April 23, 2017

Each Team’s Best

Eighty years ago there was an NFL team named the St. Louis Gunners and their best player was Paul Moss. Doesn’t ring a bell? He probably doesn’t as the Gunners were not around too long and Moss never played in the NFL after 1934.

We know about Moss now thanks largely to Leatherhead Joe Williams who reached back into the black and white annals of America’s great game to remember the tall, talented player eight decades after his playing days and 15 years after his death.

The point is every great player is worth remembering, whether he played on the sandlots during the Great Depression or in the Super Bowl in front of billions. And so the following is a compilation of not every great player ever – we don’t have quite that much time – but the greatest player in the history of each NFL franchise, including some teams that, like the Gunners, have faded into history.

You might not agree with all of our choices, but we hope you enjoy remembering them.

 

Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver

The Arizona Cardinals just might win the Super Bowl this season, which would be the team’s first Lombardi Trophy and first NFL title since 1947 when they were based in Chicago.

The Cardinals have had a challenging history, to say the least, struggling for fans during their years in Chicago, putting together some solid but unspectacular teams in St. Louis and continuing to be an also-ran for most of the nearly 30 years since they moved to Arizona.

Despite their often lackluster finish in the standings, the Cards have had a lot of great players including Charley Trippi and Ollie Matson from the Chicago days and Larry Wilson, Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf and Roy Green who played in St. Louis. But our pick for the toughest bird of the bunch is a player who has blossomed in the desert and, even if he doesn’t lead the Cardinals to a Super Bowl victory, will still end up in the Hall of Fame one day: Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald seems as if he’s played for the Cardinals forever. He joined Arizona in 2003 after a stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh and has been one of the NFL’s elite receivers ever since. As of this writing, Fitzgerald has 12,025 career receiving yards and 89 touchdowns. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and, if the Cardinals had managed to get the ball to #11 a little earlier in Super Bowl XLIII, he caught two TD passes in the fourth including the (temporarily) go-ahead 64-yard score in the final minutes, the Cardinals probably would have beaten the Steelers, instead of losing a heartbreaker.

Larry Fitzgerald, the man with the long hair and sticky hands, left his heart on the field that day six years ago and he continues to do that every Sunday. He has excelled on good teams and bad, no matter who’s throwing him the ball. He’s the best player in Cardinals’ history.

 

Atlanta Falcons – Jessie Tuggle, Linebacker

Leatherhead Matt Haddad says in nearly 50 years of football, one Atlanta Falcon flies highest:

The Atlanta Falcons began play in 1966.  They have had some good seasons, but they’ve never won a World Championship.  “Not a great history,” says Falcon diehard Chris “Bulldog” Harper.

The Falcons entered the league the same season the first Super Bowl was played.  They have made the Super Bowl one time: 1998, when they finished 14-2 and, for the NFC Championship, went to Minnesota and defeated a 15-1 Vikings teams that scored a then-NFL record 556 points in the regular season. “Jessie Tuggle was the heart and soul of that team,” said Harper.

Harper and his fellow Falcon diehard, Josh King, were asked separately: “Who’s the #1 Falcon of all time?”  Both of them picked Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle.

Tuggle grew up in Spalding County, Georgia, and went to college at Valdosta State.  In his pursuit of professional football, the undrafted Tuggle never left home: In 1987, He signed as a free agent with the Falcons and played 14 seasons.  He became a full-time starter halfway through his second season (1988).  In the second-to-last game that season, the Falcons were down, 22-0, to the Rams in Los Angeles.  In the 4th quarter, Tuggle kept his team from getting shut out by returning a Cliff Hicks fumble 2 yards for a touchdown.  The Falcons lost, 22-7, on their way to a 5-11 season.

Tuggle made a similar play ten years later–in that unforgettable 1998 season.  In a Week 11 showdown at home against their archrival San Francisco 49ers with the Falcons up, 17-6, in the 4th quarter, Tuggle returned a Steve Young fumble two yards for a touchdown and a 24-6 lead.  The points proved valuable as the 49ers scored two touchdowns to pull within 24-19.  As they did so many times that season, the Falcons prevailed, 31-19.  The game was decisive in winning the NFC West over the 49ers, who finished two games behind the Falcons at 12-4.

Harper remembers Tuggle having success against Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders–or at least more success against Sanders than most players had.  “I remember a game where Sanders faked out the camera man, and you couldn’t see where he was going,” Harper said. “Then you hear a BOOM ! ! !  And then you see Tuggle on top of Sanders.”

From 1987 to 2000, the 5′ 11″, 230-pound Tuggle played in 209 games, starting in 189 of them.  The Hammer made 100-plus tackles in 12 straight seasons–his first and last seasons were the only ones he didn’t.  He recorded a Falcons-record 2,130 career tackles, including an NFL high 1,293 from 1990-’99. Ever since the NFL began officially recording tackles on the late 1970s, Tuggle is the NFL’s all-time leader.

Tuggle recovered 10 fumbles and returned five of them for touchdowns.  He intercepted five passes and returned one for a touchdown.  He sacked the quarterback 21 times and deflected 37 passes.

Chris Harper recalls a game between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.  In December 1995, the 7-6 Falcons were up, 19-14, in the Georgia Dome, but the Saints were threatening late in the game.  Saints quarterback Jim Everett, needing to get a touchdown to win, threw the ball in endzone, but Tuggle intercepted and returned it 49 yards to preserve the victory.  The win proved vital to the Falcons’ finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs.

“Memories like that are priceless,” Harper said.

 

Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis, Linebacker

It is nearly impossible to discuss Ray Lewis’ career on the field without mentioning his troubles off the field. At least, we feel it’s inappropriate to not mention his troubles, though we realize some might feel differently.

We’ll try to be brief. Ray Lewis was accused of murdering two men in Atlanta in 2000. The charges were dropped, two others were charged and they were not convicted, either. Lewis, that same year, had probably his best season ever and led the Ravens, who had perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history that year, to a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.

Lewis, who joined the Ravens in 1996, the first year they played in Baltimore after leaving Cleveland and changing their name from the Browns, eventually made 13 Pro Bowls at middle linebacker, was first team All-Pro seven times, was a Super Bowl MVP for that victory over the Giants, was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and, in storybook fashion, closed his career by leading the Ravens to another Super Bowl victory, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers after the 2012 season.

Ray Lewis is now a network TV analyst, is regarded as jovial and insightful and is remembered as being one of the most ferocious, intense and greatest defensive players in NFL history and will probably be a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame.

We recognize his greatness as a football player.

 

Buffalo Bills – Bruce Smith, Defensive End

When Bruce Smith was taken with the top overall pick out of Virginia Tech in 1985, the Buffalo Bills were thought of mostly as the team that O.J. Simpson used to play for. A few years later, the Bills would be known as an AFC dynasty and Smith was the player most responsible for this remarkable turnaround.

Bruce Smith registered six and-a-half sacks his rookie year then went on to record double-digit sacks in 12 of his next 13 seasons with the Bills, with the lone exception being 1991 when he was limited to just five games because of injury. Smith retired with 200 career sacks, still the most in NFL history.

And as the better Bruce Smith got, the better the Bills became. In 1988 Smith played in his second straight Pro Bowl and Buffalo made the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Smith would go on to reach 11 Pro Bowls and the Bills, in 1990, made the Super Bowl for the first time in team history.

We all know what happened. They lost. And, yes, the Bills would go on to lose three more Super Bowls in a row.

It was freaky, it was weird, and it was bad luck. The Bills had great teams but, once the Roman numerals started showing up, they faded. It wasn’t Bruce Smith’s fault. He led a tenacious defense that included such stalwarts as Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley while on the other side of the ball the Bills, coached by the venerable Marv Levy, had quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and a handful of other stars.

When the 6-4 Bruce Smith entered the league he weighed about 300 pounds. He quickly learned that to be mean, and more effective, he had to be lean, and so he dropped about 30 pounds and in his most dominant days he weighed around 265. There’s a story that Smith was so disciplined about keeping his weight down that once, seated next to a reporter eating peanuts, he asked for one and then picked it up, held it close to his nose and inhaled deeply, and then set it down because peanuts, yes peanuts, were not in his diet.

Bruce Smith smelled the peanuts four times in his days with the Bills but never got to take a bite. Here, Bruce, is a bag of piping hot peanuts from all of us at Leatherheads. Indulge. You are a Hall-of Famer and the greatest Buffalo Bill of them all.

 

Carolina Panthers – Steve Smith, Wide Receiver

After the 2013 season the Carolina Panthers felt that Steve Smith was too old. He is, after all, 35, which, in fairness, is like 112 in receiver years.

Memo to the Panthers: Big Mistake. It’s not a big mistake, necessarily, to let the greatest player in team history go but it is a fatal error to part ways with a player who can still bring it, no matter what his age, and Steve Smith who, a bit like Michael Jordan and many other great athletes plays better with a chip on his shoulder, is still getting it done with the Ravens.

But let’s go back to Carolina. The Panthers chose the 5-9, 185-pound Smith in the third round out of Utah in 2001 and he was All-Pro as a kick returner his rookie year. Over the next decade Smith became one of the few players to ever make the transition from returner to top receiver, and had 1,000 yards or more receiving seven times, a tally that would have been more impressive if not for injuries.

In 2003, #89 led the Panthers on their amazing playoff run, racking up more than 100 yards receiving in two of Carolina’s postseason victories along with two TDs and was also clutch in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with four catches for 89 yards and a score.

In the 2005 playoffs, Steve Smith singlehandedly destroyed the Bears with 12 catches from Jake Delhomme for 218 yards and two scores, while also carrying the ball three times for 26 yards.

Steve Smith is fast, tough, nasty, and can flat-out catch. And run. He’ll probably play forever, the most pugnacious and accomplished (former) Panther of them all.

 

Chicago Bears – Walter Payton, Running Back

Leatherhead Bob Lazzari says that Walter Payton was “maybe the best football player I ever saw, combining speed, mental toughness, and an unmatched physical running style.  In addition, his modest nature, work ethic, and “team-first” approach may never be equaled by any NFL player.  There will never be another “Sweetness”, for sure–a man tragically taken from this world way before his time.  May he rest in peace.”

We agree with every word. But Bob’s words are as accurate as they are, for Bears fans, painful because, even 15 years later, it’s difficult for those of us who grew up watching Payton and loving the Bears to come to grips with the fact that Payton is gone.

But we are consoled with words describing another great Bears running back, Brian Piccolo. In the 1971 movie Brian’s Song, about Piccolo’s battle with cancer that would take his life at the age of 26, George Halas says Piccolo is remembered not for “how he died but how he lived. How he did live!”

When Payton broke Jim Brown’s all-time rushing record in 1984, he told reporters “the motivating factor for me has been the athletes who have tried for the record and failed and those who didn’t have an opportunity such as David Overstreet and Joe Delaney and Brian Piccolo…it’s a tribute to them and an honor for me to bestow this honor on them.”

That’s all we really need to know about Walter Payton. In the greatest moment of personal triumph in his career he did not glorify himself but rather reached out to those who died young and never got the chances he had.

