The 10 Most Intimidating Linebackers in NFL History
A linebacker is like an animal. He's like a lion or a tiger and he goes after prey. He wants to eat him, he wants to kick the s--- out of him. That's a linebacker,"
This Chuck Bednarik excerpt from ESPN's SportsCentury series perfectly encapsulates the aura of intimidation that linebackers strive for.
Skill is inherently the most important part of football, but intimidation is something completely its own.
You can be a great player without being feared, but you cannot be feared without being great.
This delicate imbalance defines the following 10 men.
They found a way to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents because of both their downright nastiness and their ability to stand out amongst their peers.
These are the 10 most intimidating linebackers of all time.
10. Jack Ham
Jack Ham is one of the most intimidating linebackers in NFL history and yet he was not even the most feared player in his own linebacking unit, but more on that later.
For now let's focus on the man selected to eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams.
Jack Ham was a member of the famed "Steel Curtain" defense and his ability to dissect an offense and always be in the right position has allowed his level of play to stand the test of time.
The Steelers were loaded in the '70s and Ham was a pivotal piece to the puzzle.
9. Ray Nitschke
The entire Green Bay Packers roster was intimidating in the 1960s and Ray Nitschke was no exception.
One of the most ferocious and downright scary linebackers to ever play the game, Nitschke was an imposing force at 6'3", 225 lbs.
He was a catalyst for five Packers championships, including the first two Super Bowls.
For an example of his sheer strength and toughness, enjoy this excerpt from Wikipedia:
Once, the bleachers on the Packers practice field collapsed on top of Nitschke. Lombardi ran over to see what had happened, but when told it had fallen on Nitschke, said, "He'll be fine. Get back to work!" According to Nitschke's biography, a spike was driven into his helmet, but didn't injure him. The helmet (with the hole) is currently on display in the Packer Hall of Fame in Green Bay.
8. Bill Romanowski
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A cloud of controversy has always surrounded Bill Romanowski's career.
Steroid allegations were abound during his playing days and he had numerous fines for despicable acts like spitting at one player and kicking another.
Still, there is no denying he was an intimidating force at linebacker.
"Romo" has four Super Bowl rings and multiple Pro Bowl trips on his resume.
His popularity was never high, but Romanowski was as intimidating a player as you would find in the mid-'90s.
7. Chuck Bednarik
On Chuck Bednarik's plaque in the NFL Hall of Fame is the following:
He was a "rugged, durable, bulldozing blocker" and a "bone-jarring tackler."
Playing two positions (linebacker and center) full-time in an era where such a novelty was quickly wearing away only cements "Concrete Charlie" as an intimidating player.
He did not want to simply beat the other team, he wanted to destroy them.
Bednarik played both sides of the ball for the Philadelphia Eagles for the entirety of his 14-year career. In that time he missed only three games.
6. Sam Huff
"You can run on a football field but you can't hide out there"
This Sam Huff quote helps to show what kind of player this 1950s and '60s star truly was.
Huff was intimidating before the NFL and AFL even merged together and was a major reason behind the creation of the 4-3 defense.
He was big enough to handle bruising backs and fast enough to keep up with the more agile runners of his day.
His duels with players like Jim Brown and Jim Taylor are legendary tales.
No list of intimidating players would be complete without the inclusion of Huff.
5. Mike Singletary
Oh, those iconic crazy eyes of Mike Singletary.
Singletary was known as "The Heart of the Defense" when the Chicago Bears won it all in 1985 and it is easy to see why.
Like many others on this list, Singletary played the position with ruthless aggression, seemingly never satisfied even after the final whistle.
"Iron Mike" was the definition of intensity during his 12-year NFL career.
Don't believe me?
Take another look at those crazy eyes.
4. Ray Lewis
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Inspiring, emotional, angry, physical, overpowering and intimidating.
Pick any adjective you want to describe Ray Lewis; they all work.
He is one of the best defensive leaders the NFL has ever seen and has been an imposing force for the Baltimore Ravens since being drafted in 1996.
He has 13 Pro Bowl selections and 10 All-Pro honors to his credit and has won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award twice.
Lewis' hits are known to devastate his opponents, and his ability to make any play at any time has made him one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
3. Jack Lambert
Look at that face.
If that is not intimidation then I have no idea what is.
Jack Lambert was the scariest player on a Steelers defense filled with some of the best defensive players of all time.
This quote from a then-rookie quarterback named John Elway in 1983 paints the perfect picture of the player Lambert was.
He had no teeth, and he was slobbering all over himself. I'm thinking, "You can have your money back, just get me out of here. Let me go be an accountant." I can't tell you how badly I wanted out of there.
2. Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor is often considered the best defensive player in NFL history, but beyond that he was also seriously intimidating.
Taylor found the quarterback in ways that had never before been seen at the NFL level.
He changed the way offensive lines schemed and the formations they used.
Taylor recorded at least 10 sacks in every season from 1984-90 and in 1986 registered a staggering 20.5 of them.
Revolutionary players don't come along all too often and Taylor was just that.
Quarterbacks feared him and offensive tackles couldn't dream of keeping up with him when he bulldozed his way off the edge on a pass rush.
1. Dick Butkus
What can be said about Dick Butkus other than the fact that he is everything this list should be about.
Butkus was feared, but he was also revered.
He made a jaw-dropping 1,020 tackles over the course of his short nine-year NFL career and found ways to violently attack his opponents on every play.
Butkus was not exactly a dirty player, but he was by no means clean or friendly about the way he pulverized offensive opponents either.
If you are at all interested in the criteria I used for this list then look at Dick Butkus.
He is the benchmark by which intimidation should forever be judged.