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Top Ten All-Time NFL Players

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

By Mike Toth

It's the easiest and most cliche way to bang out a blog.


But it's still one of the most fun column concepts and it helped make David Letterman a very rich man.


Yes, everybody loves lists and with that in mind, check out my top ten list of all-time greatest NFL players.


One of the best things about these sorts of lists?


They're personal and very subjective. So, take a peek at my perfect ten and compare it to your own rankings.


Let the good times (and the good natured disagreements) begin!


10 - Otto Graham


Believe it or not, the Cleveland Browns once had the best quarterback in football. Forget the tire fires ignited by the likes of Tim Couch, Johnny Manziel and Baker Mayfield - Otto Graham was an absolute stud. He played for the Browns in the 1940's and 50's, going to the championship game in each and every season of his ten year career. Graham ended up with seven rings - one more than even Tom Brady has accumulated.


9 - Mean Joe Greene


I admit it. His nickname has something to do with appearing on this list. Jolly Joe Greene, for instance, just doesn't quite have the same intimidating ring to it. But awesome monniker aside, Mean Joe was also an awesome player. The lynchpin of the famous "Steel Curtain" defence, Greene was a crucial piece to a Pittsburgh dynasty that captured four Super Bowls in the 70's.


8 - Johnny Unitas


With the best crew-cut in football history, the original Johnny Football looked like a quarterback straight out of central casting. He was the poster boy for a long line of Pennsylvania quarterbacks (Namath, Montana, Marino, etc.) who grew up tough as steel and played in an era when QB's weren't as protected by the rules from blood-thirsty defensive linemen. Unitas lasted 18 years in pro football, most of them with his beloved Baltimore Colts, and is a bonafide gridiron legend.


7 - Lawrence Taylor


It's a long ride from Johnny U to L.T. Unitas wore a crew-cut; Taylor wore a big honking earring. He was also beset by a number of off-the-field demons. But on the field? Taylor was a beast. A linebacker who could out-athlete the supposed superior athletes on offence, Taylor reinvented the way the LB position is played and led the New York Giants to Super Bowl triumphs in 1987 and 1991.


6 - Dick Butkus


Again, like Mean Joe Greene, I have to admit that I'm influenced by the name. I mean, if we were talking about Dick Smith, no matter how good the guy might be, it just wouldn't be the same. But let's get real. Has there ever been a better football name than "Butkus"? For crying out loud, Butkus was the name of Sylvester Stallone's dog in the first few "Rocky" films. And, like Rocky, Dick Butkus was one tough dude. Unfortunately, his Chicago Bears teams of the 60's and 70's were pretty lame, but Butkus was one of the most feared linebackers in NFL history. "I enjoyed knocking the ____ out of people," Butkus is fond of saying. And even at the age of 77, he looks as if he could still take a running back's head off.


5 - Walter Payton


Not all Bears are nasty. Say hello to "Sweetness". That's what they called Walter Payton and to understand why, all you have to do is check out his highlights on those old "NFL Films" documentaries. Payton was poetry in motion carrying the football. But "Sweetness" was forged in sweat.  Each and every morning Payton would run a steep hill near his Chicago suburb home, strengthening his steel-like thighs that made him so tough to tackle. That piece of human torture was dubbed "Payton's Hill" and was one of the building blocks in creating a true NFL legend.


4 - Jim Brown


Jim Thorpe is often called "The World's Greatest Athlete". But another Jim is also part of that discussion. In addition to his pigskin prowess, Jim Brown was also one of the best lacrosse players on the planet - a tremendous two-sport star at Syracuse University. Moving on to the Cleveland Browns, (how perfect was that?) Brown became one of the most punishing running backs in the game. Proving again that he was a man of many talents, Brown only stuck around for nine star-studded NFL seasons before heading to Hollywood. He had a very successful film career which included a big role in my favorite all-time war movie, "The Dirty Dozen". Check out the scene where Brown hand grenades the Nazis and you'll get an idea of his world class speed and athletic ability.


3 - Jerry Rice


While everybody knew about Jim Brown's exploits at Syracuse University, Jerry Rice went to school at Mississippi Valley State - a tiny program way off the NFL scouting map. One night, however, San Francisco 49'ers coach Bill Walsh was holed up in his hotel room killing time before a pre-season tilt against the old Houston Oilers. A local cable TV channel happened to be showing one of Rice's college games and Walsh's eyes lit up. He was soon diagramming a bunch of potential plays for Rice on a cocktail napkin - plays that Rice would eventually run to perfection on his way to becoming the NFL's greatest receiver.



2 - Joe Montana


The guy tossing the football to Rice during those great seasons in San Francisco? Joe Cool - the perfect description for the master of precision passing. Unlike Rice, Montana suited up for one of the most iconic programs in college football. But it wasn't completely rosy at Notre Dame. Fighting Irish coach Dan Devine didn't always see eye-to-eye with Montana and shocked a lot of people by benching him on more than one occasion. Montana, however, was perfect for Walsh's famous West Coast offence and has four sparkling Super Bowl rings to prove it.


1 - Tom Brady


Like Montana, Brady won't finish his career in one place. Montana played his final two seasons in Kansas City and while he didn't win another title, he certainly didn't embarrass himself. Meanwhile, after capturing an incredible six Super Bowls in New England, Brady's post-Patriots life is off to a pretty encouraging start in Tampa Bay. Sure, it might take him a few years to add to his ring collection. But the guy will probably play until he's 50, which means I'll probably hang up my blogger's pen before Brady hangs up his quarterback cleats.


So, there you have it.

My top ten NFL list.


Give it the old once-over and see how it measures up to your own rankings.


Have fun!



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