The best players of the Super Bowl era by uniform number: Nos. 50–99
In determining the best players of the Super Bowl era by jersey number, we also get the opportunity to discuss some players the modern football fan may not immediately recognize. Everyone knows that the Vikings' defensive line was dominant in the 1970s, but the offensive line on those teams frequently gets overlooked. Not here; Mick Tingelhoff and Ed White have earned the distinction of the best players to ever wear their respective numbers, and Ron Yary almost made the cut. Elsewhere in the trenches of decades past, how many people remember how great guys like Curley Culp and Elvin Bethea were?
Chris Burke handled some of football's most glamorous numbers in his rundown of the NFL's best players who wore numbers 00–49, but more linemen enter the conversation as the uniform numbers climb higher. Along with all the obvious names you know, this list is an opportunity to spotlight the men who helped create the great game we have today without the recognition they deserve.
Without further ado, the best players of the Super Bowl era who wore jersey numbers 50–99.
Buddy Ryan benched Singletary in his very first NFL game, but after that, Singletary became the face and the voice of the 46 defense, perhaps the greatest defense of all time. He was not a do-it-all guy (coverage was not a strength), but 10 Pro Bowls and seven First-Team All-Pro selections tell the story. Very few linebackers have ever played the game with more intelligence and passion.
I really wanted to put Sam Mills here, but how can you deny the man who redefined his position as much as any player in the game's history? Were it not for knee injuries and the Bears' general mediocrity through his career ... well, imagine Butkus on a playoff-level defense with a real quarterback. One of the game's all-time peak value players.
Keeping things on the field here, Lewis's 2000 season may have been the best by any linebacker in league history. He was the Defensive Player of the Year and the Super Bowl MVP and was virtually unstoppable throughout the year. Even at the end of his career, when his physical gifts had diminished, he was the Ravens' supreme motivational force.
Tingelhoff over Harry Carson and Randy Gradishar? Yes, because he was the heart of the Vikings' offense through the rough expansion years and on the teams that went to four Super Bowls. He never missed a game throughout his 17-year career—that's 240 regular season and 19 playoff games, playing at an All-Pro level all the way through.
One of the most intimidating, consistent, and technically-sound players of his era. The Cowboys tried White at linebacker for two seasons, and then got it right when they moved him to tackle in 1977. For his career, White was credited with 1,104 tackles, 701 solo tackles and 111 sacks, made nine Pro Bowls and seven First-Team All-Pro selections, and was the Super Bowl XII co-MVP.
Only 11 players have started more games than Seau's 243 over 20 seasons, an amazing total given the physical nature and consistent quality of his play. Seau could do everything required of a linebacker. He logged 18 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries through his career, as well as 56.5 sacks and an amazing 1,522 total tackles.
Taylor became the first true pass-rushing linebacker when Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick set him loose on the NFL in the early 1980s, and few have done it better since. Taylor played with an unbeatable combination of strength, speed and determination, and even when his off-field demons trapped him, he still brought it with authority on the field. Few defenders have ever had better seasons than Taylor's 1986, when he registered 20.5 sacks and won the MVP award.
Jackson was the pure pass rusher in New Orleans's vaunted “Dome Patrol” linebacker corps in the 1980s. Over his career, he logged 131 sacks and recovered seven fumbles in the 1990 season. His gifts are still underrated to this day, though he made the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Lambert is best-known for his menacing, toothless glare, but he was also the key to Bud Carson's defensive schemes in the 1970s, when the Steel Curtain reigned supreme. Lambert was light, fast and utterly fearless, and he played every down with a frightening ferocity, but he was also one of the smartest linebackers ever to take the field.
As good as Lambert was, it's Ham who's thought by many to be the best linebacker of the Steel Curtain defense, and one of the best in NFL history. A ruthlessly intelligent player who almost never stepped out of position, Ham was a first-team All-Pro every year from 1974 through '79, which just happened to line up with Pittsburgh's run of four Super Bowl titles in six years.
Of course Chuck Bednarik would be our No. 60 if we were going past the Super Bowl era, but Grantham is no slouch, either. He's one of a handful of players who played through the entire 10-year history of the American Football League, earning selection to five Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams. Grantham had five interceptions in two different seasons and was a key cog on the 1968 Jets defense that shocked the world in Super Bowl III.