Payton was an All-Pro, an MVP, a Super Bowl champ, the NFL’s all-time rushing champ at the time of his retirement and he also subbed at quarterback, was a team leader and a Chicago icon. Many football players were flashier, many won more titles. And maybe one or two were better.

But none had more class or grace.

Walter died young. He was just 46. He died with dignity. He played with courage and he lived with humor and kindness. He was, and always will be, the greatest Chicago Bear of all and those of us lucky enough to have seen him play are the better for it.

 

Cincinnati Bengals – Anthony Munoz, Offensive Tackle

Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman scores one for the “big uglies,” choosing an offensive lineman as the best player to ever wear Bengal stripes:

I will have to go off the glamour positions here as I select Anthony Munoz as the Bengals best player of all-time. Anthony played 13 dominating seasons for Cincinnati and was, in my mind and many others, the best offensive lineman ever in the NFL.

I remember watching him protect my second best player, Boomer Esiason’s backside on numerous occasions. And he is a template for younger players coming up to learn how to play the position from.

 

Cleveland Browns – Otto Graham, Quarterback  

Ronnie Foreman wears Bengal stripes as well as Cleveland’s Brown in choosing the best player in Brownies history:

As much as it pains me to go against the greatest running back of all-time in Jim Brown, I must go with the Browns greatest quarterback of all-time as their best player ever. That would be the old-timer named Otto Everett Graham, Jr.

The Browns were 114-20 with Graham playing quarterback. They made the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. They also won the championship seven of those ten seasons. Although his stats may not be as good as some of today’s modern era quarterbacks he was one of the top statistical QBs in his era and he dominated it.

 

Dallas Cowboys – Roger Staubach, Quarterback

If you were a football fan growing up in the 1960s and 1970s and you did not sometimes wish you were Roger Staubach there was something seriously askew with your brain and soul.

Roger Staubach was not just the quarterback for “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys; he was “America’s Quarterback” as his resume reads like something out of a Gil Thorp storyline.

Staubach was a star QB at the Naval Academy and won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. He was drafted by the Cowboys but instead served in the Navy, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War before finally joining the Cowboys in 1969.

He became Dallas’ regular starter in 1971 and the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl. Staubach eventually led Dallas to the playoffs eight times and reached four Super Bowls with him as a starter, winning two of them.

In 1979 Staubach was still one of the league’s best players and had, at that time, the second highest passer rating in league history, but chose to walk away and has gone on to be a success in business and is one of the most respected players in NFL history.

Many people hated the Cowboys, but everyone loved Roger Staubach.

And Staubach could play. He is credited with 15 career fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. Staubach’s 1975 “Hail Mary” TD pass to Drew Pearson to stun the Vikings in the playoffs is considered one of the most clutch throws in playoff history.

Roger Staubach was cool, he was tough, he was a warrior, he was a winner and he was a gentleman. He was a Cowboy.

 

Denver Broncos – John Elway, Quarterback

Leatherhead Tony Williams doesn’t buck conventional wisdom when it comes to the Broncos:

As if this selection shouldn’t be obvious enough, but Elway is the greatest Bronco ever — distancing himself from other fellow Hall-of-Famers Floyd Little and Shannon Sharpe.

When Elway retired following the 1998 season, he was Top-5 in every meaningful statistical passing category for QBs, including tops in all-time wins, game-winning drives, and Super Bowl starts.

His final game is what every pro athlete dreams of — to not only win the championship, but also be named as the game’s MVP.

Elway is also arguably in the Top-5 discussion of all-time QBs, and if that’s not enough, he’s on the ascension of carving out a niche as one of the game’s best talent evaluators and personnel people.

 

Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders, Running Back

The Dallas Cowboys owned the top pick in the 1989 NFL draft and selected quarterback Troy Aikman. The Green Bay Packers were next and the debate in Wisconsin was whether they should take running back Barry Sanders or Offensive Tackle Tony Mandarich.

The Pack chose Mandarich. Ouch for them.

Sanders, the Heisman winner from Oklahoma State, was taken with the next pick by the Detroit Lions and ran his way into the Hall of Fame.

Sanders ran for 1,470 yards his rookie year and had more than 1,000 yards in each of his ten seasons. The 5-8, 230-pound hyper-charged atom ran with a frenetic, pinball style that drove defenses crazy, bouncing one way, zipping another and sprinting for the endzone.

Barry Sanders was hell on fire in a blue jersey. He went on to win four rushing titles and a league MVP and was one of the most entertaining players in NFL history.

Unfortunately for #20, the Lions could never quite build around him and, despite making five playoff appearances with Barry, the Lions never made it to the Super Bowl.

Some athletes stagger to the finish line of their career. Barry Sanders sprinted to it…then took of his shoes and threw them out. Sanders ran for 1,491 yards in 1998 then, at the age of 30, called it quits. Had he kept playing Barry Sanders almost certainly would have set the NFL all-time rushing record and might have even put it out of the reach of mere mortals.

But the whirling dervish enigma that was Barry Sanders decided it was time to sit. And so he did.

We must take a moment to say that when many NFL fans think of #20 on the Lions they think of Barry Sanders, whose number is retired. Others first think of Billy Sims, a terrific Lions running back whose career was cut short after just five years in 1984 because of injuries. If Sims had stayed healthy the Lions might not have struggled for the rest of the 80s and perhaps Barry Sanders would have become an icon somewhere else.

 

Green Bay Packers – Bart Starr, Quarterback

Leatherhead Bob Swick says that when it comes to the greatest player ever from the land of long winters and many Super Bowls, you have to go with a true “Starr.”

Bart Starr was a classic American quarterback of the 1960s who represented the best in the Green Bay Packers.  He was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls.  He had four Pro Bowl selections in his career.  He was the 1966 MVP award winner.  He is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Packers Hall of Fame.

Starr had a 9-1 playoff record playing for the Packers from 1956 to 1971 as a five time NFL Champion who came into his own under Coach Vince Lombardi. Starr was cool, calm and collected on the field, showing little emotion under some of the roughest defenses of that time period.

Bart Starr had it all and, in my opinion, out of all of the championship caliber players the Packers have produced since 1919, #15 is ranked #1.

 

Houston Texans – Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver

This year for the eighth consecutive year Andre Johnson has…made the Pro Bowl? No. Compiled 1,000 yards? No. Led the Texans to the playoffs? Wrong again.

For the eighth straight year Andre Johnson has treated at-risk children from child protective services in the Houston area to a Christmas toy shopping spree, letting these youngsters pluck whatever they would like off the shelves.

This year the spree cost “Santa” Johnson $16,266.16.

Andre Johnson is a good guy, and the best player in the Houston Texans’ brief history. He was selected by the Texans in the first round, third overall pick, in 2003, the second season of the Texans’ existence and he has been a shining light ever since.

Johnson, #80, has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, made All-Pro twice and has been one of the NFL’s most dependable targets even while often playing on dismal teams.

When Johnson retires someday his jersey should be retired immediately, not just for his outstanding play but his noble dedication to the franchise and service to the community. A few years from now the answer to the question of who the greatest player in Houston Texans history is the answer could very well be J.J. Watt.

But even if the Texans play another 100 years, it’s going to be tough to top Andre Johnson.

 

Baltimore Colts/Indianapolis Colts – Johnny Unitas, Quarterback, Peyton Manning, Quarterback

The man whom many think might be the best player in NFL history might not even be the best player in his own team’s history.

Are we talking about Johnny Unitas, or Peyton Manning?

Yes.

But we are only supposed to pick one so we shall do so, in our own sneaky little way.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest player in the history of the Baltimore Colts. Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the ninth round in the 1955 draft but, for some reason, couldn’t catch on with his hometown team, which went with Jim Finks and Ted Marchibroda instead.

So Johnny ended up with the Colts where he cracked the starting lineup in ’56 and then proceeded to become the definition of what it was to be an NFL quarterback for his generation and all generations.

Johnny Unitas (Even his name is cool. Maybe he should have been an astronaut) led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and ’59 and won Super Bowl V. He won three league MVPs and still ranks in the all-time top 20 in passing yards with 40,239. Just imagine if the crew cut, black hi-tops kid had played in today’s pass happy NFL.

Unitas’ last season with the Colts was 1972 and he played one season with the San Diego Chargers. (Think Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards) A decade after Unitas left the Colts, the team broke Baltimore’s heart by leaving for Indianapolis following the 1983 season.

In 1998 the Indianapolis Colts held the top pick in the NFL draft and had a tough time, or so we’re told, deciding whether to take Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

They chose Manning.

Manning started every single game for the Colts for the next 13 seasons, they made the playoffs 11 teams, won Super Bowl XLI, Manning won four league MVPs, shattered virtually every meaningful NFL passing record and became the model of what a player, a sportsman and a citizen should be. He is the Cal Ripken/Julius Erving/Wayne Gretzky of the gridiron.

And he’s still going…for the Denver Broncos.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest Baltimore Colt ever, Peyton Manning was the best Indianapolis Colt ever. Andrew Luck had better hope the team moves again.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jimmy Smith, Wide Receiver

It’s sometimes hard to remember, or even fathom, but there was a time when the Jacksonville Jaguars were good. And in their best days their best player was Jimmy Smith.

Smith joined the Jags in the team’s inaugural season of 1995 after being cast off from the Cowboys and made an immediate impact with three TD catches for a miserable 4-12 team.

Then, something weird happened. Things that aren’t supposed to happen. Jacksonville, and the Carolina Panthers, both became pretty good in 1996, the second year of both expansion teams’ existence, and Jimmy Smith helped lead the way for the Jags with 83 receptions for 1,244 yards and Jacksonville advanced all the way to the AFC title game, losing to the Patriots.

The Jaguars made the playoffs the next three years as well, including another conference championship loss after their 14-2 season of 1999 and Smith was the catalyst, averaging at least 78 receptions per season, peaking with 116 grabs in ’99.

Jimmy Smith remained Jacksonville’s top target for Mark Brunell and later Byron Leftwich every season until his retirement after the 2005 season, another playoff year for the Jags. He still holds virtually ever Jacksonville receiving record and is currently 19th on the league’s all-time receiving list.

Not bad for a kid from Jackson State who the Cowboys didn’t want.

 

Kansas City Chiefs – Otis Taylor, Wide Receiver

Our Matt Haddad says in more than 50 years of football there is certainly a “chief among Chiefs.”

The Kansas City Chiefs started playing in 1963, after getting established in 1960 as the Dallas Texans.  Their owner was Lamar Hunt, the founder and creative mind of the American Football League.  The Texans won the AFL Championship in 1962. However, it was clear that the competition for the fans and the bucks was hurting both the AFL Texans and the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

In 1965, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cowboys in different battle: the race for a little-known wide receiver named Otis Taylor.  The Chiefs drafted Taylor in the 4th round out of Prairie View A&M; the Cowboys wanted to sign him as a free agent. Taylor chose Kansas City.

O-Taylor’s breakout season came in 1966, when he caught 58 passes for 1,297 yards (22.4 yards per catch) and 8 touchdowns.  The Chiefs won the AFL Championship, but they lost the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10.  Three years later–in the last season before the AFL merged with the NFL–the Chiefs finished the deal.

