Every NFL Team's Mount Rushmore
Earlier this month, Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes listed every NBA team's "Mount Rushmore," which looked at four players who "made the biggest impact, scored the most points or otherwise mattered most in the historical myth-making" of each professional basketball franchise.
It wasn't the first Mount Rushmore spin-off—they've become a bit of a fad lately—but it was a fun offseason exercise that contextualized the history and progress that's been made by all 30 NBA teams.
With their faces carved into roughly 60 feet of granite in South Dakota, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are undoubtedly four of the most iconic and important figures in American history.
Who are the Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln on every NFL team? Let's break it down.
Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Larry Wilson, Charley Trippi
This team hasn't experienced much success during its nearly 10-decade existence in Chicago, St. Louis and Arizona. The Cardinals haven't won a championship since 1947 (when they resided in Chicago) and have made just one Super Bowl. But they finally gained the NFL's respect with Fitzgerald and Boldin in the receiving corps in 2007, 2008 and 2009, so that duo's inclusion isn't the result of recency bias.
Former quarterback Kurt Warner could have been included because he was the guy throwing to Fitzgerald and Boldin when Arizona made a Super Bowl run in '08 and won the NFC West with 10 victories in '09. But Warner was there just five years and made the Pro Bowl in only one of those seasons. He's a St. Louis Ram first, while Fitzgerald and Boldin—who have put up a combined 13 1,000-yard seasons in 20 years with the Cards—are symbols of the rejuvenation of a longtime lovable loser.
For the other half of the monument, we jump back about half a century to remember Wilson, who was a first-team All-Pro defensive back in five consecutive seasons to kick off the Super Bowl era, and Trippi, who was a star rookie running back when the Cards won their first and only NFL title in '47.
Wilson, who intercepted 52 passes during his 13-year career in St. Louis, was a 1978 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. Trippi, who was known as a versatile "quintuple-threat" with the ability to run, catch, throw, punt and defend, was inducted in 1968.
Again, this might look too contemporary for a team that has been around since 1966, but the Falcons were so mediocre for so long that Sanders is the only player they've employed whose legacy transcended his era.
The Hall of Fame cornerback and return man spent only the first five years of his career in Atlanta, but he intercepted 24 passes and earned three Pro Bowl nods in that span. The Falcons still weren't very good for most of that stretch, but that started to change when they added first-round draft picks White in 2005, Ryan in 2008 and Jones in 2011.
White made four Pro Bowls and retired in April as the team's all-time receiving leader, Ryan is a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback coming off an MVP season and Jones has made four Pro Bowls in six seasons while establishing himself as arguably the best receiver in the game.
If the Falcons had even a bit of success during Hall of Fame defensive end Claude Humphrey's 11-year tenure in the 1960s and 1970s, he'd be on the mountain instead of Jones or White. But because the Falcons finally became a consistent contender when Ryan, Jones and White led the way, that three-headed monster gets the nod.
Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden, Terrell Suggs
The 21-year-old Ravens have won two Super Bowls since the turn of the century, and Lewis—a Hall of Fame shoo-in at linebacker—was a key member of both of those championship teams. That's remarkable considering those Super Bowl seasons were separated by 12 years (2000 and 2012).
Lewis was the face of the franchise for most of his 17-year career. For the majority of that time, Reed was the Robin to Lewis' Batman. The five-time All-Pro safety intercepted a silly 61 passes in his 11 seasons with the Ravens (no other NFL player who started his career this century has more than 51).
When you think of the Ravens, you think of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
You might also think of Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco, who quarterbacked the Ravens during those respective Super Bowl campaigns. But Dilfer was carried by one of the best defenses in NFL history, and Flacco hasn't done enough outside of that 2012 playoff run to merit inclusion on Mount Ravensmore.
Instead, we'll give the other two spots to Ogden and Suggs. Along with Marshal Yanda, Lewis and Reed, they're the only Ravens with more than five Pro Bowl nods on their resumes. Ogden is a particularly good fit because the Hall of Fame offensive lineman was the first draft choice in Ravens history before consistently dominating over the course of his 12-year career. The still-active Suggs has 44.5 more sacks than any other player in franchise history.
Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson
This was remarkably hard because Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure might have been the most dominant Bills player of all time, but the team was terrible for most of his time there. Hall of Fame receiver Andre Reed, meanwhile, is almost always listed alongside Kelly, Thomas and Smith, but it's hard to commission a Mount Billsmore without the team's founding father, late owner Ralph Wilson.
Wilson takes the spot that otherwise would have gone to Reed or former coach Marv Levy, both of whom were major players when Kelly, Thomas and Smith carried the team to a record four consecutive Super Bowls between 1990 and 1993.
All four are in the Hall of Fame, as are Smith, Reed, Levy, DeLamielleure and O.J. Simpson (who I don't think we need to address for obvious reasons, but you can see why this one is complicated).
Kelly arguably remains the face of the franchise, which speaks to how important he was/is, as well as how difficult life has been since that era. Thomas was a five-time Pro Bowler, an MVP (1991) and a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team. Smith still holds the NFL record with 200 career sacks. Wilson joins them because he kept the team in Buffalo through thick and thin, and at the time of his death, he was the third-longest-tenured owner in NFL history.
I'd expect his legacy to continue to grow.
This, on the other hand, was simple.
A former player, Richardson founded the Panthers in North Carolina in 1995 and has become one of the most influential owners in the league.
Smith had seven 1,000-yard seasons in Carolina and is a five-time Pro Bowler, and Peppers also had five Pro Bowl campaigns during his initial eight-year run in Carolina and is the league's active sack leader with 143.5. They were the team's first superstars on either side of the ball.
Newton has become one of the faces of the league since being drafted first overall in 2011. The three-time Pro Bowler is like no other quarterback in the NFL, and he delivered by winning MVP while leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015.
All but the retired Smith will be with the organization in 2017, but it's already time to start carving Mount Panthersmore with all four faces.
George Halas, Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka
When you're nearly 100 years old and you've had as much success as the Bears, you might deserve a second Mount Bearsmore for honorable mentions such as Gale Sayers, Sid Luckman, Brian Urlacher and Mike Singletary. But it seems clear that these four—Halas, Payton, Butkus and Ditka—are the bedrock of the Bears franchise.
Halas is the quintessential founding football father: player, coach, founder, owner and one of the original 17 inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He won six championships as a head coach, and the team remains in his family's hands.
Payton is considered one of the two or three greatest running backs in NFL history, and he still ranks second on the all-time rushing yardage list. Butkus terrified the league for nine seasons in Chicago, earning Pro Bowl nods in eight of those years. Ditka was a five-time Pro Bowler as a tight end before leading the world-famous 1985 Bears to the Super Bowl as part of a stellar career as head coach.
When you think of the Bears, you usually think of one or several of those guys first. You can't tell the story of the franchise without them.
Anthony Munoz, Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Paul Brown
It's wild that in 49 seasons of Cincinnati Bengals football, Munoz—who was a first-team All-Pro nine times during a Hall of Fame career at left tackle—is the only true former Bengals player with a bust in Canton, Ohio (Charlie Joiner only spent 3.5 seasons out of 18 in Cincy).
An argument could be made that Anderson deserves one too, considering that the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback had a successful 16-year run in Cincy. Esiason had similar success in that he wasn't quite a Hall of Fame-level quarterback but was good enough to be considered one of the greatest members of a team that has spent much of its time losing. Anderson was the MVP in 1981, a year in which he led the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Esiason was MVP in 1988 (when he also led the Bengals to the Super Bowl) and earned three Pro Bowl nods in Cincinnati.
And then there's the somewhat controversial Brown, who played a role in founding the Bengals after leaving the Browns and became their moderately successful head coach. The team remains in the hands of his family, but that lack of success on the field hasn't led to superb approval ratings among Cincinnati sports fans.
In most other places, he'd be replaced by a legendary player. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they haven't employed many of those.
Paul Brown, Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Lou Groza
That's right: The state of Ohio should contain two football-oriented Mount Rushmore-type monuments that include Paul Brown's face. After all, the Browns are named after Paul Brown, who co-founded the organization in 1946 and coached it to three NFL championships in the 1950s. It's a shame Art Modell was able to buy him out and eventually fire him in the early 1960s, but Brown will always be the team's beloved founding father.
Another Brown, though, represents the glory days of Cleveland football. That's Jim, who is widely viewed as one of the greatest players in NFL history. The Hall of Fame running back was an eight-time first-team All-Pro and three-time MVP, and he was named to the league's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994.
If the NFL had its own Mount Rushmore, he'd be a strong candidate for inclusion.
Graham is also a no-brainer. The Hall of Famer quarterbacked the Browns to all three of those 1950s championships, and he was a four-time first-team All-Pro and three-time MVP. His numbers were also huge in his era, and his 9.0 yards-per-attempt average is still the highest in NFL history.
Meanwhile, Groza protected Graham's blind side during those glory days. But that wasn't his claim to fame. The Hall of Famer revolutionized the place-kicking position, dominating from never-before-seen distances for much of his 21-year career with the Browns.
The Browns might not have a strong reputation today, but their Mount Rushmore reveals how fantastic they once were. It's one of the most formidable mountains on this list.
Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith, Bob Lilly
You know Jerry Jones wouldn't commission a Mount Cowboysmore without including his own mug, but the reality is there are too many stronger candidates in the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. Off the field, you have to start with Landry, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.
Landry patrolled the Cowboys sideline for 29 seasons, starting with their inaugural 1960 campaign. At one point, he went 21 years without a losing season. He led the team to five Super Bowls, winning two. And that trademark fedora is NFL lore. You know he'd be donning that thing on the mountain.
Landry would be joined by his best offensive and defensive players, Staubach (quarterbacked the Cowboys to both of those early titles while earning six Pro Bowl nods before retiring as the second-highest-rated passer in NFL history) and Lilly (named to two All-Decade teams as a defensive tackle after a Hall of Fame career that included seven first-team All-Pro nods).
That's bad news for Jones as well as two of the three "Triplets" (quarterback Troy Aikman, wide receiver Michael Irvin and running back Emmitt Smith) who led the team to three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. Smith edges out Aikman and Irvin here: Staubach was more dominant than Aikman in their respective eras, Irvin wasn't dominant for long enough and Smith still has way more rushing yards than any other player in league history.
You could make strong cases for Aikman, Irvin, Jones, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, even Larry Allen. But I couldn't justify excluding Landry, Staubach, Smith and Lilly.
John Elway, Terrell Davis, Randy Gradishar, Von Miller
Von Miller already? Yes, Von Miller already. The three-time first-team All-Pro pass-rusher is the primary reason the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, and in six seasons he has already moved into the No. 3 spot on the team's all-time sack list. He's the centerpiece of a very successful team, which is why he gets the nod to represent the contemporary Broncos over Peyton Manning.
Elway and Davis are...Elway and Davis. Elway is undoubtedly one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and he accomplished that solely in Denver during 16-year career. He led the Broncos to five Super Bowls in that span, winning back-to-back titles before riding into the sunset. He's since bolstered his Broncos legacy as a Super Bowl-winning general manager.
But Davis was the focal point of those Super Bowl teams in the late 1990s. His NFL career was short, but there's a strong chance the Broncos wouldn't have made those runs in 1997 and 1998 if Davis hadn't recorded a ridiculous 4,262 yards from scrimmage while scoring 38 touchdowns during that two-season stretch. He was of course a first-team All-Pro in both of those years, as well as in 1996, and is in the Hall of Fame despite the fact he played just seven years.
Some will want to put Champ Bailey, Shannon Sharpe or Floyd Little on here instead of Gradishar, but the linebacker made seven Pro Bowls in 10 dominant seasons as the leader of the world-famous "Orange Crush" defense. That unit has to be represented, and Gradishar is the top candidate. The team wasn't very good during Bailey's and Little's primes, and Sharpe was overshadowed by Elway and Davis in their shared era.
Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Bobby Layne, Lem Barney
I don't have to defend Sanders' inclusion, but let's just state that the man is without a doubt the greatest Lion of all time. Ten Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro nods in 10 seasons. Twice the Offensive Player of the Year and the MVP in 1997. He's right there with Walter Payton in Chicago, Jim Brown in Cleveland and Emmitt Smith in Dallas.
Had Sanders played longer, his legacy might somehow be even larger. Ditto for Johnson, who was one of the most physically marvelous players of his generation as a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. He played just nine seasons, and the Lions won zero playoff games during that span, but the competition isn't fierce here.
In fact, before Sanders and Johnson emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, Layne had been the man in Detroit for about half a century. He was the face of the franchise the last time it experienced sustained success, way back in the 1950s. The Hall of Fame quarterback led the Lions to three titles in a six-year span, but then he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958, and the Lions have been searching for their next championship—and their next quarterback—ever since.
Finally, Barney edges out Dick LeBeau. Both were great cornerbacks during the dark ages that followed the Layne era, and LeBeau played a little longer, but Barney was a bigger playmaker who brought more to the table. He had a silly 56 picks in 11 years and scored seven touchdowns on D as well as three as a return man.
Green Bay Packers
Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Brett Favre
I'd prefer to have more players represented on Mount Packersmore, especially considering how much on-field success the team has experienced. But Lambeau founded the team and has the sport's most famous stadium named after him, and Lombardi was such a legendary coach that the Super Bowl trophy is named after him.
Those men are locks, which makes things difficult since the organization has also employed three of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Legendary non-quarterbacks Don Hutson, Ray Nitschke and Forrest Gregg deserve plenty of love too, but they'll have to join Aaron Rodgers on the Mount Packersmore of honorable mentions.
That's because Starr and Favre can't be denied. The former quarterbacked the Packers to five titles, winning MVP in Super Bowls I and II. He was also the league MVP in the first year of the Super Bowl era and was named to the 1960s All-Decade Team. The latter was a three-time MVP, a Super Bowl champion and the holder of, like, a thousand records when he finally walked away after an ironman career in 2010.