The prototype of the modern-day nose tackle, Culp manned the middle of some special defenses, including the Kansas City squad that beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. During his time in Kansas City and Houston, he was a mainstay on two of the NFL's first true 3-4 defenses, recording his finest season in 1975, when he finished with 11.5 sacks, a rare total for an inside player.
The center for one of the greatest offensive lines of all time in Miami in the early 1970s, Langer played his first season at center in '72, when he played every offensive down for the NFL's only undefeated team. He was named to six Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro squads and made the Hall of Fame's All-1970s team.
The Raiders drafted Upshaw out of Texas A&M–Kingsville for one reason: to block Kansas City's Buck Buchanan. Over the next 15 seasons, he blocked Buchanan and just about everybody else. The left side of Upshaw and tackle Art Shell might be the best in NFL history, and Upshaw himself was named to seven Pro Bowls and five first-team All-Pro teams.
McDaniel started 202 straight games in his career and was named to 12 straight Pro Bowl teams, an NFL record. Perhaps his most notable achievement was his role in the 1998 Vikings offense that set a record with 556 points. In that season, McDaniel allowed 1.5 sacks all season, while clearing the way for a 5.4 yards per carry average to his side. He was also the first guard in modern Pro Bowl history to catch a touchdown pass.
Bethea holds several franchise records, including most seasons (16), most regular-season games played (210) and most consecutive regular-season games played (135). His unofficial career sack total of 105 and his 1973 total of 16 are also franchise bests. Bethea was the primary pass rusher in one of the NFL's first 3–4 defenses and played at a very high level for a very long time.
Few players ever got more out of their talent than Nitschke, who was the human personification of Vince Lombardi's football philosophy. He was a mainstay on defenses that helped the Packers win five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls. No mere headhunter, Nitschke logged 25 career interceptions in his esteemed career.
One of the more underrated players of his era, White was drafted by the Vikings just in time for their first Super Bowl season and manned the left and right guard spots during the four Super Bowls to come. In 1978, he became part of a Chargers offense that was the most explosive of its day under Don Coryell.
The Chiefs put Shields in his first NFL game after an injury to starter Dave Szott in 1993, and Shields never missed a game for the team until his retirement in 2006. He made 12 Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro squads in his career, and his rookie season marked the first division crown for Kansas City since 1971. The Chiefs led the NFL in total yards in 2004 and 2005, and Shields was a big part of that.
The first active player on our list, Allen put up a league-leading 15.5 sacks for the Chiefs in 2007 before Kansas City traded him to the Vikings for a first-round pick and two third-round picks the following spring. The Vikings then signed Allen to a six-year, $72.36 million deal, then the richest given to a defensive player in league history. Allen lived up to that contract with 85.5 sacks over six years in Minnesota, including 22 in 2011, tied for the second-highest single-season total of all time.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from the Hall of Fame, Marshall started 270 straight games for the Vikings, an incredible mark for a lineman. In his final game, he picked up two sacks and even played a bit of offensive tackle before his teammates carried him off the field. The Vikings credit him with 127 unofficial quarterback sacks, and he played in all four of Minnesota's Super Bowls. He was overshadowed by Alan Page and Carl Eller on the Purple People Eaters line, but he deserves his own bust in Canton.
Jones is the best player in Seahawks history and arguably the best tackle in an era that also featured Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace. At his peak, Jones was able to do everything you'd expect from a blocker, shutting down the game's greatest pass rushers and dominating in the run game. His block on Carolina's Mike Rucker in the 2005 NFC Championship Game is perhaps the most unforgettable play in Seattle football annals. Jones made nine All-Pro teams and four first-team All-Pro squads in his career.
Opponents universally respected Dierdorf as a man whose game intelligence and pure physical strength made him nearly impossible to beat. The Canton, Ohio native became St. Louis's full-time right tackle in 1973, and the Cardinals offense took off with it. In Don Coryell's pass-heavy offense, the Cards allowed the fewest sacks in the NFC for half a decade, and gave up an amazing eight sacks in 355 passing attempts. Dierdorf also played some center against some of the strongest nose tackles of his era and gave no quarter.
Hannah is brought up as the greatest guard in NFL history more than anyone else. The nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time first-team All-Pro moved from the Wishbone offense at Alabama to a more complex set of schemes without missing a beat, bringing every bit of his power and savvy with him.