In the first round of the 1969 AFL playoffs, the Chiefs beat the defending World Champion Jets in New York, 13-6.  In the fourth quarter, Taylor set up the winning touchdown with a 61-yard catch to the 19-yard line–a play Taylor diagrammed on the sideline and urged Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson to call.

The Chiefs went on to Oakland, where they defeated the Raiders for the AFL Championship, 17-7.  Taylor’s 35-yard catch on third-and-14 was a major play in a 98-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown.

Then came Super Bowl IV–a game seen as a victory for every player in the AFL, as an AFL team defeated the NFL’s best for the second year in a row.  The Chiefs trounced the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, with Taylor’s 46-yard touchdown putting the game on ice.  That 1969 season has, to this day, been the Kansas City Chiefs’ lone World Championship.

As a kid in the late ’70s, I knew Otis Taylor as a great wide receiver.  I read about him in the books, and I had one of his football cards.  In 2011, I was surprised to learn Taylor was not in The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From 1965 to ’75, he caught 410 passes for 7,306 yards (17.8 yards per catch) and 57 touchdowns.  He added three TDs on the ground, and he was a 4-time All-Pro.  His numbers, however, tell only a fraction of the story.

Otis Taylor was the complete package.  Taylor had size–6′ 3″, 215 pounds–and he had speed.  He had fine moves, excellent hands, and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.  Taylor was also a good blocker.

On the website “Tales from The American Football League,” Kansas City teammate and fellow wide receiver Chris Burford says Otis had “a zest for the game.”  AFL historian Jeff Miller says in his book, “Going Long,” that after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the Vikings, “Otis Taylor cried for 15 minutes.”

Taylor spent his career in a run-first offense, and he played in the “bump and run” era–also known as the “bruise and batter” era.  Before 1978, defensive backs were allowed tremendous freedom to do what it took to keep a receiver from catching the ball.

In 1975, Cleveland Browns defensive back Clarence Scott, whose football cards I used to have, talked about the best wide receivers he had to cover.  Scott, who played 13 years in the NFL, said: “You’ve got the physical receivers, like Otis Taylor, who have great speed, but they’re also able to overpower defensive backs with their great size and strength.”

The ultimate accolade comes from Hall-of-Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, who won 6 NFL Championships with Green Bay and Dallas.  After the Packers beat the Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, Adderley said about Otis: “Taylor is the greatest wide receiver I’ve ever played against.”

Do you think today’s generation of football fans would not appreciate O-Taylor?  Think again.  “Sounds like a Calvin Johnson from yesteryear, ” says 21-year-old Eric Butler.  “Crazy to speculate how a guy like Taylor would perform in today’s NFL.”

 

Miami Dolphins – Dan Marino, Quarterback

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle writes that when it comes to the history of South Florida football, one player stands tallest in the sunshine:

The best player in Miami Dolphins history is also one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Dan Marino set the bar for a passing attack long before the current rules enabled today’s throwers to achieve prolific passing stats year after year.

In his 1984 season, Marino produced an unheard of 48 touchdown passes and more than 5,000 yards passing, records that stood the test of time for two decades and have now been passed by several players.

One can only imagine what a Marino-led team with Mark Clayton and Mark Duper would accomplish in the modern era of the NFL.

 

Minnesota Vikings – Alan Page, Defensive Tackle

When you scroll through the list of the NFL’s MVP winners two names jump out: Lawrence Taylor and Alan Page, as they are the only two defensive players to ever win the honor. (Will J.J. Watt be the third?) (Oh, and let’s not forget Mark Moseley, the Redskin who in 1982 became the first, and probably last, placekicker to ever win MVP.)

The Vikings drafted Page out of Notre Dame (where he helped the Fighting Irish win a National Championship) in the first round in 1967 and Minnesota’s glory years followed. Page, 6-4, 245 pounds (he’d probably be a cornerback today) helped Bud Grant’s “Purple People Eaters” to their first-ever playoff appearance in 1968 and the Vikings would go on to become a playoff staple throughout the 1970s including reaching four Super Bowls…and losing all of them.

Page made the Pro Bowl nine times and, in 1971, was so dominant he was voted NFL MVP. In 1978, Page was cut by the Vikings and was picked up by the Bears where he continued to be an excellent player until his retirement after the 1981 season.

In 1979, Page became the first active NFL player to run a marathon. In 1987 he ran a 62-mile race. That same year he became an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. In 1993 he joined the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Alan Page grew up in Canton, Ohio. As a high school kid he worked on a crew that built the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the very place where he was enshrined in 1988.

Tell your kids to be like Alan Page, the most valuable Viking of them all.

 

New England Patriots – Tom Brady, Quarterback

Leatherhead Mike Lynch chooses Tom Brady as the greatest player in the history of the New England Patriots and Brady, perhaps more so than any other player we’re celebrating, doesn’t really need a lot of space to make his case. We are nearly inclined to simply say that Tom Brady’s credentials are: “He’s Tom Brady.”

OK, here’s a bit more. Tom Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning three. He is a two-time league MVP and one of the highest rated passers in NFL history. He led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season in 2007 has set numerous passing records (some of which have now been broken) and done all of this while playing most of his games in blustery Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Tom Brady is considered by many to not only be the best quarterback of his era but maybe the best ever. He is smooth, he is cool, he is precise, relentless and he looks like he’ll play forever.

In the next life don’t we all want to be Tom Brady?

 

New Orleans Saints – Archie Manning, Quarterback

Before Peyton, before Eli, there was Archie.

The New Orleans Saints drafted Archie Manning with the second overall pick in 1971 and he joined a team that had only been in existence since 1967 and never had a winning record. In Archie’s 11 seasons with the “Aints” they didn’t get much better, never finishing above .500 and never making the playoffs.

Don’t blame #8. Manning was tops in the NFL his rookie year in getting sacked 40 times. The next year Archie was again brought down more than any other NFL slinger, 43 times.   He was tops (or bottom, you could say) again in ’75 with 49 sacks. In his decade with the Saints, Archie Manning was in the top ten in getting sacked nearly every year.

Despite constantly picking bits of turf from between his teeth, Manning still managed to have six seasons with a passer rating of better than 100 and he made the Pro Bowl in 1978 and ’79. For a decade, Archie Manning was the heart, soul and guts of a team that had no arms, legs or head.

Manning left the Saints for the Houston Oilers and finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings. We remember him at QB for the Vikes in his final season, 1984, when the Vikes went 3-13. It was a chilly October game against the Bears in Chicago and Manning, wearing a full facemask, was lucky to get out of Chicago alive as the Bears registered 11 sacks. Toward the end, Bears players were actually apologizing to the 35-year-old Manning.

Archie understood. To achieve true success in life you have to have talent, desire and luck. Archie had the first two. If he had the third maybe we would remember Peyton and Eli as Archie Manning’s kids, instead of Archie as their father.

 

New York Giants  – Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker

Leatherhead Joe Williams tackled the challenge of deciding the biggest Giant of them all, and here’s what he concluded:

In 90 NFL seasons, the New York Giants have had many great players. However, it is easy to pick the greatest player in the team’s history. Without hesitation, it is Lawrence Taylor.

Yes, there are many other team legends, including Tiki Barber, Roosevelt Brown, Harry Carson, Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Mel Hein, Sam Huff, Eli Manning, Andy Robustelli, Phil Simms, Michael Strahan, Y.A. Tittle, Emlen Tunnell and many more.

Taylor stands out. He was one of the few players on defense in the history of the game who could take a game over. His combination of speed, power and ferociousness made him the most feared player during his playing days and possibly all-time. He revolutionized the linebacker position in terms of getting to the quarterback while teams created game plans to try to stop and avoid him.

L.T. made First-Team All-Pro in eight seasons, was selected to 10 Pro Bowls, was a three-time defensive player of the year and the 1986 MVP, the first defensive player to win it since 1971 when the Vikings’ Alan Page dominated. He sacked a quarterback 142 times.

I still remember his 97-yard interception return on Thanksgiving Day in 1982 like it was yesterday. He picked off a Gary Danielson pass in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions 13-6. Before he was done, the Giants became relevant again as a team to contend with which brought Giants fans their first two Super Bowl celebrations. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Honorable mention: Mel Hein

 

New York Jets – Curtis Martin, Running Back

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle revs up the J-E-T-S by choosing a quiet legend as Gang Green’s all-time best:

Joe Namath certainly deserves credit for bringing the New York Jets their first and to date only Super Bowl victory but Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin is the franchise’s best player.

Martin left the New England Patriots after three stellar years to join the Jets continuing his dominance on the ground. He remained a Jet until his forced retirement after the 2005 season thanks to a bum knee but not before logging 10 straight years with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

In 2004, Martin became the oldest player, at 31, to win the rushing title and he finished his career with 14,101 rush yards, fourth in NFL history. A very reserved and highly respected player, New York retired Martin’s jersey in 2012.

 

Oakland Raiders – Kenny Stabler, Quarterback

Leatherhead David Boyce makes the case for quarterback Kenny Stabler as the greatest player to ever wear the fabled Silver and Black:

I decided to go with the player that made me become a Raider fan in the first place.  That player is quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler.  I grew up in New York and had never even paid much attention to the Raiders until 1974.  The first time I saw them was in a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins.  I was familiar with the Dolphins and knew their team very well.  But there was something about that raucous crowd in Oakland.  Those people were crazy!  But what did it for me was the quarterback of the Raiders.  He was a lefty.  Being a lefty myself, I was instantly intrigued.  That game came down to the wire and with precious time left on the clock, Stabler ran to his left and, just as he was about to get sacked, he lobbed up a pass to the endzone where it was caught by running back Clarence Davis for the winning touchdown.  Despite the fact that there were several defenders in the area, Davis still managed to make the catch.  That game later became known as the “Sea of hands.”  It was just one of many games the Raiders played that were filled with drama.

Kenny Stabler was drafted in the second round of the 1968 draft out of Alabama.  The Raiders were pretty much set at the quarterback position as they had Daryle “Mad Bomber” Lamonica.  Stabler didn’t play a down in his first two years and was used sparingly until 1973.  In that year, he became the starter and remained the starter through the 1979 season.  In his seven years as a starter, Stabler threw for 18,234 yards, 145 touchdowns and 135 interceptions.  The best thing about having him at the helm was that the Raiders started winning on a consistent basis.  In his seven years as the starter, the Raiders compiled a record of 74-27.  But with all those wins, they still couldn’t get to the Super Bowl.  The team that usually stood in their way was the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 1976, the Raiders finished with a 13-1 record.  They would squeak by the Patriots in the divisional playoffs and go on to defeat the Steelers in the conference title game, 24-7.  That meant after all those years of frustrating losses; they would finally get back to the Super Bowl.  Their opponent was the Minnesota Vikings and they were no match for the Raiders.  The ground game was running on all cylinders as they racked up 266 yards rushing.  Stabler had a good day as well, completing 12 of 19 for 180 yards and a touchdown.  The Raiders came away with an easy 32-14 win.

What I liked the most about Stabler was his ability to improvise.  He was always so calm and cool.  During a dramatic playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, Stabler called timeout, strolled over to the sideline to speak with head coach John Madden and said “The people are really getting their money’s worth today.”  Madden just rolled his eyes and told him to go back out there and get the win.  Naturally, he did what he was told.  He may not have had the strongest arm in the world, but he liked to throw deep as often as he could.  In those days, if you didn’t go deep, Al Davis wouldn’t let you play for him.  In addition to being accurate, he also had the ability to scramble out of trouble.  That’s what earned him the nickname “The Snake.”  As the pocket would collapse around him, he’d “slither” out of trouble and complete a pass.

Stabler said he read his playbook by the light of the jukebox.  He played hard and partied hard as well.  Another thing you have to wonder is how many games he played with a hangover.  Simply put, he liked to hang at the bar, chase girls and have fun.  He wasn’t going to let football run his life.  One of his famous quotes is “Just stay in the fast lane and keep moving.  You cannot predict your final day, so go hard for the good times while you can.”

In 1980, Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers and he looked like a shadow of his former self.  In two years with the Oilers, he threw for 5,190 yards, 27 touchdowns and 46 interceptions.  The Oilers made the playoffs in 1980 and Stabler came back to Oakland in a different uniform.  He didn’t have a good day and the Raiders came away with a 27-7 win.  After the 1981 season, Stabler was on the move again.  This time, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints.  He spent three years there and didn’t have much success.  He played in 16 games and threw for 3,670 yards, 17 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.  If you total up his career stats, he threw for 27,938 yards, 194 touchdowns and 222 interceptions.  When asked about the interceptions, he said, “Well, most of those passes were tipped.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Despite all those interceptions, lots of people are clamoring for Stabler to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.  I’d love to see it happen.  He made the game exciting and no matter how intense it got, he always remained calm.  All the great players that played with him said they were always confident that Stabler could get the job done.  My favorite quote about Stabler comes from Madden who said, “the bigger the situation, the calmer he got.  That was a great combination with me because I was just the opposite.  I was intense.  If everything were normal and we were ahead, he would get bored.  He had to have his ass to the fire to get focused on something.  That’s when he got really focused.  Instead of getting excited and tight, he’d stay calm.”

That’s the main reason I picked Stabler.  No matter how intense the situation was, he’d remain cool, calm and collected.  It was kind of like having James Bond under center.  He knew things were going to get intense, but he knew he had the ability to get the job done.  After he got the job done, he’d go out and have fun with his teammates.  Over the years, I have collected lots of Raider memorabilia and the centerpiece of it all is my autographed black #12 Stabler jersey.

 

Philadelphia Eagles – Reggie White, Defensive End

Reggie White won a Super Bowl with the Packers but he made his bones with the Eagles.

White was an All-American at the University of Tennessee and stayed in his home state to play two seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL before joining the Eagles in 1985.

A 6-5, 291 pound lineman with the quickness of a linebacker, Reggie notched 13 sacks in 1985 and would go on to record double-digit sacks 12 times in his career and would retire as the league’s all-time sacks leader with 198 and is still second behind only Bruce Smith.

White anchored a dominant Eagles defense and made the first of his eight first team All-Pro teams and first of 13 Pro Bowls in 1986 and won his first of two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1987. The Eagles, coached by Buddy Ryan and then Rich Kotite, were dynamic, tough and good. They had a winning record every year from 1988 to 1992 and reached the playoffs four times.

Alas, once in the postseason Reggie’s Eagles quickly got plucked, and were one-and-done every time. This is especially important to note because after the ’92 season White became a free agent when free agency was new to the NFL and White was the league’s top prize. He signed with the Packers for a then eye-popping four years and $17 million paving the way for other free agents. Today’s NFL millionaires have many people to thank; Reggie White is one of them.

White is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play. Some believe the very greatest. Imagine a line with him, Bruce Smith, Joe Greene and Alan Page on it.

Sadly, this is a tough time of year to remember Reggie White. It was ten years ago, December 26, 2004, that this dominant player and NFL pioneer died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle

Leatherhead Karon Cook pulls back the Steel Curtain to reveal Pittsburgh’s greatest player:

I’m a Cali girl and a drill Instructor’s daughter, but I “grew up” with the Steelers.  Stay with me–my Dad’s from the ‘Burgh, he raised my brother and I exactly the same way: teaching us how to throw a perfect spiral, scoop up a grounder, as well as switch hit.  I credit this early education to my choosing the Sports Journalism field and falling in love with the Steelers!  Joe Greene is my pick for the best player in Steelers history.

Much has been written about Joe; here are ten facts, in random order, that you need to know:

 

  1. He was Chuck Noll’s first-ever draft choice in 1969 (that 1-13 Season gave no hint of what was to come).

 

  1. Joe Greene and Andy Russell were 2 of 5 players from that team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in SB IX.

 

  1. During the early ’70s, “Mean Joe” was one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

 

  1. He earned five first-team All-Pro selections.

 

  1. Joe won two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

 

  1.  He is a four-time Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII and XIV).

 

  1.  I consider him to be one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play the game.

 

  1.  Joe Greene wore Black and Gold his entire career–from 1969 to 1981.

 

  1.  “Mean Joe” was part of the famous “Steel Curtain” defense–along with L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White.

 

  1. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

I realize these are just stats/facts about Joe, so I reached out to Andy Russell for this piece; I wanted something real, from a guy who was there.  In Andy’s words: Joe Greene was awesome–his strength, quickness, toughness and refusal to accept defeat were greater than I had ever seen. His first drill in training camp was the Oklahoma Drill (where an offensive lineman goes against a defensive lineman), trying to tackle a running back. It is a very difficult drill and usually the offensive player has the advantage because he knows the count, but Joe absolutely crushed his opponents (some of our best blockers–i.e. Ray Mansfield). He was clearly, in my opinion, the NFL Player of the Decade and certainly deserved the recent retirement of his jersey. I had the privilege to play with both players who have had their jerseys retired–Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene.”

People outside the Steeler Nation will remember Joe for his “Hey Kid, Catch!” spot for Coke. If you Google the best Super Bowl commercials of all time, it’s listed at #2.  Also, Joe came up with the phrase “One For The Thumb in ’81” … which was accomplished in 2005.  Now we’re looking at #7!  I’ll wrap this up by sharing a tweet from Brett Keisel: Can’t get our 7th trophy without picking up that 7th regular season W    #HereWeGo #Huntfor7    

Keep the Faith, Steeler Nation, and thanks Andy!  

 

San Diego Chargers – Junior Seau, Linebacker

For many years we thought we would never see another linebacker like Dick Butkus. Then, the football Gods gave us Junior Seau, a man whose very name (pronounced “Say-Ow”) meant he was born to hit people.

The Chargers drafted Seau with the fifth overall pick in 1990 and he spent the next 20 years pounding the opposition. Seau made the first of 12 straight Pro Bowls in 1991 and was first team All-Pro for the first of six teams in 1992.

Junior Seau combined ferocity with speed, strength and football IQ to become the league’s best linebacker of the 1990s and led the Chargers to new-found glory with playoff appearances in 1992, ’94 and ’95 and the franchise’s one and only Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the mighty 49ers, after that ’94 season.

The biggest reason the Chargers were in that Super Bowl was Seau’s heroics in the AFC Championship. Facing a formidable Steelers team on a cold January day in Pittsburgh, Seau went ballistic notching 16 tackles despite having a pinched nerve in his neck.

Over the years the Chargers have had Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson and now Philip Rivers. But Junior Seau was the best. He left the Chargers after the 2002 season and played three solid years with the Dolphins before joining the Patriots for four seasons, including helping the legendary 2007 team go 16-0 before a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Seau retired after the 2009 season and committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43. Doctors later determined that Seau had suffered repeated head injuries as a player and was suffering from a degenerative brain disease that many NFL players have been afflicted with.

After Seau died more than 200 surfers paddled out into the Pacific Ocean near the linebacker’s home and joined a circle, chanted Seau’s name and slapped at the water for an hour. A peaceful tribute to a man who thrilled millions and left us far too soon.

 

San Francisco 49ers – Ronnie Lott, Cornerback/Safety

The San Francisco 49ers are known for offense and many say Joe Montana was the greatest quarterback to ever play (or was Steve Young maybe a little better?) and others say Jerry Rice was not only the best receiver in NFL history but might actually rate out as the very best player ever, regardless of position.

But we say that Montana was great, yes, but in a great system at the perfect time and we say the same of Young and yes, even Rice. They are all legitimate first ballot Hall-of-Famers but we say the greatest Niner of them all played on the other side of the ball.

Ronnie Lott was taken by the 49ers in the first round of the 1981 draft and started all 16 games at cornerback, intercepted 10 passes three of which he returned for touchdowns, helped the Niners to a 13-3 record and their first playoff appearance since 1972 and they went on to win their first Super Bowl. (Joe who?)

Lott made the first of ten Pro Bowls his rookie year and was also first team All-Pro for the first of six teams. Montana was the Golden Boy of those San Fran teams of the 80s, but Lott was its backbone. An adhesive cover man and a ferocious hitter, #42 made 49ers’ opponents know that while San Fran’s offense got the glory it was the defense that did the dirty work – and made the difference.

Lott was the defense’s heart at cornerback and also when he switched to safety in 1985, something that’s far tougher than it sounds. With Lott, the Niners won four Super Bowls in the 80s and became one of the league’s great dynasties. You can likely name a lot of offensive players from those teams but who stands out on defense? Ronnie Lott stood taller, hit harder, dug deeper and got it done more than anyone.

If Gary Fencik had been a bit faster he would have been Ronnie Lott. He wasn’t.

Joe Montana was cool, Jerry Rice was clutch, Ronnie Lott was tough. His left pinkie finger was crushed making a tackle in 1985. Surgery would have meant he would miss the start of the 1986 season. So Lott had the tip cut off. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions that year.

 

Seattle Seahawks – Steve Largent, Wide Receiver

       Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman recalls the early days of the Seahawks and says while the team has gotten better, they’ve never had a better player:

Some may disagree with my pick here but having watched him play personally, to me he is far and above any of the other Seahawks players that have graced the Seattle sideline. Others may pick a defensive or offensive lineman as their top choice but I am selecting, from the University of Tulsa, Wide Receiver Steve Largent!

Largent, originally drafted by the Houston Oilers, before being traded to Seattle in the preseason of his rookie year, spent his entire playing career with the Seahawks. He was a great player to watch through the 1980s as he teamed first with another great Seattle player, QB Jim Zorn and then with QB Dave Krieg.

By the time his career was up, Steve Largent led almost all NFL receiving categories, including 819 receptions, 13,089 yards, 177 consecutive games with a catch and he was the first player to reach 100 career touchdown catches. HOF 1995.

 

Cleveland Rams/Los Angeles Rams/St. Louis Rams – Merlin Olsen, Defensive Tackle

Merlin Olsen was humble, sweet and loveable.

Off the field.

Olsen is known to many as an announcer who was in the TV booth for many years including several Super Bowls, as a pitchman for FTD Flowers and as an actor on Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy.

