Great Football Players

Mike Ditka
A young Mike Ditka in the days before
becoming a living football legend.
See more pictures of football.

While thousands of men have suited up, only a relative few can be considered truly great football players. They're the men whose names and athletic accomplishments have or surely will survive the test of time.

The links throughout this article will take you to profiles of many of the great football players and coaches the game has known. You'll find freeze-framed looks at the men who not only made football America's most popular sport, but also its passion.

Included are stories of the game's pioneers, such as Amos Alonzo Stagg, Jim Thorpe, and Red Grange. Grange, known as the "Galloping Ghost," epitomized football during the "Golden Age of Sports" -- the 1920s.

The decision of this electrifying runner from the University of Illinois to turn pro with the Chicago Bears in 1925 was headline news and drew the first pro football sellout to Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Others who followed, such as Bronko Nagurski, kept the romance of the game alive during the Great Depression. His very name inspires images of the bruising style of 1930s football. He was so tough that when one coach was asked how he planned to stop him, he merely shrugged and said, "With a shotgun as he's leaving the locker room."

As the game matured, great passers emerged. It's no exaggeration to say that Sammy Baugh was a major factor in turning football from the grind-it-out days of old into the exciting, air-it-out modern game.

While "Slinging Sammy" was putting the ball up, there may never have been a better receiver pulling them down than Green Bay's Don Hutson. His 488 career receptions were 200 more than anyone else had to that point.

Names such as Joe Schmidt, Dick Butkus, Gino Marchetti, and Ray Nitschke -- football tough guys of the 1950s and 1960s -- are all here. Their "impact" on the game was felt by every ball carrier who ever faced them on the field. They were the game's intimidators.

Joe Schmidt
Detroit's Joe Schmidt was one of
the best linebackers in the
history of football.

There are other players who, in addition to their on-the-field greatness, were synonymous with an era or event. Such a man was Joe Namath. Broadway Joe's "guarantee" boast of victory before Super Bowl III can only be compared to Knute Rockne's "win one for the Gipper" when you talk about impact statements in football lore.

Namath talked the talk, but he more than walked the walk. Namath, the first pro to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season, was more than the New York Jets' star; he was the American Football League's hope.

Other AFL stars such as the Kansas City Chiefs' Willie Lanier, Buck Buchanan, and Len Dawson are also remembered in this article.

Success, as most people realize, can't be measured in win-loss columns or official game statistics alone. There are the intangibles -- those things that so often separate the near-great from the truly great.

Johnny Unitas's rise from the sandlots of semi-pro football to superstardom, the accidental discovery of Deacon Jones by a pro scout, and Don Maynard's second-chance career with a new league are a few examples of un­usual circumstances that affected the careers of some of these great players.

Not forgotten in this book are the special relationships between teammates. Would Deacon Jones have been as effective rushing the quarterback if teammate Merlin Olsen hadn't tied up the middle? Would Joe Montana have racked up his passing records had Jerry Rice not been so reliable?

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Important, too, are the stories that show that even men like Vince Lombardi, a true legend, were not perfect. In a moment of self-criticism, Lombardi once reflected on his near-mishandling of all-time great Herb Adderley. "I was too stubborn to switch him to defense until I had to," he said. "Now when I think of what Adderley means to our defense, it scares me to think of how I almost mishandled him."

Take a look at these articles for an exciting peek into the pageantry of autumn, a salute to America's greatest warriors -- the men of football. And for an even more in-depth listing of these football legends, continue to the next page to learn about the greatest offensive players ever.



Joe Namath
Quarterback Joe Namath was
inducted into the Pro Football
Hall of Fame in 1985.

In football, there's no substitute for great offensive players who can tear apart a defense. Players like Red Grange and Clarke Hinkle did just that. These pioneers blazed the trail in the 1920s and '30s by driving their respective offensive attacks with precision and a passion for the game.

A few decades later, it was the famous footwork of Hugh McElhenny and rushing sensation Steve Van Buren that led football to become America’s favorite sport (the smash-and-tackle game surpassed baseball as America's favorite for the first time in 1972).

