For this writer, the 1990s was not just my coming-of-age decade, but as a sports fan, it was also the decade I first got into the NFL, a then-rarity for someone growing up in a country where basketball is almost akin to religion. And it was a good time to be a fan, with many interesting story threads in the NFL – the brash and controversial Dallas Cowboys' rise and fall, the Buffalo Bills' notorious inability to win a Super Bowl, even the free agency reforms that took place ahead of the 1993 season. Of course, there was no shortage of stars who made their names in the 1990s, though with the passing of time, we may not remember all of them. Younger fans, as well, might not even be aware of what they accomplished back in their NFL heyday.
To qualify for this list, players should have spent substantial, productive parts of their career in the 1990s, should still be living, should have made at least one Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, and should not yet be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sure, we may remember John Elway, Steve Young, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, and Michael Strahan, to name a few, but what about some of those other NFL stars from the '90s who don't get brought up as often as those guys? Let's take a look at how they're doing these days.
15 Jeff Blake
The 1990s Cincinnati Bengals may have been set back big-time by terrible draft picks such as the ineffective David Klingler and the oft-injured Ki-Jana Carter, but they got a big-time steal in 1994 when they acquired former 6th-round pick Jeff Blake from the Jets. Despite lacking traditional size, he was a good athlete and smart signal-caller with a penchant for the long ball, making the Pro Bowl in 1995 as he helped receivers Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott put up big numbers during their time in Cincinnati.
“Shake ’n’ Blake” essentially became a journeyman after leaving the Bengals, playing for five different teams in his final six seasons. Yet he had a career any 6th-round QB not named Tom Brady would be proud of. As of 2015, he was working on a training program designed to help athletes avoid the character issues that often come with sudden fame and fortune. His son, Emory, played wide receiver for the Auburn Tigers, and was last seen trying to crack the then-St. Louis Rams’ roster.
14 Isaac Bruce
As QB Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” and therefore rose from obscure minor-leaguer and onetime grocery bagger to bona fide NFL superstar, it’s easy to remember him. But what about the guys he connected with, such as Isaac Bruce? A second-rounder in 1994 out of Memphis, Bruce tallied 1,781 receiving yards and 13 TDs in just his second year in the league. And while injuries soon dulled his effectiveness, his team-up with Warner revitalized his career, as the Rams went on to bag Super Bowl XXXIV, with Warner and Bruce connecting for the game-winning touchdown.
With four Pro Bowl appearances, a place as one of the most prolific wide receivers of all-time, and a productive 16-year career, it might not be long before Bruce gets Hall of Fame consideration. As of 2015, he was based in the Fort Lauderdale area, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, runs a gym, and serves as a youth minister at his church.
13 Tony Boselli
He had it all — elite size, a decorated college career with USC, and just the right skills required to protect quarterback Mark Brunell as he found stardom with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. Tony Boselli lived up to his second-overall draft status and then some, standing out as one of the NFL’s best left tackles from 1995 to 2000, playing in five Pro Bowls and making three All-Pro first teams. Unfortunately, his NFL career was essentially done by the time he turned 30, as injuries prevented him from joining another expansion team — the Houston Texans — as their first pick in the 2002 expansion draft. Just think how good David Carr could have been had Boselli been healthy enough to keep him from getting sacked so often.
Like many a retired player, Boselli has been spending his post-NFL years doing color commentary for league games. He’s currently married with five children, and works for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ radio play-by-play team.
12 Mike Alstott
It's the NFL equivalent of explaining the old Nintendo Entertainment System to a modern-day gamer – there was a time when it was common for fullbacks to lead their team, or even the entire NFL, in rushing. And while Mike Alstott was no Jim Brown or John Riggins as a FB who could lead the league in rushing yards and/or TDs, he was among the last of a dying breed as he emerged as a star for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the mid- and late '90s. While he could indeed block like modern fullbacks are expected to, his main forte was power rushing, and he did that to the tune of six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro berths in an 11-year NFL career.
Now 44-years-old, Alstott remains based in the Florida area, coaching high school football, owning his share of businesses, and speaking about the dangers of painkiller abuse. His son Griffin is now a college freshman, playing quarterback at his dad’s alma mater of Purdue.
