Power Ranking Every Hall of Fame Class in Pro Football History
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On Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes its 50th class, bringing the total count of members in the Hall to 273. To say one class is “worse” than another makes no sense when it comes to this prestigious honor.
But here’s an attempt to put a little perspective in terms of the impact of these classes, a feat that makes for a fun stroll down memory lane as we honor the game’s greatest players and contributors along the way…
50. Class of 1976
Packers' fullback Jim Taylor (31) ran for 56 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl I vs. the Chiefs
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Coach Ray Flaherty, DE Len Ford, FB Jim Taylor.
The former Packers fullback, who ended his exceptional career in a Saints’ uniform, was a vital cog to the Green Bay ground attack and knew his way to the end zone. End would be the better description for Ford, who began his career with the Browns in the AAFC as a defender and pass-catcher, but became a four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman once they settled on one position.
Flaherty led the Redskins to a pair of NFL titles before coaching in the All-America Football Conference.
49. Class of 1964
Steelers' owner Art Rooney, Sr. is flanked by his sons Dan (left) and Art, Jr. (right). Dan would join his father as a member of the Hall in 2000 Photo credit: artrooneyjr.com
QB/Coach Jimmy Conzelman, T Ed Healey, FB Clarke Hinkle, T William Roy “Link” Lyman, Mike Michalske, Art Rooney, C George Trafton.
Conzelman’s NFL career not only included his contributions on the field with various teams but he also served as an owner and coached the then-Chicago Cardinals to the 1947 NFL championship, the franchise’s last title.
But speaking of owners, the Steelers had not enjoyed any success in their first three-plus decades under Rooney in ’64. But that would certainly change with hiring of Chuck Noll in 1969, and the rest is history.
48. Class of 1970
Hugh McElhenny (39) was part of the 49ers' fabled "Million Dollar Backfield"
S Jack Christiansen, End Tom Fears, RB Hugh McElhenny, End Pete Pihos.
Before there was the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson, there was Christiansen, who also returned four punts for touchdowns as a rookie (1951). The rangy defender also picked off 46 passes, taking back three for scores. McElhenny was a member of the “Million Dollar Backfield” in San Francisco (with Hall of Famers John Henry Johnson, Joe Perry and Y.A. Tittle) and “The King” was a six-time Pro Bowler.
Pihos led or tied for the league lead in receptions three straight seasons from 1953 to 1955, while Fears actually led the NFL in catches in each of his first three years in the league (1948-50).
47. Class of 1996
Joe Gibbs led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles in a 10-year span (1982-91)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
T Lou Creekmur, T Dan Dierdorf, Coach Joe Gibbs, WR Charlie Joiner, CB Mel Renfro.
Canton, Ohio natives Dierdorf and Creekmur could have teamed up to make one heckuva tackle tandem. Gibbs remains the only head coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. Joiner’s best year came with Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and the amazing Chargers' attack, while Renfro was a mainstay in a few excellent Cowboys secondaries.
46. Class of 1968
Art Donovan terrorized opposing offenses and was a five-time Pro Bowler Photo credit: www.s9.com
RB Cliff Battles, DT Art Donovan, RB/End Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, End Wayne Millner, FB Marion Motley, RB/QB Charley Trippi, C/LB Alex Wojciechowicz.
For entertainment value alone, Donovan ranks right up there as one of the game’s great characters, along with being a standout defender. Hirsch was part of those high-scoring Rams’ teams of the 1950s with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield.
The massive Motley ran over defenders with regularity, while the versatile Trippi scored twice in the Cardinals’ championship game win in 1947, the franchise's last NFL title.
45. Class of 1972
Lamar Hunt was the owner of the Chiefs and one of the founders of the American Football League Photo credit: remembertheafl.com
Lamar Hunt, DE Gino Marchetti, RB Ollie Matson, QB Clarence “Ace” Parker.
The versatile Matson, a six-time Pro Bowler, was part of one of the biggest trades in NFL history, dealt by the Cardinals to the Rams in 1959 for an astonishing nine players. Marchetti was a feared defender for the Colts who specialized in getting to the quarterback.
Parker was a standout in the 1930s and ‘40s but played for just seven seasons, while Hunt was one of the original AFL founders and owner of the Dallas Texans-turned Kansas City Chiefs and later, a guiding force behind the merger with the NFL.
