In terms of North American sports, American football is the most popular and the most profitable of them all; and it is no wonder considering all the physical play involved and the traditional high level of scoring. The game of football has actually been played since the late 1860s, and since then, many rules have been added or changed to make the game better, but fundamentally, the game played today is the same as it was back then. Whether it is played at the high school, college, or professional levels, football is played on a rectangular field with two goal posts at the end, with an offense trying to score with the football and a defence trying to stop them; and all the positions for both sides are always the same.
Everyone says that defenses win championships, and usually that is true, but championship caliber teams are also made with a great quarterback, wide receiver, running back, or some combination of the three. A running back is an offensive player who plays by receiving handoffs from the quarterback and runs with the ball in a rushing play; they can also catch and block opposing players. Throughout the history of football, there have been hundreds of running backs of both white and African American descent that have had truly remarkable and noteworthy careers. Here is a list of the top 15 best white running backs of all time.
15 Paul Hornung
Paul Hornung is a Hall of Famer who played for the Green Bay Packers and went by the title “Golden Boy” when he played in the 1950s and 60s, he was also considered to be the most favorite player of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. In terms of rushing yards, Hornung had a career high 3,711 yards, which is not as high as other members on this list, but what truly makes him one of the best, is the fact that he was extremely versatile. He was able to score field goals, block, pass, and receive, which is why he was so important for the Packers in their four NFL championship wins and their one Super Bowl; he also led the league in scoring three straight years.
14 Doak Walker
In college football, The Doak Walker Award is awarded to the best running back, which means that it should not be a surprise that the man for which it is named after is included on this list. Doak Walker was known more for his college playing days, but he was also a very versatile player for the seven years he spent with the Detroit Lions. Walker’s professional numbers may not be anywhere near record setting, but he is still remembered for being a nightmare for defenses, a nightmare who was Rookie of the year, and who won multiple division titles and championships.
13 Merril Hoge
Merril Hoge can now be seen on ESPN as an analyst for the NFL, but before joining the analyst’s desk, Hoge had an eventful career as a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the 1988 season, Hoge played in only half the team’s games, but he still led the team in touchdowns and rushing yards. When the Steelers finally made the playoffs after five seasons, it was partially thanks to Hoge who, in the last game of the regular season, led the team with 90 rushing yards on 18 carries. He went on to play a critical role in the team’s postseason run, where his 100 rushing yards helped to upset the Houston Oilers; and in their loss the following week, he ran 120 yards on 16 carries, and scored a touchdown.
12 Bronko Nagurski
Like his teammate Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski was one of the first members inducted into the Hall of Fame, and it is no wonder considering he was one of the hardest hitters in the league when he played. It is said that in a game against the Washington Redskins, Nagurski carried a ball through two linebackers, a defensive halfback, and a safety for a scoring play, a play in which Nagurski allegedly ran so far that he smashed his head into the wall of the end zone which left a crack in a brick that still exists today. By the time his career was done, Nagurski won three NFL Championships, rushed for almost 2,800 yards and scored twenty-five touchdowns.
11 Steve Van Buren
Steve Van Buren played for the NFL during the 1940s, back when the Super Bowl did not even exist yet. The game of football has changed a lot since Buren’s era, but that does not undermine the fact that he is still one of the best to play the position. Buren played his entire career with the Philadelphia Eagles, and in that time he helped the team win two NFL championships, and he himself led the entire league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns four times. Overall in his career, he rushed for almost 6,000 yards and scored just under 70 touchdowns.
10 Mark Van Eeghen
Mark Van Eeghen spent nearly his entire NFL career with the Oakland Raiders with whom he won two Super Bowls with. The Raiders’ teams that Eeghen played for, possessed some very great players, which is why he is often overlooked in terms of being considered a great player himself. In three consecutive seasons, Eeghen ran for more than 1,000 yards, and he was the leading rusher for the Raiders when they won their second championship; he also held the franchise’ all-time rushing yards record for quite some time. In all, Eeghen ran for over 6,000 yards in his career, and scored nearly forty touchdowns.
9 Frank Gifford
In terms of pure rushing, Frank Gifford’s numbers are quite grandiose when compared to other running backs on this list, which is why he can easily be considered one of the best of all time. Gifford, for his time, was a beast on offence where he served as a triple threat; he could play running back, wide receiver and defensive back, and he is one of the only players to ever be made a Pro Bowler at three different positions. By the time his career was done, Gifford had well over 10,000 yards in rushing, passing, receiving and returning, and he scored over 90 touchdowns.
