Easy enough to explain. We begin the conversation by declaring that Steve Van Buren of LSU is the greatest SEC running back of all time.
Don Hutson of Alabama is the greatest pass receiver. Doug Atkins of Tennessee the greatest defensive lineman.
"Oh, no," comes the chant from the Peanut Gallery, "those people played a long time ago, they couldn't play under today's conditions."
Doug Atkins and Herschel Walker played 28 years apart. It has been 29 years since Walker hit the scene at Georgia. Jackson played against Walker.
Yes, it is obvious that time dims the memory of some and illuminates the recollections of others.
You know what the great Louisville quarterback John Unitas said about Doug Atkins? "He picks up my linemen and throws them at me."
When someone picks up a 260-pound man and throws him across the field, the sophisticated blocking schemes of any era go sailing out the window.
And yet, very few fans of today would buy into Atkins as being better than, say, Eric Norwood of South Carolina. "Norwood, now that's the way a real defensive player is supposed to look" has been posted by many writers this fall.
Obviously more developed, more toned, more in tune with the nuances. In short, the more recent player is a better player, superior in all characteristics, more advanced.
And yet, old fables die hard.
Did we not see Walker run over Bill Bates of Tennessee? So what? Walker was 25 pounds heavier than Bates. Walker was the recipient of unfair publicity at Bates' expense.
Walker, at 6'1", 225, was ahead of his time, of course. And he was sensational when he played. Against players much smaller and slower than the ones of today.
Yes, it was so long ago, nearly three decades.
Same for Bo Jackson, who was even bigger, faster, and stronger than Walker, although he never achieved the same level of adulation. Perhaps there was a feeling we had seen Jackson before and his name was Herschel.
But do not confuse these Heisman Trophy winners with the outstanding running backs of today like John Clay of Wisconsin, Mark Ingram of Alabama, Noel Devine of West Virginia, Jahvid Best of Cal, or C.J. Spiller of Clemson.
These are the examples of the great modern day runners; "superior-man", capable of feats against the greatest defensive athletes and coaches evolution can provide, not just old-time coaches with defenders who didn't weight lift, much less weight train.
Yes, it is all better now and the childhood memories of players like Walker, Jackson, or even Hutson should be kept just as that—memories.
And like the story of the tooth fairy, we must accept that in the far more advanced world of today, our childhood heroes stand little chance of surviving as relevant to the new fans who come aboard with each passing day.
After all, how many times do we hear Tim Tebow is the greatest football player?
For this week? This year? This decade? Forever?
It must be true, just ask the modern fan.
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