But during a football game there was nothing little about this 6-5, 270-pound tornado from Utah State and the only thing fatherly about him was the way he put others in their place. And if Merlin Olsen handed you flowers on the gridiron it was to put them on your grave.

A first round pick in 1962, Olsen made the Pro Bowl his rookie year and then every single season through 1975, only being left off during his final season, 1976.

Olsen played on the legendary Rams front four along with Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy, the “Fearsome Foursome” which terrorized offenses every Sunday. The Rams were winners nearly every season with Olsen and enjoyed playoff appearances in 1967, ’69 and ’73 through ’76 including NFC title game losses in ’74, ’75 and ’76.

The Rams always fell short in the playoffs with Olsen, but imagine if they’d been able to break through and won a few Super Bowls. They were very close and if they’d made it, maybe Merlin Olsen would have some of those rings that now belong to Joe Greene and Randy White.

Merlin Olsen died in 2010.

He is in the Hall of Fame and his #74 jersey has been retired by the Rams and probably still gives quarterbacks nightmares.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Warren Sapp, Defensive Tackle

For much of their existence the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a bust, but Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman says one Buc not only was not a bust, he actually has a bust…in Canton:

If there is any doubt as to who is the best player in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history you can just put that thought away. And, if you ask him, he will tell you that himself! Perhaps the best defensive lineman of all-time, Warren Sapp took his talents from the University of Miami (FL) across the state to Tampa as the 12th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

Sapp would go on to have nine great years in Tampa Bay to establish his self as the greatest Buccaneer of all-time. He ended up with 77 sacks while there, just short of the 78.5 by early Bucs star, Lee Roy Selmon.  HOF 2013.

 

Tennessee Titans – Eddie George, Running Back

The Tennessee Titans have been around since 1997, after moving from Houston where they were known for more than 30 years as the Oilers.

Eddie George played one season in Houston before moving north to become a Titan and remained a constant for nearly a decade. If you’re looking for consistency in a player you need look no further than Eddie George. A Heisman winner out of Ohio State, George’s yearly rushing totals his first five years in the NFL were 1,368; 1,399; 1,294; 1,304 and 1,509.

George was the size of a linebacker and bruised his way through the line week in and week out, finishing his career with an average of just 3.6 yards per carry but he was a rock, rarely fumbling and rarely getting caught for a loss.

He made the Pro Bowl in 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2000, the same year that he was first-team All-Pro.

The Titans were the best team in the NFL that 2000 season, playing a bruising style of football on both sides of the ball and going 13-3, only to lose a heartbreaking, freaky playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens. This, of course, was one year after the Titans came one yard short in the Super Bowl against the Rams.

Eddie George was almost a Super Bowl champ, almost a rushing champ, almost a legend. But he is second to none when it comes to remembering the Titans.

 

Washington Redskins – Sammy Baugh, Quarterback

Leatherhead Chip Greene says a “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was the best Redskin of them all.

Baugh joined the Redskins out of TCU in 1937, the team’s first year in Washington after moving from Boston, and would be the backbone for Washington as a quarterback, defensive back, kick returner and kicker through 1952.

Baugh’s numbers are modest by today’s standards, finishing with 21,866 yards passing, 187 touchdowns and 203 interceptions. But, like most players from his era, he was versatile and Baugh was more versatile than most. He simply did it all: running, passing, kicking and defense and he was just about the best, earning first-team All-Pro honors four times.

And Baugh’s teams were nearly as good as him. He led Washington to the NFL championship game five times and they won it in 1937 and ’42.

“Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was a member of the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1963 and lived to see the NFL grow and change quite a bit, passing away in 2008 at the age of 94.

 

And just for fun:

 

Brooklyn Lions – Rex Thomas, Running Back

Leatherhead Joe Williams remembers the days when Lions roamed the borough of Brooklyn and chooses Rex Thomas as the Brooklyn Lions’ all-time greatest.

The Lions, led by coach Punk Berryman, played just one season in the NFL, 1926, played their home games at Ebbets Field, and went 3-8 and merged during the season with the competing AFL Brooklyn Horsemen.

Thomas was the star of the team and the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (137), touchdowns (4), and points (25), and with four interceptions on defense.

The St. John’s University star and Oklahoma native played five NFL seasons. He unfortunately passed away in a car-truck accident in 1955.

Honorable Mention: Herm Bagby.

 

St. Louis Gunners – Paul Moss, Receiver

Joe Williams remembers the St. Louis Gunners who played one season, 1934, and had one player who topped them all:

The semi-pro team purchased the 0-8 Cincinnati Reds during the 1934 season and replaced them to play the final three games that year. A handful of Reds players joined the Gunners. In their first game they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) before dropping their next two games.

The best player for the Gunners was Paul Moss. He led the team with six receptions for 131 yards, plus scoring one of the three touchdowns in franchise history. His touchdown reception was a team-best 56 yards.

Moss was an All-American at Purdue in 1932. He played the 1933 season with Pittsburgh and led the NFL in receiving yards with 283 while finishing tied for fifth with 13 receptions.

He didn’t play football after the 1934 season. In 1935, he played minor league baseball with the Terre Haute Tots in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.

Paul Moss died in 1999 at the age of 90.

Honorable mention: Cy Casper.

 

Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes – Ken Strong, Halfback, Defensive Back, Kicker

Leatherhead Bob Swick recalls a memorable man on a forgotten team:

The Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes played in the NFL from 1929 to 1932. They did not do well, amassing a record of 14-22-9.

Their greatest player in my football opinion was Ken Strong. Strong was an all-NFL player in 1930 and ’31 for the Stapes. He was an incredible kicker at that time also.

Strong is obviously better known for his heroics on the Giants but he provided an anchor to the Stapes in their brief existence.

 

Houston Oilers – George Blanda, Quarterback

The Oilers are, technically, gone but they’re certainly not forgotten. Leatherhead Matt Haddad says the best Oiler of all time was a guy who nearly played for all of time:

George Blanda began his career with the Chicago Bears (1949-’58)–and was even a member of the old Baltimore Colts for one game in 1950, before rejoining the Bears.  In his time with the Bears, Blanda had some great moments, and a lot of his teammates considered him a top-flight quarterback.  However, his constant conflicts with Bears owner-coach and NFL founder George Halas sent him into football exile.

Blanda sat the 1959 season out, and he drove a truck.  According to Jeff Davis in his Halas biography “Papa Bear,” Blanda promised sportswriter Cooper Rollow he’d play football again soon.  Rollow didn’t know what on earth Blanda was talking about–and Blanda didn’t elaborate.  Blanda simply said: “There’s something going on that you don’t know about.”

A new football league was in the works–and one of the charter franchises would be the Houston Oilers.  The American Football League was launched in 1960, and Blanda was ready to play. Upon signing Blanda, Oilers general manager John Breen said, “He knows how to take a defense apart.”  For the season opener, the Oilers flew to the Pacific Coast, and Blanda took the Oakland Raiders defense apart with four touchdown passes.  The Oilers won, 37-22.

The 1960 Oilers went 10-4 and scored a league-high 379 points (27.5 points per game).  Houston hosted the first AFL Championship Game against the Los Angeles Chargers.  The seesaw battle saw Paul Lowe running wild for the Chargers and Blanda throwing 3 touchdowns for the Oilers.  George also kicked three extra points and a field goal and was named Player of the Game as the Oilers prevailed, 24-16.

A number of former Oilers reflected back on those years in Jeff Miller’s book on the AFL, “Going Long.”  Safety Jim Norton said, “George was brilliant at signal calling, audibling, one of the best signal callers of all time.” Offensive guard Hogan Wharton said, “This guy was a coach on the field.”

The 1961 season saw the Oilers go 10-3-1 and scored 513 points (36.6 ppg). That point total stood as a pro football record for 22 years.  Throwing for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, Blanda was named the AFL’S Most Valuable Player as he led the Oilers back to the Championship Game.

The Oilers invaded the home turf of the Chargers, who now played in San Diego.  The contest was surprisingly low scoring, but for the second championship game in a row, Blanda accounted for all of the Oilers’ points. He kicked a field goal and an extra point, and he threw 35 yards to Billy Cannon for the game’s only touchdown.  The Oilers were Champs again, 10-3.

In “Going Long, ” All-Pro offensive tackle Al Jamison said: “George Blanda was probably the single most important factor in our winning those two championships.”

1961 turned out to be the last championship for both Blanda and the Oilers.  Together they lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game to the Dallas Texans. The 1967 Oakland Raiders, with Blanda as the kicker and backup quarterback, lost Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers.  The Oilers fielded some interesting teams over the next three decades, but they never made it back to the final game.

After 37 seasons (1960-1996), the Oilers moved to Tennessee.   They then played two transitory seasons as the Tennessee Oilers then began a new era in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans, with Nashville as their home base.

As for Blanda, he played his final 9 seasons (1967-1975) with the Oakland Raiders.  Upon retiring, Blanda had thrown for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns.  He scored 2,002 points.  In 1981, Blanda was inducted into The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I just missed watching George Blanda play. As a kid in 1977, I started following pro football.  One of the first players I read about was George Blanda.  I remember thinking, “He played from 1949 to 1975?????” It still astounds me today.

 

Karon Cook, Ronnie Foreman, Chip Greene, Matt Haddad, Terry Keshner, Mike Lynch, Bob Lazzari, Bob Swick, Andrew Tuttle, Joe Williams, Tony Williams

 

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: That’s back to back upsets for the Cardinals of division leaders. Good to see they still have some fight left in them…..Unfortunately, QB Kevin Kolb didn’t play long as he suffered a head injury early in the game and did not return. He has yet to practice in full this week and seems certain to be a game time decision this week…..Everyone thought WR Larry Fitzgerald would be the happiest guy in Arizona when the Cardinals signed Kolb, but he has had his best games this season with John Skelton under center.

Atlanta Falcons: Big comeback win by the Falcons over the Panthers last week. The Falcons are unlikely to catch the Saints in the NFC South, but are looking pretty solid to take one of the wildcard spots…..Although the Falcons keep stating it’s a minor injury, RB Michael Turner just hasn’t been the same since suffering a groin injury. He hasn’t missed any game action, but isn’t putting up his typical numbers either. If it is not the groin, maybe the long season is catching up with him.

Baltimore Ravens: It looks like LB Ray Lewis will be back in the lineup this week. The Ravens played it smart and kept Lewis out of the lineup until he and the team were sure he was ready to return…..WR Torrey Smith has been getting a bigger and bigger role in the Ravens offense each and every week. If he continues to develop, the Ravens may have an offense that can at least rival their defense, but more importantly it will take some of the opposing defense’s attention off of RB Ray Rice.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills came out and stated this week that they won’t take a QB in the first round of next year’s draft. Once again reinforcing their faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick. I have a feeling that’s a mistake. Fitzpatrick can look good at times, but still doesn’t have the look of a franchise quarterback…..The Bills will also have a big decision to make with WR Steve Johnson. Contract talks have broken off, so they may have to figure out if they want to use their franchise tag on him.

Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton finally played like a rookie last week, throwing two interceptions to open up the second half and with his team up 16 points in what eventually became a loss. Oh well, growing pains are a part of the job…..It looks like the only thing that may be keeping K Olindo Mare on the roster would be his four-year, $12 million contract. The Panthers brought in Adi Kunalic and promised he will kick Sunday if he outperforms Mare this week in practice.

Chicago Bears: If not for the injury to RB Matt Forte, Marion Barber may have been released before the plane hit the ground after failing to stay inbounds to keep the clock running on the Bears final drive of the 4th quarter; thus giving the Broncos the chance they needed to tie the game and send it to overtime. He than fumbled on the first drive of overtime when it looked like he was breaking into the clear, allowing Denver to win the game.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are quickly blowing what was a good start to the season. They have had trouble beating winning teams all season and it is quickly catching up to them. At this point they may have to win out to make the playoffs…..This all being said, the Bengals do get a layup this week in St. Louis, than Arizona, and even the last game versus Baltimore could be in their favor if the Ravens don’t have anything to play for with their playoff picture solidified.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are catching plenty of heat for their handling of the concussion suffered by QB Colt McCoy versus Pittsburgh. Apparently no one on the Cleveland medical staff saw McCoy get hit by the oncoming truck that was LB James Harrison, and when they did check him out they were worried about his finger, not his head. Now apparently Browns players suffered multiple concussions during this game which may have spread the medical staff kind of thin, but still someone had to see that hit and say “Hey, you may want to check Colt out.”

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Sunday night, blowing a 12-point lead with five plus minutes left in the game…..Everyone seems to want to blame QB Tony Romo for missing WR Miles Austin with a pass that would have gone for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter, but Austin admitted that he lost the ball in the lights and that’s why he didn’t catch it. Criticizing K Dan Bailey for the block seems to be off base also since the kick wasn’t low. It was much more of a blocking problem or maybe it was just a great play by Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Denver Broncos: QB Tim Tebow is starting to make a believer out of me. This guy finds a way to win every game, even if he did have a tremendous amount of help from the Chicago offense in this one. Now if the Broncos and Tebow are able to beat the Patriots on Sunday, I might be a true believer…..With Tebow being 7-1 as a starter, now the Broncos have little choice but to anoint Tebow as their starting QB next season.

Detroit Lions: Not sure what to make of the Lions who almost blew that game to Minnesota last week and if not for a missed face mask penalty on the final play of the game, may have blown it indeed…..The Lions right now are in a playoff spot but have an interesting schedule over the remainder of the season. They play an Oakland team that is fighting for their playoff lives, a San Diego team that may be doing the same next week, than a Green Bay squad that could be playing for a perfect season. It should be fun times in Motor City.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers can clinch home field throughout the playoffs with either a win or a San Francisco loss. Than the big question would remain, do you play your starters and go for a perfect season, or rest them and make sure you are completely healthy for the playoffs? Now the injury to WR Greg Jennings last week, which will keep him out for the remainder of the regular season, could push the Packers towards playing it safe. But they know that an undefeated season would be immortality, plus they did win the Super Bowl last season which should make going for 19-0 even more of a must.

Houston Texans: You just can’t stop these Texans no matter who is at the wheel. QB Tyler Yates led an impressive comeback over the Bengals last week, a game that was in Cincinnati and much more important to the Bengals than the Texans, but still Yates led them to a game winning drive. Impressive indeed, still though, I’m having a tough time seeing the Texans winning more than one game in the playoffs…..Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be away from the team for the next 7-10 days as he will have a procedure to deal with a kidney ailment. Good luck Wade.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning has started throwing again. The question is, does he have the same zip on the ball that he did before the surgery? Next question still remains, what will the Colts do with Manning after the season and are they still planning on having Manning get in some game action before the end of the season?…..TE Dallas Clark did indeed return to action and didn’t suffer any setbacks with the leg, but did suffer a stinger that has kept him from practicing this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The NFL officially ratified Shahid Khan as the owner of the team, and Khan for his part stated once again that he is not planning on moving the team. Now moving the team would be hard anyway as they do have a lease through 2029, but there is an out clause if the Jags lose money for three straight seasons…..RB Maurice Jones-Drew is having an incredible season for a bad team. The numbers he is putting up for a team that has no other offensive weapons is unbelievable.

Kansas City Chiefs: So much for the Todd Haley era as he was fired this week. At least he won’t be around for the beating that the Chiefs are going to take from Green Bay this week. Look for the Chiefs to hire former Broncos head coach and current Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the top job once the season concludes. He is the man they wanted instead of Haley in the first place, but Denver offered him the job first…..QB Kyle Orton has recovered from his dislocated finger and will start for KC this week.

Miami Dolphins: Head coach Tony Sparano was put out of his misery this week as well. The team certainly played hard for him even though we all knew he was a walking dead man. He won’t have any problems getting another job, either at the head coach or coordinator level…..QB Matt Moore left the game last week with a concussion and hasn’t practiced yet, but should be available to play this week against Buffalo.

Minnesota Vikings: Tough loss for the Vikings last week but some good did come out of it. QB/WR Joe Webb played pretty well after taking over for Christian Ponder and may be able to handle that role in the future. The problem is Minnesota also likes what he can do as a receiver. You really can’t have your backup QB playing receiver, too good a chance of an injury. Maybe you can have your third string QB play receiver though…..Ponder is expected to start this week even though Webb was more effective than he was last week.

New England Patriots: That was some pretty funny stuff watching QB Tom Brady and the Pats offensive coordinator yelling at each other on the sideline after Brady threw an interception last week. Seems though if any of the Pats coaches were going to yell at any of the players, it should be on the defensive side of the ball…..If that was the funny part of the game, than the ridiculous part was watching the Redskin defense trying to tackle TE Rob Gronkowski. It looked like a high school team trying to tackle a top college player–just a joke.

New Orleans Saints: If you’re not a fan of any team in the NFC, you have to be rooting for a Green Bay-New Orleans rematch in the championship game, hopefully in good weather. Now that would be entertainment….TE Jimmy Graham is dealing with a bad back that almost kept him out of the game against Tennessee. He was able to play and has also been able to practice this week so this may not be as serious as it once looked…..RB Mark Ingram has yet to practice this week and may yet miss another game due to turf toe.

New York Giants: What a win for the Giants over the Cowboys on Sunday. They are now in control of their own destiny in the NFC East, but things could get testy. They have what should be a gimme versus Washington this week, although the Skins played the Pats tough. They than have to play the Jets and then Dallas once again. Here’s hoping that last game is a winner take all…..The most impressive thing to me about the Giants’ win wasn’t the 37 points they scored but that they didn’t give up a sack.

New York Jets: The Jets have come alive once again and look like a team that could be dangerous come playoff time. They have a strong running game with Shonne Green and LaDainian Tomlinson, and QB Mark Sanchez has been more careful with the football in the past couple of games. The loss of S Jim Leonard is a blow to the defense, but he missed the playoff run last season as well due to injury.

Oakland Raiders: Not that the Raiders had much of a chance of beating Green Bay anyway, but that is back to back weeks that they virtually didn’t get off the plane. The team certainly has dealt with its share of injuries. Their receiving corps has been decimated and losing their biggest playmaker in RB Darren MacFadden has been huge, but that’s still no excuse for their play of late.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick had a successful return to action last week, but WR Jeremy Maclin did not as he had to leave the game early when his hamstring tightened up on him. He might give it a go once again this week but there is no way of knowing if he will be able to finish the game…..WR DeSean Jackson actually showed up last week and had a big game. The question is, can he do it again, especially with the games becoming more and more meaningless?

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seems unlikely that QB Ben Roethlisberger will play Monday night after suffering a high ankle sprain, an injury that looked pretty ugly when it happened. The Steelers need to think about the future. Sure they would like to win the division, but they have a wildcard spot all but locked up and need to make sure Ben is as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs…..C Maurkice Pouncey also suffered a high ankle sprain. He wants to play, but once again the Steelers may play it safe and hold him out.

San Diego Chargers: Can the Chargers make another miracle comeback in the division? Probably not, but they are once again giving it a go. If only Tim Tebow would stop pulling out these miracles…..With the rash of coaching changes that have been going on, it’s fair to wonder if Norv Turner could be let go when the Chargers next lose a game and are officially eliminated from playoff contention.

San Francisco 49ers: That’s two losses in a row for the 49ers and now they have the Steelers coming to town. Now they have a firm grip on the NFC West but that first round bye might be slipping away…..I still can’t see how this team can win a playoff game. They need to score points. Their defense is good, but not great…..RB Frank Gore is certainly beat up and the 49ers admit that he’s not 100%. But what running back is at this point in the season? The real question is, how far from full health is he?

Seattle Seahawks: RB Marshawn Lynch has set himself up to make a ton of money next season, assuming the Seahawks don’t franchise him. He’s as tough a runner as there is to bring down. Inconsistent, sure, but once he’s in the secondary he’s a runaway train. The Hawks must retain his services next season.

St. Louis Rams: It’s hard to believe that OC Josh McDaniels will be in high demand next season with the way the Rams offense has been this season. Of even more importance is that QB Sam Bradford has certainly regressed this season. Still look for McDaniels to be the Chiefs first choice…..If McDaniels were to leave, would free agent WR Brandon Lloyd leave with him?….Speaking of Bradford, his ankle seems to have taken a turn for the worse and as of now he is unlikely to play Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs look to be out of control and it seems unlikely that coach Raheem Morris keeps his job…..QB Josh Freeman stated that he still doesn’t have the same zip on his fastball due to injury. That could explain the problem he has had with interceptions this season. Freeman has to be one of the more disappointing players this season…..Freeman should be licking his chops at facing the Dallas secondary Saturday–Lord knows everyone else has this season.

Tennessee Titans: Tough loss by the Titans versus the Saints. They had a chance to beat them at the end. They might have had an extra play had rookie QB Jake Locker thrown the ball on the final play. He had time. Even if he throws the ball away, he still would have had another play. Then he could have run around forever and tried to make a play. You can’t take a sack, even if you just heave it up for grabs. Give your team a chance.

Washington Redskins: On that great run by TE Rob Gronkowski last week, did anyone notice CB DeAngelo Hall observing the play while two of his teammates were being dragged by Gronk? Way to get involved…..Coach Mike Shanahan stated this week that QB Rex Grossman is auditioning for the starting job next season. While that may be true, the Skins are sure to use their first-round pick on a rookie quarterback.

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: Right now Andre Roberts is expected to start opposite Larry Fitzgerald at WR. Now don’t get too excited and go running out to pick him up in your fantasy leagues. This could easily change before the season begins…..Speaking of Fitzgerald, he wants to sign a long term deal with Arizona as he is happy with their off-season moves, but if a deal can’t be worked out, the Cards can’t franchise him as he has a clause in his contract that prohibits that move.

Atlanta Falcons: Rumors are flying around the Atlanta training camp that the addition of WR Julio Jones will allow the Falcons to have more of a high tempo aerial attack. With WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons could certainly go this route, but it’s hard to see them going in this direction unless it is necessary; as it’s hard to win shootouts week in and week out…..With all the talk about the Saints, Packers, and Eagles, the Falcons have been able to fly under the radar so far. They just may be the best of them all.