While Deacon Jones gets all the name-checks when people talk about the Rams' Fearsome Foursome front line, it's Olsen who was the greatest and most consistent player of the bunch. A 14-time Pro Bowler, Olsen brought the intelligence he used to get a degree in economics and develop a successful acting career to the field, and few could match his effectiveness. While all was chaos around him, Olsen would diagnose the offensive play and, more often than not, blow it up.
In 1974, Greene and the Steelers coaching staff devised the “Stunt 4–3”, in which Greene slanted to the center at a 45-degree angle. It made Greene even more unblockable than he had been before, which is saying something, as Greene was on the path that would eventually make him perhaps the greatest defensive tackle of all time. Sack totals were unofficial during his career, but he's unofficially credited with 11 sacks in 1972 and five sacks in one game against the Houston Oilers.
When Pace was selected by the Rams in 1997, the team had been dismal for a long time. It's no coincidence that the rise of the Greatest Show on Turf offense and the team's subsequent success started with Pace's arrival. This year was Pace's first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, and the seven-time Pro Bowler will get in sooner rather than later.
The Saints' first-round pick in 1993, Roaf played every single snap at right tackle in his first NFL season, earning All-Rookie honors. He spent the next 12 seasons on the left side, putting together a legacy of strength and technique that few tackles of his era could match. Traded from New Orleans to Kansas City in 2002, Roaf ended his career the way he started it: with four straight Pro Bowl selections.
Smith is the NFL's all-time sack leader with 200, which is an amazing achievement when you consider that he spent the majority of his career as a 3–4 defensive end, double- and triple-teamed on the inside of the pass rush. He recorded 10 or more sacks in 13 seasons, which no other NFL player has ever done, and he was named to the All-Decade team for both the 1980s and 1990s. His 1990 season, in which he amassed 19 sacks and 101 tackles, will likely never be equaled by any pure 3–4 end ever again.
The AFL was known as an offensive league, but it had some great defenses as well, and few were better than the Bills defenses of the mid-1960s. McDole was a major part of that, as he was a big cog in the “Over-the-Hill Gang” defenses assembled by George Allen for the Washington Redskins in the 1970s. McDole finished his career with 12 interceptions, the most ever for a defensive lineman.
By the end of his 20-year career, Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowler and 10-time first-team All-Pro with 1,549 receptions for 22,985 yards and 197 touchdowns, and he had claimed every NFL record he possibly could. He also holds nearly every postseason receiving record.
It took Eller nearly 20 years to find his way to the Hall of Fame, which seems silly in retrospect. Unofficially, he put together 44 sacks from 1975 through '77 at the peak of the Purple People Eaters' greatness, and his 23 fumble recoveries was an NFL record when he retired. He didn't miss a game from '64 through '75, and he played in all four of Minnesota's Super Bowls.
Kellen Winslow is credited by many as the NFL's first modern tight end, but Newsome's contributions were just as lasting. He had two 1,000-yard seasons in the 1980s, which was atypical for the position at the time. He retired as the leading receiver among tight ends with 662 catches for 7,080 yards and 47 touchdowns. Add in his time as an executive for the Browns and Ravens, and there are few in his era who have had a broader impact on the game.
The Mad Stork was one of the smartest players of his (or any) time, often sniffing plays out before they happened and gleefully yelling to opposing coaches what he'd done. At 6'7" and 220 pounds, the eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro logged 26 interceptions and was an absolute nightmare on special teams, blocking punts and kicks all over the place. Sacks were an official stat for his final two seasons, and he put up seven in 1982, making one wonder how many he really had throughout his career.
The number of teams Moss played for speaks to his mercurial nature, but at his best, he was absolutely impossible to cover. He was unstoppable in his early days in Minnesota, where he led the league with 17 touchdown receptions as a rookie, and he was certainly that way with the Patriots in 2007, when he tied Jerry Rice's record with 23 touchdowns. Those two offenses are the two highest-scoring in league history, and Moss was the main target for both.
Buoniconti was a key cog for the great New England defenses in the 1960s, but his star really rose when he joined the Dolphins in 1969 and became the fulcrum of Bill Arnsparger's fabled defenses. From 1971 through '73, the Dolphins lost just five games, appeared in the Super Bowl every year, won two and put together the NFL's only perfect season in '72.
A giant man with astonishing physical gifts, the 6'7", 270-pound Buchanan was clocked at 4.9 in the 40-yard dash, and Grambling coach Eddie Robinson said that Buchanan was the best lineman he'd ever coached. Buchanan carried that to the pros, playing in two Super Bowls and making eight Pro Bowl squads.
