By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 05, 2010

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These lists are the all-time argument starters, and that's exactly what the list maker wants.

The NFL Network just completed their Top 100 All-Time Best in NFL History, a series which ran over the last ten weeks. It featured ten players per episode, starting with Joe Namath at 100 and ending Thursday night with Jerry Rice at number one. In between you had Tom Brady, John Hannah and Mike Haynes pop up on the list, which given the fact that the Golden Era of the Patriots is only ten years old, is quite remarkable.

Now comes the discussions and the praising/slaughtering of who compiled the list. You could line up a thousand experts in this area and get a thousand different Top 100s. The list makers make these lists up for the sole purpose of getting people talking, with the inherent intent to draw attention to their entity. The NFL Network and the MLB Network are both big on these lists (MLB has the top nine in various areas, as in nine innings). MLB ends all their list broadcasts with the same closing line: "That's our opinion, what's yours?"

That said, here's this writer's take on how well the NFL Network did.

After number 41, we did our own remaining Top 40. We then watched each show and compared the results. We hit three right on the button and missed by one on several others, but getting the Top Ten right isn't much of an accomplishment given that most everyone's top ten might be very similar. But almost getting number 36 right is something to brag about.

Here then is our synopsis of the Top 40 on their list.

ESPN has a feature on its Monday Night Football pregame show called "Come on, man!" This applies to three players who were left completely off the list, guys which made our Top 40.

Franco Harris The great Steeler running back and Hall of Famer was one of the top running backs of the 1970s. You can imagine Walter Payton on the list, but including O.J. Simpson and ignoring Harris is not right. Harris was the backbone of the Steeler offense during their Steel Curtain title run. He was a big, bruising back who could also fly. We had Harris at 16 and Simpson at 32.

Steve Largent The Distinguished Gentleman from Oklahoma and Hall of Famer should always be mentioned in the pantheon of the best wideouts in league history. He can't touch Jerry Rice, of course, but if you put Don Hutson at 9 and Lance Alworth at 38, Largent must be in this area. Largent is twelfth all-time in receiving yards and sixth all-time in receiving touchdowns. He was the best receiver in the league at the time, and passed that scepter along to Rice when he retired. We had Largent at 23 and Hutson at 29, and Alworth didn't make our Top 40.

LaDainian Tomlinson Maybe he'd make this list ten years from now. But with still a lot of career left, he is seventh all-time in rushing yards. He was left off the NFL list, while guys like Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers made it. Sayers played only six seasons before knee injuries curtailed his career. Tomlinson is in this company and should have been on the list. He was 34 on ours.

Now for some players who made the list but got ranked way too high.

Sammy Baugh We had him at 31 and he checked in at 14. Great quarterback and punter, but not enough to make it that high. He was ranked ahead of Tom Brady, Bronko Nagurski and Brett Favre.

Brett Favre He was number 20 and we had him at 33. 20 is too high for Favre despite his lofty career passing yardage total. He might justify 20 if he retired three or four years ago. He is killing his legacy with every new season he plays.

Don Hutson He finished at 9 and we had him at 29. One of the best receivers in history and perhaps the best of the first 30 years of the league. But you have him ahead of Raymond Berry, Lynn Swann and Largent. Hutson does suffer from a lack of familiarity, but 9 is a bit of overcorrecting.

Anthony Munoz The best left tackle in NFL history was selected at 12, and we had him at 21. This is really hard to gripe with other than the fact that you have to be careful how high you rank offensive linemen. Hannah got 24th, and we had Munoz in that region. He deserves to be on this list, but 12 is just a wee bit too high.

Deacon Jones He was the figurehead of the "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line of the Rams in the 1960s. But he isn't even on our Top 40. Merlin Olsen, who was ranked 27th on the NFL list and 25th on ours, was the best player on that great line, not Jones. Jones should be mentioned among the top defensive linemen in history, but 15 is too high and he should not be ranked ahead of Olsen.

Jim Thorpe He was 37th on the NFL list and not included on ours. His legacy as one of the most complete athletes in American sports history is unchallenged. But Thorpe played only five seasons in the NFL, in an era dominated by Red Grange. He doesn't have the numbers to justify being on the list. In a list of all-around athletes, he ranks at or near the top. But in football, Thorpe isn't in that high a pantheon.

Lance Alworth He was right behind Thorpe at 38 and not on our list. Alworth was one of the best receivers in AFL history. Most of Alworth's career was in the AFL and not against NFL competition. By the time the merger took effect in 1970, Alworth's career was pretty much over. It is a little tough to put a player on this list whose career took place mostly in the AFL; of all the players who made the NFL list, Alworth is the only player who fits this bill.

Now let's look at the players who got jobbed, from our point of view.

Emmitt Smith Explain this one. The all-time rushing yardage leader was ranked 28th. We had him at number 8. Hard to tell about this one. Sanders and Sayers were ranked ahead of him. Only Walter Payton and Jim Brown truly deserved to be ranked ahead of Smith.

Jack Lambert He was ranked right behind Smith at 29, and we had him at 13. One of the most dominant middle linebackers of any era in the NFL, he was the heart and soul of one of the best defenses in league history. Ray Lewis made the NFL list at 18, Lambert had a better career and was a better player.

Bruce Smith The great Bills defensive lineman was ranked number 31 on the NFL list but 17th on ours. He is the all-time leader in NFL history in sacks. Reggie White deserves to be ranked ahead of Smith, but that should be it.

Now, here are some near misses.

Jim Brown, Jerry Rice Had Brown at one, made it at two. Hard to argue against Rice taking the top spot. But Brown was the best there ever was. If Brown doesn't retire in 1965, he sets rushing records that would never be broken. He averaged five yards a carry over eight years. That's something else. We had Rice at two.

Joe Montana, Walter Payton They were four and five, we had them at three and four. Lawrence Taylor came in at three and loused this up; we had Taylor at five. No big deal here, we merely were off by one on each.

Merlin Olsen, John Hannah Two off on these gents. Olsen was 25th, we had 27th. Hannah was 24th, we had him 26th. Great to see Hannah on the list, still regarded by many as the best guard in history.

Raymond Berry The former Patriot head coach was number 36 and we had him at 35. This is the one pick we're the most proud of. It's hard to get them right the further you go down the list. Of course, Berry makes this list thanks to his work as a Baltimore Colt wideout, not as the first Super Bowl coach in Patriot history.

And finally, our direct hits:

Johnny Unitas We both had him at six. If you the Patriot fan want to incense any Colt fan, tell them that Unitas is the best quarterback in Colts history, not Peyton Manning. This used to work in Green Bay with Bart Starr versus Favre, but not any more.

Ronnie Lott He made both the NFL and our list at 11. Any guy who has his finger amputated just to stay in a game is a pure stud. Never mind that he was perhaps the best defensive back in league history.

Ray Lewis He came in at 18 on both lists. While we like Lambert better, no argument that Lewis makes this list. He is still a dominating player today like he was ten years ago when he led his Baltimore Ravens team to one of the best defensive seasons in league history and a win in Super Bowl XXXV.


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