Unitas or Montana? '72 Dolphins or '85 Bears? New Book Tackles 'Football's Best'

Jerry MilaniContributor IOctober 25, 2012

23 Sep 1990:  San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice (left) and quarterback Joe Montana look on during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won the game, 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Internet (especially here at Bleacher Report!) abounds with Top 10/20/50 lists of all kinds.  Perhaps David Letterman's lasting legacy will be his usually hilarious Top Ten.

Now Sports Illustrated's team of writers and editors is trying to capture 75-plus years of professional football superlatives in the new (and heavy!) Football's Best.  Peter King, Tim Layden, Don Banks and many of the magazine's top scribes selected a multitude of Top Tens. 

From players by position, top games and plays, even best interview subjects and movies, this comprehensive work could be called a coffee table book, if you have a sturdy enough coffee table.

"We had an amazing list of contributors, guys who have seen football for decades," said Bill Syken, who had the monumental task of editing the book.  "That list includes two who have Hall of Fame votes and their thoughts are really reflected in these lists."

Comparing eras is always problematic in any professional sport; the game in many ways looks and feels different than even a generation ago, and markedly so from 50-70 years back.  But everything is considered here; it seems relative to their era, which is for sure a strength. 

Some of the calls that are sure to draw conversation are the selection of the '85 Bears over the '72 Dolphins as the best ever team, Joe Montana over Johnny Unitas as the No. 1 QB and Vince Lombardi as the top coach (Bill Belichick seems like a low pick at No. 7).

Syken has some ideas on surprises as well.

"Personally the biggest surprise was Cris Carter finishing at eight, and having Hines Ward on that list," he noted.  "There are some great Hall of Famers who didn't make the receiver, but that's a tribute to the astuteness of the writers who compiled them."


The book, which took over a year to assemble according to Syken, took all eras into account, reflective of styles during those respective times.

"In terms of time frame the lists shift to reflect the era where positions dominated," he explained.  "For example, the running backs list has a good amount of older players, with a guy like Emmett Smith being one of the most recent.  The wide receivers and tight ends reflect today's game with more passing so its very balanced."

Fans of the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh will be pleased to know their teams recorded the most top-10 mentions, with the Pack earning best franchise, best stadium (Lambeau Field), the No.1 coach in Vince Lombardi and the best defensive lineman in Reggie White (shared with the Eagles, of course).

Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.