Of all the players Vince Lombardi ever coached, Davis was regarded as the smartest and most disciplined. It was said that the coach would only yell at Davis when he needed to prove that he'd yell at anybody. Davis was on board for all of Green Bay's five NFL titles and two Super Bowl wins in the 1960s.
The Minnesota defensive line was full of talent, but there was little doubt that Page was the best of the lot. He won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award in 1971, a nearly unprecedented honor for a defensive player, and he made nine Pro Bowls with six first-team All-Pro honors. Waived by the Vikings in 1978, he went on to play in the formative years of the great Bears defenses of the 1980s.
Tough and unbending, Ditka came into the NFL with a bang, catching 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns in his rookie campaign, and playing a part in the Bears' 1963 NFL championship victory. He was also one of the best blockers of his era, and he developed a taste for coaching as he moved from Chicago to Philadelphia to Dallas. A longtime assistant to Tom Landry, Ditka got his shot as Chicago's head coach in 1982, and three years later, guided the Bears to their first championship since that 1963 season.
All apologies to defensive tackle Neil Smith, but Suh has been the most dominant and disruptive defensive tackle wearing number 90 of the Super Bowl era. In his first five seasons, the four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro logged 36 sacks, often proving to be unblockable despite the constant presence of double teams. He signed a six-year, $114 million deal with the Dolphins in March.
Who has the third most sacks in NFL history, behind Bruce Smith and Reggie White? It's Greene, who amassed 160 in his career and was the NFL's sack king in two seasons. His best campaign came with the Panthers in 1996, when he racked up 14.5 sacks and recovered a fumble for a touchdown, but he's best known as a major part of Dick LeBeau's “Blitzburgh” defenses from '93 through '95.
The gold standard among 4-3 defensive ends, White had a combination of strength and explosiveness that was simply unmatched and impossible to counter. He was dominant from his first plays in the NFL in 1985, putting up 124 sacks with the Eagles in eight years. White got his Lombardi Trophy with the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI, when he recorded three sacks and probably should have been the game's MVP.
The 6'1", 290-pound Randle went undrafted out of Texas A&M-Kingsville, caught on with the Vikings and never looked back. With his amazing speed and leverage, Randle became the prototype of the modern three-technique tackle, putting up 137.5 sacks over his career, including 10 or more in eight straight seasons from 1992 through '99.
Charles Haley almost made the cut here, but we went with another former Cowboys pass rusher. Ware amassed 117 sacks over his eight seasons in Dallas, leading the league in 2008 and '10. He fell off a bit when schematic changes limited his role, but he picked up 10 sacks with the Broncos in '14 and appears ready to maintain his Hall of Fame trajectory.
An eighth-round pick out of Tennessee State, Dent rose to unexpected heights as one of the most important parts of Buddy Ryan's 46 defense in Chicago. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XX, and he was highly effective into his later years, amassing 12.5 sacks in 1993 at age 33. He finished his career with 137.5 sacks, four Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro mention.
Kennedy was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, when he had 14 sacks on one of the worst teams in NFL history. It was that way through most of his career, with Kennedy surpassing the achievements of the bad-to-mediocre teams around him, but Kennedy never lost hope or gave less than full effort. With eight Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro nominations, his status as one of the best defenders of the 1990s remains secure.
The 49ers won the last of their five Super Bowls in Young's rookie season, and the first-round pick played an important part with six regular-season sacks and another in the playoffs. He would top 10 sacks in two different seasons and end his career with 89.5. Only Warren Sapp, John Randle and Trevor Pryce have more career sacks among full-time tackles.
Selected in the first round out of Texas, Hampton immediately became the ideal nose tackle for Pittsburgh's 3–4 defense and really came into prominence when Dick LeBeau became the team's defensive coordinator in 2004. Not only could Hampton hold the point against double teams so that others could succeed, he was also a sneaky-fast coverage man in LeBeau's zone blitzes. He did those jobs well enough to make five Pro Bowls in his career.
The Bucs' 1995 draft, with Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks taken in the first round, changed the fortunes of the entire franchise. Sapp was a non-stop terror at his best; he logged more than 10.0 sacks in four seasons, including an incredible 16.5 in 2000. Sapp was just as much a force against the run, and he may be the best defensive tackle of his era.