The 50 Most Iconic Figures in NFL History

Tony Santorsa@@TonySantorsaSenior Writer IINovember 16, 2011

The 50 Most Iconic Figures in NFL History

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    Throughout the course of the NFL's illustrious history, there has been quite the share of iconic figures.

    What are iconic figures? People whose faces are engraved in the game of football and and who simply are considered to be a household name. For instance, some of these players are folk heroes in the city that they played for. 

    With that being said, some players that come to mind immediately are Tom Brady, John Elway, John Madden and Al Michaels—and many more.

    In that spirit, allow me to introduce to you the 50 most iconic players in NFL history. 

Tom Brady

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    Tom Brady is a walking legend as he is the face of the New England Patriots' dynasty.

    Brady has numerous NFL records and arguably played two of the greatest seasons ever played by a quarterback, in 2007 and 2011. 

    When you think of quarterbacks, Tom Brady comes to mind. When you think about the New England Patriots, Tom Brady comes to mind. When you think about winning, Tom Brady comes to mind. 

Dan Marino

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    You can certainly make the argument that Dan Marino is the greatest player to not win a Super Bowl, but you can also say that he's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

    Marino was the face of the Miami Dolphins for many years as he played quarterback to perfection, setting numerous records during his time in the league. 

Barry Sanders

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    It's a real shame that Barry Sanders was never able to win a Super Bowl, as he's one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game.

    Sanders is a folk hero in the city of Detroit. 

Al Davis

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    Al Davis could very well be the most famous sporting franchise owner in the entire world—Al Davis is the face of the Oakland Raiders.

    Without Davis, the NFL could not be the league that it is today. Whether it was suing the NFL, playing a integral part in merging the NFL and the AFL or simply just being a public figure for the Raiders and the NFL—Al Davis will be forever remembered.

    Just win, baby. 

Reggie White

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    Reggie White wasn't nicknamed "The Minister of Defense" for no reason—the guy was a sack machine. 

    White is an all-time great as he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2006—which happened two years after his tragic death. 

    If you're an avid follower of football, then No. 92 should be engraved in your brain as Reggie White's number. 

Brian Piccolo

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    Everyone knows who Brian Piccolo was, and everyone knows his life story, thanks to the motion picture Brian's Song. 

    Piccolo was an extremely talented running back for the Chicago Bears back in the 1960s, but his career and life were cut tragically short due to cancer. 

Mike Singletary

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    Mike Singletary was the heart and soul of the virtually unbeatable 1985 Chicago Bears defense.

    Singletary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his stellar career as one of the NFL's best linebackers. 

LaDainian Tomlinson

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    Many probably wouldn't recognize LaDainian Tomlinson on the streets, as he plays with a tinted visor—but that is a part of why he's so iconic.

    Along with that, it's kind of hard to not notice that L.T. is arguably the greatest running back of the recent decade. 

Terrell Owens

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    Even if you're not a fan of football, you still know who Terrell Owens is.

    T.O. is not only one of the greatest wide receivers to play the game, but he has also had his own reality show known as The T.O. Show.

    Oh and by the way, if you didn't know: Owens is one of the biggest prima dona wide receivers of all time. 

Rich Eisen

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    Is there anyone out there who can actually say that they don't like Rich Eisen? If so, I would like to meet that person. 

    Eisen is the face of NFL Network—enough said. 

Steve Young

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    If you ask me, Steve Young is one of the greatest players to play the game and is in my top three for quarterbacks. 

    Whether if it was Young being left-handed, or being able to turn nothing into something or simply being a winner—Steve Young is a legend. 

Don Coryell

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    The NFL would not be where it is today without the mind of Don Coryell. 

    Coryell changed the way that we play football thanks to his innovative thoughts in the passing game. 

    Coryell is a main reason why the league is such a pass-happy league nowadays. 

Vince Lombardi

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    This should not be a debate: Vince Lombardi is the greatest coach in the history of football. 

    I mean, the NFL's greatest trophy is named after Lombardi, as he has 136 career wins to go along with five championships. 

    Lombardi is a winner, and he made the Green Bay Packers. 

John Elway

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    Some may argue that John Elway is the greatest quarterback to ever live—and they certainly have a point. Elway won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, and he was named league MVP once (1987) as well as being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

    When you think of the Denver Broncos, No. 7 comes to mind. 

