Two dozen NFL old-timers were asked to name their candidates for "best ever" offensive linemen, and these are the ones that kept coming up, the products of serious reflection as well as fleeting memories—a perfect afternoon, a great year or two. Many fine players may have been omitted simply because the experts momentarily forgot them. The players are listed in no special order.
JIM PARKER. Ran a 4.9 as a 264-pounder right out of college, weighed as much as 285 during his NFL career and ran a 5.1-5.3 at that weight. The best pure pass blocker who ever lived. Knew all the tricks—the quick pushoff, the short jab—that are legal now.
BUCKO KILROY'S MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY. Kilroy broke in as a tackle and guard with the 1943 Steagles, the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh merger, and played for the Eagles until 1955, when he retired to become one of the league's first player personnel men. He says the Bears were the one team everyone measured himself against in the 1940s. "I lined up against BRONKO NAGURSKI in my fourth game as a pro. He'd been out of football for five years, but the Bears brought him back, as a tackle, during the war. I stared at him like he was Jim Thorpe. What kind of a player was Nagurski? Strong. Not much finesse but you couldn't muscle him. He grabbed a little. The Bears were always great for that. GEORGE MUSSO, the guard, was the guy you had to watch out for. He was one of the real early speed and size guys, 260 and fast—and mean. That's putting it nicely. The game was mayhem then, and the Bears weren't called the Monsters for nothing. JOE STYDAHAR was past his prime when I played against him. So was DANNY FORTMANN. He was just a little man, a technique guy, cross blocks, body blocks, like that. LEE ARTOE and CHUCK DRULIS were guys who could wire you real good—block you and stick to you. I thought ED KOLMAN, the tackle, had the most technique. BULLDOG TURNER was a bull, a great strength guy, but MEL HEIN of the Giants was more skillful."
FRITZIE HEISLER'S FINEST FIVE. Heisler was the Cleveland Browns' line coach for 24 years, through the entire Paul Brown and Blanton Collier eras. The All-America Conference Browns of the 1940s were one of the first teams to specialize in pass blocking. Legend has it that when they broke their huddle, they would clap their hands and chant, "Nobody touches Graham." "MIKE McCORMACK and Lou RYMKUS at the tackles, GENE HICKERSON and ABE GIBRON at the guards, FRANK GATSKI at center. Lou GROZA, JOHN WOOTEN and JIM RAY SMITH just a shade behind." McCORMACK is Paul Brown's choice as the best he ever coached. Consistently handled the Colts' Gino Marchetti better than any tackle in the game. Power combined with great intelligence and 4.8 speed. "I've seen him have games," Kilroy says, "where if you were grading him he'd score 100. Not one mistake, and his guy would never make a tackle." GIBRON was a mean, low-slung fire-blocker who caught them underneath and crumpled them. Huge upper body, thin legs, blazing speed. At 4.75 perhaps the fastest of any of them.
August 2, 1981
JERRY KRAMER. His college coach told the scouts he'd never play at more than 225. At the College All-Star game they weighed him in at 263, with no fat. With FUZZY THURSTON at Green Bay he formed one of the finest pulling-guard tandems in history, along with Wooten and Hickerson of the Browns, Bob Kuechenberg and Larry Little of the Dolphins and Joe Delamielleure and Reggie McKenzie of the Bills. Tremendous pride and courage. A shade behind Hannah and Parker in straight-ahead firepower. Ran a 4.9.
FORREST GREGG. Vince Lombardi said he was the best player he ever coached. Master of the dance. A position blocker who made people go where he wanted them to.
JIM RINGO. Master of the cutoff block, played between eras of the nose guard.
BOB KUECHENBERG. Another teeth-gritter. Tenacious. Dirt tough. Switching from guard to tackle cost him at least two years of All-Pro. Not quite the booming straight-ahead blocker that teammate LARRY LITTLE was.
BOB BROWN. The Doug Atkins of offense for the Eagles, Rams and Raiders. Annoy him and he'd split your helmet. Only weakness was game-to-game inconsistency, but against big league opponents he was terrifying.
RON MIX, JIM TYRER. The AFL's alltime tackles, with, respectively, eight and nine years of All-Pro credentials. San Diego's Mix was the pure technician, the Forrest Gregg of the AFL, a tackle who pulled to lead sweeps. Tyrer, along with ED BUDDE, ranked as the intimidators on an oversized and highly feared Kansas City line.
BILLY SHAW. Old AFL men will tell you this Buffalo guard was as good as anyone who ever played. Great strength and savvy, a shade behind Hannah and Parker in speed.
STAN JONES, LEO NOMELLINI, GEORGE CONNOR, CHUCK BEDNARIK. Defensive legends for Chicago, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively, who turned around and made All-Pro on offense. Jones was one of the earliest disciples of weightlifting.
AL BLOZIS. Relatively a stringbean at 6'6½" and 250 pounds who was famous for his defensive work with the Giants, but Kilroy says his real future was on offense. "He had the quickest feet I've ever seen on a guy that size." Killed in World War II. He had played pro ball three years. At Fort Benning he set an Army record by heaving a grenade 94 yards, 2 feet, 6½ inches. At one time he held the world indoor shotput record at 56'4½".
AL WISTERT, VIC LINDSKOG. 1940-era Eagles. Smaller guys, precision blockers, stars in training manuals.
ROOSEVELT BROWN. Eight-time All-Pro tackle for the Giants. Greyhound type. Eyecatching on the sweeps or downfield. Quick rather than overpowering.
BOB ST. CLAIR. A 49er who was the prototype of the crusher-type tackles now personified by St. Louis' DAN DIERDORF and Oakland's ART SHELL.
DICK STANFEL, BOB REYNOLDS. Started as big, rawboned kids for Detroit and St. Louis, respectively, and ended as great finesse and position blockers.
GENE UPSHAW. Knows tricks they haven't even invented yet, even in Oakland.
JIM OTTO. Twelve All-Pro years. Incredible iron man. Never missed a game in 15 years as Oakland center.
MARVIN POWELL. He's the heir apparent. The Jet tackle just needs to string a few of those All-Pro years together.