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Blog Entry

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:17 am
 
Bum Phillips is a living legend (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With the death last Saturday of Raiders owner Al Davis, we got to see a side of him that most people under 35 never got to experience. When Davis was an innovator, a kick-ass coach and owner, a fighter against The Man and one of the most important figures in NFL history. It was nice to be reminded of that with tributes all over the Internet, newspapers and in NFL stadiums on Sunday.

Maybe we didn’t think about it in terms like this, but Davis, though largely reclusive to the public, was a living legend, and in the final years of his life, we probably didn’t appreciate him as much as we should have.

That said, here are 10 other living legends who hold (or who should hold)  a special place in the league’s heart. No matter what they’ve become today -- those who are outspoken for and against their old teams, those who spend their time behind the scenes, and those who have disappeared for now -- it’s not too late to show them our appreciation for all the good they’ve done and the lives they’ve led.

10. Ron Wolf: Another of Davis’ protégés, Davis gave Wolf a job as a scout for the Raiders in the early 1960s, and after helping the Raiders to a plethora of wins, he helped set up a 1979 division title in Tampa Bay before moving on to Green Bay as the general manager. He hired Mike Holmgren as the head coach, traded for a backup quarterback named Brett Favre, revitalized that franchise that led to Super Bowl riches and restored the name of a storied organization that had fallen into disrepair.

9. Mike Westhoff: The only man on this list who’s still active in the game, you might remember Westhoff from his turn on Hard Knocks where he played the Jets awesome special teams coach. It wasn’t much of a stretch, because Westhoff has been an awesome special teams coach. Aside from that, he’s a bone cancer survivor (he had to have nearly a dozen surgeries to get rid of it), and he’s one of the most respected working coaches today. But he won’t be around much longer. After 30 years of coaching, he’s said this season will be his last.

Kramer8. Ray Guy: Last year, I made him my No. 1 former player who deserves be in the Hall of Fame, but since he probably won’t ever get to Canton, that list and this one will have to suffice. Once Shane Lechler’s career is over, he’ll be considered the No. 1 punter of all time (maybe he’ll have a chance at the HOF!), but Guy was the one who showed the NFL how important a punter could be to his team.

7. Jerry Kramer (seen at right): He was a better football player than Jim Bouton was a pitcher, but both opened up the world of sports that fans had never seen before. Bouton’s tome, “Ball Four,” is a masterpiece that shocked those who had watched baseball and thought of players like Mickey Mantle as pure of heart. Kramer’s 1968 book, "Instant Replay," was a diary he kept of the 1967 season in which he gave glimpses of what life was like inside the Packers locker room under coach Vince Lombardi while chronicling some of the most famous moments in Green Bay history.

6. James “Shack” Harris: He was the first black player in the NFL to start at quarterback for the entire season in 1969, and in 1975, he led the Los Angeles Rams to an 11-2 record and an NFC West division title. He wasn’t a dominant quarterback in his day, but he was a trailblazer. And after retirement from playing, he was the head of pro player personnel when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. He’s currently a personnel executive with the Lions.

5. Chuck Noll: We don’t see much of Noll -- who’s rumored to be in declining health -- these days, but his impact is unmistakable. He won four Super Bowls as head coach of the Steelers in the 1970s, and Al Davis thought so much of him that he once tried to sue him (the two were on the same staff in San Diego in the early 1960s). And he was the first coach to allow his team to take baseline concussion tests -- which, as we know today, was a pretty important development.

4. Joe Namath: The legendary Jets quarterback has become a thorn in coach Rex Ryan’s side. Namath is constantly on Twitter, exhorting or back-handing his former team, and because he’s Joe Freakin’ Namath, the media has to pay attention. With that -- and his on-air exchange a few years back with Suzy Kolber -- it’s not difficult to forget just how good Namath was as a signal-caller. He was the first to throw for 4,000 yards (in a 14-game season no less), and he boldly guaranteed victory for the underdog Jets in Super Bowl III and then went out and delivered.

