Top 5 Defensive Linemen Who Changed Their Franchises in the NFL
After listening to this week's "dirty player" drama unfold, I took the time to reflect on the NFL as a game in its entirety.
Certainly I haven't been around since the inception of this league, but during the time I had this sport on my radar, there were many defensive linemen, in particular, that I appreciated.
Call them dirty, call them brutal or call them whatever you would like (just make sure you have a pretty good start).
I choose to call it football.
Ndamukong Suh seems to be the latest recipient of ridicule when it comes to playing his position or the smack talking on the field. As we all may agree, Suh has been a valuable asset to the Detroit Lions in turning their franchise around.
I chose some of my favorite defensive linemen to have changed their franchises (and the game) into something magical, if even for what seemed a short time in their career.
John Randle, Minnesota Vikings
By far one of my favorites to play the game. Randle wasn't the suavest of guys. He had his own style. From the face paint to the zip codes on his eye black, his kind of strike force talent was noticed every Sunday on the NFL gridiron.
He was a trash talker. No one would deny that. In fact, there would be plenty to tell stories of some of the things he said. Nonetheless, he broke down the psyche of the offensive side and dominated their vulnerable reactions (especially on astro-turf).
Nicknamed the "Motor Mouth," if anything needed to be said, he definitely had no verbal filter or fear.
He caused fear.
The undrafted Randle finished his career with seven Pro Bowls and 137.5 sacks (tied fifth all-time with Richard Dent) and was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
"I was lucky to see first-hand what a player of his caliber dedicated to his day-to-day routine. You couldn't help but work harder when he was going full-bore every day. He made all of us on the offensive line better by facing him at practice." - Steve Hutchinson, guard, Minnesota Vikings
Bruce Smith, Buffalo Bills
I don't even want to imagine what Roger Goodell would do with the likes of Bruce Smith in today's NFL.
Smith came at you, around you, under you and right through you. There was no escaping the wrath of this legendary athlete.
The all-time leading sacker, Smith lead the Buffalo Bills on defense and had this franchise fired up and opponents scared.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl an unprecedented 11 times. In his 19 seasons with the NFL (15 with the Bills), he recorded 200 quarterback sacks and still holds that record today.
A mammoth of talent, Smith, known as the "Sack Man," joined the NFL as a first round pick in 1985. He finished his career as a 12 time All-Pro selection as well as a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
When Bruce Smith and the Bills were scheduled to play, he brought in the crowds and kept the opponents studying all week.
Explosive, quick and fierce, Smith changed the Buffalo Bills during his tenure and put a staple on the history of defensive ends in the NFL.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
"All you can do with a guy like that is try and stay in front of him and hope the quarterback gets rid of the damn ball quick enough.” - Art Shell, Hall of Fame tackle
Richard Dent, Chicago Bears
Without question one of the elite staples to the Chicago Bears defense, Richard Dent solidified this defense.
Not only did he solidify the defensive side of the ball, he built up his teammates to what became knosn as the best defense in NFL history: the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Not many arguments can be won when denying Richard Dent of such a title. He cemented the very facet of the defensive lineman into a respected franchise team.
Dent was arguably one of the best pass rushers of his time. He was awarded the Super Bowl XX MVP.
When looking back at his achievements (to put things into perspective), Dent's 1985 salary was $90,000 for the year.
After 15 seasons in the NFL, Richard Dent was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
"I don’t think Richard was ever fully appreciated as being part of that dominant Bears team in 1985, because they had so many large personalities. But he was as good a pass rusher as you’ll find. During his prime years, he was the best at what he did.’’ – former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Charles Haley for the Dallas Cowboys/San Francisco 49ers.
Charles Haley is so awesome that he was an intricate player in two franchises.
The only player in NFL history to have five Super Bowl rings, Haley is known for his dirty play, talk, walk, and out right dominance. Plain and simple, he was (is) a badass.
Haley became a name in the 49er defense and led them to a No. 1 ranked defense in 1987.
It may be argued with the rising of the 49er offense that this defense was just as prolific.
Possibly Ronnie Lott would be the only player during this time to have a chance to overshadow Haley. Between Haley's speed and Lott's hits, their game was definitely action packed.
Haley then went to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992. Seemed that anywhere he went, he won a Super Bowl ring. If there was football on the moon, he would win one there, too.
Without a doubt, Haley was one of the biggest rivals to his opposing team. He even studied an offensive lineman's biographies and used their circumstances against them while facing them on the line.
Talking about their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, you name it, Haley felt everything was fair game on the field.
He got in their heads.
He could smack talk for 60 minutes with no problem and bring it week after week. I'm sure Haley would leave offensive linemen falling asleep still hearing his annoying game-time chatter in their heads.
A five-time Pro Bowler and has recorded just over 100 sacks, Haley ended his career back with the 49'ers in 1999.
Charles Haley is yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some may say he did not make many friends with the sportswriters; however, we all know he belongs in Canton.
"If you sacrifice early, you'll win late," Haley said.
Mark Gastineau, New York Jets
How many of you forgot about him? It's not easy just picking five defensive linemen that changed their franchises, but I know that when Gastineau came on the scene, I loved football!
His passion and perseverance on the field was insurmountable. He made the game exciting. He brought out Jets fans from all over the nation.
Either you loved him or you hated him (just like any other great defensive lineman), but there was no denying him.
He was the talk of his time!
A part of the "New York Sack Exchange," Gastineau, along with Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam recorded a record 81 sacks in 1981. Although sacks were not recorded until the following year (thanks to a guy named Lawrence Taylor), Gastineau nonetheless was a feared pass rusher.
Mark led the NFL in single season sacks, with 22, from 1984 until it was broken by Michael Strahan in 2001. He was named to five Pro Bowls in which he claimed an MVP title in 1984 after having four sacks.
The NFL had to enforce a rule that did have a provision permitting "spontaneous expressions of exuberance" that would soon become the Gastineau rule. Fines and penalties for his wild impressionable display after a sack were threatened by the league.
It could be said that his antics, his "Sack Dance" and his taunting style on the field was all a part of the game; however, his off-field records may have cost him recognition to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He became the highest paid defensive end in the NFL when he received a $4 million, five-year deal after the 1984 season.
Gastineau had a turbulent personal life off the field and retired on short notice under much criticism. He spent nine seasons in the NFL, all with the New York Jets, and ended his career with 107.5 sacks.
"You tend not to see the champion do it [show off] as much as you see the guy who sees himself as an individual. If a successful offensive line danced every time it protected the quarterback, it would look like a disco out there," former Rams head coach, John Robinson.
While I am sure that other defensive linemen have crossed your minds while reading this, I too feel that there are those who changed franchises that at least deserve an honorable mention.
Reggie White for the Green Bay Packers.
Deacon Jones for the Los Angeles Rams
Roger Brown for the Detroit Lions
Howie Long for the Oakland Raiders
The list is certainly long, and it is difficult to narrow it down to just five.
However, as long as there is a defensive lineman position in the NFL, expect some trash talking on the field. They have always done it and will always play this psychological role against their rival. It's all a part of the game.
On a final note, if the trash talking is done on the field, leave it there.
It doesn't belong in the media.