From Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana in the Round of 64 to two top running backs vying for the championship, the NFL alum edition of this year’s NCAA tournament is full of intriguing competition.
One of the great side effects of March Madness in the modern era is the reimagined bracket. With fields ranging from sports announcers to characters from The Wire, derivative brackets are the perfect distraction when you’re ready to blow up your actual bracket.
My spin on the reimagined bracket combines reality with the hypothetical. What if every university in this year’s tournament was represented by the alum that went on to the best NFL career? Holy Cross doesn’t feel like such a Cinderella anymore when you consider it produced center Jon Morris, who was drafted by the Packers in 1964 and went on to make seven AFL All-Star games/Pro Bowls.
Of course, there is no definitive metric for career greatness. In some cases, like Holy Cross, the shallow pool created an easy process of elimination. But for most schools, the representative player was chosen via an in depth process which combined mostly my opinion with a few helpful stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Surprisingly, only seven schools in this year’s tournament never produced an NFL player. Even CSU Bakersfield had an athlete dabble in the NFL. (Spoiler alert: He didn’t make our Final Four.) Let’s see which players did…
Round of 64
• Perhaps the toughest decision of the tournament was No. 6 seed Joe Montana faced off against No. 11 Tom Brady. Brady could very well be the greatest quarterback of all time, but until his Hall of Fame enshrinement, which at this rate will be in 2045, Brady’s boyhood idol gets the win.
• Players that moved on due to their opponent’s lack of NFL alumni: Chad Johnson of Oregon State, Sonny Jurgensen (Duke), Howie Long (Villanova), Pete Pihos (Indiana), Lawrence Taylor (UNC), Rod Woodson (Purdue) and Yale Lary (Texas A&M). All except Johnson are Hall of Famers, so perhaps there was an intimidation factor at play.
• In the West Region’s battle of the Coles, current Colts linebacker Trent (Cincinnati), now in his 12th season, won handily over John (St. Joseph’s), who only played two seasons. This matchup also showcased our tournament’s greatest age disparity, with John (now deceased) born in 1915 and Trent born in 1982.
Round of 32
• There were three particularly compelling matchups in this round. Mike Singletary (Baylor) narrowly edged out former Philadelphia and Washington great Jurgensen, despite current D.C. lore that Jurgensen could sling the ball 100 yards.
• Much like Montana vs. Brady in Round 1 paired the two best quarterbacks in NFL history, this round pitted perhaps the best two ever on the other side of the ball. Ronnie Lott (USC) would have crushed anyone else, but the unlucky draw against Lawrence Taylor sent the Trojan home prematurely.
• In one of the only matchups where the two players also faced each other on an actual NFL field, Ray Lewis (Miami) easily topped Rob Gronkowski (Arizona). When you toss aside the likeability factor, Lewis’s numbers are astonishing—in addition to the two Super Bowls, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and 13 Pro Bowls, he’s tied with Taylor for the most All-Pro selections by a linebacker (10).
Welcome to 80’s night, where Montana again bested Dan Marino (Pittsburgh).
Future Hall of Famers Lewis and Aaron Rodgers (California) topped current Hall of Famers Howie Long (Villanova) and Gale Sayers (Kansas). Sneaky three-seed Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson (Utah) could not overcome the talented Brown.
Montana vs. Taylor went into triple overtime before Montana, and his two extra Super Bowl rings, won out. In an intense matchup that wholly confirmed the NFL is a quarterback-first league, Rodgers (California) evaded the pass rush (and screams) of Lewis. A sneaky three-seed, Hall-of-Fame safety Larry Wilson (Utah) could not overcome the talented Brown.
This round harkened back to the day when generational running backs were the main attraction. Campbell, who led the league in rushing in each of his first three seasons (1978–1980), eliminated Rodgers, while Brown sent home early favorite Montana. Like Rodgers and Montana, Brown and Campbell could fill a Trump golf course with all the hardware they’ve won, yet these wins were based on a slight edge in sheer talent as opposed to Super Bowl rings.
Brown (and Syracuse) in a landslide.