3. Joe Gibbs: One of my colleagues recently called him the greatest coach of the last 40 years, and considering Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien), he’s one of the legends. His return to the Redskins from 2004-07 didn’t go so well (a combined 30-34 record), but before that, his complete career winning percentage was better than all coaches not named John Madden or Vince Lombardi.

2. John Madden: We don’t get to hear much from John Madden these days, and that’s too bad. I liked him on Monday Night Football -- his football knowledge and his enthusiasm -- and though he was before my time, you have to admire his coaching record. He took over the Raiders job in 1969 at the tender age of 33, and when he retired after the 1978 season, he had a coaching record of 103-32-7. That is a winning percentage of .763, and to go with it, he won a Super Bowl and seven division titles in 10 years.

1. Bum Phillips: The old Oilers coach -- and 3-4 defense innovator -- is still kicking around in Texas, attending Texans games, wearing his big cowboy hat and writing books about his life (OK, it’s one book, but you should check it out). He’s a fun guy to speak with, and he’s fully into philanthropy. But aside from his defensive prowess, the dude is a great storyteller. Quickly, one of my favorites: when he was an assistant coach to Sid Gillman, one of the earliest believers in breaking down film, Phillips barely could keep his eyes open one night as Gillman continued studying game tape. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Gillman excitedly claimed that watching film made him feel so awesome that it was better than having sex. Responded Phillips: "Either I don't know how to watch film, Sid, or you don't know how to make love."

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Comments

Since: Nov 14, 2006
Posted on: October 17, 2011 1:20 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Bklynn77, to say Namaths' greatness is becasue of one game is an ignorant statement. 

It's not ignorant it's true. What else did he accomplish that made him great?



if you only look at his stats of course they don't look great,

Agreed their not great..he had two good years.


but a few things ought to be considered: 1) He threw 4,000 yards in 14 games when most teams threw the ball 10-15 times a game.  

This is not true at all. The NFL top three passing teams were Washington (37.6 attempts per game), Indy (32.6 APG) and Philly (31.7 APG) the worst team was Chicago at 19.1 APG. In the AFL the Jets (36.7 APG) San Diego (33 APG) and Oakland (33.1 APG) with Houston being the worst at 23.7 APG.  Sonny Jergensen thre for over 3700 yards, Unitas 3400 and so on and so forth....almost half the league threw for over 3000 yards...So big of a feat was Namaths 4000 yards...Outside of being the first to accomplish the feat makes him great in your eyes..afterall you admit his numbers are not great.

2) He played with subpar talent

With the exception of two years Namath's numebers were also subpar


and 3) No, your wrong in claiming his greatness lies with his team beating the colts, but rather him GUARANTEEING the jets would win.  That air of confidence in ones athletic prowess and more importantaly leadership qualities is why he was  a GREAT football player

Actually your wrong....read any history book on football and you'll find how important the Jet win was. It allowed the AFl to be recognized as a legitimate league and paved the way for the two to come together and form what is now the modern day NFL.




Since: Apr 4, 2011
Posted on: October 14, 2011 6:21 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

How does being a great athlete make you a good football player?

That comment does not support Namath as great QB...he was never great...his greatnedd lies with his team beating the Colts as the AFC finally got the recognition they deserved.


Bklynn77, to say Namaths' greatness is becasue of one game is an ignorant statement.  if you only look at his stats of course they don't look great, but a few things ought to be considered: 1) He threw 4,000 yards in 14 games when most teams threw the ball 10-15 times a game.  2) He played with subpar talent and 3) No, your wrong in claiming his greatness lies with his team beating the colts, but rather him GUARANTEEING the jets would win.  That air of confidence in ones athletic prowess and more importantaly leadership qualities is why he was  a GREAT football player. 



