NFL: The Most Intimidating Player in the History of Each Franchise

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIApril 16, 2011

NFL: The Most Intimidating Player in the History of Each Franchise

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Linebacker Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    There is nothing in the NFL better than the type of player who just drives fear into his opponent, especially a 300-pound defensive tackle or a powerful linebacker who hits with the force of a freight train.

    Each team has had several of those players throughout its history.

    Over the next 32 slides, I will attempt to complete the near-impossible: choosing the single scariest, most intimidating player in the history of each franchise.

    The years listed after the player are just the years he spent with his team, not his entire NFL career.

Arizona Cardinals: Conrad Dobler, Guard, 1972-1977

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    Dobler was one of the meanest players in NFL history. The three-time Pro Bowler was named Pro Football's Dirtiest Player by Sports Illustrated in 1977. "I see defensive linemen jump to knock a pass down," said Dobler. "When that happened near me, I'd smack 'em in the solar plexus, and that got their hands down real quick." 

    Dobler had run-ins with a few NFL legends: He punched Mean Joe Greene. He spit on an injured Bill Bradley. And he kicked Merlin Olsen in the head. 

    Today he is 90 percent disabled and has had nine knee surgeries since his career ended. 

Atlanta Falcons: Tommy Nobis, Linebacker, 1966-1976

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    All you need to know about Tommy Nobis is the number 294. That's how many tackles he registered in his rookie season, still the unofficial record for most tackles by a player in a single season.

    During his 11-year career, he earned five Pro Bowl selections and was voted a First-Team All-Pro once.

    The ultimate compliment for Nobis came from Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka, who remarked, "I'd rather play against Dick Butkus than Tommy Nobis."

Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis, Linebacker, 1996-Present

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    BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 24:  Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens is introduced before the game against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bills 37-34. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Im
    Larry French/Getty Images

    Ray Lewis is everything a linebacker, and an intimidating football player, should be. He has earned 12 Pro Bowl selections and has been an All-Pro 10 times.

    He earned Defensive Player honors in 2000 and 2003. Throughout his career, Lewis has amassed 1,909 tackles, 38.5 sacks, and 30 interceptions.

    His finest moment came in 2000, when he earned Super Bowl MVP honors during the Ravens' 34-7 blowout over the Giants. During the 2000 season, the Ravens allowed a league-record 165 points, the fewest ever in a 16-game schedule.

Buffalo Bills: Bruce Smith, Defensive End, 1985-1999

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    The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1985, Smith was the best player on the Buffalo Bills, leading the team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s.

    He collected an NFL record 200 sacks throughout his career, 171 of them with the Bills. The 11-time Pro Bowler earned Defensive Player of the Year honors twice.

    He is the on the All-Decade Team for the 1980s and the 1990s. 

Carolina Panthers: Julius Peppers, Defensive End, 2002-2009

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    The second overall pick in the 2002 draft, Peppers was named the 2002 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He helped lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl the next year.

    A six-time Pro Bowler, Peppers has blocked 10 kicks in his career, the second most in history. He has 89 sacks and an incredible 33 forced fumbles.

    Peppers has earned a reputation as one of the most athletic defensive players in the history of the NFL.

Chicago Bears: Dick Butkus, Linebacker, 1965-1973

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    Butkus is arguably the toughest and most intimidating player in the history of the NFL.

    Going across the middle against Butkus was considered attempted suicide. Butkus's opponents said that he would bite, punch, kick, spit, claw, and scratch, whatever it took to get to the man with the ball.

    He earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1969 and 1970 and played in eight Pro Bowls throughout his career.

    NFL Films legend Steve Sabol says that Butkus's career stands as the "most sustained work of devastation ever committed on any field of sport, anywhere, any time."

Cincinnati Bengals: Anthony Munoz, Offensive Tackle, 1980-1992

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    Munoz is arguably the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history. 

    In his 13-year NFL career, Munoz earned 11 Pro Bowl selections and was named the NFL Players Association Offensive Linemen of the Year four times.

    Munoz was a workaholic in the weight room and was also known for running three to four miles every day. His athleticism helped him score four receiving touchdowns in his career.

Cleveland Browns: Jim Brown, Running Back, 1957-1965

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    Brown is the greatest NFL player ever. Fact. 

    He earned eight rushing titles in nine seasons and missed just one game in his career. When he retired, he held NFL records for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and all-purpose yards.

    He had the following piece of advice for eventual Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey: "Make sure when anyone tackles you, he remembers how much it hurts."

Dallas Cowboys: Bob Lilly, Defensive Tackle, 1961-1974

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    Lilly played 14 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and never missed a game. He played through torn-up knees, broken hands, broken ribs, and a hamstring tear.

    He was frequently double- and triple-teamed throughout his career. In Super Bowl VI, he recorded a 29-yard sack of future Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese, the longest sack in Super Bowl history.

    Lilly earned 11 Pro Bowl selections and is probably the greatest player in Cowboys history.

Denver Broncos: Steve Atwater, Safety, 1989-1998

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    Atwater was one of the most feared safeties in the National Football League. He earned eight Pro Bowl selections throughout his storied career.

    In Super Bowl XXXII, he collected six solo tackles, one sack, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble. With one minute remaining in the game, he delivered a vicious hit that almost knocked out a Packers player.

    Atwater played the first few years of his career as an eighth defender against the run, and averaged 149 tackles per season from 1989 to 1993.

Green Bay Packers: Ray Nitschke, Linebacker, 1958-1972

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    The greatest linebacker in Green Bay Packers history, Nitschke was a seven-time All-Pro.

    He played a key role on five Packers championship teams and was named the MVP of the 1962 championship game.

    Nitschke was a notorious hard hitter and intercepted 25 passes in his 15-year career. 

Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, 2003-Present

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    Selected with the third overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft, Johnson has become one of the best receivers in the NFL over the past decade.

    He has earned five Pro Bowl selections and has twice led the league in receiving yards. He also ranks first in NFL history in receiving yards per game.

    And if you aren't intimidated yet, watch this video.

Indianapolis Colts: Johnny Unitas, Quarterback, 1956-1972

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    One of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Johnny Unitas earned 10 Pro Bowl selections and was named the league MVP three times.

    Unitas threw a touchdown pass in 47 straight games and retired as the career leader in many passing statistics, including passing yards and touchdowns.

    He also played through tremendous pain, including a badly broken nose, broken fingers, ripped arm tendons, and torn knee cartilage. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back, 2006-Present

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    Jones-Drew was bypassed by every NFL team because of his relatively short stature (5'7").

    But in five seasons, he has become one of the more explosive running backs in the NFL. He has been a Pro Bowler for each of the last two seasons and played the entire 2010 season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

    He has averaged 12 touchdowns per year since he entered the league.

Kansas City Chiefs: Willie Lanier, Linebacker, 1967-1977

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    Lanier was the heart and soul of the Kansas City Chiefs defense for a decade. 

    He led the Chiefs to two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title, with a big 23-7 upset over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. 

    He earned eight Pro Bowl selections and was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

Miami Dolphins: Larry Csonka, Running Back, 1968-1974

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    Larry Csonka is probably the toughest running back in league history. 

    The Hall of Fame back is the only player to be penalized while carrying the football, as he knocked a safety unconscious with a stiff arm that was more like a right cross. 

    He broke his nose 10 times during his career, to the point where it became permanently deformed. Csonka was one of the toughest players to tackle because his legs would keep moving even after he was wrapped up. 

    The bruising back was voted the 10th toughest player in NFL history by NFL Films. 

Minnesota Vikings: Alan Page, Defensive Tackle, 1967-1978

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    Nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Page was the best member of the Minnesota Vikings' Purple People Eaters during the 1970s. 

    He recorded an unofficial total of 148.5 sacks during his career, and recovered 22 fumbles.

    He played in 218 consecutive games and was the NFL MVP in 1971, an extremely rare honor for a defensive player.

New England Patriots: John Hannah, Guard, 1973-1985

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    John Hannah spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots, appearing in nine Pro Bowls.

    He was a fantastic pass protector, run blocker and pulling guard on sweeps. In 1978, he helped the Patriots rush for an NFL-record 3,165 yards, an average of 198 per game.

    Hannah played in 186 out of a possible 191 games in his NFL career. After he retired, The Sporting News ranked him as the second-best offensive linemen in history.

New Orleans Saints: Rickey Jackson, Linebacker, 1981-1993

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    Jackson is the greatest defensive player in New Orleans Saints history and was the leader of the Dome Patrol, ranked by NFL Network as the greatest linebacking corps in NFL history.

    In his career, he collected 128 sacks and recovered 28 opponents' fumbles. 

    Jackson misses just two games during his 13 years with the Saints. Those two games were the result of a car accident in 1989. He played the remainder of the season wearing a special helmet.

New York Giants: Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker, 1981-1993

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    LT was the most disruptive defensive player in league history. He literally changed the methods used for offensive formations, as well as pass rushing schemes.

    In 13 seasons, Taylor collected 132.5 sacks and was named the Defensive Player of the Year twice. He earned 10 Pro Bowl selections throughout his career.

    LT earned two Super Bowl rings and is widely considered the greatest defensive player in NFL history.  

New York Jets: Mark Gastineau, Defensive End, 1979-1988

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    Gastineau was the best player on the New York Sack Exchange.

    He had 107.5 career sacks, including a then-record 22 in 1984. He had three seasons with at least 19 sacks.