Baltimore Ravens: TE Ed Dickson is practicing once again. Dickson needs to be on the field as much as possible in order to gain QB Joe Flacco’s trust. Flacco could use a big target over the middle…..Where RB Ray Rice goes in your fantasy draft probably depends on whether or not you believe that Ricky Williams will take over the Willis McGahee role and vulture short yardage touchdown runs. The Ravens coaching staff states that Rice will get those carries, but I have my doubts.

Buffalo Bills: If LB Shawn Merriman can continue to put pressure on the opposing QB like he did in the first preseason game, than the Bills’ defense could be better than first thought…..QB Brad Smith saw quite a few snaps in the Wildcat formation during the first preseason game. He could be a weapon in that offense, as the Bills want to use him similar to how the Steelers used Kordell Stewart in the 90s…..The Bills finally parted ways with former 1st round pick LB Aaron Maybin. Can you say bust?

Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton impressed in his first pro start and seems to be on target to start the season under center for Carolina. With that being said, if the Panthers had a solid veteran presence at QB, they would probably prefer to have Newton watch and learn but Jimmy Claussen does not give them that option…..TE Greg Olsen had a solid 1st game for Carolina. It should surprise no one if he is the team’s best receiver this season no matter who is throwing him the ball.

Chicago Bears: Neither WR Johnny Knox nor Roy Williams was all that impressive in the first preseason game, as only one ball was caught between them. So if there is indeed a training camp battle between these two, no one did all that much to cause separation…..I have a hard time thinking the Bears believe they can go into this season with Williams and Hester as your starting wideouts. Not all that impressive.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals and CB Leon Hall are likely to open up contract negotiations shortly. Hall has pretty good leverage, as the Bengals have plenty of cap room and can’t let another CB walk and get nothing in return. They already let Jonathan Joseph go to the Texans. But then again, this is the Bengals we’re talking about…..WR AJ Green injured his knee in practice Wednesday, but it looks to be minor. Green may be one of the few reasons to watch the Bungles this season.

Cleveland Browns: I’m still trying to think of a reason to watch the Browns…..The teams top two RBs, Peyton Hills (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty (knee), are both banged up but should be good to go by next week…..QB Colt McCoy might be that reason to watch the Browns. He had an impressive first preseason game. Still he is not a true franchise QB, rather he is more of a game manager.

Dallas Cowboys: WR Dwayne Harris had a fantastic first pro game and is gaining on Kevin Ogletree for the 3rd WR job, but before anyone gets too excited, the Cowboys don’t use three WR sets all that often. They love to go with two TEs and line up Jason Witten in the slot to go along with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant…..A name to remember in those two TE formations is John Phillips, as he may eventually surpass Martellus Bennett on the depth chart. Phillips was making noise in training camp last year before tearing his ACL.

Denver Broncos: While RB Knowshon Moreno has looked very good in practice so far, Willis McGahee could vulture TDs from him just like he did from Ray Rice last season…..It’s pretty much set in stone that Kyle Orton will start over Tim Tebow at quarterback. The bigger question may be who will backup up Orton: Tebow or Brady Quinn…..DT Ty Warren, who was being relied on to stuff the run for Denver, tore his triceps and is a candidate for IR.

Detroit Lions: DT Ndamukong Suh may think the $20K fine for ripping the helmet off yet another QB’s head is excessive, but he still will want to calm himself down for fear of getting the reputation that LB James Harrison of Pittsburgh has gained. Last thing Suh wants is the NFL to look at his play with a fine tooth comb…..DT Nick Fairly is no longer wearing a cast and seems to be on pace to possibly play in Week One.

Green Bay Packers: WR Donald Driver has stated that he will accept a demotion from his starting WR role if he feels James Jones or Jordy Nelson warrants the job…..WR Randall Cobb may not see much action in the passing game since the Packers are absolutely loaded at WR. He still could make a huge mark in the return game. Cobb will be a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it, as if the Packers didn’t have enough of those types of players.

Houston Texans: LB Mario Williams doesn’t look the least bit comfortable yet in the 3-4 defense. Switching from DE to LB means Williams will now have coverage responsibilities, something he is not the least bit familiar with…..The Texans are starting to tire of RB Ben Tate’s injuries. They need to see him on the field to see if he can be a legitimate backup to Arian Foster. If not, than Steve Slaton will remain on the roster.

Indianapolis Colts: After watching the Colts backup QBs, you have to seriously wonder if they could ever win a game that Peyton Manning didn’t start…..Will this be the year that WR Pierre Garcon takes that next step? It would be a big boon to the offense if Garcon could become a bit more consistent in his route running, and even more so, if he could actually catch the ball. He has been one of the league leaders in drops the past couple of seasons.

Jacksonville Jaguars: There is a pretty good chance that the Jags will play it safe with RB Maurice Jones-Drew this preseason. He may not see a snap until Week One of the regular season…..QB David Garrard looks to get his first action of the preseason this weekend. He better get on the field soon if he wants to remain the starting QB. The longer he is out, the more likely it is Blaine Gabbert that opens the season as the #1.

Kansas City Chiefs: Rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin looks to finally be healthy and could see some action this week. But don’t expect anything big. Baldwin may be no better than 5th when it comes to passing options…..No matter where the Chiefs place RB Jamaal Charles on their depth chart, the team will go as far as Charles can take them.

Miami Dolphins: QB Matt Moore hasn’t practiced all that well with the team. However, he did impress the coaches with his play during the game Friday. Will he unseat Chad Henne? Probably not right away, but the team/players have little to no faith in Henne. It could just be a matter of time, unfortunately for the Fish, that their quarterback of the future is not on the roster…..RB Reggie Bush will get his first action this weekend. Coach Tony Sparano is still undecided if he will use Bush on punt returns. I am not sure why you wouldn’t.

Minnesota Vikings:  Apparently the Vikings first choice to start at QB was Tyler Thigpen, not Donovan McNabb. If that’s true, I’m not sure why Thigpen would sign in Buffalo for a backup job…..WR Percy Harvin may not play this weekend. It’s not due to migraines, but rather bruised ribs…..DL Kevin Williams has accepted his fate that he will finally be suspended after losing an appeal in the StarCaps case, probably four games.

New England Patriots: WR TJ Houshmandzadeh is scheduled to visit New England this week. It could be interesting to see Housh and Ochocinco together once again…..QB Tom Brady is said to be on fire in training camp. I would still like to see who becomes the Pats deep threat to stretch out the secondary…..You have to love coach Bill Belichick’s honesty about why the NFL moved the kickoff up to the 35 yard line—because they want to eliminate the return game.

New Orleans Saints: RB Mark Ingram has looked impressive in camp, but still it’s hard to see him having a big season with Pierre Thomas still on the roster…..If you’re looking for a sleeper WR for your fantasy league, Lance Moore could be your man.

New York Giants: A little bit of controversy here in the Northeast as QB Eli Manning compared himself to Tom Brady. You have to love his self confidence. He did beat Brady in a Super Bowl, but Manning has a ways to go before he can consider himself in Brady’s class, a sure fire Hall of Famer…..DE Osi Umenyiora has returned to camp, but one has to wonder if it’s just a matter of time until he walks out again if he is unable to get his contract extension.

New York Jets: WR Plaxico Burress finally practiced Wednesday. He will need all the reps he can get with QB Mark Sanchez…..LB Aaron Maybin, formerly a Bill, signed with the Jets Wednesday…..RB Joe McKnight suffered a concussion during the game Monday. He’s going to have to prove himself a bit more durable if he wants a bigger role in the Jets offense this season.

Oakland Raiders: WR Louis Murphy will miss the regular season opener with hamstring and groin injuries…..The good news is that WR Jacoby Ford and RB Darren McFadden are both on the mend and should get into a preseason game or two, but not this weekend.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles received a dose of good news when it was discovered that WR Jeremy Maclin does not have a significant illness and could begin practicing with the team in a week to 10 days. He is expected to be ready for the regular season…..The asking price for CB Asante Samuel is two 2nd round picks. So it seems he is unlikely to go anywhere, which makes sense seeing as though the Eagles seem to be all-in for this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Ike Taylor suffered a broken thumb in the first preseason game. Not a big deal though. He is supposed to be out of action for just a couple of weeks and won’t miss any regular season time…..WR Mike Wallace has set a goal this season of 2,000 yards receiving this season. While it’s always nice to set your goals high, that’s certainly not going to happen. Wallace seems to forget that the Steelers are a run team first.

San Diego Chargers: In fantasy leagues, drafting RB Ryan Matthews or Mike Tolbert could be dangerous, as the Chargers plan for these two seem to change by the day. The team wants Matthews to be the every down back, but right now, he hasn’t been all that impressive in camp…..TE Antonio Gates returned to practice this week and once again seems to be somewhat healthy. However, with plantar fasciitis, it could act up again at any time.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers were thinking about signing QB Daunte Culpepper but decided on Josh McCown instead…..WR Michael Crabtree was spotted without a walking boot, so it seems like the worst may be behind him…..If there is a QB competition between Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick, Smith is clearly ahead.

Seattle Seahawks: TE John Carlson has a labrum injury in his shoulder. Any missed time could find Carlson on the outside looking in with Zach Miller the new number one TE…..Even though Charlie Whitehurst clearly outplayed Tarvares Jackson in the first preseason game, head coach Pete Carroll stated that there is no competition at quarterback and that Jackson is his man.

St. Louis Rams: With the Rams minus a true number one WR, rookie TE Lance Kendricks could play a major part in their passing game…..WR Donnie Avery has returned to practice, but may have a hard time making the team. Don’t be surprised if he finds himself on the waiver wire before the end of camp.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Arrelious Benn, who is coming off ACL surgery, will be cleared for contact next week…..Apparently LB Mason Foster will be eased into game action rather than having everything thrown at him at once.

Tennessee Titans: RB Chris Johnson not only wants to be the highest paid back, but also wants to be one of the highest paid players in the NFL. This situation could get real ugly if his contract demands don’t come down…..Still no word yet on whether or not WR Kenny Britt will be suspended for his multiple transgressions this off-season…..If there was any doubt in your mind, Matt Hasselbeck will start at QB for the Titans, at least to begin the season.

Washington Redskins: The Skins plan to start John Beck at QB this season unless he plays terribly this preseason. The Shanahan’s believe he is the real deal. This is not saying much, but I think Rex Grossman is the better QB. Ouch!…..TE Chris Cooley made a visit to Dr. James Andrews regarding his knee. Makes one wonder how serious the injury is…..The Skins are deep at TE though, as Fred Davis is a pretty good option.

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: Good news to every Cardinal fans ears, WR Larry Fitzgerald stated that with the improvements the team made on the field in free agency, he is more likely to sign long term with Arizona…..Coach Ken Whisenhunt stated on Thursday that Beanie Wells will start at running back to begin the season…..The addition of TE Todd Heap gives the Cardinals a solid pass catcher, but remember, Heap is nowhere near the player he used to be; however in the red zone, he’s a nice tall target for QB Kevin Kolb.