Since: Apr 28, 2007
Posted on: October 14, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

If anyone can explain to me why the Greatest Guard in the first 50 years of the NFL is not in the Hall of Fame, please do.  Ray Guy may belong in the the Hall but Jerry Kramer certainly does.  Wish Bum had won a Super Bowl somewhere in his career!



Since: Oct 14, 2011
Posted on: October 14, 2011 4:52 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

If you mean didn't throw the ball then you meant the NFL right ? Because the AFL threw the ball all over the place which is why it was the renegade league and why Namath got these records. The over hype and marketing is why he is "Joe Namath" nothing more nothing less. As for the he "predicted the Super Bowl win" well I don't know any starting QB who would'nt say that. He had 2 good seasons and had Shula started Unitas instead of Morrell in the Super Bowl he probably wouldn't even have that.




Since: Dec 15, 2007
Posted on: October 14, 2011 2:41 pm
 

You've GOT To Have Jim Brown On This List....

I agree.  I love the theory behind the article, but, MAN, HOW DO YOU LEAVE JIM BROWN OFF THIS LIST!  The GOAT, especially among RBs (oh, yeah, bring on the trolls!) is not included, and for many years has continued to stay with the Browns, offering far more useful critiques than Namath in many regards.  Dude's average YPG was 4.9 in a time where the defenses not only expected the run, but was basically the only offense most teams employed.  He was running for 1200 - 1400 yards a year....in 12 game seasons.  Not only great, but the G.O.A.T. (you can argue Jerry Rice, of course).

Ronnie Lott changed the safety AND cornerback positions.  Darrell Green, one of the stand-up guys AND one of the greatest corners ever.  Joe Montana.  The entire Matthews family spanning three generations of OLs and LBs...the list goes on, and many of these guys should have been mentioned on this list before (albeit great) guys like Bum, Guy, and Namath.

All that said, I think that the idea behind this article is awesome, and I honestly believe that you should expand it to at least 25.  There are a lot of legends that are dying to be called out before they die, and deserve to be mentioned.  Keep up the great work! 



Since: Nov 14, 2006
Posted on: October 14, 2011 12:05 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

If he was so bad why did both Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi say he was the best athlete they ever saw. 

How does being a great athlete make you a good football player?

That comment does not support Namath as great QB...he was never great...his greatnedd lies with his team beating the Colts as the AFC finally got the recognition they deserved.



Since: Apr 4, 2011
Posted on: October 14, 2011 11:17 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Joe Namath had more interceptions that touchdowns in his career. If he played in Houston, no one would remember him - even with the Super Bowl win. Namath is a classic 'over-rated because of where he played' guy. With all those interceptions, he's have trouble keeping a starting job today. His career QB rating is 65.5, putting him tied for 184th all time. Just to be clear, Bart Starr had an 80.5 QB rating, Fran Tarkenton had an 80.4, Bob Greise had a 77.1, and Don Merideth and Roman Gabriel were in the 74s, so we're not just talking about rating inflation due to changes in the game. Namath belongs on a great marketing list - nothing else.



If he was so bad why did both Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi say he was the best athlete they ever saw.  I would think both those guys knew  a bit more about him then us hind sight fans.  Also, footnball is not baseball.  Stats are not the endall.



Since: Sep 13, 2011
Posted on: October 14, 2011 10:56 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

I have always thought it absurd that we typically wait until
someone has died before expressing gratitude for their accomplishments and
celebrating their life.  Great article!




Since: Jun 25, 2010
Posted on: October 14, 2011 10:01 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

You could argue with some of these and always add more - Jim Brown? Art Modell? - But I really like the list and like the idea of appreciating these Legends while they are still alive. Usually you only read these types of summaries when someone dies. Nice job, giving some well deserved props to these legends while they are still among us and helping to inform some of these younger readers that think that the NFL started when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning entered the league.



Since: Jul 29, 2009
Posted on: October 14, 2011 9:12 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

What about old GROUND KNOX, Barry Switzer etc.


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