Big Backs were a part of the NIL in its infancy, but when you talk about really big backs, you have to start with Bronko Nagurski (left, with ball). He came into the league in 1930, when a normal-sized lineman weighed about 210 pounds and it was not uncommon to find some at less than 200. Nagurski went 225, and later in his career he got up to 238. The NFL had never seen such size in a ballcarrier. Add to that Nagurski's remarkably quick takeoff speed and his desire to punish the people who tried to tackle him, and you had a truly formidable weapon.
Today, with anabolic steroids and weight training, Nagurski would probably go in the 275-pound range. He had the structure to carry that kind of weight. Three days before the 1984 Super Bowl, the NFL brought the 75-year-old Nagurski to Tampa for a press conference. He answered questions sitting in one of those classroom chairs with an armrest. I was sitting next to him, and while he spoke, I stretched out my left arm and measured my wrist against his. Nagurski's was twice as big as mine, and I weighed 240 at the time.
Five years later I asked a former Chicago Bears teammate, quarterback Sid Luck-man, about Nagurski. 'A monster," Luck-man said. "The neck, the hands. They measured him for a championship ring in 1943, when he made his comeback, and his ring size was 19�"
I watched film of Nagurski. He would get into rages. He would attack people, both offensively and defensively, where he played end or backed up the line. After I had read all those quotes about how he was impossible for one man to stop, one thing puzzled me. Where were the big numbers? He averaged less than 10 carries a game. The Bears' media guide credits him with only one 100-yard afternoon over a nine-year career. I asked him about that.
"[George] Halas stockpiled backs," he said, "and he believed in spreading it around. Plus he wanted to keep me fresh for defense, where I'd put in a full afternoon. How many of today's 1,000-yard runners would like to spend half the game playing defense?"
DR. Z'S TOP 10 BIG BACKS OF ALL TIME
1. Jim brown ( Cleveland Browns; 1957-65). We don't think of him as a big back, because he was such an elusive, graceful runner, but 228 pounds was an impressive weight for a ballcarrier in his time.
2. Marion Motley ( Browns, Pittsburg Steelers; 1946-53, 1955). He played most of his career at 238 pounds, ran with surprising speed, excelled at pass blocking and backed up the line on occasion.
3. Bronko Nagurski (Bears; 1930-37, 1943). In today's game he would routinely crank out 1,500-yard seasons.
4. Earl Campbell ( Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints; 1978-85). At 5'11", 240 pounds, the Tyler Rose was explosive and ran low to the ground. He could wear out a defense.