Rodgers' numbers—generally and relative to his peers—are better, and he has a Super Bowl under his belt as well. He might one day retire with a greater legacy than Favre, but No. 4 was here first.
This naturally seems a little silly, seeing as the Texans are still a teenager. Nonetheless, it's easy to identify four men who have made a larger impact than anyone else since the team played its first game in 2002.
The first is McNair, who founded the organization at around the turn of the century, bringing professional football back to a pigskin hotbed a few years after it lost the Oilers to Tennessee.
Then you have the franchise's first true star in Johnson, who was its second first-round pick (let's not talk about that David Carr dude) and went on to make seven Pro Bowls during a 12-year run as one of the league's most dominant receivers.
Meanwhile, Watt has become the face of the franchise. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is widely considered the best defender in the game, and although he's been around just six years, it seems inevitable he'll wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Foster was a fantastic running back in his prime, but he's on here because the Texans haven't had enough time to produce larger legends at this point. If we conduct this exercise again in 2027, he won't likely be included. That said, he made four Pro Bowls over a strong seven-year run in which he was one of the best backs in football.
That's enough to edge out Matt Schaub, who—somewhat sadly—is at least the greatest quarterback in Texans history.
Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Bill Polian
A Mount Coltsmore wouldn't make sense without Unitas, but the monument would be somewhat weird if located in Indianapolis. That's because Unitas, of course, spent 17 years as the face of the Baltimore Colts, earning three MVP awards and 10 Pro Bowl nods along with a Lombardi Trophy in that span. About a decade after he retired, the team moved from Baltimore to Indy. And about a decade-and-a-half after that, the Colts selected Manning first overall in the 1998 draft.
You're free to debate below on who was better. Fortunately, that's not my job. Both belong on that rock in Indy (or Baltimore? Or Columbus, Ohio, which is located partway between both cities?), leaving two free spots.
The first non-quarterback spot has to go to Harrison, who ranks fourth on the all-time receptions list with 1,102 and has caught more touchdown passes than all but four players in NFL history.
Although Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Edgerrin James are also strong candidates, we should complete Coltsmore with the man who originally hired all of the above. Polian was the architect of the 2000s Colts—a team that made the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, won a Super Bowl and would have been a heck of a lot more dominant if not for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the New England Patriots.
Jimmy Smith, Mark Brunell, Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor
The Panthers, Texans and Jaguars are the only three active NFL teams without Hall of Famers, so this is again tricky. Fortunately for the Jags, they were such a special team early on in their life as an expansion organization that there are four rather obvious candidates.
You've got Smith, who was added as a scrap in Jacksonville's first season after failing to cut it in Dallas and Philadelphia. All he did was make five Pro Bowls over the next 11 seasons there, and his breakout 1,244-yard campaign in 1996 was a big reason the Jags found themselves in the AFC Championship Game despite the fact they were less than two years old.
That wouldn't have happened if not for Brunell—the team's all-time passing leader, a three-time Pro Bowler and the league's passing yardage leader in that epic '96 campaign—and his left tackle, Boselli, who also made the Pro Bowl that season and was an All-Pro in each of the next three campaigns.
Boselli was Jacksonville's first-ever draft pick (second overall in '95), but Taylor is probably the most famous player ever drafted by the Jags. The 1998 No. 9 overall pick went over 1,000 yards on the ground seven times during his 11-year tenure there, emerging as a fantasy football favorite who drew some young fans to his young team.
Maurice Jones-Drew had a higher peak, but he came along later and didn't sustain it for as long as Taylor.
Kansas City Chiefs
Lamar Hunt, Hank Stram, Len Dawson, Tony Gonzalez
Here's the deal: Among Len Dawson, Derrick Thomas, Will Shields and Tony Gonzalez, there's only room for two former Chiefs star players.
All four seem like they should be locks, but Hunt takes one of their spots as the man who founded both the Chiefs and the American Football League. He had a tremendous influence on pro football and an organization that has always maintained a pristine reputation, and the team remains in his family.
Stram takes the other non-player spot after coaching the team during its first 15 years as a franchise, winning three AFL championships and Super Bowl IV in the process.
So who gets nixed as a result? Painfully, Thomas and Shields don't make Mount Chiefsmore.
Dawson can't be denied. The Hall of Fame quarterback was the centerpiece of the team during that successful run under Stram, earning seven All-Star/Pro Bowl nods over the course of 14 seasons there. He was the MVP of the only Super Bowl in team history.
