Leaving their mark: NFL legends make impressions that last forever
One question I'm asked more than any other is: Who is the greatest player in NFL history? I can't answer it. It's like asking me to name my favorite noodle in a spaghetti dinner. It's tough to name the top 10 players, even the top 100. But at NFL Films, we're taking a crack at it anyway.
Airing in September is our latest project for the NFL Network called
This season will be my 48th filming the NFL. I've watched, met, known, filmed or interviewed almost every player in our Top 100. What follows is a personal list of thoughts and observations about men, not all great, who in one way or another made a lasting impression on me.
A force of unmanageable proportions, he was Moby Dick in a goldfish bowl. His career as the middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears stands as the most sustained work of devastation ever committed on a football field by anyone, anywhere, anytime. In 1969, the Bears won one game and Butkus was voted the Defensive Player of the Year. He stood for something just as important as victory -- he gave everything he had on every play. No one ever
He was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 1964 and was proof that sometimes your name is your destiny. He was an outrageous non-conformist, even for the 60's. In scrimmages, he often ran one way when the play called for him to go another. His reason: "Anyone can run where the blockers are. A good ball carrier makes his own holes." Once after skipping several practices, Joe Don explained his absence to Coach
Due solely to his presence, the quarterback position Unitas left when he retired was different than the position he found when he began playing. The combination of poise, skill and field generalship which Unitas brought to the position was something no statistics can measure and he had to be seen to be appreciated.
As Garrison's Cowboys teammate
He was the lead boulder in the avalanche that was the Packer Power Sweep. In the 1962 Championship game in Yankee Stadium, he kicked three field goals through the bitter wind to provide the winning margin over the Giants, 16-7.
If gallantry, generosity and humility were lost in the world, they could be found again in this Hall of Fame quarterback.
Rosenbloom owned the Los Angeles Rams and
His nose was so bent and re-bent he had to breathe through his ears.
In producing The Top 100 we researched over 100 million feet of film in our library. All of our film is organized, cross-referenced and categorized. We are constantly required to identify many aspects of football, not just excellence. For instance, here's how we identify plays that may appear in our year-end show that reviews the season's most outrageous miscues and foul-ups. We have a specific category for each botched play:
• A FOLLY is a physical error. A fumble, a stumble, or a mishandled exchange.
• A BLOOPER is a mental error, like
• A BLUNDER is a mental error compounded by a physical one, like the
1. I think
2. I think football practices are notoriously boring -- unless you have the access that we at NFL Films have on "Hard Knocks." For a filmmaker, training camp is a laboratory of emotions. Funny things happen, unfortunate things happen, unpredictable things happen. That's what makes our HBO series the most challenging show we produce -- we don't know our storylines until the day they develop. It's like building an airplane in flight -- and with
3. I think my favorite football movie is still
4. I think this was the quote of the week: Last week, my 94-year-old father and founder of NFL Films,
5. I think the obscurity into which 49ers running back
6. I think emotion is an overused word and overrated factor in the NFL. Everyone in football is charged up, but emotion is a commodity with a notoriously short shelf-life. You can't replace preparation and execution with emotion and hope to make it. There was a lot of passion at the Alamo, and they all died.
7. I think many coaches today magnify turnovers and use those plays as a reason for losing. By turnovers, they mean, "My staff did everything right, our game plan was sound but our players screwed up." In 1979, the Steelers led the league in turnovers yet won the Super Bowl. In 1981, the 49ers had six turnovers in the NFC Championship game but still beat the Cowboys.
8. I think we have seen some of the most exciting NFL seasons in recent memory, with closely contested division races and postseason thrillers, but it comes with a cost. The NFL now is all about competition -- that's its appeal -- but not necessarily greatness. In today's era -- with the salary cap and free agency -- you can't build super teams (like the '62 Packers with 10 Hall of Famers or the '79 Steelers with nine) that dominate all phases of the game. Those days are gone. Everybody has flaws. Each year we have four or five really good teams, but no great ones.
9. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. The best advice I can give to aspiring filmmakers is get a good opening and a good ending and get them as close together as possible. I think everything today is too long. Movies run over two hours.
c. My aggravating/enjoyable travel note: The only thing I dislike about my job is the travel. The planes are dirty, often late and the service is lousy. I have travel anxiety. I call it
"Good morning everybody. It will be our pleasure to serve you breakfast. Our choices are a cheese omelet and Belgian waffle. Because it is not possible for us to board exactly as many of each meal as we may need, we apologize in advance if your first choice is not available. Please do not be upset, however, as both entrees taste exactly the same."
d. The two most underappreciated things in life are a good bed and a comfortable pair of shoes. If you're not in one, you're in the other.
10. I think I'd like to close with this: