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My All-Time Team

Vintage players often get the nod -- but not always

Posted: Wednesday August 15, 2007 11:33AM; Updated: Wednesday August 15, 2007 4:48PM
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By Peter King

This week SI.com let four writers live out a GM's dream. The assignment? Pick three Dream Teams in each of the four major team sports: one for the best of all-time, one built to win right now and one built for five years from now. Each team features a complete roster of players, including reserves, as well as coaches. Check out our experts' picks, then weigh in with your thoughts.

The surprises on my all-time team? Not many. These sorts of teams have been chosen so many times over the years that there's no use in trying to reinvent the wheel. Just put the best guys on from the first 87 seasons of NFL history and don't make apologies for saying Don Hutson's better than Jerry Rice.

I am a stick-in-the-mud for a few things, however: I like Otto Graham at quarterback, and it will be hard for anyone to exceed what he did in 10 professional seasons. Impossible, really. He played in the championship game of his league 10 times in 10 years, while being the unquestioned best passer and leader throughout his era. I still think Hutson's the best player of all time, because he put the receiving numbers so far out of reach by 1945 that no one caught him for 40 years. But I don't think older is always better. Adam Vinatieri is the best kicker today, and in history, because he's so clutch. Reggie White, Ray Lewis and Deion Sanders make the cut ... and I very nearly picked Terrell Owens for my bench, but chose Raymond Berry because Owens drops too many passes.

I picked a 46-man squad, which includes one extra player on defense because there have been so many four-man lines throughout history as well as so many four-man linebacking crews. I didn't want to commit to either a 4-3 or a 3-4, so I have both. For the purposes of this team, Lewis moves outside to play with Lawrence Taylor.

Let the arguments begin.

QB | Otto Graham | Cleveland Browns (1946-55)
A quarterback should be measured -- most of all -- by winning. Graham quarterbacked his team to the championship game of his league 10 times in 10 years, winning seven titles. And he led the league in passing seven times in those 10 years.
RB | Jim Brown | Cleveland Browns (1957-65)
When you can run between the tackles the way he did, and still be able to turn the corner skillfully enough to average 5.2 yards a carry, you earn the right to edge the great Walter Payton for this honor.
FB | Bronko Nagurski | Chicago Bears (1930-37, '43)
The archives paint such a hammer-headed picture of Nagurski -- along with his ability to run it well and often -- that he seems like the Ice Age Mike Alstott with Jerome Bettis production.
WR | Don Hutson | Green Bay Packers (1935-45)
Best receiver of all time. Just look at the numbers. In a dead-ball era, he caught three times as many passes for three times as many touchdowns as anyone in the first 25 years of the NFL.
WR | Jerry Rice | San Francisco 49ers (1985-2000), Oakland Raiders (2001-04), Seattle Seahawks (2004)
Other guys were faster. Other guys had more athleticism. No one wanted it more, and no one had better hands. Rice is a player for every age, not just this one.
TE | John Mackey | Baltimore Colts (1963-71), San Diego Chargers (1972)
As a combo platter of blocker, receiver and cluth team player, no tight end has been better.
T | Anthony Munoz | Cincinnati Bengals (1980-92)
I once watched Munoz's line coach, Jim McNally, grade a gametape of his. "Every week it's like this," McNally said. "As close to perfect as a player can play." No player except Munoz can say he was all-pro and made the Pro-Bowl 11 years in a row.
G | John Hannah | New England Patriots (1973-85)
As technically sound as Munoz was, so was Hannah -- plus he was as mean on the field as he was gentlemanly off it.
C | Mel Hein | New York Giants (1931-45)
Its's so hard to compare eras, obviously, and Hein played from 1931 to '45. But no player in history played both ways, every week, for 15 years and at such a high level for a good team.
G | Jim Parker | Baltimore Colts (1957-67)
Parker was the only offensive lineman to make the Pro Bowl four times or more at two positions -- guard and tackle.
T | Forrest Gregg | Green Bay Packers (1956, '58-70), Dallas Cowboys (1971)
Close call over Jonathan Ogden, the best tackle of the past 15 years. Gregg played 188 straight games at a real man's man position, winning six NFL titles along the way.
John Unitas, Joe Montana
Walter Payton, Marion Motley
Dwight Stevenson, Gene Upshaw, Johnthan Ogden
Lance Alworth, Elroy Hirsch, Raymond Berry
Kellen Winslow
DE | Deacon Jones | Los Angeles Rams (1961-71), San Diego Chargers (1972-73), Washington Redskins (1974)
If they'd counted sacks in his day, he'd hold the all-time record. He was so fast and tough, Jones put the "fearsome" into "Fearsome Foursome."
DT | Joe Greene | Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-81)
Ask the Steeler players from a generation ago, and they'll tell you Greene was the keystone to the four Super Bowl wins. Selfless and dominant.
DT | Bob Lilly | Dallas Cowboys (1961-74)
The bedrock foundation of the Dallas defense for 15 years, Lilly was there every Sunday -- he played in 196 consecutive games -- and made every offensive game-planner work around him.
DE | Reggie White | Philadelphia Eagles (1985-92), Green Bay Packers (1993-98), Carolina Panthers (2000)
No defensive lineman ever -- Joe Greene was close -- rushed the passer and stopeed the run with the skill and consistent greatness of White.
OLB | Lawrence Taylor | New York Giants (1981-93)
As dangerous and impactful a defensive player as has ever played the game -- ask the Redskins -- and he played the run pretty well, too.
ILB | Dick Butkus | Chicago Bears (1965-73)
You can't have an all-time team without Butkus, who was a sledgehammer inside the tackles and an instinctive player from sideline-to-sideline.
ILB | Ray Nitschke | Green Bay Packers (1958-72)
Voted the NFL's all-time best linebacker in 1969, which would get an argument from Butkus. Nitschke was the defensive key to Green Bay's greatness.
OLB | Ray Lewis | Baltimore Ravens (1996-present)
For as long as I cover this game, I'll never see a more athletic linebacker than Lewis was in 2000, when he willed the Ravens to a Super Bowl title. He's declining now, but was a consistent 10-year playmaker at a high level.
CB | Deion Sanders | Atlanta Falcons (1989-93), San Francisco 49ers (1994), Dallas Cowboys (1995-99), Washington Redskins (2000), Baltimore Ravens (2004-05)
I feel bad putting a non-tackler on this defense. Butkus would have hated him. But the fact is, Sanders is the best cover corner in NFL history, and there's no room for arguments.
SS | Ronnie Lott | San Francisco 49ers (1981-90), Los Angeles Raiders (1991-92), New York Jets (1993-94)
Let's face it: In the era of football we all know best, no secondary player has been as feared and respected as Lott, the best combination of hitter, cover safety and corner in football history.
FS | Sammy Baugh | Washington Redskins (1937-52)
He's here not because he was the second-best safety of all time, but because he deserves two roles on this team (he's also my punter). The most versatile great player ever. Quarterbacked, too.
CB | Night Train Lane | Los Angeles Rams (1952-53), Chicago Cardinals (1954-59), Detroit Lions (1960-65)
Nice debut in 1952: 14 interceptions led the league ... in a 12-game season!
Gino Marchetti, George Connor, Bruce Smith
Chuck Bednarik, Harry Carson, Mike Singletary
Mel Blount, Rod Woodson
K | Adam Vinatieri | New England Patriots (1996-2005), Indianapolis Colts (2006-present)
It's no accident New England won three Super Bowls, all by a field goal ... and got to the first one because Vinatieri made maybe the most clutch kick in history, a 45-yarder through a snowstorm to propel New England past Oakland in the 2001 playoffs.
P | Sammy Baugh | Washington Redskins (1937-52)
He's here because, even though the rules were different then, and favored punters, he led the league in punting four straight years (1940-43) and averaged an insane 51.4 yards per boot in 1940. No punter has come within 2.5 yards of that for a season. Ever.
Returner | Gale Sayers | Chicago Bears (1965-71)
The best open-field runner in history, he scored 22 touchdowns as a rookie. His career kick-return average of 30.6 yards is still the best in NFL history.
Player | Steve Tasker | Houston Oilers (1985, '86), Buffalo Bills (1986, '87-97)
His old special-teams coach, Bruce DeHaven, once made up a tape for me to watch, with 10 plays Tasker made that either won games or turned games Buffalo's way.
Head Coach | Paul Brown | Cleveland Browns (1946-62), Cincinnati Bengals (1968-75)
The most innovative man in pro football when the game was being birthed in the 1940s and the '50s. His best coaching job: Taking the Browns from the All-America Football conference to the NFL in 1950 -- and dominating the bigger league from the start.
Offensive Coordinator | Bill Walsh | Head coach, San Francisco 49ers (1979-88); assistant coach, Oakland Raiders (1966), Cincinnati Bengals (1968-75), San Diego Chargers (1976)
Interesting that Brown and Walsh worked together with the Bengals in the early years -- and Walsh always thought Brown stunted his growth. No one could hold Walsh back from building the prototype offense for today in San Francisco.
Defensive Coordinator | Bill Belichick | Head coach, Cleveland Browns (1991-95), New England Patriots (2000-present); assistant coach, Detroit Lions (1976), Denver Broncos (1977-78), New York Giants (1979-90), New England Patriots (1996), New York Jets (1997-99)
The brains, with Bill Parcells, behind the solid D of the '80s Giants. After a rough time in Cleveland as head coach, he has proven his worth as an all-timer with New England. A chameleon defensive coach. You never know what D he'll pull out of his gameplanning hat.