The NFL will announce its 2010 Hall of Fame class on Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl. One of the candidates is 49ers WR Jerry Rice, who will clearly make the team in his first year of eligibility. Given that there is no drama in that decision, ESPN decided to do attempt to generate some additional discussion. Early yesterday, Mike Sando put together a piece on "The case for Rice as the greatest [NFL player] ever." Naturally it generated a good deal of discussion and Sando received numerous email responses, which he posted earlier today.
Given the nature of the NFL, it really is hard to declare a single player as the greatest of all time. Football has changed dramatically over the course of its history. A sport like baseball has had changes, but not really on the level of football, which makes it a little bit easier (although still difficult) to compare players across positions and across eras. With football, each position is so unique from many other positions.
In looking at other potential players in the conversation, Sando mentioned the discussion might include along side Rice, Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Sammy Baugh, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Don Hutson, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. If you're talking football in general, a guy like Jim Thorpe would certainly have to be included.
To give you something to work with, feel free to check out the NFL's 75th Anniversary team that was selected back in 1994. Jerry Rice had arguably the most dominant statistical career, but I don't know if it's possible to declare a single NFL player the greatest ever.
I will say, my favorite email from Sando's mailbog of responses was by Bob from Winter Garden, Florida:
Mike, I am sure that you are a bright young man and a good writer, but you quote statistics like they are indisputable proof. You should remember that statistics are for losers. What you should be thinking about when deciding who was the best ever, the proof should be who dominated the game, league, etc., more than anyone during the time that they played. There is only one answer and that is Jimmy Brown. If you had ever seen him play, you would be convinced. He was bigger, faster, stronger than any linebackers in the league. He describes his talent as "strength, power, speed, vision and balance". He is the best football player that ever lived.
Thanks so much Bob. Initially I actually stopped reading when I read that line. Statistics are never the be-all end-all, but to say that is just so incredibly ignorant. Proof who dominated the league? I'd say Jerry Rice's statistics indicate a certain level of dominance, don't you think? But I suppose I'm just a loser so feel free to ignore me.