One of the most common acronyms used by fans frustrated by the behavior of NFL fans is National Felons League. It's funny, and every time some subhuman moron decides to smack a woman, deal drugs as a side job, or murder someone, we lose track of the number of football players who are amazing people.
Don't laugh, it's true. Many pro athletes, football players especially, have deep ties to their communities and use their status and fortune to found or participate in community initiatives and charities. Obviously some of the NFL's notorious "good guys" such as Peyton Manning and J.J. Watt have charities, but even some of the players with less flawless reputations such as Ndamukong Suh and "Smokin'" Jay Cutler have started their own foundations.
However, if you were to look at what fans say on Twitter and Facebook, you'd never know that any football players were anything more than gun-toting, drug abusing sociopaths with vampire teeth and a taste for human blood. It would seem that the minority have sullied the reputation of the very decent and even praise-worthy majority.
To honor that minority of NFL players, here is our list of the All-time, All-criminal team. The goal here will be to build an all-star starting team (11 players on offense, 11 on defense, a kicker, a punter and two return men) of NFL players (from all eras) who have done horrible things, rather than just picking no-name guys who have done horrible things. We'll include dishonorable mentions where necessary.
Also, we'll be using a 3-4 defense. Why a 3-4 you might ask? Because it is superior to the 4-3 in today's league. Next question please. This is no longer debatable, but if you must, debate in the comments section, I don't care. Moving on.
17 Quarterback: Michael Vick
Dishonorable Mentions: Art Schlichter, Todd Marinovich and Ryan Leaf
There isn't really any alternative for quarterbacks. Warren Moon had some misdemeanors and Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault twice, but no convictions there, so Vick it is. Art Schichter, Todd Marinovich and Ryan Leaf also have notable criminal records, but are also terrible.
The four time Pro Bowl selection is the most successful rushing quarterback in the history of the NFL. He also has a cannon of an arm, albeit one that is not particularly accurate. He's still a pariah among many NFL fans and for some time, I too hated him. But he served his time and he grew up in a vastly different environment from mine. The penal system has dealt with him, he's made a huge effort to repair some of the wounds he's caused and I am firmly of the belief that he should be allowed to continue his career.
16 Running Back: O.J. Simpson
Dishonorable Mentions: Lawrence Phillips, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. O.J. is known by most for being a murderer but if you talk to those born after 1990, few know that he rushed for 2,003 yards in a 14 game season. "Juice" was of course acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife in the early 90', but would later be convicted for a robbery/kidnapping in Las Vegas for which he is currently in prison.
Lawrence Phillips would be Simpson's backup, and he has an equally interesting criminal history, but was pretty unremarkable as an NFL running back. Phillips was first convicted for driving a car into a group of people after an altercation over a pickup game and later received another conviction for nearly killing his girlfriend. More recently he has been in the spotlight again for allegedly murdering his cellmate in prison.
15 Fullback: Billy Cannon
Ever heard of Billy Cannon? He played fullback, halfback and tight end throughout his 11 year AFL/NFL career, but for our purposes, he's listed as a fullback. At 6'1 and 220 lbs, Cannon would be on the small side of fullbacks today, but it was a different game back then. In the 1960s, he played for the Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, winning three AFL Championships and being an All-Star three times.
After his football career, he fell into some debt and was eventually convicted in a massive counterfeiting scheme in which he printed millions of dollars in fake 100s. He served two and a half years in prison.
14 Wide Receiver: Plaxico Burress, Michael Irvin
Dishonorable Mentions: Ray Carruth and Donte Stallworth
I'll get the dishonorable mentions out of the way first. Ray Carruth is way worse than these two, as he had two accomplices murder his ex-girlfriend while she was pregnant with his unborn child. However, he's far less accomplished, so Plaxico Burress and Donte Stallworth would be my ideal starters for criminal wide receivers.
Donte Stallworth hit and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk a few years ago. He received a lifetime driver's licence suspension, a month in prison, community service and probation...for killing someone.
In the early and mid 2000s, Plaxico Burress was a very solid wide receiver, earning four 1,000+ yard seasons, an average of 870 yards per season between 2000 and 2008, and 55 touchdowns in that time, just over six per year. He was convicted of criminal ownership of a hand gun and was sentenced to two years after shooting himself in a night club.
Michael Irvin, who is now an analyst on NFL Network, was one of the best wide receivers of the 1990's, winning three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, playing in five Pro Bowls and catching for over 11,000 yards. He had a number of run-ins with the cops, including cocaine possession, sexual assault and other drug possession charges. He was never convicted, but was arrested enough times to make his way onto our list.
13 Tight End: Aaron Hernandez
Dishonorable Mentions: Jerramy Stevens
Jerramy Stevens played for the Seattle Seahawks in the 2000s and had a filthy record, which involved a sexual assault before he even entered the league. Charges were dropped, so maybe that doesn't count, but he also had a hit and run, multiple DUIs, a couple of assault-related arrests and had drugs found in his car during a traffic stop.
Really though, who else? Admittedly, Aaron Hernandez was overshadowed by Rob Gronkowski in his three years of pro football, but he was still pretty sharp. 175 catches over three seasons for a total of 1,956 yards is impressive and there is no doubt that if he wasn't a killer with poor judgment and stupid connections, he would have continued his success.
12 Offensive Line: Victor Riley(T), Nate Newton(G), Barrett Robbins(C), Bryant McKinnie(G/T), Chris Terry(T)
Dishonorable Mentions: Justin Strzelczyk, Cornell Green
I apologize, but if there is a weak point for this hypothetical team of law-breakers, it is the O-line.
Yes, I have Bryant McKinnie playing out of position, but he'd be fine if moved to guard full time. The 12 year veteran of three teams, the Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, was a Pro Bowl selection in 2009 and won the Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013. He's no monster but a criminal record is a criminal record. He brutalized a bouncer outside a club a few years ago and then resisted arrest.
Chris Terry played tackle for nine years in the NFL with the Panthers, Seahawks and Chiefs, starting a total of 88 games. He was caught dealing cocaine, while driving under the influence with a permit-less handgun in his car a couple of years after his retirement. Back in 2002, he beat his girlfriend while their children watched in horror.
Center Barrett Robbins played nine years with the Oakland Raiders with a single Pro Bowl and All-Pro season. In 2002, the Raiders won the AFC Championship but shortly before the Super Bowl, Robbins was nowhere to be found and actually ended up sitting the game, having had a breakdown (the result of bipolar disorder) and thinking that the Raiders had won the game. The team lost the Super Bowl. Years later. he was charged with attempted murder for fighting with police (who shot him three times, funny how that works) and in 2012 he was sentenced to five years in prison for crack cocaine possession.
Victor Riley's career took him to Kansas City, New Orleans and Houston, and he played from 1998 until 2005. He beat his wife and was charged in 2001 with aggravated assault and criminal damage to property for using his vehicle to repeatedly ram his wife and BABY DAUGHTER in another car.
Finally, the least problematic of my starting offensive linemen is also probably the finest athlete of the group. Nate Newton started his career in the USFL back in the mid 1980s before being signed to the Dallas Cowboys in 1986. He played thirteen seasons for the Cowboys, being named to six Pro Bowls and winning three Super Bowls. In 2001, after his retirement, he was caught with over 200 lbs of marijuana in his car after being pulled over for a traffic violation. Just a month later he was pulled over again and caught with 175 lbs of pot. He served two and a half years in prison and has turned his life around since, becoming a motivational speaker.
10 Defensive End: Mark Gastineau, Leonard Little
Dishonorable Mention: Dexter Manley, Greg Hardy, Ray MacDonald
I have four Pro Bowl defensive ends listed here, and Ray MacDonald, so you could say any hypothetical criminal team is deep at defensive end. MacDonald has been arrested a few times for beating women. Greg Hardy is essentially the same deal, having beaten his girlfriend last year. Dexter Manley was arrested several times, banned from the NFL for multiple failed drug tests and received multiple prison terms for drug related offenses.
Now on to my starters. Mark Gastineau is one of the most intimidating pass rushers of all time. The ten year New York Jet led the league in all-time sacks when he retired after the 1988 season and was a five time Pro Bowl selection. He had a couple of stints in prison because of drug issues and parole violations.
Leonard Little spent twelve years with the St Louis Rams, racking up a total of 87 sacks, was named a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2003 and won one Super Bowl. Back in 1998. he killed a woman while drunk driving, with a blood-alcohol content over twice the legal limit. Sadly, it was not his only DUI.
9 Tackle: Jim Dunaway
Dunaway's case is a tough one to make because he was never actually convicted of his crime. After getting dragged to the cleaners by his ex-wife in a divorce settlement, his wife was found drowned in a pool with a broken skull. He was never even indicted for the crime, but when his kids sued him in civil court for being responsible for her death, the four time AFL All-star was required to pay them over half a million dollars. At least Dunaway had the class not to write a book about his involvement in his wife's murder (That's an O.J. Simpson joke, for those who are new to football).
8 Outside Linebacker: Lawrence Taylor, Aldon Smith
Lawrence Taylor retired over a decade ago, but he's still the best outside linebacker the league has ever known. Unfortunately, like so many amazing football players, he had his demons. He was known as one of the most fearless in the league and went to ten Pro Bowls and had eight All-Pro seasons from 1981 to 1990. In his retirement, he's had up and down success in the business world, and has run into several problems with the law. He's had several hit and run charges and a few years ago, he pleaded guilty to having sex with a sixteen year old girl and paying her for it.
