Oregon Football: 10 Greatest Ducks in NFL History

Kay Jennings@KayJenningsPDXContributor IIIFebruary 17, 2012

Oregon Football: 10 Greatest Ducks in NFL History

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    Even before the current success the Oregon Ducks have been experiencing, the program has sent many high-caliber players to the NFL.

    The U of O has also churned out some good coaches, who, after their playing days were over, remained in the NFL in some capacity.

    Let's take a look at 10 of the all-time best NFLers to wear a Ducks uniform. These aren't in any particular order; just as they popped into my brain. If I don't name your all-time favorite, please let me hear about it.

    Let's take a walk down memory lane.

    Post-note: I fully expect LaMichael James to be on this list next year.

No. 1: Dan Fouts

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    Dan Fouts, aka "Mountain Man," was the Ducks quarterback from 1970-72 and was drafted by the San Diego Charges in '73. Fouts played for the Chargers for 15 years and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, his first year of eligibility.

    I think the reason I thought of Dan Fouts first while researching this article was because I still fondly and distinctly remember his touchdown-winning pass to complete a three-touchdown rally over UCLA in 1970. Until this year's Rose Bowl win, that 1970 game was the most exciting game in Oregon history for me.

    During Fouts' tenure with the Chargers, he took the formerly woeful team to three AFC West championship games. Fouts was the third player ever to pass for over 40,000 yards and finished his pro career with 43,040 yards passing. He is one of three NFL quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards in multiple seasons.

    Fouts was selected for the Pro Bowl six times, and was the NFL MVP in 1982.

    I believe he still lives in the Sisters, OR area.

No. 2: Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad)

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    While we're in the 70s, we have to talk about Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad).

    Moore, born in Portland, was a teammate of Dan Fouts and played both running back and wide receiver for the Ducks. He was an All-American in 1971 and was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He has not been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    After his days at Oregon, Moore converted to Islam and legally changed his name to Ahmad Rashad in 1972.

    Rashad was selected fourth overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. He played wide receiver for St. Louis, followed by stints at Buffalo, Seattle, and, most notably, the Minnesota Vikings, where he finished his pro career.

    During his prolific years in Minnesota, Rashad was a four-time Pro Bowler 1978-81.

    After his pro career ended, Rashad had a successful broadcasting and television career. He has been married four times, and is currently some sort of socialite celebrity, I guess.

No. 3: Dave Wilcox

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    Also born in Oregon like Bobby Moore, although in Ontario on the other side of the state, Dave Wilcox was considered by many to be the best outside linebacker during his era.

    Wilcox played at Boise Junior College (now Boise State) after high school and transferred to Oregon for his last two years. He was actually drafted in 1964 by two pro teams: the Houston Oilers in the nascent American Football League, and the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League (29th player overall).

    Wilcox chose the 49ers, where he starred for 11 seasons. Everything you need to know about Dave Wilcox the player is summed up by his nickname: the Intimidator. He was one of the most physically and mentally tough players I've ever seen play the game.

    Wilcox played in seven Pro Bowls, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

    Dave, if you are reading this and you are still with that absolutely fabulous Merle "Bucky" Wilcox, please tell her Kay (Bryant) Jennings says "hi." And, while we are proud of Justin getting the big job at UW, most Duck fans think it sucks.

No. 4: Mel Renfro

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    Another strong Pro Football Hall of Famer, Mel Renfro, like Dave Wilcox, is on everyone's list of favorite all time Oregon players.

    Perhaps today's star football Ducks who are also having success on the track are modeling their careers after Renfro. He was an All-American halfback at Oregon and a superb track star. Renfro was one of the first Oregon players to be known for his speed.

    He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round in 1964 and was a star defensive back for the Cowboys for 14 years, starting at safety and moving to cornerback after four years. Renfro also was an exciting and terrific returner on special teams.

    Renfro started brilliantly in the NFL, leading the Cowboys with seven interceptions and leading the league in both punt and kickoff return yardage in his first pro season. He made the Pro Bowl his rookie year and in nine successive years before injury kept him out in '73.

    It goes without saying, Renfro enjoyed a lengthy and highly successful pro career, playing in eight NFL/NFC championship games and in four Super Bowls.

No. 5: Gary Zimmerman

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    Yes, we're still on Hall of Fame players—bet you didn't realize Oregon has so many. Gary Zimmerman was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008 after playing in a total of 184 pro games.

    The durable offensive tackle played in seven Pro Bowls,earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors eight times, and was named to two NFL All-Decade Teams. Known for his toughness and desire to play no matter what, Zimmerman was well respected by both teammates and opponents.

    Joining the Minnesota Vikings in 1986, Zimmerman's terrific play on the offensive line helped the Vikings lead the NFC in rushing in 1991. After he was acquired by Denver in 1993, Zimmerman's presence helped the Broncos to one of their most productive offensive eras in franchise history.

    I wish this dude had a year of eligibility left for the Ducks.

No. 6: Haloti Ngata

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    I like to judge athletes by who I would least like to be lined up against. Since I'm a 5'3" woman of some years, that list is quite long. Haloti Ngata is, however, at the top of that list. 

