MONTANA OR MANNING? SANDERS, PAYTON AND BROWN, BUT IN WHAT ORDER? A NEW SI BOOK TAKES ON THE GREAT GRIDIRON DEBATES, AND HERE FANS WEIGH IN WITH THEIR PICKS WHILE THE EXPERTS TACKLE A FEW MORE
This is an article from the Oct. 22, 2012 issue
The most enduring Top 10 ever written wasn't written at all, but chiseled onto stone tablets and conveyed down Mount Sinai by Moses, who introduced to the world not just a set of Biblical precepts but also a new format for starting arguments: the list of 10 things.
The Ten Commandments aren't a ranking. But they do raise many questions for the modern football fan, not the least of which is, "Who were the 10 best guys named Moses in NFL history?"
It's a trick question. There have been only 10 men named Moses in the history of the National Football League. In descending order from least-great Moses to most-great Moses—for these lists are always better when counted down from 10 to one, giving them the drama of a rocket launch—they are: (10) Quentin Moses, (9) J.J. Moses, (8) Moses Ford, (7) Don Moses, (6) Kelvin Moses, (5) Moses Gray, (4) Moses Denson, (3) Moses Moreno, (2) ...
But wait. This is the part of the beauty pageant at which the host always pauses. Will it be former wide receiver Haven Moses, who played 14 seasons for the Bills and the Broncos and made the Pro Bowl in 1973?
Or will it be the insuperably named Moses Regular Jr.? He played in only one season, for the 1996 Giants, but his name is so good that statistics matter not here. Moses Regular sounds like a robe size at the Mount Sinai Men's Wearhouse. Moses Regular Jr. is the best name, in or out of football, since Moses Regular Sr. It is entirely possible that Moses Regular is the finest NFL Moses without ever having been an NFL Regular. He appeared in only three games, on special teams.
This is the difficulty with best-ever. It's a shifting and subjective standard. The Best-Ever Miami Dolphins of 1972--73 yielded, immediately, to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the Super Bowl in four of the next six seasons. Two years later the San Francisco 49ers of Montana and Walsh began wiping the Steelers' name off the Best-Ever chalkboard, and by the time those Niners clapped the erasers, and the cloud of dust had settled, out stepped the New England Patriots of Brady and Belichick, winners of three Super Bowls in four years in the first decade of the new millennium.
Among the best of the best, it is not enough to be the greatest for one season. These athletes want to be the greatest for all seasons. There is no popular acronym for the Greatest of One Decade (GOOD?). There is for the Greatest of All Time (GOAT).
In an effort to separate the GOODs from the GOATs, SI put together a panel of seven pigskin pundits, the end result of which is Football's Greatest, a large-format collection (out this week) that sits at the T-junction joining football, lists of 10 and our abiding desire to know who's No. 1.
What follows is a little taste (sample size: 10) of what appears in the book—five of our Top 10 lists turned over to the people, 87,000 of whom voted online. Those lists and the others here—five bonus lists that don't appear in the book, determined by our original panel—will no doubt provide material for a list of your own: Our Top 10 omissions and mistakes.
1 BEST QUARTERBACK
1. Joe Montana
"It's hard to vote against a guy who posted a 127.8 passer rating in four Super Bowl wins. Nobody played better on the biggest stage."
2. John Elway
"Could Montana drag three average teams to Super Bowls?"
3. Tom Brady
"Has played with fewer key players and has had revolving offenses."
4. Peyton Manning
5. Johnny Unitas
"Only one QB threw for 40,000 yards and 290 TDs during the era of 12-game seasons, the legal head-slap and receivers getting bumped."
—Andrew Harris Salomon
6. Dan Marino
"People forget how pathetic a defense Marino had year after year."
7. Brett Favre
8. Terry Bradshaw
"Called all his own plays. Case closed."
9. Otto Graham
10. Troy Aikman
2 BEST RUNNING BACK
1. Barry Sanders
"More Wow! moments than any other RB in history."
2. Walter Payton
3. Jim Brown
"Brown or Sanders—depends which style you like: running over someone or running around someone in a circle like a video game."
4. Emmitt Smith
"If Brown or Sanders doesn't quit in his prime, Emmitt is looking up at both."
5. Gale Sayers
6. Earl Campbell
"Toughest running back I've ever seen."
7. Bo Jackson
8. Marshall Faulk
9. O.J. Simpson
10. LaDainian Tomlinson
3 BEST WIDE RECEIVER
1. Jerry Rice
"Anybody who doesn't say Jerry Rice needs to stop smoking bath salts."
"SI loses all cred by even asking. No one even comes close to Rice."
2. Randy Moss
"Rice had Montana and Young throwing to him his whole career! Moss had, like, 10 different QBs and still ripped up the NFL."
3. Lynn Swann
4. Don Hutson
"The man invented the pass pattern and played both ways."
5. Steve Largent
6. Michael Irvin
"Irvin had Harper, Emmitt, Novacek and Aikman [to help him]...."
7. Fred Biletnikoff
8. Calvin Johnson
9. Raymond Berry
10. Larry Fitzgerald
4 BEST PLAY
1. Immaculate Reception, 1972 AFC Divisional Round
"It ushered in the Steelers' dominating the 1970s."
2. Manning to Tyree, Super Bowl XLII
"This play ruined one of the greatest moments of my life. Our undefeated season down the drain because this guy caught the ball with his helmet."
