With some of the quickest feet in football, Devin Hester forces teams to kick away from him.
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMi
These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.
10. Jim Brown
He was far more power than speed. But Jim Brown, one against 11, was worth the price of admission for a decade of greatness. He'd run over a linebacker like Sam Huff one week, then around a defensive back like Willie Wood the next.
9. Lawrence Taylor
Watching the Giants linebacker run around Joe Jacobs and Irv Pankey and the great tackles of the day was one of the great thrills of football in the '80s. He was a sprinter/power forward/vampire among linebackers, determined to destroy the man with the ball.
8. Fran Tarkenton
The Hall of Fame quarterback turned scrambling into an art form. You've got to see one of his old romps on NFL Films to believe how fast, lithe and athletic he was. Imagine a more prolific Doug Flutie. That was Tarkenton.
7. Don Hutson
Why is he on this list? Simple: Hutson, a star receiver for Green Bay, could run by corners (he was clocked at 9.5 in the 100) and scored 99 touchdowns. He was also a feared hitter and interceptor on defense.
6. Devin Hester
He hasn't played long enough to be on such an august list, and he declined a bit in 2008 when he was force-fed the wideout position. But the Bears return ace is the one home-run hitter at the return position who scares special teams coaches into kicking away from him on every return.
5. Buddy Young
It's a shame he only played in 101 pro games, many of which were in the old All America Football Conference (he played in the AAFC for three seasons and later six years in the NFL). Young was a 5-foot-4 running back. That's right -- he was the original Smurf. Young wouldn't get a sniff at an NFL roster today, but what a phenom he was then. Three times he averaged more than 15 yards per punt return and more than 28 yards per kick return four times. The late George Young, the former Giants GM, called him the most exciting player he ever saw.
4. Randall Cunningham
You know what I remember most about Randall? A 93-yard punt! True story. He punted it that far against the Giants while with the Eagles, pinned in their own territory on third down. A booming punt and a long roll. And how how about the time Carl Banks had him a quarter-inch from a roll-out sack ... and Cunningham popped up and threw for a touchdown. Strange guy, amazing player.
4. Bo Jackson
How awful if you're in your late 20s, a huge football fan, and never got to see Bo run. The speed, the power, the change-of-direction ... breathtaking. The anticipation before one of his games in a way-too-short pro career (38 games, 515 carries) with the Raiders was scintillating. Too bad he dislocated his hip in 1989 against the Bengals. Like Sayers, he too, would have been an all-time great.
3. Deion Sanders
It's not thrilling to watch a shutdown corner ply his trade, but Deion Sanders' ability to cat-and-mouse quarterbacks is unprecedented in NFL history. And his light feet and tap-dance moves made his return ability the best in football. Do not let his mouth disguise his greatness for you.
2. Barry Sanders
Putting Sanders, who played 10 seasons for the Lions, at No. 2 was a tough call. Sayers wins the top spot because he was stronger, but that shouldn't diminish the thrill of the most exciting player I have covered in 25 years of writing about the NFL. The way I describe Sanders best is: I held my breath every time he took a handoff.
1. Gale Sayers
The Windy City legend's meteoric career was cut short by knee woes, but no player ever thrilled the masses like him. Late in his rookie year, he touched the ball 14 times on a slippery Wrigley Field pitch ... and scored six times, including an 85-yard punt return. If better surgical techniques existed 43 years ago, Sayers might have been the greatest player ever.
Agree or disagree with King's selections. Weigh in here.