Undoubtedly the most popular sport in the United States, the NFL is a constant source of great entertainment every week during the fall and winter for millions of Americans. The unmatched kinetic joy that comes from watching football is second to none for many rabid sports fans. In addition to being the most watched sport in the country, the NFL is also one of the most divisive among its many fans. Debates and arguments fly more frequently than penalty flags for pass interference. Casual viewers might not fully experience or understand the passion and dedication that leads to many of the aforementioned debates and arguments among die-hard fans, but f0r many superfans, arguing over topics such as team vs. team to player vs. player comes naturally.
For many super fans, stats get tossed around just as much as the pork rinds and beer that accompany the viewing of many of these Gridiron Classics. Battles get waged multiple days a week over a 17 week period, and a champion is crowned every February in the Super Bowl, but for many fans the arguments over who is best never end. For fans of certain franchises, they never get to experience the sheer, unadulterated joy of having their team celebrate a Super Bowl victory. In addition to fervently rooting for their team to succeed, fans also get behind certain players and root for their success. All too often in the NFL, a player’s ultimate legacy is inextricably tied to whether or not that player has won a Super Bowl Ring. Certain commentators and pundits won’t even consider an individual player as an all-time great unless he possesses this coveted, mystical ring. The following list will clearly demonstrate that this is a ridiculous, flawed mindset, as every single one of the following players listed is an all-time great and Legend of the Field.
20. Warren Moon – QB
Warren Moon had many ups and downs over the course of his NFL career before finally being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2006. Impressively, he led his team to three consecutive Grey Cups ( winning two more as a backup) — the Canadian Football League equivalent of the Super Bowl — before landing in Houston and putting up monster numbers. Despite racking up just short of 300 career TD passes and nearly 50,000 passing yards over a 17-year NFL career, the best Moon could do in the playoffs was making it to the Division Round three times, with one of those games being The Comeback, where Buffalo came from behind 32 points to win.
19. Champ Bailey – CB
Few cornerbacks earn the respect and praise that Champ Bailey earned over the course of his 15 year career. Elected to 12 Pro Bowls and three times elected as a First-Team All Pro, Bailey collected a more than respectable 52 interceptions over the entirety of his career, with his best season including an astounding 10 interceptions during the 2006 season. After making the Conference Championship with Denver in 2005, Bailey finally played for a Ring in 2013, but unfortunately Denver was trounced handily by the Seahawks. Despite this, Champ Bailey, for many, is a sure-fire lock for the Hall in a few years.
18. Junior Seau – LB
While the end of Junior Seau’s life will undoubtedly be remembered most, it’s important we discuss how great this 2015 Hall of Famer truly was. Over the course of his 268 game career, Junior Seau racked up an impressive 56.5 sacks and 1,522 solo tackles, and is famous for being a member of the legendary 2007 New England Patriots team that went undefeated in the regular season before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Despite that, he was elected to 12 Pro Bowls and was six times First-Team All-Pro.
17. Earl Campbell – RB
The Tyler Rose is known by many as the hardest hitting running back to ever play in the league and he had arguably the best first three years an NFL RB has ever had, amassing an impressive 5,081 yards and 45 touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive is the 1,043 carries over those first three years. That number over three years is unheard of in the modern NFL and the hits eventually took their toll on the Hall of Famer and he never equaled the success of his first few years. He retired in 1985 after a eight-year career after having reached the NFL Conference Championship twice, losing both times to the legendary Pittsburgh Steel Curtain.
16. Derrick Thomas – LB
The definitive linebacker of the 1990s was without a doubt DT. Over an amazing 11 year career, Thomas amassed 126.5 sacks and 601 solo tackles. His impressive stats earned him nine Pro Bowl appearances and two First-Team All-Pro honors. Unfortunately, he died way too soon in 2000 from the effects of an automobile injury at the age of 33. However, the Hall of Famer will forever be known as one of the best players to never win a Super Bowl, coming closest in the 1993-94 season when his Chiefs lost to the Bills in the Conference Championship.