Same with Gonzalez. Only Jerry Rice has caught more passes than the soon-to-be Hall of Famer, who missed just two games while making a ridiculous 14 Pro Bowls in 17 seasons (12 with the Chiefs). Nobody has made more Pro Bowls.
It's tough to turn down Shields, who was one of the greatest guards of all time and is in the Hall of Fame after making the Pro Bowl 12 times in 14 seasons (all with the Chiefs). It's even tougher to wonder about Thomas, whose life was cut short when he died from injuries suffered in a car accident at the age of 33 (he was a nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker, a three-time first-team All-Pro and the NFL Man of the Year in 1993).
But it would make even less sense to exclude any of the four legends above.
Los Angeles Chargers
Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, Junior Seau, LaDainian Tomlinson
If the departing Chargers want to leave the city of San Diego a lasting memory of their 56 years there, they might want to commission Mount Chargemore, but the selection process won't be easy.
That's because the team didn't have one particular heyday in San Diego. Instead, the Bolts were competitive at four separate junctures. I'm giving you one legend from each.
1960-1965: They won an AFL championship, went to four more and won five division titles during this span, and Alworth was the standout in San Diego for most of it. He was an All-Star with at least 50 catches and 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons between 1963 and 1970, and in 1994 he was named to the league's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
1978-1981: They lost just 18 games in this four-season span, making the playoffs in all four of them and reaching the AFC Championship Game twice. Fouts—a Hall of Fame quarterback—set new single-season passing yardage records in each of the latter three campaigns. He made six Pro Bowls over the course of a 15-year career in San Diego, and he remains one of the most accomplished passers in NFL history.
1992-1995: They won the division in '92 and did so again en route to the Super Bowl in '94, and a young Seau was the headliner for that entire stretch, plus another seven years. Widely considered one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, he's in Canton with 12 Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro nods on his record.
2004-2009: They won five division titles and made a couple of strong playoff runs during this six-year stretch. While I wouldn't fault you for picking quarterback Philip Rivers to represent those teams, Tomlinson was undoubtedly the Chargers' most dominant player in the 2000s.
In fact, the three-time All-Pro was the most dominant offensive player in football in several of those seasons. Between '02 and '07, he had 12,422 yards from scrimmage. Nobody else in football had more than 10,300. He's a lock.
Los Angeles Rams
Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Eric Dickerson, Kurt Warner
It'd be a little less awkward for the Rams to create a Mount Rushmore-type monument in Los Angeles, aside from that whole "Greatest Show on Turf" thing that took place while the organization was on vacation in St. Louis for a couple of decades. It's hard not to include at least one star from that era, considering how historically dangerous that offense was and how much success it had.
The St. Louis Rams would have a strong Mount Rushmore of their own, with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Orlando Pace and Steven Jackson all worthy of such a tribute. But because the team employed legends like Olsen, Jones, Dickerson, Jack Youngblood and Jackie Slater during its first stint in Southern California, there isn't enough room for former St. Louis Rams not named Warner.
Why Warner over Faulk? It's a tough call, but quarterbacks get extra points for being quarterbacks. And Warner won two MVPs to Faulk's one. Faulk spent a little more time as a focal point with the Rams, but Warner's story (Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls to Arena Football to NFL Europe to Hall of Famer) also counts for something.
The rest seem obvious.
Olsen made the Pro Bowl in 14 of his 15 years with the Rams, was a six-time first-team All-Pro and was named to two All-Decade Teams as well as the league's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994.
Jones was the ultimate sack artist before sacks were even a thing (he coined the term himself). According to pro football historian John Turney (via the Pro Football HOF's website), if sacks existed during his era he would rank third all time with 173.5.
Dickerson set the single-season rushing yardage record as a sophomore with the Rams, and he led the league in rushing during three of his four seasons there. Youngblood and Slater had fantastically long and successful Hall of Fame careers with the Rams, but Dickerson was a little more memorable.
Dan Marino, Don Shula, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka
With all due respect to Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas—both of whom were superstar defenders on some strong teams—a franchise like the Dolphins is so well-known for its glory days that it would be silly to commission a Mount Dolphinsmore that wasn't heavy on the undefeated 1972 squad.
That team is one of the most famous in NFL history, due to the fact that—you know—it didn't lose. Shula coached them, Griese quarterbacked them and Csonka was their star running back (and really the epitome of that team). All three are in the Hall of Fame for their performances that year as well as in 1971 (AFC champs) and 1973 (repeat Super Bowl winners).
A Dolphins Mount Rushmore wouldn't make sense without those three, yet Marino is even more of a no-brainer. Unlike the other three, he didn't win a title. But he did pretty much everything else and retired as the league's all-time leader in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
For what it's worth, despite having a bad rep for playoff failures, he won eight postseason games and led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl in his second season.