11 Steve Wisniewski
The WWE has The Miz, the NFL had The Wiz. Like his WWE “equivalent,” Steve Wisniewski was quite the heel for most of his NFL career, racking up fines like nobody’s business, while being a spiritual successor to the similarly dirty likes of Conrad Dobler. In a 13-year NFL career spent entirely with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, Wisniewski made the Pro Bowl eight times, and was named to the All-Pro first team twice as one of the best offensive guards of the 1990s.
About a decade after he retired from the NFL, Wisniewski returned to the Raiders as their offensive line coach for the 2011 season, but would last just one season before being relegated to “ambassador” status. As of earlier this decade, he remained based in California, volunteering at his local church. He also has a near-namesake nephew, Stefen Wisniewski, who also plays on the offensive line, and is currently starting at left guard for the Philadelphia Eagles.
10 Boomer Esiason
Indeed, “Boomer” sounds a heck of a lot better than plain old “Norm” for the NFL quarterback born Norman Julius Esiason. A second-round pick in the 1984 NFL draft, Esiason was quite the steal, boasting of good size, a booming (pun intended) left arm, and surprisingly good mobility as he made four Pro Bowls and was named NFL MVP for the 1988 season. And while he may be better remembered for his ‘80s heyday with the Cincinnati Bengals, Esiason continued playing well into the mid 1990s, also suiting up for the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals.
Always one of the smarter quarterbacks in the league, Esiason has been working as a football analyst since hanging up the cleats in 1997, and is arguably best-known these days for his work on CBS Sports’ The NFL Today. He’s also been a longtime advocate for cystic fibrosis research, ever since his now-adult son Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease in 1993.
9 Darren Woodson
While media mostly focused on the bad-boy antics of Michael Irvin, Nate Newton, Charles Haley, and the flashy lifestyles other high-profile Dallas Cowboys during their Super Bowl-winning run of the 1990s, Darren Woodson was getting things done in a relatively quiet fashion as a converted linebacker playing the defensive backfield. And boy, did he get things done, making five straight Pro Bowls from 1994 to 1998, and being named first team All-Pro from 1994 to 1996 as a strong safety. While a great tackler in his own right, he was similarly excellent in playing the pass, a rare kind of versatile safety who could do it all.
Woodson spent his entire 12-season NFL career with the Cowboys, and it might not be much longer before he gets enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He founded GuideHop, an online guided tour marketplace, in 2011, and like some others on this list, he continues contributing to the sport as a football analyst.
8 Ben Coates
As we’ve seen from the likes of Rob Gronkowski, it isn’t unusual for tight ends to thrive with the New England Patriots. But well before Gronk became a household name for the Patriots, and years before Tom Brady turned the fortunes of the franchise around forever, the Pats had a top-flight tight end in Ben Coates, who made five Pro Bowls from 1994 to 1998 and was a two-time first team All-Pro. With 96 passes caught in the 1994 season, he held the record for most passes caught by a tight end, holding the record for 10 years until Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2004.
Not much is known about Coates’ post-NFL career, but he was, as of 2011, working for Central State University’s college football program in Ohio. He was also inducted into his home state of South Carolina’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.
7 Bryce Paup
Playing in an era where the likes of Bruce and Neil Smith, Reggie White, and Derrick Thomas were among the most dominant defenders in the NFL, Bryce Paup often gets overlooked by modern-day fans. But he was an absolute beast of an outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills, winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league in sacks (17.5) in his first season with the Bills in 1995. He also played in four Pro Bowls in an 11-year NFL career. Not bad at all for the 159th pick in the 1990 draft out of Northern Iowa. (Yep, the same school that produced Kurt Warner, who was a freshman during Paup’s senior year.)
After about a decade coaching in the high school ranks, Paup began his collegiate coaching career in 2013, serving as his alma mater’s defensive line coach. Paup moved from Northern Iowa to Minnesota for the 2017 season, likewise coaching the Gophers’ D-line.
6 Harris Barton
Offensive linemen seldom get any love in hindsight, but that’s the reason we’ve included our share of OLs in this list, including Harris Barton, who protected two Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Joe Montana and Steve Young — during his 12-year NFL career, all of which was spent with the San Francisco 49ers. Like most of his fellow Niners offensive linemen, Barton didn’t have to be the biggest guy out there, instead relying on his smarts and quickness to prevent opposing defenses from getting to his quarterback. That led to one Pro Bowl appearance and two spots on the NFL’s All-Pro teams, not to mention three Super Bowl rings.