44. Class of 1991
Nine-time Pro Bowler John Hannah was one of the game's great guards
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RB Earl Campbell, G John Hannah, G/DT Stan Jones, Tex Schramm, PK Jan Stenerud.
The “Tyler Rose” was loved by the Oilers’ Blue, but not by opposing defenders trying to stop the imposing runner as Campbell led the NFL in rushing his first three seasons. Many feel Hannah may be the best-ever at his position, while Jones was a versatile seven-time Pro Bowler.
And Stenerud remains the only pure kicker of any sort in the Hall (where are you, Ray Guy?).
43. Class of 1974
Dick "Night Train" Lane intercepted 14 passes in 1952, still an NFL record Photo credit: thewannabesportsguy.com
RB Tony Canadeo, LB Bill George, T/PK Lou Groza, CB Dick “Night Train” Lane.
Before there was Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary in the Windy City, there was George—an eight-time Pro Bowler—and one of the league’s first standouts at the position. Another AAFC original with the Browns dating back to 1946, Groza earned the nickname “The Toe” as a star kicker following a stellar career at tackle.
And Lane set an NFL record with 14 interceptions as a rookie in 1952, a mark yet to be broken.
42. Class of 2002
Jim Kelly and the Bills had few problems putting points on the board
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Coach George Allen, TE Dave Casper, DT/DE Dan Hampton, QB Jim Kelly, WR John Stallworth.
From the “Ghost to the Post” to the “Holy Roller,” Casper was the perfect complement to wideouts Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch in the Raiders’ attack. Hampton was a key cog in those great Bears defense of the ‘80s, while Kelly led the Bills to a record four straight Super Bowls.
Stallworth always came up big for the Steelers in the playoffs with his share of key receptions, while the passionate Allen did things his way (and for good results) with the Rams and Redskins.
41. Class of 1966
Arnie Herber led the NFL in passing three times with the Packers Photo credit: packers.wikia.com
RB Bill Dudley, RB Joe Guyon, QB Arnie Herber, G/Coach Walt Kiesling, RB George McAfee, T/Coach Steve Owen, Hugh “Shorty” Ray, C/LB Clyde “Bulldog” Turner.
Best known for his days in Pittsburgh, the “Bullet” led the NFL in rushing, interceptions and punt returns in 1946. Herber was part of four championship teams with the Packers and paired with fellow Hall of Famer Don Hutson to form one of the game’s early great passing tandems.
Ray was the league’s supervisor of officials from 1938 to 1952, while Owen coached the Giants to a pair of titles during his 24 years at the helm.
40. Class of 1984
79 of Charley Taylor's 649 receptions went for scores
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CB Willie Brown, T Mike McCormack, WR Charley Taylor, DT Arnie Weinmeister.
The crafty Brown began his playing career with the Broncos and then was traded to the Raiders (imagine that!) and by the time it was over, he picked off 54 passes, not including his memorable 75-yard return for a score in Oakland’s Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings. Taylor was one of the best receivers of his era and his 79 touchdown receptions came on just 649 catches.
McCormack made his name on the Browns offensive line, while Weinmeister was a defensive force.
39. Class of 1998
It wasn't much fun lining up against Bears' middle linebacker Mike Singletary
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
S Paul Krause, WR Tommy McDonald, T Anthony Muñoz, LB Mike Singletary, C Dwight Stephenson.
There are those who never understood why it took so long for Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader, to take his rightful place in Canton. Stephenson’s career was cut short by a devastating knee injury but his impact was memorable.
Some feel Muñoz was the best lineman to ever play the game and few would argue. One look into Singletary’s eyes and it was all business, while the exuberant McDonald knew his way to the end zone.
38. Class of 1981
No player in NFL history played more seasons (26) than Hall of Famer George Blanda
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End Morris “Red” Badgro, QB/PK George Blanda, DE Willie Davis, C Jim Ringo.
For a long time, 2,002 and 26 were magic numbers in NFL history. And while Blanda’s career point total has been surpassed (he still ranks sixth all time), his number of seasons played remains a record. Davis began his career in Cleveland but earned glory in “Titletown” after being dealt to the Packers.
