You make the call.
NFL Films' 10-episodes of the "Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players'' is terrific television (Thursday night, 9 Eastern, NFL Network), but what else would you expect from Films? There are a few nits to pick. The list is offensive-heavy (63 out of the 100 are offensive players), which is the same problem Hall of Fame voters have wrestled with over the years. And the list is not as respectful of history as it should be; between 10 and 12 of the 100 made their marks in the first 30 years of the NFL's 91-year life. But that's not Films' fault. That's on the shoulders of the 85 voters (coaches, GMs, scouts, former players, media folk) who cast ballots for the top 100 last spring.
The show itself is great. Each Thursday, 10 names are counted down. Last Thursday was 40 through 31 on the list, the seventh episode of the 10. And number 34 on the list, cornerback Deion Sanders, said he was angry at being rated so low. He called it "preposterous,'' said he was "appalled,'' and wondered how he would tell his children he's the 34th-best player of all time, and not in the top 10.
Oh, the indignity!
"How can you tell me with a straight face that 33 other players had a greater impact?'' Sanders said on NFL Network, where he serves as an analyst.
Sanders, properly, is regarded as the best cover cornerback in NFL history, a ball magnet when quarterbacks chose to throw at him -- which wasn't often in his prime. He was an elusive and instinctive return man. Five times he was voted a first-team Associated Press All-Pro corner, and once more as a kick returner, in his 14-year career.
No modern defensive back scored like he did. He had touchdowns on interception returns (nine), punt returns (six), kickoff returns (three), receptions (three) and fumble returns (one), and those 22 touchdowns are the most by a defensive back in the modern era. It's hard to compare today's players to those from the first 40 years of the game because so many men who threw, passed or ran with the ball then -- like Don Hutson and Sammy Baugh -- dominated on offense and in the secondary.
Forget the off-field showmanship, however you view that. Sanders wasn't a physical corner and too often shied away from form tackling -- or any tackling. Whereas 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Rod Woodson was a more complete corner and a more versatile defensive back in total, Sanders made his millions in covering and returning, not hitting.
So the question is: Did Deion get jobbed? Let me know what you think. I'll run a handful of opinions in my Tuesday mailbag column. For now, consider that Sanders was the 12th-rated defensive player in history and the second-rated cornerback in history by the measure of NFL Films. He was ranked ahead of Chuck Bednarik, Mel Blount, Gino Marchetti, Alan Page, Mike Singletary, Jack Ham and Ray Nitschke, among others.
The following 11 defenders are rated higher. I don't know the order they're in, so I've listed them by my best guess of how they'll fall.
Linebacker Lawrence Taylor
Defensive end Reggie White
Linebacker Dick Butkus
Defensive end Deacon Jones
Safety Ronnie Lott
Defensive tackle Joe Greene
Linebacker Ray Lewis
Defensive tackle Bob Lilly
Linebacker Jack Lambert
Defensive tackle Merlin Olsen
Defensive end Bruce Smith
Lest you quickly look over those 11 and say, for instance, "Deion was better than the last couple of guys listed,'' consider this: Olsen made more Pro Bowls, 14, than any other defensive player in NFL history, and Smith is the alltime leader in sacks.
My opinion? Sanders is right where he should be. He's one of the most electric and important players I've seen in my 26 years covering the league, but I'd have him higher if he played more physically. Coincidentally, in my Monday Morning Quarterback book (the revised paperback, with my own list of the top 100 players of all times, is on newsstands now!), number 34 on my list is the one and only Deion Sanders. If he cared, I'm sure he'd be angry at that "slight'' too.
One more note on the Top 100 series: Each player is introduced by an admirer. Usually those admirers are from the football world, but this week's show, counting down from 30 to 21, will include a couple of baseball players. I was provided a preview of the two segments they're a part of. A couple snippets:
Alex Rodriguez, who chose to wear number 13 as a Yankee in honor of Dan Marino, on the Miami quarterback: "Since he retired, I've never really gone back or watched the Dolphins. It's hard. It's like having to watch the Orioles without Cal Ripken.''
Derek Jeter, who could get some tabloid guff for his affection for a Bostonian, on what he thinks of Tom Brady: "I think of a winner, a champion ... The [Super Bowl] that stands out the most is the first one he won [2001 versus St. Louis], leading the team down the field when time was running out. You could just see in his face that he remained calm. As a teammate, if you're looking at the leader and he's calm, it rubs off on everybody.'' Jeter said of Brady staying good: "The only way you can maintain a certain level of play is you can never be satisfied with what you've done. You have to look forward to the next challenge. That's what he's done.''
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