8 Red Grange
Red Grange played professional football in the 1920s and 30s, and before joining the NFL, he was considered to be the best college football player ever. In his career, Grange rushed for under 600 yards, which is very low in comparison to other running backs who get included in conversations about the best ever, but for the era in which he played in, Grange’s numbers are very impressive. He scored over thirty touchdowns in his career, and was referred to as “The Galloping Ghost” based on his impactful plays with the Chicago Bears, plays which helped to lead the team to back-to-back NFL Championships. Grange’s career was so memorable, that he was one of the inaugural inductees of the Hall of Fame.
7 Rocky Bleier
Before even joining the NFL, Rocky Bleier, served overseas during the Vietnam War, where a piece of shrapnel entered his leg after a grenade exploded close to him. That injury though, did not stop him from entering the NFL, and winning four Super Bowls as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to Pittsburgh’s legendary “Steel Curtain”, Bleier was able to shine, helping to lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl win with 1,000 yards and five touchdowns one year, and then when he scored a famous 31 yard touchdown run against the Dallas Cowboys to help secure another title. When his playing career was done, Bleier had scored over twenty touchdowns, and rushed for almost 4,000 yards,
6 Tom Rathman
Tom Rathman’s best years came when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, but because he played with legends like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brent Jones, and Jerry Rice, he does not get the recognition he deserves. In his career, Rathman ran for over 2,000 yards with twenty-six touchdowns scored on the ground. He was also very important for the 49ers during their back-to-back championship seasons, where one year he caught the most passes on the team second only to Jerry Rice, and when he scored two pivotal touchdowns in a win against the Broncos in the playoffs.
5 Ed Podolak
Ed Podolak was a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, and it was with them that he spent his entire NFL career with. Podolak missed his first year with the team due to injury, but come year two when he was healthy, he became an integral part of the team, For two straight seasons, he was responsible for some of the best performances by a running back in playoff history, where he ran for 84 yards, caught eight passes for 110 yards and 154 returned, and scored two touchdowns. By the time his career was over, Podolak ran for over 4,000 yards and scored more than thirty touchdowns on the ground.
4 Mike Alstott
Mike Alstott played his entire eleven year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in that time, he scored almost 60 touchdowns and ran for just over 5,000 yards. In his rookie season, he led the team with 65 receptions, and he would also go on to lead the Buccaneers in rushing touchdowns for five seasons. Throughout his career, Alstott was one of the best players at his position becoming a six-time Pro Bowler in the process; and he also greatly improved Tampa Bay’s passing game, as he was a key contributor to the team’s Super Bowl win in 2003.
3 Jim Taylor
Hall of Famer Jim Taylor played from the late 1950s through to the mid 1960s, and for nearly his entire career, he was a member of the Green Bay Packers. Taylor ran for 1,000 or more yards in five different seasons, led the team in rushing seven times, and led the entire league once. He is still the Packers second all-time leading rusher, and his skills allowed him to help the team win four NFL Championships as well as the first ever Super Bowl. At the end of his playing career, Taylor had over 8,000 rushing yards with over 90 touchdowns scored.
2 Larry Csonka
Larry Csonka is a Hall of Famer who spent most of his career playing for the Miami Dolphins, the team with which he also had the most success with. Csonka became the dangerous player that he was known for after the Dolphins made Don Schula the head coach. It was under Schula, that Csonka was able to thrive, as he was able to lead the team with over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. As a member of the 70s Dolphins, Csonka was a part of one of the most dominant teams in history, and he was very helpful in the team’s two Super Bowl wins; especially in their second win where he set a record by having 145 yards on 33 carries with two touchdowns. When Csonka’s career ended, he had amassed over 8,000 rushing yards with nearly 70 touchdowns.
1 John Riggins
John Riggins started his career playing for the New York Jets, but it was with the Washington Redskins that he spent the most time with, and with whom he had the most success. While with the Jets he ran for over 1,000 yards twice, but his career really soared after joining the Redskins. Riggins was one of the main reasons why Washington wad so successful in the late 1970s, especially in their Super Bowl winning season, where he ran for over 100 yards in four straight games including the championship game; he was even named the MVP of that year’s Super Bowl. By the end of his career, Riggins had scored 116 touchdowns, and was among the highest rushing leaders in NFL history with over 11,000 yards.