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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Since: Oct 14, 2011
Posted on: October 14, 2011 8:44 am

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

What about Art Modell

Since: Feb 9, 2008
Posted on: October 14, 2011 8:17 am

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Loved Bum Phillips comment about Don Shula. " He was so good he could take his'n and beat your'n or he could take your'n and beat his'n"

Since: Sep 5, 2010
Posted on: October 14, 2011 8:02 am

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

@waitrightthere... I won't bother to look to see if you included your age on your profile but your comments wreak of inexperience regardless. 

Stating you've "never heard of a couple of the others" is defendable, I guess, but the Namath comment just makes you seem ignorant.   If by "look up his stats" you mean he had only 14 games seasons not to mention it was during a time when almost no one threw the ball - at least not accurately - then you might have a point.  Simply put, when he wasn't hurt, he was one of the best ever.  He played in 8 full seasons and he still managed nearly 30,000 passing yards and made history in so many other ways (predicted the first AFL SB win, first to throw for 4000 yards, 60's lifestyle and civil rights promoter, etc).  

I'm hopeful this shortsided 11:30PM rant had more to do with "extra" cocktails than it had to do with "reduced" IQ (at least about football).   

Since: Sep 17, 2008
Posted on: October 14, 2011 12:51 am

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

What would any thread be without the mentioning if Tim Tebow be this week?

Since: Oct 2, 2006
Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:40 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Great piece.  If you're a real student of the game, you know Ray Guy for HOF is spot on.

Since: Sep 23, 2009
Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:24 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Joe namath is a legend in his own mind only, look up his stats, he should've NEVER been elected to the hall of fame, the biggest blowhard to ever put on pads. And a couple of the others I never even heard of.

Since: Sep 22, 2009
Posted on: October 13, 2011 10:52 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

 Roger Staubach. A great QB who doesn't get his just due.

Since: Jan 13, 2007
Posted on: October 13, 2011 8:50 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Good story but really it comes down to a matter of opinion and who you are a fan of,I myself would have a much different list and at the top would be,Bart Starr just to name one,there are so many legends still alive this list would be a mile long if we put em all on it.

Since: Nov 6, 2009
Posted on: October 13, 2011 8:24 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Eddie DeBartolo should be on this list with what he did in building a dynasty with the Niners through the 80's and 90's. I am pretty sure though that the river-boat scandle hurt his chances of getting on this list. Maybe if that scandle never took place, the Niners would never have fallen out of relevence. 

Since: Sep 28, 2006
Posted on: October 13, 2011 7:46 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Hey just to let the author know, Don Shula is still alive.  Yeah, damn shame that the guy with the most all time wins would rate a little consideration. 

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