Badgro was a two-sport standout and returned to football after a stint in baseball. Ringo was a 10-time Pro Bowler, earning seven invitations with Green Bay and three more with the Eagles.
37. Class of 1969
Before there was a "Mean" Joe Greene in Pittsburgh, there was defensive tackle Ernie Stautner Photo credit: betyudidntknow.blogspot.com
T Albert Glen “Turk” Edwards, Coach Earle “Greasy” Neale, DT Leo Nomellini, RB Joe Perry, DT Ernie Stautner.
Neale was certainly slick, leading the Eagles to three straight NFL title games (1947-49) and winning championships in his second and third tries. Perry was with the pre- (AAFC) and post-NFL 49ers and became the first player to rush for 1,000-plus yards in consecutive seasons in 1953 and ’54.
Stautner was an imposing force on the Steelers defense and went onto even further recognition as a Cowboys assistant coach.
36. Class of 2008
Darrell Green played 20 seasons with the Redskins and never seemed to slow down
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DE Fred Dean, CB Darrell Green, WR Art Monk, CB Emmitt Thomas, LB Andre Tippett, T Gary Zimmerman.
Monk was one of the most reliable wideouts in the league and a key cog in Joe Gibbs’ offenses with the Redskins. Green’s amazing speed was a constant for 20 seasons in Washington, while the pass-rushing Dean began his career in San Diego and later went onto Super Bowl glory with the 49ers. Thomas was a mainstay in those great Chiefs defenses in the 1960s and ‘70s, totaling a team-record 58 interceptions.
35. Class of 2003
Marcus Allen scored 145 touchdowns with the Raiders and Chiefs (sixth in NFL history)
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RB Marcus Allen, DE Elvin Bethea, G Joe DeLamielleure, WR James Lofton, Coach Hank Stram.
A former Heisman Trophy winner, Allen’s second season with the Silver and Black saw him garner Super Bowl XVIII MVP honors and his “reversal of fortune” run against the Redskins that day is one of the game’s most electrifying plays.
Lofton was one of league’s deep threats, Bethea a steady force on the Houston Oilers defense and DeLamielleure just as reliable on the offensive front.
But the show-stopper here is Stram, his “62 Toss Power Trap” still rings in the ears of football fans who watched and later listened to the Chiefs' head coach when he was miked for Super Bowl IV.
34. Class of 1965
Browns' quarterback Otto Graham led the team to seven championshps Photo credit: bestsportsphotos.com
QB John “Paddy” Driscoll, G Dan Fortmann, QB Otto Graham, QB Sid Luckman, RB Steve Van Buren, QB Bob Waterfield.
Rumor has it that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league these days, but this was quite the QB-led class. Van Buren ran for 1,000-plus yards with the Eagles in 1947 and ’49, the first player to achieve that feat twice.
Waterfield shared the spotlight with the Rams with Norm Van Brocklin. Luckman remains the Bears’ all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown tosses. And then there was Graham, who was 10-for-10 reaching title games, winning seven championships with the Browns in the AAFC (4) and later the NFL (3).
33. Class of 2012
Curtis Martin spent his first three seasons with the Patriots, then beacme the Jets' all-time leading rusher
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CB Jack Butler, C Dermontti Dawson, DE Chris Doleman, DT Cortez Kennedy, RB Curtis Martin, T Willie Roaf.
A nuts-and-bolts class that includes four of the best in the trenches on both sides of the ball, one of the premier defenders in his era (Butler) and the league’s fourth all-time leading rusher in Martin (14,101 yards), who began his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Roaf was an 11-time Pro Bowler with the Saints and the Chiefs and Doleman went from linebacker to All-Star defensive end.
32. Class of 1994
Randy White began his career with the Cowboys at linebacker, then turned into a Hall of Fame defensive tackle
George Rose/Getty Images
RB Tony Dorsett, Coach Bud Grant, CB Jimmy Johnson, RB Leroy Kelly, TE Jackie Smith, DT Randy White.
Dorsett went from national champion and Heisman Trophy winner at Pitt to Super Bowl champion as a rookie with the Cowboys. He got a lot of help from White, who was co-MVP of the win over Denver (Super Bowl XII). Smith enjoyed a stellar career with the Cardinals but is often remembered for a moment in Super Bowl XIII. And Grant led the Vikings to four Super Bowls in an eight-year span (1969-76), and the Purple Gang hasn’t been back since.