    People who know Ngata say he is a gentle giant, but still. The 6'4", 330-pound defensive tackle was a 5-star recruit out of high school and chose Oregon over several top D-1 schools. He missed part of his first season with the Ducks due to injury, but soon became one of the top players in the country, earning All-American honors in 2005, one of the first Ducks to be so named in decades.

    Selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round (12th overall) of the 2006 NFL draft, Ngata is now one of the faces of the Ravens franchise. On Sept. 20, 2011, the Ravens signed Ngata to a five-year, $61 million extension.

    What's even more impressive about Ngata is how he has persevered through personal tragedies in his life. He lost both parents during his time at Oregon, and in different, tragic circumstances. 

    My money is on this guy to be another Oregon entrant in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day.

No. 7: Norm Van Brocklin

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    Norm Van Brocklin, also known as "The Dutchman," was an All-American quarterback for the Ducks in 1948 (he was also an excellent punter—Mike Bellotti would have loved this guy!). Van Brocklin is considered to be one of the best Oregon players of all time, and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

    Van Brocklin left Oregon a year early for the NFL—sound familiar? However, in those days, college players weren't allowed to join the NFL until four years after graduating from high school. Van Brocklin only played at Oregon for three years, but spent time serving in the Navy during WWII and was, therefore, eligible for the NFL.

    The Dutchman was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round (37th overall) of the 1949 NFL draft. He had a storied career with the Rams, leading them to the championship in 1951. Van Brocklin went to the Philadelphia Eagles in '58, quarterbacking the Eagles to the 1960 NFL Championship Game, where they beat the Green Bay Packers.

    After a 12-year career, and two championships, Van Brocklin retired in 1960. He was named to the Pro Bowl nine times and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.

    Van Brocklin died of a stroke in 1983, but my favorite Norm Van Brocklin story happens to involve another seemingly perilous situation. Upon having a brain tumor removed, the Dutchman told the press, "It was a brain transplant. They gave me a sportswriter's brain to make sure I got one that hadn't been used."

No. 8: Jonathan Stewart

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    Jonathan Stewart, like Norm Van Brocklin, decided to forego his senior season at Oregon. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers as the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

    As Washington state's career leading high school rusher, Stewart came to Oregon as a highly rated, prized recruit, and he did not disappoint. His freshman year, Stewart led the nation in kickoff return average and scored nine touchdowns on only 72 touches. He only got better his sophomore and junior campaigns.

    Stewart signed with the Panthers for $14 million in 2008 and got his first career start in his second season when DeAngelo Williams went down with injury. He made the most of sharing rushing duties with Williams, as they became the first rushing duo in NFL history to rush for 1,100 yards each.

    While Stewart's rushing yardage declined in 2011 with the arrival of Cam Newton at QB, his receiving yards went way up, finishing last year with 1,174 cumulative yards.

    You have to believe it only a matter of time before Stewart finally overtakes Williams and gets the chance to be The Man.

No. 9: Anthony Newman

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    Defensive back Anthony Newman played 12 seasons in the NFL. He started with the Los Angeles Rams in '88, went to the New Orleans Saints in '95, and finished his pro career with the Oakland Raiders in 1998-99. 

    Newman had a very solid NFL career after starring at the University of Oregon. He currently is working for the Oregon Sports Network and resides in Oregon.

    Newman has been one of my personal favorites for years and thoroughly appreciate his his football IQ and insight on the air.

No. 10: Joey Harrington

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    OK, I'm going with Joey for No. 10, but only because I like living in the state of Oregon, and if he's not on this list, I'm toast.

    One could, however, make a very strong case for A.J. Feeley. After all, Feeley is still playing in the NFL, and Joey was shown the door in 2009.

    But while Harrington's pro career was not the greatest of all time, it was certainly one of the most interesting. He was selected by the Detroit Lions with the No. 3 overall in the '02 draft and took over under center almost immediately.

    To be kind, Harrington's run in Detroit was not highly successful. Whether it was all on his shoulders, or whether inept head coach Steve Mariucci shared the blame, we will probably never know for sure.

    Traded in 2006 to the Miami Dolphins, Harrington started 11 games before agreeing to a two-year contract with Atlanta. He was released from the Falcons in 2008 and signed with the New Orleans Saints, but was eventually released in 2009.

    If this slideshow was about the most popular players to ever play at Oregon, Joey would probably be No. 1. But it's about success in the NFL, so, my apologies, A.J., I copped out.

Honorable Mention

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    My favorite punter of all time in the universe is Josh Bidwell. Bidwell played 12 years in the NFL, overcoming testicular cancer and regaining his starting job. Amazing. I think he's back in Eugene now. Bidwell probably should be on the top 10 list.

    Tight end Russ Francis should have been on the list too. The guy played 11 years in the NFL and was once referred to by the late, great Howard Cosell as "All-World Tight End." But, although Francis was an Oregon boy, I never much cared for him. And I'm writing the list, so he's out.

    Also because I'm writing the list, I'm including my old friend Bob Newland. Look him up.

    And, finally, I decided to not include anyone named Smith. So, Onterrio and Akili aren't on the list either.

    I hope I've covered your favorites, and that you enjoyed this walk down memory lane as much as I did.

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