To learn more about these offensive football greats, check out the links below. You'll find all of the legendary players who helped define their respective positions, from wide receiver Lance Alworth to quarterback Joe Montana to tight end Kellen Winslow.

Lance Alworth Sammy Baugh Chuck Bednarik Raymond Berry
Terry Bradshaw Jim Brown Roosevelt Brown Earl Campbell
Len DawsonEric DickersonMike DitkaTony Dorsett
Turk EdwardsTom FearsDan FoutsOtto Graham
Red GrangeForrest GreggJohn HannahFranco Harris
Mel HeinClarke HinkleElroy HirschCal Hubbard
Don HutsonSonny JurgensenSteve Largent Dante Lavelli
Sid LuckmanJohn MackeyDan MarinoDon Maynard
Hugh McElhennyJoe MontanaMarion MotleyAnthony Munoz
Bronko Nagurski Joe NamathErnie NeversLeo Nomellini
Jim ParkerWalter PaytonJerry RiceBarry Sanders
Gale Sayers O. J. SimpsonEmmitt SmithRoger Staubach
Jim TaylorJim ThorpeY. A. TittleJohnny Unitas
Gene UpshawNorm Van BrocklinSteve Van BurenDoak Walker
Paul WarfieldBob WaterfieldKellen WinslowRod Woodson

Continue on to the next page to find out about some of the greatest defensive players of all time.



football player
Publications International, Ltd.
Dick Butkus bulldozed through any offensive line as one of the
greatest middle linebackers in the history of football.

While a football team's offense might score all the points, it's the defense that keeps the opponent at a standstill. Great defensive football players like Dick "Night Train" Lane and Bruce Smith were among those who excelled at keeping an offense on its heels.

Great defensive football players such as Turk Edwards suited up in the 1920s and '30s, a time when earning a dollar was harder than making a sack. As great as players like Edwards were, they played in an era when they earned just a few hundred dollars per game.

In the 1970s, football skyrocketed in popularity. It was a decade defined in part by great defensive players like middle linebacker Willie Lanier and safety Ken Houston.

Today, the list of all time great football defenders continues to grow, but the Joe Schmidts and Dick Butkus' remain at the heart of the game's history.

Herb Adderley
Doug Atkins
Chuck Bednarik
Bobby Bell
Mel Blount
Buck Buchanan
Dick Butkus
Jack Christiansen
Willie Davis
Mike Ditka
Turk Edwards
Len Ford
Dan Fortmann
Bill George
Red Grange
Joe Greene
Jack Ham
Mike Haynes
Ted Hendricks
Clarke Hinkle
Ken Houston
Cal Hubbard
Deacon Jones
Jack Lambert
Dick Lane
Willie Lanier
Bob Lilly
Ronnie Lott
Gino Marchetti
Bronko NagurskiRay Nitschke Leo Nomellini
Merlin Olsen Alan Page Jim Parker Joe Schmidt
Bruce Smith Lawrence Taylor Emlen Tunnell Reggie White
Bill Willis Larry Wilson Rod Woodson

Football will always have outstanding players, but making them great requires a coach's touch. Continue to the next page for a look at great football coaches.



Publications International, Ltd.
Vince Lombardi went straight into coaching after playing as a
guard for Fordham University. He was named to the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

Football coaches like Pop Warner and Knute Rockne so influenced the game of football that their names practically became synonymous with the sport itself -- Pop Warner became Pop Warner football, the nation's largest youth football organization, and Knute Rockne is honored in the College Football Hall of Fame as "American football's most-renowned coach."

Brooklyn-born Vince Lombardi turned the Green Bay Packers from their lowest point in history to their pinnacle decade, churning out NFL championship titles in 1961 and 1962, and took the once-struggling Packers to the first two Super Bowl games ever played.

These coaches and others -- such as the memorable Don Shula and Paul Brown -- would make and break the game of football during their time on the sidelines. Check out the links below to learn more about these legendary coaches and how they changed the face of football for all time.

Paul Brown Bear Bryant
­Jack Christiansen
­Mike Ditka
George Halas
Tom Landry
Vince Lombardi
Eddie Robinson
Knute Rockne
Don Shula
Amos Alonzo Stagg
Bill Walsh
Pop Warner