We have the right quartet.
Fran Tarkenton, Bud Grant, Alan Page, Adrian Peterson
This was one of the biggest challenges I had. Cris Carter or Randy Moss? Both? Neither? What about Randall McDaniel, Carl Eller, Mick Tingelhoff and Paul Krause?
Tarkenton and Grant were the easy parts. The former led the Vikings to three Super Bowls and retired in 1978 as the most prolific passer in NFL history. The latter coached the Vikes in all three of those Super Bowl seasons and had a .621 winning percentage over the course of 18 non-consecutive seasons in charge of the team.
Beyond that, the Purple People Eaters could get their own separate memorial, but that famous defensive front deserves a representative on Mount Vikesmore. Page (nine Pro Bowls, 1971 MVP) accomplished more than Eller, Marshall and Gary Larsen (combined eight Pro Bowls), so he gets the nod.
Th tough decision was Peterson over all of the other strong candidates from more recent eras since the franchise has put together some great seasons since the Purple People Eater days as well. The top contemporary candidates were Carter, McDaniel, Moss and Peterson. They were all dominant, but AP was arguably the best offensive player in football for nearly a decade.
You can't say that about the other three. He was also the only member of that group to win MVP.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Adam Vinatieri
Rejecting 10-time All-Pro guard John Hannah in favor of a kicker wasn't easy, but a tribute to the Patriots would look weird with three men from their dynasty years and one old-timer. Instead, let's give Hannah a shoutout here and see about erecting another monument for him somewhere nearby in the Foxborough area.
Brady and Belichick don't require my defense. They've worked together to lead the Patriots to seven Super Bowls, winning five. And Kraft has overseen the entire operation for the most dominant pro sports team in America this century.
Vinatieri is the only one up for debate, but when you think of the early part of that New England dynasty, he's one of the first figures who comes to mind. He made several clutch kicks in huge playoff games, including the walk-off winner to launch this incredible run in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Hannah and position players like Andre Tippett and Steve Grogan might have made larger impacts, but this foursome represents the ultimate glory years in New England.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Rickey Jackson, Archie Manning
Brees and Payton led the Saints to their only Super Bowl as a quarterback-coach duo in 2009. They're New Orleans legends now, but both faces might have made Mount Saintsmore anyway.
No doubt on Brees, who has passed for 5,000-plus yards in five separate seasons. Only four other quarterbacks have hit that mark once, and zero have done it twice. The dude has five of the eight most prolific seasons in terms of yardage in NFL history and three of the four highest single-season completion rates this century. He has the highest completion percentage in the history of the league, and he might become the all-time leader in pass completions this season.
Reaching back, Jackson might be the best defender in team history. The Hall of Famer made six Pro Bowls during an exceptional 13-year career there.
Although it was tempting to go with another somewhat current star like Marques Colston or Jahri Evans (or Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf), Manning was the team's first franchise quarterback. The team wasn't very good during his 11-year tenure there, but he still managed to make a couple of Pro Bowls and get his number retired.
New York Giants
Bill Parcells, Lawrence Taylor, Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning
I won't pretend Michael Strahan isn't one of the biggest snubs in this entire exercise. He owns the single-season sack record and is in the Hall of Fame after a career in which he was one of just six players in NFL history to record 140-plus quarterback takedowns.
But Parcells, Taylor, Manning and Coughlin make too much sense. As coach-star duos, they led the Giants to two Super Bowls each and are clearly the primary representatives from the two best stretches in team history.
Both coaches are legends, while Taylor (a Hall of Fame linebacker who was an eight-time first-team All-Pro and the MVP in 1986) and Manning (a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback with two Super Bowl MVPs on his resume) might be the most famous Giants of all time.
So sorry, Mike. We'll give you a separate hypothetical monument next to Harry Carson.
New York Jets
Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Curtis Martin, Mark Gastineau
The debate here should focus on one spot, and that's the one I've assigned to Gastineau.
Everyone else is obvious. Namath guaranteed the Jets would pull off one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports ahead of Super Bowl III, and then he made it happen. That plus five All-Star/Pro Bowl nods made him a Hall of Famer and the most famous Jet of all time.
Maynard was Namath's go-to target back then, averaging a silly 21.3 yards per reception on 128 catches in 1967 and 1968 (the year of the legendary guarantee). He made four Pro Bowls and remains the team's all-time leading receiver.
Martin is the league's fourth-most prolific rusher after going over 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons in green.
But then you've got Gastineau, who was a three-time All-Pro defensive end and is one of just three players in NFL history with two 19-plus-sack seasons. You've got Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank, who was in charge when that magic happened in 1968. And you've got Darrelle Revis, who was a four-time All-Pro cornerback and one of the top corners of this era.
