despite never playing in a Super Bowl, Wisniewski’s eight Pro Bowls are more than Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf had in a 13-year career that was also void of any championship game.
100. Darren Woodson, S, Dallas Cowboys – Like Rod before him and Charles in 2021, there are few who don’t consider Darren a Hall of Fame player. Woodson was a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls. Added to the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2015, Woodson retired with 951 tackles, 23 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 11 recoveries, 11 sacks, 26 tackles for loss and two defensive touchdowns. In 16 postseason games, Woodson added three interceptions. Former Cowboys defensive coordinator and head coach Dave Campo said Woodson was “the total package” and played like a linebacker in a safety’s body. Former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells called Woodson the “epitome of a professional.”
“For 13 years, he was everything you could ask for – unselfish, reliable, dependable, a team player first and a team leader always,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in 2004. “He’s a living, breathing example of the saying that character does matter.”