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2000s: The Decade in Sports
Posted: Tuesday December 8, 2009 10:53AM; Updated: Monday December 21, 2009 12:00PM
All-Decade Team: NFL
By Peter King,
My team oozes points and leadership. Imagine Peyton Manning with the protection he'd get with this athletic and strong offensive line -- and with the physicality and deep capability at receiver. On defense, I've picked so many good leaders. There'll be no motivation shortage when this D takes the field.

A few points of clarification: I have selected a team. Not all of my players had the most Pro Bowl or All-Pro nods. But I'm going to have a team with a wide receiver who blocks downfield. I'm going to have a team with a good run-playing defensive line. Some of the best statistically dominant players are not on this team. And I've also omitted some players not because they weren't great (Michael Strahan, Marvin Harrison), but because others spanned the decade better.

There are 12 defensive players (four linemen, four linebackers), as a nod to the teams that played 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. I thought about breaking down the team further and doing three receivers or naming a nickel corner, but many of the good slot receivers morph into outside receivers, or vice versa. So I stuck with 11 on offense, 12 on defense. (Send comments to
Randy Moss
Teams in 2000s: Vikings, Raiders, Patriots
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Message to Moss: I am not happy, not at all, with your dog act in Oakland in 2006. It was petulant. But you've been such a great player for so long, and you continue to be a deep threat in your 12th season, and if you stay healthy and interested another four years playing with Tom Brady, you just might threaten Jerry Rice's all-time record of 208 touchdowns. Moss has to be here.
Walter Jones
Team in 2000s: Seattle Seahawks
Seasons in 2000s: 10 (IR in '09)
You can argue that the left side of the Seattle offensive line from 2001-05 is the best side of a line in history. In 2005, Jones and Steve Hutchinson cleared the way for Shaun Alexander to be the NFL MVP with 1,880 yards and 28 touchdowns. Jones, a powerful man, was superb at dancing with quick speed rushers and steering them away from the pocket.
Steve Hutchinson
Teams in 2000s: Seahawks, Vikings
Seasons in 2000s: 9
The best guard of the last 20 years. He's not the same today as he was three or four years ago, but this is a decade award, and he's the best masher and pass protector of any guard we've seen in recent years. Just ask Mike Holmgren how absolutely irreplaceable Hutchinson was to what Seattle did as an offense. The downfall of Holmgren in Seattle can be traced to GM Tim Ruskell losing Hutchinson in free agency after the two men agreed Hutchinson had to be kept.
Kevin Mawae
Teams in 2000s: Jets, Titans
Seasons in 2000s: 10
He began the decade as the best at blasting holes through solid defensive lines. He ends it as the leader and pivot of one of the game's top three offensive lines, a line paving the way for Chris Johnson, who is trying to become the sixth running back to gain 2,000 yards. Technically sound, durable and strong. A latter-day Mick Tingelhoff, the kind of iron man you'll have to pry the shoulder pads off someday.
Alan Faneca
Teams in 2000s: Steelers, Jets
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Smart guy with a Steelers-type mean streak. Watch tape of him in his prime, which he's past now. He mauled on first and second downs, and punched and pulled from side to side in pass protection on third. Every coach who's had him -- Bill Cowher, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan -- will tell you the same thing: Give me five Fanecas on the line, and we'll go play you in the parking lot.
Jonathan Ogden
Team in 2000s: Baltimore Ravens
Seasons in 2000s: 8
A smidgen behind Walter Jones, but that shouldn't diminish his greatness. He had the biggest wingspan of any offensive lineman I've seen, and his side-to-side quickness made him a natural for keeping rushers out of the face of his quarterback. The first basketball player to morph into a great tackle. I thought about keeping this a right tackle slot and putting Jon Runyan here, but Ogden was too good for too long at left tackle.
Tony Gonzalez
Teams in 2000s: Chiefs, Falcons
Seasons in 2000s: 10
When Gonzalez started playing, it was a dream that a tight end who could block would ever catch 1,000 balls. The dream's a reality. "The most amazing thing I noticed in training camp after we traded for Tony," Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff said last summer, "was in practice, when most veterans coast, he's driving linebackers downfield. We didn't have any idea he could block like this -- or would want to. He's the complete package." Shannon Sharpe had 815 catches in 12 seasons spanning two decades. Gonzalez has 817 in this decade ... with one month to play.
Hines Ward
Team in 2000s: Pittsburgh Steelers
Seasons in 2000s: 10
I've got a big and athletic competitor, Moss, on one side of the field. On the other side, I want a feisty receiver who produces and blocks and wins. Ward is one of the top five blocking receivers in NFL history. You'll say this is a counterculture pick, but Ward has 24 more catches than Terrell Owens in this decade, though Owens has 41 more touchdowns and 1,700 more receiving yards. But this is an all-around-receiver pick.
Peyton Manning
Team in 2000s: Indianapolis Colts
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Toughest call, choosing Manning over Brady. Both deserve it. Brady gets the edge in titles 3-1. Manning gets the edge in MVPs 3-1 -- and he's in prime position to win a record fourth this year. Manning gets the edge in raw productivity, with 11,000 more passing yards and 87 more touchdowns. Brady played eight years, Manning 10. If I chose this team at the end of this season and the Patriots had won another title, I'd have to put Brady in this spot. But we're picking it now, and as we sit here, I believe Manning will go down in history as one of the top three quarterbacks, and I can't make a team of the decade, in Manning's prime years, without having him quarterback it. Manning is my Player of the Decade.
LaDainian Tomlinson
Team in 2000s: San Diego Chargers
Seasons in 2000s: 9
Not even a contest. In every year from his rookie season in 2001 through 2008, Tomlinson had at least 1,500 rushing/receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Imagine when your average game is 119 yards from scrimmage and 1.1 touchdowns. He's not what he was five years ago, but what running back 30 or older is?
Lorenzo Neal
Teams in 2000s: Titans, Bengals, Chargers, Ravens
Seasons in 2000s: 9
At 255 pounds with no appreciable offensive skill, Neal was in the backfield for one reason -- to clear paths for top running backs. And with Eddie George (Tennessee), Corey Dillon (Cincinnati) and Tomlinson (San Diego), Neal became the best at his craft for the first nine years of the decade. Every season from 2000 through 2007, Neal blocked for a back who gained at least 1,300 yards.
Aaron Smith
Team in 2000s: Pittsburgh Steelers
Seasons in 2000s: 10
He's the upset pick of the team. But the mostly anonymous body of work over the decade makes the 1999 fourth-round pick a worthy choice. The Steelers were the top-rated defense three times in the last half of the decade, and the 6-5, 298-pound Smith's ability to shed blocks as a 3-4 defensive end and stop the run was a vital part of their success. "He can't be blocked," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. Well, almost.
Kevin Williams
Team in 2000s: Minnesota Vikings
Seasons in 2000s: 7
Williams missed the first three years of the decade while at Oklahoma State but quickly made up for it with 22 sacks in his first two years. At 6-5 and 311 pounds, he's the classic strong but lithe defensive tackle who plays the run and rushes with equal proficiency. Williams missed only two games because of injury in seven years, but does have the StarCaps four-game suspension hanging over his head for 2010.
Jamal Williams
Team in 2000s: San Diego Chargers
Seasons in 2000s: 10
He missed 22 games with injuries in the first nine years of the decade, and at 33, he's probably close to being finished now. But for a battering-ram position like the nose, where you're getting cut and chipped and blocked by multiple players on every down, playing 15 games or more six times in the decade is no small feat. Williams has made a living out of doing what nose tackles have to do -- hold the point, occupy two blockers at least half the time and open the defensive floodgates for linebackers to make plays.
Jason Taylor
Teams in 2000s: Dolphins, Redskins
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Tough call over Strahan. It's not Strahan's fault that he straddled decades and played seven years in the 1990s and eight in the 2000s. Taylor has made the most of his athletic ability and health, missing only five games in the decade and averaging 11 sacks a year (same as Strahan). On this team, a right end has to be able to rush the passer consistently around the end and occasionally inside on stunts. Taylor's classic at both skills.
Mike Vrabel
Teams in 2000s: Steelers, Patriots, Chiefs
Seasons in 2000s: 10
There are scores of players who have a better statistical résumé than Vrabel in the decade (50 sacks, 11 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles), but he's here because of his versatile playmaking skills and ability to play all over the linebacking corps. The three-time Super Bowl champions are going to be represented on this defense, the same way the rock-ribbed, team-minded Steelers are with Aaron Smith. Vrabel came to New England cheaply when the Patriots had no money to spend in 2001 free agency, and he was the keystone of that class in the franchise's construction of the team of the decade.
Ray Lewis
Team in 2000s: Baltimore Ravens
Seasons in 2000s: 10
My Defensive Player of the Decade. Lewis was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2004, and the Super Bowl MVP in Baltimore's rout of the Giants in 2001. He made one of the most amazing plays I've ever seen, running halfway across the field in Super Bowl XXXV to catch Tiki Barber from behind on an end sweep. He'd be the captain of this team, for sure.
London Fletcher
Teams in 2000s: Rams, Bills, Redskins
Seasons in 2000s: 10
I've got an athlete, Ray Lewis, playing sideline to sideline, and now I'll take a tackling machine to clean up the run game. I gave Fletcher a nickname, the black Seau, he loved back in the Rams' glory days, and he produced like Junior, average 140 tackles a year and missing zero games because of injury in the decade. Fletcher edges Zack Thomas, James Farrior and Brian Urlacher not only because of his production but also for his durability and leadership.
Derrick Brooks
Team in 2000s: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Seasons in 2000s: 9
"The one edge no one will ever have over me is the mental edge of knowing players,'' Brooks said last year when he painstakingly went over video of Adrian Peterson while showing me how he prepared for games. He watched how runners planted their feet and turned and how they deked so nothing would surprise him on game day. It helped him catch Peterson -- and stun Peterson -- on a pass out of the backfield in a Bucs-Vikings game.
Champ Bailey
Teams in 2000s: Redskins, Broncos
Seasons in 2000s: 10
I wanted to have one cover corner and one more complete corner on the team, and Bailey's my cover guy. That's not to say he's a Deion-like matador when it comes to being physical; Bailey won't back down, but he's not here because of his physicality. In coverage on Harrison during one playoff game, he forced Peyton Manning to throw 20 balls at Reggie Wayne and three at Harrison. Such is the respect Manning had for him.
Antoine Winfield
Teams in 2000s: Bills, Vikings
Seasons in 2000s: 10
It pained me to leave Ronde Barber off the team, but to these eyes no corner has combined cover ability with physical play like Winfield. At 5-9, he's a rock-'em, sock-'em robot with the quickness of a classic tight-cover guy. Because he plays so hard, it's hard to knock Winfield for his 22 missed games in the decade. Others will have more stats than his 19 interceptions over the decade, but not many corners will ever have a 94-tackle season, as he did in 2003 with the Bills.
Ed Reed
Team in 2000s: Baltimore Ravens
Seasons in 2000s: 8
The most opportunistic defensive back of our lifetime has returned a punt, a blocked punt, a fumble and an interception for touchdowns -- 13 touchdowns in all. Five interceptions in five playoff games. He's a classic baiter. He studies quarterbacks, and even the smart ones (Chad Pennington most recently) aren't immune to his laying in the weeds and waiting to make his move until the quarterback brings his arm forward. Reed was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.
Brian Dawkins
Teams in 2000s: Eagles, Broncos
Seasons in 2000s: 10
It's probable that Troy Polamalu will go down in history as a better player, and it's tough not to have him on this team. But Dawkins has taken the field in 54 more games than Polamalu in the decade and produced in a big way every time he did. Not a premier cover player, but a vicious hitter with one of the best noses for the ball I've seen.
Adam Vinatieri
Teams in 2000s: Patriots, Colts
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Don't give me stats, though Vinatieri's an 83 percent kicker in the decade. Give me Vinatieri, in the snow, from 45 yards, with the kick that launched a three-time Super Bowl run for the Patriots. New England won all three Super Bowls by a field goal, a fitting tribute to a fourth cousin of Evel Knievel and a descendant of Felix Vinatieri, the band leader whose group inspired Gen. George Custer hours before going into battle at Little Big Horn. (Thought you'd like to know where the vein ice water came in.)