They're all strong candidates, but those two incredible seasons put Gastineau over the top.
Al Davis, John Madden, Tom Flores, Ken Stabler
I hate putting together a hypothetical Mount Rushmore that contains three non-players, but the Raiders are an interesting exception.
Davis was a pioneer who coached, managed and eventually owned the team, which remains in his family. Madden posted a winning record in all 10 of his seasons as the team's head coach, going a ridiculous 103-32-7 overall and winning Super Bowl XI.
Flores—the first minority coach in NFL history to win a title—led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowls XV and XVIII while also earning points for the fact he was the organization's first franchise quarterback (and a Pro Bowler signal-caller to boot).
I can't leave those guys off Mount Raidersmore, regardless of the contributions the team got from legends like Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and Howie Long.
But there is room for the late, criminally underrated Stabler, who was an MVP, an All-Pro, a Super Bowl champion and a quintessential Raider known for his off-field exploits. When I think of Raiders lore on the field, I think of Stabler. He joins the legendary coaches.
Donovan McNabb, Reggie White, Steve Van Buren, Chuck Bednarik
McNabb (five Pro Bowls and a 98-62-1 record as the most prominent and accomplished franchise quarterback in team history) and White (124 sacks and six All-Pro nods in only eight seasons as an Eagle) are locked in for Mount Eaglesmore.
Beyond that, though, you've got four-time All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins, great semi-modern quarterbacks Randall Cunningham and Ron Jaworski, and throwback candidates Van Buren and Bednarik. We're going with the latter two, mainly because they were centerpieces during the glory days.
Van Buren was a five-time All-Pro running back who lit up the league when Philly won back-to-back titles in 1948 and 1949, and he earned a Hall of Fame nod as a five-time first-team All-Pro. Bednarik—a member of the 75th Anniversary All-Time Two-Way Team—was a star center and linebacker throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. The five-time All-Pro was part of two championship teams in Philly during his Hall of Fame career.
Dawkins was a four-time All-Pro safety during a nice stretch for the Eagles, and Cunningham and Jaworski shined at times. But none of those guys were part of winning teams, and there's a chance none of them wind up in the Hall of Fame. Van Buren and Bednarik edge them out.
Chuck Noll, Terry Bradshaw, Art Rooney, Joe Greene
I know, I know. Ben Roethlisberger has quarterbacked the Steelers to the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons, earning three AFC titles, two Super Bowls and five Pro Bowl nods along the way. And yes, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert was a six-time first-team All-Pro and a four-time Super Bowl champ in Pittsburgh. Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Mel Blount. I get it.
There's no room for any of them.
That's because Noll coached all four of those Super Bowl teams from the 1970s, while Bradshaw quarterbacked them. At one point they made the playoffs in 11 of 13 seasons under Noll's guidance, and he was a lock for the Hall of Fame by the time his 23-year tenure in that role concluded. Same for Bradshaw, who won 107 of 158 starts over a 14-year span.
And it's because Rooney—who founded the team in 1933—birthed one of the most successful and well-respected organizations in professional sports, an organization that remains in his family. He was the owner during those 1970s glory days, and his son Dan oversaw the more recent run of success.
I thought of giving Big Ben the fourth spot so that we'd at least have the two quarterbacks from those triumphant junctures, but both of those teams were about so much more than their signal-callers.
I ultimately decided Greene was a more appropriate inclusion as a representative of the world-famous Steel Curtain defense. The larger-than-life Hall of Fame defensive tackle was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time All-Pro and, of course, a four-time Super Bowl champ.
San Francisco 49ers
Joe Montana, Steve Young, Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice
The 49ers' illustrious history also causes me to wish Mountninermore could have about 10 faces. But while there was quite a lot of room for debate with the Steelers, San Francisco has four shoo-ins.
The quarterbacks, Montana and Young, won a combined five Super Bowls and are consistently ranked among the top five players of all time at that position. When Young retired in 1999, he was by a wide margin the highest-rated passer in NFL history, and Montana ranked second.
They're no-brainers, but so are Walsh (Hall of Famer who coached them to the first three of those five titles) and Rice (has caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than any other player in NFL history).
With all due respect to Ronnie Lott, Y.A. Tittle and legendary former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., this was easier than it looked.
Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, Steve Largent, Walter Jones
I could have gone super contemporary here, focusing only on Seattle's recent run of unprecedented success. Superstar quarterback Russell Wilson, one-of-a-kind head coach Pete Carroll, clutch running back Marshawn Lynch and Legion of Boom leader Richard Sherman all played massive roles when Seattle won the Super Bowl in 2013 and nearly did it again in 2014.