15. Cris Carter – WR
One of the most durable and consistent wide receivers in NFL history, this Hall of Famer played 16 seasons and had his biggest success with the Minnesota Vikings. Carter retired with an impressive 130 career touchdown receptions and 1,101 catches, having earned eight Pro Bowl nods and two First-Team All-Pro honors. Cris Carter’s best shot to win a Super Bowl was with the 1998 Vikings team, the potent offensive juggernaut including Randy Moss and Randall Cunningham that finished the regular season 15-1. Unfortunately they were upset by the Atlanta Falcons in that year’s NFC Championship Game.
14. Jim Kelly – QB
Jim Kelly is one of the most noteworthy QBs to ever play in the NFL. Gritty, resilient and clutch, he finished his 11 year Hall of Fame career with 237 TD Passes and just north of 35,000 career passing yards. During his time with the Buffalo Bills, Kelly was five times elected to the Pro Bowl and was a First-Team All-Pro once. Unfortunately for Kelly, he is most remembered for his talented and scrappy Buffalo Bills teams that made — and lost — an NFL record four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1993.
13. Andre Reed – WR
Jim Kelly’s Buffalo teammate for many years, Andre Reed cemented his legacy over his 16 season Hall of Fame career as one of the league’s most durable and hard working widerReceivers. Over the course of his career, Andre Reed was elected to seven Pro Bowls and had his best season in 1991, finishing with 10 touchdown receptions and over 1,100 yards. He finished his career in 2000 with 951 catches and 87 TDs. Much like Jim Kelly, he is most associated with being on the Buffalo teams that lost four consecutive Super Bowls.
12. Gale Sayers – RB
In the NFL, very few players go the entirety of their careers without making the postseason. Unfortunately for him, Gale Sayers was one such player. Known as The Kansas Comet, Sayers garnered nearly 5,000 yards and 39 TDs over his relatively short seven year career for the Bears. Perhaps most impressive is the 5.0 yards per attempt that Sayers earned. Despite not making the playoffs, Sayers is known as one of the best runners to ever grace the league, having been elected to four Pro Bowls and being named First-Team All-Pro five times.
11. Tim Brown – WR
Few wide receivers have as storied a career as this Notre Dame standout. Tim Brown played 17 seasons in his Hall of Fame career, accumulating just shy of 1,100 receptions, over 14,000 receiving yards and exactly 100 touchdowns. In addition to being a talented wideout, Brown was also a KR/PR threat and made the Pro Bowl nine times. He played for the talented 2002 Oakland Raiders team that made their way to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Brown and the Raiders, they were hammered 48-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
10. Dick Butkus – LB
Dick Butkus, much like his Hall of Fame Bears teammate Gale Sayers, never made the postseason over his celebrated nine year career. Known for being one of the meanest, toughest and feared players to ever step on the field, Butkus finished his Hall of Fame career with 22 interceptions and an untold number of sacks, as the NFL did not record sack statistics until 1982. Despite this, Dick Butkus made eight Pro Bowls and was a five-time First Team All Pro. Even though he never made the Big Game, Butkus will go down as one of the more respected players to ever play.
9. Merlin Olsen – DT
One of the biggest, baddest players in NFL history, Merlin Olsen played in an era before sacks were recorded. Who knows how many sacks he and his legendary Rams teammate (more on him later) Deacon Jones would’ve amassed over their careers had their sacks been recorded. Over his 15 season Hall of Fame career, Olsen made an NFL record 14 Pro Bowls and was a five-time First-Team All-Pro. In fact, Olsen was so dominant that he made the Pro Bowl in every one of his seasons except his final one. Olsen made the Conference Championship game several times but never played in a Super Bowl.