31. Class of 1975
The Colts' Lenny Moore was one of the game's most versatile players Photo credit: pennstatermag.com
T Roosevelt Brown, T/LB George Connor, End Dante Lavelli, FL/RB Lenny Moore.
Brown was a mainstay on the Giants offensive front and a nine-time Pro Bowler, while Connor played virtually everywhere during his career with the Bears, earning all-league honors on both the offensive and defensive lines, as well as at linebacker.
Lavelli was one of Otto Graham’s favorite targets, while the unheralded Moore is sometimes lost in the discussion of versatile performers, his 113 touchdowns coming via the run (63), reception (48) and return (2).
30. Class of 1995
Chargers' tight end Kellen Winslow ushered in a new era at tight end
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Jim Finks, DT Henry Jordan, WR Steve Largent, DE Lee Roy Selmon, TE Kellen Winslow.
Keep in mind what we see from the tight end position today and then remember Winslow, whose impact can’t be underestimated. Finks was the architect of numerous teams (Bears, Saints and Vikings), while the additions of Largent and Selmon gave the once-expansion Seahawks and Buccaneers, respectively, their first true Hall of Famers.
Jordan, who began his career with the Browns and was dealt to Green Bay, was a stalwart on the Packers defensive line during the franchise's dynasty days of the 1960s.
29. Class of 1992
Hall of Famer Al Davis was the Raiders
George Rose/Getty Images
CB Lem Barney, Al Davis, TE John Mackey, RB John Riggins.
The talented Barney (with a terrific singing voice) also made music in the Lions secondary, picking off 56 passes in 11 seasons in Detroit. Mackey was a massive target with big-play ability and personified the position for years.
The always-entertaining Riggins epitomized "workhorse," as evidenced by his Super Bowl-record 38 carries against the Dolphins in the Redskins' win in Pasadena (XVII). And Davis’ passion for the Silver and Black, as well as the game of football, made him a transcendent figure in football lore.
28. Class of 2001
Rams' defensive end Jack Youngblood made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks
George Rose/Getty Images
LB Nick Buoniconti, Coach Marv Levy, G Mike Munchak, T Jackie Slater, WR Lynn Swann, T Ron Yary, DE Jack Youngblood.
Former Patriots’ star-turned Dolphins’ star Buoniconti was indeed a name on the 1970s “No Name Defense,” while Yary, Munchak and Slater (who played 20 seasons with the Rams) were mainstays on their respective units. The exuberant Youngblood could play the position with the best of them, Swann’s acrobatics led to some of the most memorable catches ever and Levy remains the only coach to take a team to four straight Super Bowls.
27. Class of 1978
Packers' linebacker Ray Nitschke always brought the intensity Photo credit: entertainment.howstuffworks.com
WR Lance Alworth, Coach Weeb Ewbank, RB Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans, LB Ray Nitschke, S Larry Wilson.
Ewbank was the Colts’ head coach in the 1958 NFL title game (won in OT), then led the Jets to their Super Bowl upset of Baltimore 10 years later. Alworth earned the nickname “Bambi” and nary could a defensive player catch him.
Wilson knew how to get to the quarterback in various ways, either via the blitz or evidenced by his 52 career interceptions. And Nitschke was the emotional backbone of the Packers defenses (and played a pretty good game in the original version of The Longest Yard).
26. Class of 1986
Fran Tarkenton led the Vikings to three Super Bowls in a four-year span Photo credit: nycatr.blogspot.com
RB Paul Hornung, S Ken Houston, LB Willie Lanier, QB Fran Tarkenton, RB Doak Walker.
The “Golden Boy” could do it all for the Packers, teaming often with Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor to give Green Bay quite the punch. Lanier was the middle man on a linebacking corps that featured fellow inductee Bobby Bell and unheralded Jim Lynch.
Houston had a nose for the ball, Walker was a five-time all-star in six seasons with the Lions and Tarkenton frustrated opposing defensive linemen with his scrambling ability and accuracy.
25. Class of 2005
Only Brett Favre has thrown more touchdown passes in NFL history than Dan Marino
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
QB Benny Friedman, QB Dan Marino, RB/Coach Fritz Pollard, QB Steve Young.
Marino burst onto the NFL scene during the 1983 season and you could only marvel at his quick release and production, his then-NFL record 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 passing yards each standing for at least two decades. Young went from elusive running quarterback to six-time NFL passing champion and got the Super Bowl monkey off his back in XXIX.
Friedman played for numerous teams during the league’s early days in the 1920s and ‘30s, throwing for a then-rookie record 11 touchdown passes as a rookie with the Cleveland Bulldogs. And before Art Shell graced the sidelines for the Raiders in 1989, there was Pollard, the league’s first African American head coach in 1921 with Akron.
24. Class of 1982
Merlin Olsen (74) and the rest of the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" Photo credit: usatoday.com
DE Doug Atkins, LB Sam Huff, T/G George Musso, DT Merlin Olsen.
Atkins was one of the most fearsome defenders of his generation and a true “Monster of the Midway” with the Bears, while Huff was one of the glamour middle linebackers of his era. Olsen may have been better known years later as television’s “Father Murphy” or doing commercials for FTD, but there was no denying his tenacity or impact, named to a record-tying 14 consecutive Pro Bowls with the Rams.
23. Class of 2011
Marshall Faulk was one of the game's most explosive backs
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
DE Richard Dent, RB Marshall Faulk, LB Chris Hanburger, LB/C Les Richter, Ed Sabol, CB Deion Sanders, TE Shannon Sharpe.
Dent harassed quarterbacks into submission and was Super Bowl XX MVP in the Bears’ decisive win over the Patriots. From opposite sides of the ball, both Faulk and Sanders were threats to score every time they got their hands on it; “Primetime” was also a threat on returns and later in spot roles as a receiver.
And Sabol changed the way we watched football—the pioneer of NFL Films.
22. Class of 1989
Terry Bradshaw was a four-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
CB Mel Blount, QB Terry Bradshaw, T Art Shell, S Willie Wood.
The parade of Steelers continued to come with Bradshaw, who led the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in six seasons and always came up big in those games, as well as the physical Blount, who had unfair size for a cornerback. Wood was part of those championship Packers defensive units of his era, while the massive Shell teamed with guard Gene Upshaw, also enshrined in Canton, to give the Silver and Black one of the most imposing blocking tandems in league history.
21. Class of 1997
Don Shula has won more games than any head coach in NFL history
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
CB Mike Haynes, Wellington Mara, Coach Don Shula, C Mike Webster.
No head coach in NFL history has won more games than Shula, so enough said. Haynes was one of the great cornerbacks of this or any era, enjoying an excellent career with the Patriots and then moving onto the Raiders, where he was an important part of the team’s Super Bowl XVIII win over the explosive Redskins.
Mara’s impact with the Giants and in the league can’t be understated, while Webster was a pivotal cog during the Steelers’ dynasty of the ‘70s.
20. Class of 2007
Few will ever forget Michael Irvin's inspiring speech during his Hall of Fame enshrinement
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
G Gene Hickerson, WR Michael Irvin, OL Bruce Matthews, TE Charlie Sanders, RB Thurman Thomas, CB Roger Wehrli.
The first of the “Triplets” to arrive in Dallas (1988), Irvin’s leadership and intensity was a big part of three Super Bowl titles. Wehrli was a Cardinals’ star and a ballhawk, totaling 59 takeaways (including 40 interceptions) during his career.
Hickerson was a mainstay on the Browns offensive line and paved the way for Hall of Fame runners Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. Sanders was one of the Lions’ most reliable pass-catchers, Matthews a record-tying 14-time Pro Bowler and Thomas, the versatility in the Bills’ Super Bowl backfields.
19. Class of 2009
Bruce Smith knew a little something about getting after the quarterback
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
WR Bob Hayes, G Randall McDaniel, DE Bruce Smith, LB Derrick Thomas, Ralph Wilson, Jr., CB/S Rod Woodson.
Not a lot of good news here if you were an opposing quarterbacks. Smith (200.0) and Thomas (126.5), a combined 326.5 sacks, were two of the best pass-rushers of their era and Woodson not only ranked third in NFL history with 71 interceptions but took back a record 12 for scores. The steady McDaniel was a Pro Bowl regular, while Hayes brought his Olympic speed to the Cowboys.
18. Class of 1973
Few receivers were as sure-handed as the Colts' Raymond Berry
WR Raymond Berry, G/T Jim Parker, LB Joe Schmidt.
What the ’73 class lacked in numbers it made up for in sheer excellence. Berry was the ultimate perfectionist in terms of route running, forming a legendary rapport with quarterback Johnny Unitas.
Parker was a big part of those Colts’ teams as well, earning a combined eight Pro Bowl invitations at both guard and tackle. And Schmidt was a 10-time Pro Bowler and the superb middle man on the Lions defenses of the 1950s and early ‘60s.
17. Class of 2004
Barry Sanders was one of the most electrifying and unique runners in the game's history
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images
T Bob “Boomer” Brown, DE Carl Eller, QB John Elway, RB Barry Sanders.
Those fabled “Purple People Eaters” defenses of the Vikings featured the menacing Eller, who got after opposing quarterbacks on a steady basis. Brown went to a total of six Pro Bowls with three different teams (Eagles, Rams and Raiders).
Elway is one of only two quarterbacks (Tom Brady) to start five Super Bowls and his final two NFL seasons saw him crowned champion. And perhaps there was no runner like Sanders, whose amazing feet and moves saw him rush for 1,300-plus yards nine times in 10 NFL seasons.
16. Class of 2006
Reggie White was a star with the Eagles and later, a Super Bowl champion with the Packers
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
QB Troy Aikman, LB Harry Carson, Coach John Madden, QB Warren Moon, DE Reggie White, T Rayfield Wright.
Madden curse? The former Raiders’ coach is a Super Bowl champion, was an iconic broadcaster and has done pretty well with that game of his. Moon began his career in Canada for all the wrong reasons, then lit up the NFL once he moved south.
Aikman’s accuracy and demeanor made him the perfect field general for the ‘90s Cowboys, but both he and Moon had to deal with White, who harassed anyone in the opposing backfield courtesy of his strength and quickness and embarrassed more than one hardworking blocker along the way.
15. Class of 1999
Giants' linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the league's MVP in 1986
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
RB Eric Dickerson, G Tom Mack, TE Ozzie Newsome, G Billy Shaw, LB Lawrence Taylor.
Dickerson’s first two seasons in the league with the Rams saw him total a rookie record 1,808 yards rushing in 1983 and an NFL-record 2,105 yards in ’84. Shaw and Mack were reliable to say the least, the latter an 11-time Pro Bowler. Newsome was the sure-handed component in the Browns’ passing attack.
But what can you say about Taylor, who revolutionized the 3-4 outside linebacking position and basically began the movement (not personally) of making sacks an official stat after his rookie season in 1981.
14. Class of 2000
Joe Montana was near flawless in four Super Bowl appearances with the 49ers
George Rose/Getty Images
DE Howie Long, CB Ronnie Lott, QB Joe Montana, Dan Rooney, LB Dave Wilcox.
This class definitely had a West Coast feel to it and it’s led by Montana. He is still the only three-time MVP in the Super Bowl, a game he helped the franchise win four times courtesy of 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions, as well as his teammate Lott, whose rattling hits made him a star at cornerback and safety.
Wilcox was part of the steady Niners defenses of the 1960s and ’70. Long has made an impact talking about the game and a bigger impact when striking opposing quarterbacks. And Rooney (Steelers’ owner/turned Ambassador to Ireland) was a huge force within the NFL.
13. Class of 1990
Few could match the intensity of Steelers' linebacker Jack Lambert Photo credit: gunningsports.com
DT Junious “Buck” Buchanan, QB Bob Griese, RB Franco Harris, LB Ted Hendricks, LB Jack Lambert, Coach Tom Landry, T Bob St. Clair.
Buchanan was a key member of those imposing Chiefs defensive units, one that hammered the Vikings into submission in Super Bowl IV. Griese took the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowls and won the last two (VII and VIII), which was followed by Harris (MVP of Super Bowl IX) and Lambert’s dynastic Steelers.
Hendricks and St. Clair were both characters, but their opposition didn’t find anything funny when they had to line up against them.
12. Class of 1983
Chiefs' linebacker Bobby Bell could do it all...and he did Photo Credit: arrowheadpride.com
12. LB/DE Bobby Bell, Coach Sid Gillman, QB Sonny Jurgensen, RB Bobby Mitchell, WR Paul Warfield.
Regarded as the father of the modern passing game, Gillman’s impact on the game is legendary. Speaking of throwing, Jurgensen could toss it with the best of them, starring for both the Redskins and Eagles. Mitchell was a threat to score most times he had the ball, while Warfield was the big-play component for the Browns and later, the Dolphins.
And the amazing Bell was a nine-time Pro Bowler who picked off 26 passes and ran six back for scores.
11. Class of 1987
Dolphins' running back Larry Csonka ran over the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII Photo credit: sportsthenandnow.com
RB Larry Csonka, QB Len Dawson, DT Joe Greene, RB John Henry Johnson, C Jim Langer, WR Don Maynard, G Gene Upshaw.
The great Raiders/Steelers rivalry of the 1970s (only teams to face each other in the playoffs five straight years) were personified by Upshaw and Greene, the latter Chuck Noll’s first pick when he took over in Pittsburgh in 1969.
Johnson was a workhorse for several teams, Langer the anchor of one of the best offensive lines of his era (and one that blocked for the hard-charging Csonka), while Maynard was Joe Namath’s favorite target with the Jets.
10. Class of 1977
Gale Sayers scored an NFL rookie record 22 touchdowns for the Bears in 1965 Photo credit: posters.ws
RB/FL Frank Gifford, T/G Forrest Gregg, RB Gale Sayers, QB Bart Starr, NG Bill Willis.
Starr was Vince Lombardi’s field general for five NFL championships and was named MVP of the first two Super Bowls. He got plenty of help from Gregg, a Pro Bowl stalwart on the Packers offensive front. Gifford was named to eight Pro Bowls and was as versatile as they come, even playing in the secondary. Willis was a two-way performer with the Browns, but was a standout in the middle of the defensive line, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl.
And what can you say that hasn’t been said about the “Kansas Comet,” who electrified the NFL during his short-but-impressive career?
9. Class of 1980
"Deacon" Jones brought the heat to opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis Photo credit: answersfrommen.com
CB Herb Adderley, DE David “Deacon” Jones, DT Bob Lilly, C Jim Otto.
The longtime pivot on some of the great Raiders offensive fronts, Otto’s number (00) was a famous as his stellar play. Adderley was a solid corner and scored the first defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history (60-yard interception return in II).
Jones not only coined the term “quarterback sack,” he also got plenty of them, the majority with the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome.” And Lilly was the first player ever drafted by the Cowboys and a rock on their defensive line.
8. Class of 1967
The legendary Paul Brown was one of the game's most influential head coaches Photo credit: oldschoolfb.com
C/LB Chuck Bednarik, Charles W. Bidwill, Sr., Coach Paul Brown, QB Bobby Layne, Dan Reeves, RB Ken Strong, T Joe Stydahar, S Emlen Tunnell.
Layne epitomized the rough-and-tumble game of the 1950s and did most of his best work in Detroit, where he led the Lions to three championships. Speaking of rough, Bednarik played both ways and was a star at both, earning the name “Concrete Charlie.”
Tunnell picked off 79 passes during his career, second most in NFL annals, while Brown brought many things to the game and was one of the most important innovators in the league’s history.
7. Class of 1985
Commissioner Pete Rozelle believed in the power of television when it came to the NFL Photo credit: espn.go.com
C Frank Gatski, QB Joe Namath, Pete Rozelle, O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach.
Namath was the game’s first 4,000-yard passer in 1967 and Simpson was the league’s first 2,000-yard rusher in 1973. Rozelle’s impact on the National Football League can’t be overstated and was a big reason it turned into the television product it has become.
Like Simpson, Staubach was a Heisman Trophy winner and his “Captain Comeback” exploits saw him lead the Cowboys to four Super Bowls in an eight-year span.
6. Class of 1988
Fred Biletnikoff (left) caught nearly everything thrown to him by quarterback Ken Stabler Photo credit: latimesblogs.latimes.com
WR Fred Biletnikoff, TE Mike Ditka, LB Jack Ham, DT Alan Page.
A legendary quartet and it has to start with Page, the league’s first defender to be named Most Valuable Player; Page actually worked on the Hall’s construction crew when he was a young man in Canton. Biletnikoff caught everything, sometimes without his hands thanks to a little stickum, but was clutch and the MVP of the Raiders’ Super Bowl XI win.
Ham’s instincts were amazing, totaling 32 interceptions and recovering 21 opponents’ fumbles during the Steelers’ hey-day. And Ditka—a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie—was the first tight end voted to the Hall of Fame.
5. Class of 1979
Johnny Unitas (19) is one of the NFL's legendary figures and was a pretty good quatrerback
LB Dick Butkus, S Yale Lary, T Ron Mix, QB Johnny Unitas.
There wasn’t a lot Lary couldn’t do, as he was as good a safety (50 interceptions) as he was a punter (44.3-yard career average) and also a threat as a return artist, while Mix was one of the finest players in AFL history. Simply put, Butkus epitomized the physical nature of the game and was simply relentless.
And to this day, many insist Unitas was the game’s greatest quarterback, although one of his most fabled records (47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass) could be in jeopardy this season courtesy of New Orleans’ Drew Brees (43).
4. Class of 1963
Redskins' quarterback Sammy Baugh was also an exceptional punter
QB Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Joe Carr, QB Earl “Dutch” Clark, RB Harold “Red” Grange, Coach George Halas, C Mel Hein, T Wilbur “Pete” Henry, T Robert “Cal” Hubbard, End Don Hutson, Coach Earl “Curly” Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, RB John “Blood” McNally, FB Bronko Nagurski, FB Ernie Nevers, RB Jim Thorpe.
The charter class that includes the legendary names of the game, with trophies and stadiums named after them to boot. Halas was a founder, owner and player as well as a coach, Baugh was “slingin” the ball all over the place, Nevers still owns the NFL record for points scored in a game (40) and Hutson was so far ahead of him time, still ranking eighth in league history in touchdown receptions (99).
3. Class of 2010
Jerry Rice (left) and Emmitt Smith are 1-2 in NFL history in touchdowns scored
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G Russ Grimm, LB Rickey Jackson, CB Dick LeBeau, RB Floyd Little, DT John Randle, WR Jerry Rice, RB Emmitt Smith.
It doesn’t hurt when your group includes the NFL’s all-time receiving leader and touchdown scorer in Rice and the league’s all-time rushing leader, who also ranks second in career touchdowns in Smith. LeBeau is more known these days as Steelers defensive coordinator but was a terrific corner. Randle totaled 137.5 career sacks, not bad for being undrafted.
2. Class of 1971
Jim Brown played in 118 games and scored 126 touchdowns Photo credit: 6magazineonline.com
RB Jim Brown, End Bill Hewitt, T Frank “Bruiser” Kinard, Coach Vince Lombardi, DE Andy Robustelli, QB Y.A. Tittle, QB Norm Van Brocklin.
When your class starts with arguably the greatest running back in the game’s history (Brown) and along the way includes perhaps the best head coach in NFL history (Lombardi), it speaks volumes.
Of course, the rest of this group is pretty impressive in its own right. Tittle and Van Brocklin made their mark as well, the latter still holding the single-game record for passing yards in a game (554 versus N.Y. Yanks in 1951).
1. Class of 1993
Tackling Bears' running back Walter Payton was no easy task
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QB Dan Fouts, G Larry Little, Coach Chuck Noll, RB Walter Payton, Coach Bill Walsh.
Little was an enormous part of the Dolphins’ success in the 1970s, paving the way for Larry Csonka, Jim Kick and Mercury Morris, among others. Fouts was the triggerman of one of the most exciting and explosive offenses in the history of the game, while the one and only “Sweetness” was one of the greatest runners in the sport and to this day remains the Bears’ all-time leader in rushing yards and receptions.
But when you have the architects of the Steelers’ (Noll) and 49ers’ (Walsh) dynasties of the ’70s and ‘80s, respectively, who combined to win seven Super Bowls without a loss (four in six years by Noll), it may be difficult to top this amazing group.