Aldon Smith is a great linebacker, but has had some trouble staying on the field. He's had multiple DU's, a hit and run, and he got belligerent with TSA agents and was involved in a minor "bomb scare" in early 2014. Finally, back in 2013 he was charged with three counts of illegally possessing assault weapons. The charges were reduced to misdemeanors, but I consider his overall rap sheet enough to earn him a spot on this list. On the field, he was an absolute stud for the San Francisco 49ers, winning PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year back in 2011 and NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. He missed too much time in 2013 and 2014 to have much of an impact.
7 Inside Linebacker: Ray Lewis, Bill Romanowski
Bill Romanowski was one of the dirtiest players ever to play the game. The guy was an absolute animal, winning four Super Bowls, racking up over 1,000 tackles over a career spanning a sixteen year career. He was implicated and admitted involvement in the BALCO steroid/HGH scandal back in the late 90s. He also ended tight end Marcus Williams' career after breaking his orbital bone.
Ray Lewis' stats and reputation speak for themselves. Slightly undersized (at 6'1 and about 240 lbs) he hit like a man far larger. He also had the charisma of a cult leader and took the Baltimore Ravens to Super Bowl victories in 2001 and 2013. After that first Super Bowl victory, Lewis and some of his friends got into a scrap outside a bar and killed two people. While he was originally going to be charged for the murder, his lawyers managed to get him a guilty plea for obstruction of justice, basically admitting to have misled the police during their investigation and testifying against his friends. His friends were also acquitted of charges.
6 Cornerback: Adam Jones, Darryl Henley
While he is a decent cornerback, I would also use "Pacman" Jones as a backup return man. He's been in the NFL since 2005 and has played for three different teams, achieving decent success at both positions. His record with the police, however, is very impressive. He's faced several assault and vandalism charges, along with drug charges and two incidents in which he allegedly beat up strippers.
Darryl Henley played five years in the NFL and was more than proficient at the cornerback position. He made about 250 tackles and had 12 picks over that period, playing for the L.A. Rams. He was found to have been trafficking cocaine in the 90s and tried to hire a hitman to kill the judge and prosecutor, which was discovered, putting him behind bars for 41 years.
5 Safety: Darren Sharper, Eugene Robinson
At safety, Darren Sharper is a recent addition to the list of NFL players convicted of horrible things. Playing from 1997 to 2010, he won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2010, and retired shortly thereafter. Throughout his 14 year career he made nearly 942 tackles, 63 interceptions, 11 of which were returned for touchdowns. He was an awesome safety, but like so many on this lineup, he had a demon. He committed a series of sexual assaults in the years following his retirement and has been handed lengthy sentences for these, some of which involved drugs.
Starting opposite Sharper is Eugene Robinson, a sixteen year veteran of the NFL who won a Super Bowl with the Packers back in 1996. Robinson accumulated up over 1,400 tackles and 57 picks in his career and was selected to three Pro Bowls and had two All-Pro years. His crime was soliciting a prostitute. This is by no means the worst thing for which anyone has made this lineup, but the circumstances make this something straight out of a sitcom. It was the night before Super Bowl XXXIII (in which he played terribly), and the day before, he was selected for the Bart Starr Award; basically the NFL's annual "good guy, upstanding citizen" award.
4 Special Teams
3 Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski
Polish kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been in the news as much for kicking footballs as he has for problems with the law. He's been with the Oakland Raiders since 2000 and holds a few NFL records, including most 60 yard kicks (2), longest field goal in overtime (57 yards) and of course, most 50 yarders in a game (3).
In terms of legal trouble, he was accused of bribing a police officer, has been arrested for numerous bar fights, was caught with date-rape drugs and was charged with false imprisonment and multiple assaults. He has been acquitted of just about everything but has had a couple of DUIs.
2 Punter: Russell Erxleben
Erxleben was drafted in the first round of the 1979 draft and played six seasons in the league in which he was a punter and kicker. His career was unremarkable, but after his retirement he found work in investments. He has been convicted of fraud twice and has spend over seven years in prison. Using a doubly skilled punter who can also kick, like Erxleben is a good idea in case Janikowski is going to miss time for getting arrested again...
1 Returners: "Mercury" Morris, Dave Meggett
The uncle of the Washington Redskins' current running back Alfred Morris is one of our two returners. Eugene "Mercury" Morris was a great return man/running back for the Miami Dolphins from 1969 to 1975 and then for a single year with the San Diego Chargers. He was selected to three Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls with the Dolphins. In 1982 he was convicted of trafficking cocaine, but was released from prison just three years later. His original sentence was twenty years.
Dave Meggett played ten years from 1989 to 1998, and was used everywhere on offense, rushing and receiving on top of returning kicks and punts. He went to two Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl XXV in 1991 while playing with the New York Giants. After retirement he was arrested for assaulting an escort and was later convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend. More recently in 2010, Meggett was convicted of other sex crimes and received a 30 year sentence.