But we're still not talking about a dynasty here, and the Seahawks have been around more than 40 years. Let's keep the current quarterback and coach but reluctantly replace Lynch and Sherman with Largent (the franchise's first true star, a member of the inaugural team and a seven-time Pro Bowl receiver) and Jones (a Hall of Fame left tackle who made nine Pro Bowls in 12 seasons with the Seahawks).
Arguments could be made for Lynch, Sherman, owner Paul Allen and eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, but this is the best way to issue nods to multiple important eras in Seahawks history.
Largent represents the early days, Jones represents a successful run in the 2000s (Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander would also work here, but Jones accomplished more) and Wilson and Carroll represent the squad that finally broke through in 2013.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lee Roy Selmon, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber
Selmon, Brooks and Sapp came immediately to mind for me, and the fact that they're the only three former Buccaneers with retired numbers reinforces that they're all no-brainers for Mount Bucsmore.
Like Largent in Seattle, Selmon was the original star on an expansion team that didn't experience much success in the standings. It's important he's there to represent that era, especially considering the former defensive end is in the Hall of Fame after making the Pro Bowl in six of his nine years with Tampa Bay.
Brooks (a five-time All-Pro linebacker) and Sapp (a four-time All-Pro defensive tackle) are the only other Hall of Fame players who, as the Hall of Fame puts it, "made the major part of their primary contribution" for the Bucs. They played huge roles when the team won its only Super Bowl in 2002.
Beyond that, though, I struggled to decide among three other members of that '02 team: cornerback Ronde Barber, safety John Lynch and fullback Mike Alstott—all of whom earned multiple first-team All-Pro nods in Tampa. But Barber had a longer run there than the other two. Unlike Lynch, he was a Buc for life. And his position allowed him to make a larger impact than Alstott.
Oh, and a note on Tony Dungy: He deserves a lot of credit for what happened in 2002, but the reality is he didn't coach that team. The teams he coached won two playoff games in six seasons.
Bruce Matthews, Earl Campbell, Warren Moon, Steve McNair
A complicated monument to honor Houston Oilers and/or Tennessee Titans greats somewhere between Houston and Nashville (Pine Bluff, Arkansas?) would undoubtedly include players from both teams because Matthews was so good for so long that he was able to make a major impact in both Houston and Tennessee.
The Hall of Fame offensive lineman earned four All-Pro nods and nine Pro Bowl selections in 14 years in Houston and then three All-Pros and five Pro Bowls in Tennessee. Throw in that he was a key member of the magical team that fell just short of winning the 1999 Super Bowl, and you've got a lock.
Meanwhile, Campbell and Eric Dickerson are the only players in NFL history to rush for 5,000-plus yards three years into their careers. Campbell was a first-team All-Pro in all three of those seasons, and he made a couple more Pro Bowls during a short but impactful Hall of Fame career.
And then there are the two quarterbacks. Moon made the Hall of Fame based primarily on a run with the Oilers that included six Pro Bowls and seven consecutive playoff appearances. McNair could have trouble making Canton, but he was the face of that '99 team and earned an MVP award a few years later. I've never seen a tougher quarterback, and it was that grinder mentality that the highly successful turn-of-the-century Titans became known for.
He and Campbell trump Eddie George, who was also a stud during that early Tennessee era, while Matthews bests the awesome but slightly less accomplished Mike Munchak.
Sammy Baugh, Darrell Green, Joe Gibbs, John Riggins
I know the sport was different in his era, but it's still baffling to consider what Baugh did during his 16-year career with the Redskins. The Hall of Famer was a star quarterback (he had the league's highest completion percentage in eight separate seasons), punter (he led the league in yards per punt five times) and defensive back (he had 31 interceptions between 1940 and 1945). Not only is the two-time NFL champion the greatest Redskin in history, but he's one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Green and Gibbs are also "duh" inclusions. The former spent a ridiculous 20 years in D.C., earning seven Pro Bowl nods, two rings and eventually a spot in the Hall of Fame as a super-fast corner. The latter coached the 'Skins to four Super Bowls in his original 12-year stretch with the team, winning three of them. The team posted a losing record in one of those 12 seasons.
The final debate for this exercise was Sonny Jurgensen vs. John Riggins.
Jurgensen made four Pro Bowls during his 11 years at quarterback in Washington, but he failed to win a single playoff game. Riggins didn't receive as many regular-season accolades, but I'm giving him the edge because of the impact he made at running back when the team went to back-to-back Super Bowls in 1982 and 1983.
During those two playoff runs, Riggins rushed for 115-plus yards in seven of eight games, and his MVP performance in Super Bowl XVII (38 carries for 166 yards in a victory over Miami) was unforgettable.