    Gastineau earned five Pro Bowl selections and holds the Pro Bowl record with four sacks in a single game.

Oakland Raiders: Jack Tatum, Safety, 1971-1979

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    Nicknamed 'The Assassin", Tatum was one of the hardest hitting defensive players in NFL history.

    He paralyzed New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley with a hit. He knocked out John Mackey and Tom Mitchell in the same game. And his hit on Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Sammy White in Super Bowl XI ranks as one of the hardest hits in league history. 

    Tatum earned three Pro Bowl selections throughout his NFL career.

Philadelphia Eagles: Chuck Bednarik, Linebacker/Center, 1949-1962

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    Bednarik is the greatest player in Philadelphia Eagles history and the last man to play both offense and defense. 

    His hit on New York Giants running back Frank Gifford knocked Gifford unconscious and kept him out of football for the entire 1961 season. Many spectators believed that Bednarik killed Gifford. 

    In the 1960 NFL championship game, Bednarik delivered a game-saving tackle on future Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor in the closing seconds. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mean Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle,

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    Mean Joe Greene was the most important defensive player on one of the best dynasties in league history. He helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls in six seasons. 

    Greene earned 10 Pro Bowl selections and was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 and 1974. He also earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1969. 

    Greene was as intense and competitive as any player in history, playing in 181-of-190 possible regular season games.

San Diego Chargers: LaDainian Tomlinson, Running Back, 2001-2009

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    Tomlinson topped 300 carries, 1,200 yards, and 10 touchdowns for each of his first seven seasons in the National Football League.

    He holds the single-season record for touchdowns (31). That same year, he won the league MVP award and rushed for 1,815 yards.

    He became the fastest player to score 100 and 150 career touchdowns.

San Francisco 49ers: Ronnie Lott, Safety, 1981-1990

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    Ronnie Lott was a cornerback who hit like a linebacker. He earned Pro Bowl selections at three different positions: cornerback, strong safety, and free safety.

    His claim to fame occurred in 1985 when his left pinkie was caught between the shoulder pads and helmet of Cowboys running back Timmy Newsome, shattering the bone. When Lott’s finger didn’t heal properly, he told the doctors to cut it off, and they amputated his pinkie at the third knuckle. 

    He was the key defensive player on four 49ers' championship teams. 

Seattle Seahawks: Steve Largent, Wide Receiver, 1976-1989

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    Largent was the greatest wide receiver before Jerry Rice. 

    He earned seven Pro Bowl selections and retired with virtually every major receiving record.

    He is most known for his revenge hit on Broncos cornerback Mike Harden. In September, Harden knocked Largent unconscious after a hit. Three months later, Harden picked off a pass and was completely leveled by Largent on the return.

    Harden fumbled, and Largent scooped up the loose football. Revenge complete.

St. Louis Rams: Deacon Jones, Defensive End, 1961-1971

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    The NFL's unofficial record-holder with 26 sacks in the 1967 season, Deacon coined the term “sack.”

    Jones said that toughness is defined not by playing through pain, but by avoiding pain in the first place.

    Deacon perfected the “head slap,” a move that would be eventually banned by the NFL because it was “too effective.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Warren Sapp, Defensive Tackle, 1995-2003

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    Sapp earned seven Pro Bowl selections and was named to the All-Decade Team in the 1990s and 2000s.

    He was named the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, when he collected 15.5 sacks. He has the second-most sacks in NFL history by a defensive tackle. 

    He was a key member of the 2002 Super Bowl champion team for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tennessee Titans: Earl Campbell, Running Back, 1978-1984

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    “I can't think of anyone who even comes in a close second, when you say, “Running backs—who really hurts? It's Earl Campbell.” —Gary Fencik, safety

    Campbell was the best power back in the league, which, combined with 4.5 speed, made him the most intimidating player in the league.

    He earned a league MVP award in 1979 and was selected to five Pro Bowls.

Washington Redskins: John Riggins, Running Back, 1976-1985

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    Riggins turned in one of the most famous Super Bowl runs in history: a 43-yard, fourth-down touchdown burst to put the game away against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVI.

    He earned Comeback Player of the Year in 1978 and scored an NFL-record 24 touchdowns in 1983—at the age of 34.

    Riggins became the second player in NFL history to score 100 touchdowns and was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

32. Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders, Running Back, 1989-1998

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    Sanders is a top-three running back in NFL history. There has been nobody in the last 30 years who kept defensive coordinators up at night as much as Sanders did. 

    He rushed for 15,269 yards in 10 seasons, including 2,053 in 1997. He earned the NFL Most Valuable Player award in 1997 and was named to 10 Pro Bowls.

    Had Sanders not retired at the age of 30, he likely would have broken every rushing record throughout league history.


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