8. Eric Dickerson – RB
Most known for his amazing exploits as a Los Angeles Ram, Eric Dickerson is without a doubt one of the most athletic, graceful backs to ever play the game. In 1984, Eric Dickerson rushed for an astronomical 2,105 yards, the single most rushing yards in a season in NFL history. Over his 11 season Hall of Fame career, Dickerson ran for 13,259 yards and 90 career touchdowns. The farthest Dickerson made in the NFL Playoffs was the 1985 Conference Championship, ultimately losing to one of the greatest NFL teams ever, the 1985 Chicago Bears.
7. Tony Gonzalez – TE
Many people consider Tony Gonzalez the finest, most accomplished tight end to ever play in the NFL and as a sure-fire lock to make the Hall of Fame. Over the course of his 17 year career, he made the Pro Bowl an NFL record 14 times and was six times named First-Team All-Pro. He finished his dynamic career with 1,325 receptions and 111 TD receptions, which are both NFL records for tight ends. In 2012 with the Falcons, Gonzalez made the NFC Conference Championship, but Atlanta fell 28-24 to the 49ers.
6. Randy Moss – WR
Many pundits and fans of the NFL recognize Randy Moss as one of the most physically gifted and naturally talented wide receivers to ever play in the NFL. Over the course of his 218 game career, Moss compiled an astounding 156 touchdown receptions and 982 catches. His most dominant year was 2007 when he, while a member of the undefeated New England Patriots team, had an NFL single season record 23 TD receptions. Despite these amazing numbers, he and the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants. But Moss remains an all time great with six Pro Bowl selections and four First-Team All-Pro distinctions.
5. Anthony Munoz – T
Anthony Munoz is considered by many to be one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time. He played 13 seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl an impressive 11 times, an NFL record among offensive linemen. Munoz was a physical force to be reckoned with as a nine-time First Team All Pro. Munoz routinely shut down the greatest defensive players he faced head-to-head and made the Super Bowl two times, in 1981-82 and 1988-89. Unfortunately for Munoz, his Bengals teams lost both games to Joe Montana’s 49ers in closely combated contests.
4. Bruce Smith – DE
If it wasn’t for the greatness of Deacon Jones, Bruce Smith would without a doubt be known as the greatest, most dominant defensive end who ever played in the NFL. Over Smith’s 19 season legendary career, he racked up a ridiculous 200 sacks and 1,075 solo tackles. Smith was also consistently great, having 13 seasons with 10 or more sacks. Smith made the Pro Bowl 11 times and was an All-Pro First-Team player eight times during his memorable Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately for Smith, he lost in an NFL record four straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills.
3. Deacon Jones – DE
Deacon Jones is considered by many football fans and players to be the most feared defensive player in NFL history and many critics and writers consider him the greatest defensive end ever. So good he was nicknamed The Secretary of Defense, Jones played in a time before the NFL recorded sacks. Unofficially, he had a 26 sack season and three back-to-back-to-back 20 sack seasons. Despite his awe-inspiring defensive prowess, Deacon Jones never achieved any playoff success and retired without a ring. He made eight Pro Bowls and was five times named First-Team All-Pro over his 14 season career.
2. Dan Marino – QB
Few quarterbacks have done more over their careers than Dan Marino. Over a dynamic 17 season Hall of Fame career, Marino made nine Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro three times. For many years, Marino held the NFL single season records for most TD passes and passing yards. He finished his career with monster numbers — 4,967 completions, 61,361 passing yards, 420 TD passes and a 59.4% completion percentage. Marino’s best NFL postseason was in 1984 when the Dolphins made the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, San Francisco contained Marino and Miami and won 38-16.
1. Barry Sanders – RB
To tons of people, Barry Sanders was the greatest running back to ever grace the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl every single one of his 10 seasons and was a six-time First Team All Pro. Part of Sanders mystique is that he retired after 10 seasons when many considered him to still be a top-notch, productive player. In only 10 seasons, Sanders collected 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns on only 3,062 attempts. Basically, Sanders averaged 5 yards every time he ran and averaged about 100 yards every single game. Even the greatest runner who ever played in the NFL couldn’t make the Super Bowl, losing in the Conference Championship in 1991 against Washington.
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