A top student while playing for the University of North Carolina, Barton has been making good use of his finance degree since leaving the NFL. Currently based in Palo Alto, California, this father-of-four now works as a fund manager for his eponymous firm, H. Barton Asset Management.
5 Neil Smith
At 6’4” and 260, with a 40-yard dash timed at 4.55 seconds, Neil Smith had the size, skill, and athleticism to send shivers down the spines of opposing quarterbacks. With the Kansas City Chiefs picking him 2nd-overall in 1988, he teamed up with the late Derrick Thomas to do just that — terrorize QBs to the tune of regular double-digit sack totals in the first half of the 1990s. While he wasn’t as effective in subsequent stints with the Broncos and the Chargers, Smith nonetheless ended his career with six Pro Bowl appearances, one first-team All-Pro berth, and three second-team All-Pros, while also leading the NFL in sacks (15.0) in 1993.
After retiring from the NFL, Smith co-owned the Arena Football League’s Kansas City Brigade from 2006 to 2008, He was also back in the news this summer, having rescued a pregnant woman whose car was stuck in flood waters in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
4 Herman Moore
Although the Detroit Lions have not made it past the wild card round since 1991, the allegedly “cursed” team has had its share of successful stretches, with strong lineups such as its 1990s teams featuring running back Barry Sanders and wide receivers such as Herman Moore. Despite playing with above-average-at-best QBs like Rodney Peete, Scott Mitchell, and Charlie Batch, Moore was one of the most prolific WRs of the 1990s, making four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro first teams, and also setting several Lions receiving records that were ultimately broken in the 2010s by Calvin Johnson.
In the years since his NFL career ended, Moore has made the most out of his pro football retirement. The former superstar wide receiver is active in business in his adopted hometown of Detroit, while also working in the software industry, running charitable organizations, and taking on public speaking gigs.
3 Garrison Hearst
Coming from the same school as Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst was picked 3rd in the 1993 NFL draft with huge expectations. While he didn’t become the franchise RB the moribund Phoenix Cardinals were hoping for, he was a late-bloomer of sorts, becoming a star for the San Francisco 49ers, where he made the Pro Bowl twice and earned second team All-Pro honors in 1998. Having had a successful career despite nagging injuries, Hearst was a two-time Pro Football Writer's Association Comeback Player of the Year. Unfortunately, he’s also remembered for the foul comments he made after defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo came out as gay.
Hearst, now 46, was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year, and remains a staunch supporter of his college alma mater. He’s married with four children, and is listed as a coach for the Department of Speed track and field team in the Georgia area.
2 Sean Landeta
Now you may be wondering why someone who’s on the NFL’s 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams can be listed as a “forgotten” player. But that’s how things are if you’re a kicker or punter — unless your field goal goes wide on such a big stage (like the Bills’ Scott Norwood at Super Bowl XXV), chances are you won’t be too remembered (as compared to more glamorous QBs, RBs, and WRs) in the years to come. Such is the case with Sean Landeta, who spent an amazing 23 years in pro football (including two years in the USFL), won two Super Bowls, and was a three-time first team All-Pro as the quintessential punter of multiple NFL generations.
Quite fittingly, Landeta officially retired in 2008, 25 years to the date of his USFL debut, and he remains to this day a regular at Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants functions. He remains involved in football, making appearances on CBS Radio and Fox TV, while waiting for what should be his inevitable induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1 Drew Bledsoe
You may be wondering why we're including the Wally Pipp of NFL quarterbacks in a list of forgotten NFL stars of the '90s. But since the guy who took his starting job, a certain Tom Brady, is still leading the Patriots to glory a good 17 years after he was picked 199th overall, we can't blame you if you forgot that Drew Bledsoe was a pretty good signal-caller before he was supplanted. That said, we probably should have expected a bit more from the 1st-overall pick of the 1993 NFL draft, but he deserves credit for those four Pro Bowls, and for transforming the Pats from running jokes to perennial contenders.
Although his career passer rating of 77.1 is lower than what you see these days from the likes of Trevor Siemian and Blake Bortles, we must repeat it – Bledsoe was a solid QB during his time, and is rightfully in the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. Since 2012, he's been employed as the offensive coordinator and QB coach of Summit High School in Bend, Oregon, while also running a winery in his home state of Washington.
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