Shane Lechler
Team in 2000s: Oakland Raiders
Seasons in 2000s: 10
With due respect to Ray Guy, this is the best punter in Raiders history. Assuming he keeps his lead this year, this will be the fifth time in the decade he's led the league in punting (three other times he's been second), and in 2008 he set the standard for net punting with a 44.7-yard average. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they've been so bad it's helped Lechler be in position to boom his punts for max distance -- and boom them he has.
Kick/Punt Returner
Dante Hall
Teams in 2000s: Chiefs, Rams
Seasons in 2000s: 9
The fear factor he instilled in foes and the sheer numbers (642 kick and punt returns) matter more than touchdowns. He had 12 of those, just one more than Devin Hester in 404 more returns. But it's rare for a very good return man to have the longevity of a Hall.
Special-Teams Ace
Sean Morey
Teams in 2000s: Eagles, Steelers, Cardinals
Seasons in 2000s: 8
He keyed the special teams for three playoff teams (two that made the Super Bowl) over an eight-year span, five times leading his team in special-teams tackles. Morey may have had the single most important play of the Cardinals' 2008 regular season, when he broke through the Dallas protection unit and blocked a Mat McBriar punt in overtime, ending the game when the Cards recovered it for a touchdown and a win.
Head Coach
Bill Belichick
Team in 2000s: Patriots
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Spygate will always stain his résumé, but it's not enough of a stain to erase the tremendous accomplishment in a salary-cap era of winning three Super Bowls in a decade and, in a fourth season, going 16-0 before losing in the Super Bowl. What makes Belichick's accomplishment all the more stunning is that he built his foundation in 2001 with castoffs and undeveloped players, and coached the tar out of them. He and Paul Brown may go down as the smartest two men to roam an NFL sideline.
Dick LeBeau
Teams as coordinator in 2000s: Bills Steelers
Seasons as coordinator in 2000s: 7
With the Bills in 2003, he parachuted in and built the league's No. 2 defense. (Buffalo shut out the Pats in the season opener.) Then he went to Pittsburgh, refined his fire-zone concepts (linemen dropping in coverage, back-seven players rushing) with solid talent, and in three of the five years that followed, he had the top defense. What's more, his players borderline-worship him. Five current and former Steelers defenders have pushed me to select LeBeau for the Hall of Fame when his candidacy comes up this year.
Assistant Coach
Howard Mudd
Team as assistant coach in 2000s: Colts
Seasons as assistant coach in 2000s: 10
I had one opposing coach tell me this year, "The amazing thing about the Colts isn't Manning being so great every year. It's how they continue to be the best offense in football with a very average offensive line.'' Last year, when irreplaceable center Jeff Saturday was lost for the first month with a knee injury, Mudd got a couple of rookies ready, working after practice with Manning and the kids, and Indy survived the hole in the line plus Manning's balky knee to finish 12-4. The mark of a good assistant is losing good players (Tarik Glenn to retirement, Jake Scott to free agency), plugging in lesser players and still winning. Mudd has been an excellent technician and partner for Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore.
General Manager
Bill Polian
Team in 2000s: Indianapolis Colts
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Smart GMs make do with less, and because the Colts were hamstrung for much of the decade with huge contracts for stars like Manning and Harrison, Polian and his scouting staff had to find gems in middle and low rounds and college free agency. They crafted the winningest regular-season team of the decade with productive players like Gary Brackett, Antoine Bethea, Saturday, Robert Mathis and Pierre Garçon, all either fifth-round-or-lower draft picks or college free agents.
Scott Pioli
Teams in 2000s: Patriots, Chiefs
Seasons in 2000s: 10
There's always been a debate when the Patriots' greatness comes up. Who deserves the architectural credit for assembling the players built into champions -- Belichick solely, or Belichick and Pioli? It's certainly the latter. Pioli built up such a good relationship with Belichick that he was the only one in the building who could tell him he was nuts. The relationship was so strong that Belichick trusted him implicitly on many of the draft picks down the line, like Brady in the sixth round in 2000 and Matt Cassel (who hadn't started a college game at quarterback) in the seventh round in 2005.

2000s: The Decade in the NFL
King: Highlights and lowlights
King: All-Decade team
Banks: 10 signature moments
Banks: Trades, free agency and the draft
Clemons: 10 best fantasy seasons
POLL: Share your thoughts on the decade in the NFL



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