Atlanta Falcons: We learned recently that RB Michael Turner underwent groin surgery in the off-season; an optimist thinks this is the reason for Turner’s mediocre 2010 and a pessimist thinks this season won’t be any better…..Tony Gonzalez, 35, recently stated that he could play another three seasons if he wanted to; you have to wonder if Tony is starting to realize just how good this offense can be with the addition of WR Julio Jones.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are one of the teams that are rumored to be interested in the services of Giants DE Osi Umenyiora, as if that defense isn’t scary enough…..The loss of TE Todd Heap to free agency means we will find out if Ed Dickson is the real deal or not…..A couple of the Steelers have had some unflattering things to say about QB Joe Flacco this week. Seems they forget that if not for a couple of key drops by Raven WRs in the playoff game last season, the Steelers wouldn’t have even made the Super Bowl.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills signing of LB Nick Barnett gives them a quality player who can range from sideline to sideline. The only reason he is still not a Packer is because of salary cap reasons…..With opposing teams having to respect the deep threat of WRs Steve Johnson and Lee Evans, RB CJ Spiller could have plenty of room to operate underneath.

Carolina Panthers: Linebacker Jon Beason was placed on the non-football injury list with tendinitis in his Achilles but it’s not considered anything serious…..One would have to think that Cam Newton will start at QB for the Panthers as Jimmy Claussen was nothing short of awful last season. But even if he doesn’t, the Panthers have stated that they will have plays designed for him each week…..Speaking of QBs who were awful last season, the Panthers signed Derek Anderson.

Chicago Bears: The Bears must be in love with former Cowboys, having signed WRs Roy Williams and Sam Hurd, along with RB Marion Barber so far in free agency…..Williams could be the ball possession type of receiver the Bears need. Hurd is probably still best suited for special teams. Barber looks to be the goal line back…..The Bears will be looking for another center after Olin Kreutz has decided to test the free agent market. Not good for a team whose biggest weakness may have been the offensive line last season.

Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Benson is back in the fold after signing a one-year deal. One has to wonder if his market dried up because of his off field problems…..Andy Dalton will be given every chance to win the starting QB job this season. This promises to be a pretty ugly situation as Dalton would almost certainly be better off sitting behind a veteran to at least start the season…..Those of you who think Carson Palmer may change his mind and come out of retirement to play again for the Bengals, forget about it! There is a better chance of Boomer Esiason putting the pads back on.

Cleveland Browns: QB Colt McCoy is struggling so far in camp with the new West Coast offense, but that’s to be expected since there weren’t any off-season mini-camps to work on things…..You know you may not be in for a good season when you lose your punter for the year with a torn Achilles tendon.

Dallas Cowboys: There were many questions when Dallas didn’t try to upgrade their secondary via the draft, but the Cowboys kept insisting they trusted Terrance Newman and Mike Jenkins. The Cowboys were all of a sudden in late on the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes, but lost out, and now the news that they have lost Newman for 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. Even if Newman comes back before the season opener, it seems unlikely that he would be at 100%, and all the top CBs are off the market…..On the flip side, they did solve their safety problems with the signing of Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam.

Denver Broncos: Kyle Orton has clearly outplayed Tim Tebow in the battle for the starting QB job. Not a shock as Orton may not be a sexy QB, but still much better than an average one…..The Broncos signed ex-Patriot Ty Warren to help with their run defense…..WR Brandon Lloyd has looked good in camp once again, and if Orton does indeed start, could once again put up a big season.

Detroit Lions: The loss of DT Nick Fairley for most, if not all, of training camp with a foot injury is certainly not good news. But if he can get close to 100% before the start of the regular season, then it’s not a devastating loss…..The Lions did a great job of waiting out LB Stephen Tulloch. There wasn’t a big market for his services and they were able to get him at a much more team friendly contract.

Green Bay Packers: The re-signing of WR James Jones is great for the Packers but not good for those fantasy owners who grabbed Jordy Nelson thinking this would be his breakout season…..It’s also not good for their 2nd round pick Randall Cobb, who now will only get on the field in the event of an injury to one of the top four wideouts…..For those of you who are worried, DB Charles Woodson is practicing fully in camp.

Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson dislocated a finger in practice Tuesday, nothing to worry about as he will be back in a matter of days. This reminded me of the days where John Elway and Brett Favre would repeatedly break or dislocate their receivers fingers because they threw the ball with such velocity…..RB Steve Slaton will be traded as long as Ben Tate shows he is healthy and can handle the backup RB job.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning was spotted throwing the ball in practice and looked good doing so, but is still on the PUP list…..WR Austin Collie is also practicing fully, but one has to wonder if he can make it through a full season after multiple concussions last season…..The Colts re-signed Joseph Addai to a three-year, $14 million contract. Not sure if it’s just me, but that seems a bit high.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew is being limited in training camp after coming off meniscus surgery. If there is one top RB that I’m staying away from in fantasy leagues, it would be Jones-Drew. He’s an injury risk and the Jaguars might use Rashad Jennings in a bigger role in order to keep Jones-Drew as fresh and healthy as possible…..I’m not a big fan of the passing game either and wonder if teams stack the line of scrimmage and force QB David Garrard to beat them.

Kansas City Chiefs: Head Coach Todd Haley has stated that once again the Chiefs will be a run first team this season. If RB Jamaal Charles can stay healthy, he is going to have a big year…..TE Tony Moeaki has missed the first couple of days of camp with a knee injury. He may not be a household name, but he is a good blocker in the run game and can surprise some people in the passing game.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have announced that RB Reggie Bush will have pretty much the same role with them that he had with New Orleans, touching the ball about 10-12 times a game…..There were some rumblings that Miami is interested in QB Brett Favre (can’t he just go away), but apparently this is nothing more than internet rumor…..Tiki Barber had a tryout with the Fish this week. Pretty much shows you how desperate they are right now.

Minnesota Vikings:  WR Percy Harvin is looking forward to a breakout season after not having suffered from a migraine since last year…..Of course with Bernard Berrian starting opposing you, Harvin is going to have the attention of all of the pass defenses…..Tackle Byrant McKinnie showed up at camp close to 300 pounds and was promptly released…..Anyone who hasn’t seen the video of what P Chris Kluwe asked of Donovan McNabb in order to give up jersey #5 should check it out. Pretty funny!

New England Patriots: The Patriots and Jets are gearing up for what should be an interesting battle in the AFC East…..If WR Chad Ochocinco can’t be a deep threat, one has to wonder if the Patriots can be the high scoring offense they were in the past…..DT Albert Haynesworth passed his conditioning test without any problems for those of you who are wondering.

New Orleans Saints: RB Mark Ingram has looked great early on in camp and could be another dangerous weapon in the Saints offense…..DE Will Smith will finally be suspended four games for using performance enhancers; the courts finally upheld the NFL’s right to suspend Smith…..If you’re looking for a TE late in your draft, look no further than Jimmy Graham. He is going to have a big year.

New York Giants: The saga between the Giants and DE Osi Umenyiroa promises to last all season long. In a nutshell, Osi believes he was promised a new contract if he performed well and now wants to be traded. The Giants did give his agent permission to seek a trade for about 48 hours before rescinding it. They then told Osi to take the day off and he refused. It is going to be an interesting soap opera all training camp.

New York Jets: The Jets are taking a big gamble on WR Plaxico Burress. He hasn’t played in two years and had issues with both organizations that employed him. Now has a sprained ankle to begin camp…..It seemed the Jets were the favorites until the last minute to land CB Nnamdi Asomugha but re-signing Antonio Cromartie is still a good move. With Darrelle Revis on your roster, Asomugha was a luxury, not a necessity.

Oakland Raiders: If you’re the Raiders, how can you let TE Zach Miller leave during free agency, not to mention the aforementioned Asomugha?…..RB Darren MacFadden will be out of action for at least two weeks with a fractured orbital bone…..The Raiders have been working out TE Kevin Boss to replace Miller…..The Raiders are still hoping that WR Jacoby Ford will be ready for the regular season after having the cast taken off his broke hand on Tuesday.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are going for broke this season, signing just about every free agent imaginable…..CB Nnamdi Asomugha seems to be an answer to the multiple receiver sets that the Packers and Saints use as the Eagles now have three top flight CBs on their roster. Makes you wonder if they will try and trade Asante Samuel eventually…..The Eagles even tried to lure WR Randy Moss out of retirement…..If QB Michael Vick stays healthy, this is going to be a scary offense…..Speaking of health, DT Mike Patterson is probably out for the season after suffering a seizure in practice and needing surgery to fix the problem.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Emmanuel Sanders had another surgery on his foot and is no longer likely to begin the season as the Steelers #3 WR…..QB Dennis Dixon angered Pittsburgh management when he asked for a trade. He may get his wish though…..WR Hines Ward should be ready to come off the PUP list (thumb) in the next couple of days.

San Diego Chargers: In order to keep SS Bob Sanders healthy, they are thinking about replacing him in passing situations. That’s all fine and good, but Sanders usually gets hurt throwing his body around in the running game…..Another player who came off the PUP list was TE Antonio Gates. He practiced on Thursday. The Bolts have to be a little worried though about his foot. This injury looks like it’s never going to heal completely.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers signed WR Braylon Edwards. The loss of Michael Crabtree makes Edwards close to a necessity…..In somewhat of a shock, the 49ers sent out an email to all NFL teams that S Taylor Mays is available. It didn’t take long for Mays (2nd round pick last year) to prove to new head coach Jim Harbaugh that he can’t play at the NFL level, now you know why is college coach, Pete Carroll, passed on him.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks signing of TE Zach Miller is somewhat surprising as they have a pretty good TE already on their roster in John Carlson. Miller just seems to be a luxury, not a necessity…..The Hawks also signed WR Sidney Rice earlier in free agency. Now if they only had a QB to get the ball to these two…..Yeah, I’m not a big fan of Tarvares Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams finally found their backup to RB Steven Jackson in Cadillac Williams…..Michael Sims-Walker gives the Rams yet another WR who is maddingly inconsistent. QB Sam Bradford may not be able to make that jump to the next level without a true number one wideout.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It would’ve been nice to see the Bucs spend some money in free agency this season. They are a strong young team with a ton of room under the cap. A couple of solid free agents here and there could make a big difference. Seems to be they are behind the Saints and Falcons at this time.

Tennessee Titans: It was bad news for WR Kenny Britt on Thursday when it was announced that commissioner Roger Goodell will still be judge and jury when it comes to player discipline. Oh and Britt hasn’t practiced yet due to a hamstring injury…..Chris Johnson still hasn’t reported to camp. He wants a new contract with around $30 million guaranteed. Cha ching!

Washington Redskins: A sleeper RB in your fantasy leagues could be Roy Helu. Tim Hightower has already proven he can’t handle a full-time role and Ryan Torrain underwent surgery to place four screws in his hand this week. Of course the problem is the Skins have no QB and coach Mike Shanahan is famous for driving fantasy owners crazy with his use of RBs…..The Skins did re-sign QB Rex Grossman. It’s either him or John Beck for the starting QB job, yippee.