—Brandon B. Leonard
3. The Catch, 1981 NFC Championship Game
4. Montana to Taylor, Super Bowl XXIII
5. Music City Miracle, 1999 Titans-Bills AFC Wild Card
6. Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard TD run, 2010 NFC Wild Card
7. Lynn Swann's catch, Super Bowl X
8. Tony Dorsett's 99-yard run on MNF, January 1983
9. Saints' onside kick, Super Bowl XLIV
10. Adam Vinatieri's snow field goal, 2001 AFC Divisional Round
5 BEST COACH
1. Vince Lombardi, Packers and Redskins
"The Super Bowl champion is awarded the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Enough said."
—Genaro Nu√±ez Angeles
2. Bill Walsh, 49ers
3. Bill Belichick, Browns and Patriots
"He hasn't won a Super Bowl since he was busted for Spygate."
4. Don Shula, Colts and Dolphins
"He won with so many different QBs (Unitas, Morrall, Griese, Woodley, Marino) and different philosophies (three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust and on the arm of Dan the Man)."
5. Tom Landry, Cowboys
6. Chuck Noll, Steelers
"Can't be a coincidence that all those guys developed into Hall of Famers."
7. John Madden, Raiders
8. Bill Parcells, Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys
9. Paul Brown, Browns and Bengals
10. George Halas, Bears
6 BEST TEAM LOGO
"Crossed swords, a helmeted Raider and a badass eye patch—it evokes the outlaw image the organization has cultivated."
"What better connects a city's team to its history than a logo created by U.S. Steel?"
3. Patriots, 1960--92
"In a league where too many teams change their logos and color schemes, the metallic star has stood the test of time."
7. Buccaneers, 1976--96
"Nothing says rugged, headbanging football like a Creamsicle-colored swashbuckler with a blade in his mouth. As Tim Gunn would say, 'Make it work, Buccaneers!'"
7 BEST PASS CONNECTION
1. Joe Montana to Jerry Rice
"So what if Rice caught more TD passes from Steve Young. This duo hooked up to win three Super Bowls, even when everyone in every stadium knew where the ball was going."
2. Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison
"Few knew: The relationship was combustible at times. But defenders were the only ones getting burned."
3. Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry
4. Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin
"What was the Paula Abdul song—'Opposites Attract'? I suppose Irvin is a soaring MC Skat Kat in this analogy."
5. Dan Marino to the Marks Brothers (Duper and Clayton)
6. Steve Young to Jerry Rice
7. Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann
T-8. Kenny Stabler to Fred Biletnikoff
T-8. John Hadl to Lance Alworth
T-8. Joe Namath to Don Maynard
8 BEST PERSONALITY
1. Joe Namath
"Still the NFL's alltime alpha-male role model, he was the first football star to bridge the divide between America's love of sports and its obsession with celebrity."
2. Deion Sanders
3. Terrell Owens
4. Brett Favre
"I once walked into his home and saw him watching a nature channel. 'I never watch sports,' Favre said. 'Too many other things more interesting in the world.'"
5. John Madden
6. Chad Johnson
T-7. Ray Lewis
T-7. John Riggins
T-9. Clinton Portis
"It's not uncommon for players to have alter egos on Sundays, but Portis had them throughout the week and dressed the part for each of them: Coconut Jones, Bro Sweets, Coach Janky Spanky.... A writer's nirvana."
T-9. Al Davis
9 BEST BROADCASTER
1. Cris Collinsworth
2. John Madden
3. Al Michaels
"The next time you hear him unprepared will be the first. He can take a new partner and sound as if they've been working together for decades."
4. Howard Cosell
"Contentious, erudite and wildly divisive, he transformed Monday Night Football into a phenomenon while raising the level of discourse in the booth."
5. Pat Summerall
6. John Facenda
"NFL Films' basso profundo Voice of God is more closely associated with the league's rise to prominence than any announcer. The fact that he never called games is insignificant."
7. Curt Gowdy
8. Myron Cope
"He bled for the team, but he wouldn't lie for them. He told it like it was with the greatest, most grating radio voice ever."
9. Don Meredith
10. Dick Enberg
1 BEST SPECIAL TEAMS GUY
1. Devin Hester
"He's the goat-maker. Did you really just kick the ball to him?"
2. Adam Vinatieri
"The most clutch kicker in history won two Super Bowls with field goals on the final play from scrimmage and kicked the winner in the snow in the Tuck Rule game."
3. Steve Tasker
"His longtime coach in Buffalo, Bruce DeHaven, once gave me a tape of the most important plays in 10 different games from the Bills' glory years. Each was made by Tasker on special teams."
4. Ray Guy
T-5. Deion Sanders
T-5. Jan Stenerud
7. Billy (White Shoes) Johnson
8. Gale Sayers
"Nobody before or since has devastated a broken field like Sayers on a punt or kickoff return, leaving opponents scattered like pieces of litter on a windy street."
9. Morten Andersen
10. Bill Bates
You! SI opened the voting on five of the polls featured in Football's Greatest at SI.com/NFL and fielded input on Facebook, Google+, Instagram (@sportsillustrated) and Twitter (@SInow). Results reflect more than 87,000 responses over 10 days, but you can still get in the discussion at SI.com/mag
Don Banks, senior writer, SI.com; Adam Duerson, associate editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; Mark Godich, senior editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; Peter King, senior writer, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; Tim Layden, senior writer, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; Mark Mravic, assistant managing editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; Jim Trotter, senior writer, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED