When talking about the best athletes from any major university, limiting the list to five just isn't enough. But I am not talking about the best athletes from the University of Alabama—I am talking about the five GREATEST athletes the Tide has produced over the years.
I know the names of many heroes and legends are already racing through your mind. And some of them just might be on this list. I also know that even when talking about GREAT athletes from Alabama, five still isn't enough.
I will do the best I can and give you my honest opinion, but I am sure there will be debates on this one. Enjoy!
In the history of the NFL draft, only two Alabama football players have been selected as the No. 1 overall pick: Harry Gilmer in 1948 and Joe Namath in 1964. I'm not going back to 1948.
On November 28, 1964, the National Football League and the new American Football League both held a draft selection. The St. Louis Cardinals selected Namath with the 12th overall pick, while the New York Jets used the AFL's first overall pick on the stud from Alabama.
Joe Namath elected to sign with the Jets, who offered him a salary of $427,000 (a pro football record at the time).
While at Alabama, Namath amassed a 29-4 record in three seasons. Bear Bryant once called him "...the greatest athlete I ever coached."
In his third season in the pros, Namath became the first professional football player to reach the 4,000-yard mark.
Clearly, Joe Namath is the greatest quarterback Alabama has ever produced.
Wow! What a monster. I was too young to ever get a chance to see Bennett play, but this picture is definitely worth a thousand words.
In 1987, Cornelius Bennett was selected in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts with the second overall pick.
In the picture, Bennett came with the blitz on Steve Beuerlein's blind side. It was not a good day for Beuerlein.
Cornelius Bennett was named a First Team All-American three times while at Alabama. In his senior year, he won the Lombardi Award, was named SEC Player of the Year, and finished seventh in the Heisman vote.
Bennett also recorded 287 tackles, 21-and-a-half sacks, and three fumble recoveries in his collegiate career.
In his 14-year stint in the NFL, Bennett dug deep and recorded 71-and-a-half sacks and seven interceptions. He had 27 fumble recoveries and 78 fumble return yards, with three touchdowns. He also played in five Super Bowls.
When Cornelius Bennett retired, his 27 fumble recoveries was an NFL record. They just don't make 'em like that anymore.
O.K., so they made one more after Bennett.
Derrick Thomas was one of those laid-back, cool cats...unless he was on the field, that is. Then you were screwed!
In the first round of the 1989 draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected fourth, and they selected wisely.
Thomas broke several records while attending the University of Alabama, including the single-season sack record of 27, which still stands untouched.
Thomas also finished 10th in the Heisman balloting and was a unanimous decision All-American concluding the 1988 season.
Derrick Thomas spent his entire career with the Chiefs, where he became Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he was the first rookie Chieftain to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Hall of Fame player Bobby Bell.
Thomas holds several NFL career records as well, including 45 forced fumbles. He totaled 126-and-a-half sacks and still holds the NFL single-game quarterback sack record of 7.
Thomas also recovered 19 fumbles for 161 yards and four touchdowns. Truly one of the greats. Sadly, Derrick Thomas died February 8, 2000 at the age of 33.
Shaun Alexander could have plowed through a Buick in his college years. He was broad-shouldered and full of speed.
Selected 19th overall in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, Alexander was one of the best running backs the country had ever seen.
When Alexander arrived at Alabama, he wasted no time breaking records.
In 1996, as a redshirt freshman, the Gene Stallings recruit rushed for a record 291 yards and four touchdowns en route to the Tide's 26-0 victory over longtime rival LSU at Tiger Stadium.
In the fourth quarter of the 1999 Iron Bowl versus in-state rival Auburn, Alexander led the team to a come-from-behind win with his three rushing touchdowns.
Shaun Alexander also played a huge role in the 1999 SEC Championship Game against Florida. In overtime, Shaun ran 25 yards for the game-winning touchdown against the No. 3 ranked Gators.
When Alexander finally got his chance in the NFL, in his second season with the Seahawks, he wasted no time showing his talent once again.
Shaun Alexander rushed for 1,318 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first year as a starter for Seattle. On November 11, 2001, he ran for a franchise-record 266 yards on 35 carries against Oakland's ever-dominant defense.
In 2002, Alexander started all 16 games on his way to an NFL-leading (and franchise-record) 16 touchdowns. Against the Minnesota Vikings that same year, he had four rushing touchdowns and one 80-yard reception for a touchdown in the FIRST HALF, setting another NFL record.
Shaun Alexander is truly missed...but Mark Ingram won the Heisman!
Yes, I selected Rolando McClain as one of the five greatest Alabama athletes to go pro. There were several older candidates, but at the end of the day, we have yet to see the best Rolando has to offer.
Earlier this year, McClain was selected eighth overall in the first round of the draft by the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders have always been known for their ferocious defense, but that image has faded in recent years. Oakland needed someone their opponents would fear, and they found exactly that in McClain.
In his three-year career at Alabama, Rolando registered 274 tackles, 29.5 of them were for loss of yards. He also recorded eight sacks and five interceptions. Not bad for an inside linebacker.
Entering his junior year, McClain was a candidate for the Butkus Award, which he later won, and All-American honors.
Aside from becoming only the second Alabama player to win the Butkus Award (Derrick Thomas), Rolando was also the first Alabama linebacker to win the Lambert Award (best collegiate linebacker) since its inception in 1991.
Following the 2009 SEC Championship Game, McClain was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-SEC, as well as being unanimously named a First Team All-American by the Associated Press and AFCA.
Rolando McClain has much more to offer, and I believe he is one of the greatest NFL athletes to ever come out of Alabama.
This was not an easy selection process. There are several well-deserving Crimson Tide athletes, but I had to stick with my gut and call it like I see it.
Maybe one day, when I have a whole day to spend, I will expand the list to 10 or 15. Until then, this is it. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think.
For your own reference, check out this link. I found it very helpful: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/colleges/alabama/drafted.htm