Randy Moss

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    Believe it or not, Randy Moss could very well be the most talented player to ever play football—Moss was an absolute freak.

    Whether if it was because of his freakish talent, his unbelievable catches or his crazy personality—everyone knows who Randy Moss is. 

Terry Bradshaw

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    Terry Bradshaw may not have been the most talented or effective quarterback in NFL history, but he was a winner as he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. 

    Bradshaw is an absolute legend in the city of Pittsburgh. He is an icon. 

Tony Dungy

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    Many may not believe it, but Tony Dungy is one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game—he is a great football mind.

    Not only is Dungy a great football coach and a great role model, but he is the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. That's something to be proud of. 

Walter Payton

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    If you don't know who Walter Payton is, then you quite possibly may be an idiot—No. 34 is only the greatest running back to ever play the game.

    "Sweetness" is one of the most famous faces of football. 

John Madden

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    John Madden was an icon as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders as well an icon after coaching by being one of the NFL's best announcers.

    However, most of us probably know Madden's name the most due to his video game created by EA Sports—it is only the most popular sports game in the United States. 

Jerry Rice

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    Jerry Rice is a walking legend. He is the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game.

    Rice holds numerous receiving records as well as three Super Bowl rings. 

    I think that we can all agree that Rice is the greatest receiver to ever play the game, and he could be the greatest player in NFL history. 

Brett Favre

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    No matter how much I dislike Brett Favre, I have to give it to him, he's one successful human being.

    Favre's name is a household name; everyone knows it. 

    His career may have ended rather shaky, but his time with the Green Bay Packers was nothing short of amazing as his number, No. 4, will always be remembered as Brett's number. 

Chris Berman

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    Chris Berman is one of the sport's greatest personalities, as he been doing a tremendous job for ESPN covering the NFL for the past 20 years.

    Anyone who has seen Berman's NFL Countdown on ESPN knows how entertaining he really is. 

Tim Tebow

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    Disagree all you want, but Tim Tebow has emerged as an NFL icon.

    Despite his rather pitiful play as an NFL quarterback, Tebow's name is well-known, and someone who doesn't even watch football could probably easily identify him. 

Bill Belichick

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    Bill Belichick is today's modern-day Vince Lombardi—he's nothing short of a winner.

    Belichick has won three Super Bowls as a head coach as well as another two with the New York Giants. 

    Many despise Belichick, but when I think about it, it appears that most people are just jealous of Belichick's success with the New England Patriots and his three coach of the year awards. 

Jerry Jones

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    Being the most vocal owner in the NFL and the owner of America's Team, you better be an icon—and that's exactly what Jerry Jones is.

    Jones may come off as a egocentric human being, but who cares? He's had major success in the NFL and will be remembered for many years to come. 

William Perry

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    William Perry was such an absolute beast that he was nicknamed "The Fridge."

    Having a nickname like that, you better be considered an NFL icon, and he is certainly more than that, he is an NFL legend. 

Devin Hester

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    Devin Hester isn't a great wide receiver, but he is one hell of a return man and that's where he made his name known.

    Hester is the NFL's all-time leader in kick and punt returns for touchdowns, and he's only 29 years old. 

Jim Brown

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    Jim Brown is one of the most dominating players that the NFL has ever seen. 

    Brown had an incredible record-setting, nine-year career with the Cleveland Browns and is arguably the most talented athlete that the United States has ever produced. 

Peyton Manning

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    What can I even say about Peyton Manning? For starters, he's a perfect passer. 

    In fact, that's all I'm going to say. 

    No. 18 is a true icon. 

Al Michaels

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    Al Michaels has a legendary voice as he's one of the greatest announcers that the NFL has ever seen. 

    Michaels has been announcing since the 1970s with ABC and now is the play-by-play announcer for NBC's Sunday Night Football. 

Chad Ochocinco

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    How many people do you know that would actually change their name to "Ochocinco?" I know one, and his name is Chad, formerly Chad Johnson.

    Ochocinco is one of biggest personalities that the NFL has ever seen, if not the biggest. 

    No. 85 is an All-Pro wide receiver but is mostly known for his wild touchdown celebrations and his very outspoken personality. 

Joe Namath

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    The video posted alone makes Joe Namath a icon.

    However, Namath is known for predicting a huge upset against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl III as well as being known as "Broadway Joe," the face of the New York Jets. 

Lawrence Taylor

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    With 124.5 career sacks—you cannot get much better than that.

    Lawrence Taylor is the greatest defensive player to ever play the game, and remember: he is the original L.T. 

Joe Montana

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    In my book, Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback in NFL history thanks to his four Super Bowl rings, eight Pro Bowls, two league MVPs and three Super Bowl MVPs. 

    Montana is a walking legend. 

Mel Kiper, Jr.

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    Mel Kiper, Jr. made his name well-known by being one of the best draft analysts that we have ever seen.

    However, I'm not sure which is more iconic, Kiper himself or his hair. What do you think? 

Fran Tarkenton

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    I really wish that I had been able to see Fran Tarkenton play quarterback. From my understanding, he was one hell of an innovator, and he always had a niche for turning broken plays into something special. 

    Tarkenton retired with nine Pro Bowl selections and one league MVP, but he never won the Super Bowl—that's such a shame. 

Ray Lewis

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    When it comes to being the heart and soul of a defense, no one does it better than Ray Lewis does it for the Baltimore Ravens. He is something special.

    Lewis is one hell of a leader as well as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game. 

Troy Aikman

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    Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys became the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years—that's extremely impressive.

    Aikman was the quarterback for America's Team, a team that is in the biggest spotlight and has all the pressure in the world, yet he succeeded. 

Joe Greene

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    There is absolutely nothing better than this commercial. I love it. 

    Along with being such a stud actor, Mean Joe Greene was the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout their glory years and is one of the most dominant defensive players of all-time. 

Dick Butkus

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    When you talk about linebackers and the best ever, Dick Butkus immediately comes to my mind.

    Butkus may have never won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, but he was named to eight Pro Bowls as well as being named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Team and the NFL All-Decade 1960s and 1970s teams. 

Tony Gonzalez

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    When it's all said and done, Tony Gonzalez will be remembered as the greatest tight end to play in the NFL.

    With that being said, don't you think that Gonzalez is an icon? I think so. 

Michael Vick

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    Put aside Michael Vick's off the field issues and just focus solely on how incredible of a talent he really is. 

    Vick is something that the NFL hasn't seen in years, a quarterback who has the ability to the run the ball like a running back. It's almost like Vick is playing in the wrong generation as he should be playing in the Single Wing offense. 

Deion Sanders

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    Deion Sanders and his bandana aren't known as "Prime Time" for nothing. Sanders is arguably the most exciting player to ever play the game of football. 

    Do you know what time it is? It's Prime Time. 

Roger Staubach

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    Roger Staubach was the first great quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys as he won a total of two Super Bowls with them.

    Being quarterback for America's Team, you have to be some sort of legend, right? 

Jack Lambert

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    Jack Lambert is probably the meanest person to ever play football. I mean, look at his face. Would you want to have him tackling you? 

    Lambert will be remembered as the face of the very physical Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. 

Warren Sapp

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    Warren Sapp isn't called "QB Killa" for nothing—he was an absolute monster during his time spent in the NFL. 

    Despite being retired, Sapp continues to be an icon as he's one of the best analysts out there as he currently works for NFL Network. 

Bill Cowher

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    When it comes to coaching, you cannot get much better than Bill Cowher. He is a winner, and you can't deny it.

    Cowher may not be in the NFL right now, but he currently sits with a solid 62.3 career winning percentage as well as a Super Bowl ring. 

Ronnie Lott

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    In Ronnie Lott's first year of eligibility, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame—that's how much of a dominant force he was during the 1980s and 1990s.

    Lott won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and is considered to be one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play the game. 

Chuck Noll

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    Chuck Noll is one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history as he has four Super Bowl rings, more than any other head coach in the history of the game. 

    Noll was the man behind the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain from 1969 until 1991 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. 

    Noll retired with a 209-15-1 career record; you cannot get much better than that. 

Bill Parcells

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    Say what you want about Bill Parcells, call him the Brett Favre of head coaches for all I care—you cannot deny that he is one of the greatest coaches in the history of football. 

    Parcells retired with a stellar 183-138-1 career record while winning two Super Bowls, taking two different teams to the Super Bowl, being named coach of the year numerous times by multiple groups as well as being known as "The Big Tuna."

    Parcells is nothing short of a legend. 


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