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Useful Notes: National Football League
Founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, the National Football League is by far the most popular and longest-lived professional American Football
The NFL plays mostly on Sundays and Mondays from September to January/February. The regular season lasts from September to early January. The division winners and two "wild card" teams (the two best records in each conference not to win a division) proceed to a seeded playoff tournament through January, culminating in the Super Bowl
, played between the conference champions on the first Sunday in February, which is usually the most-watched television program of the year and therefore gets the best commercials
One oddity of the NFL is that no team plays in either New York City
or Los Angeles
, despite them being the largest cities in the United States. This wasn't always the case, but L.A.'s teams have moved elsewhere, and while there are still two official "New York" teams, they both actually play nearby in New Jersey
. The NFL is also the only one of the Four "Major" North American sports leagues that has no teams outside of the United States.note
NFL Divisions and Teams
The NFL's 32 teams are divided between two conferences, the NFC and the AFC, and 8 divisions, each of which has some of its own unique personality. The conferences, the National and American Football Conferences, are Artifact Titles
from the the time when many of the AFC franchises played in the rival American Football League (AFL) before the league merged with the old NFL in 1970. Normally, each team considers every other team in its division as a rival, but there are some inter-conference and inter-divisional rivalries as well.
Divisions have changed from time to time. The most recent change came about when the Houston Texans entered the league, causing a switch from the three-division system that had been in place since the NFL-AFL merger to a four-division method. Each conference has four divisions ("North", "South", "East", "West") of four teams each. These divisions are organized to promote established rivalries, so they bear little resemblance to actual geography, especially if teams change cities:
- The Baltimore Ravens are in the AFC North, despite Baltimore being in the mid-Atlantic. note
- The Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East even though it's in the Southwest, albeit a piece of the Southwest in the Central time zone. Interestingly, this was not caused by the team moving. note They're geographically west of the St. Louis Rams, a member of the NFC West. note
- The Indianapolis Colts note are in the AFC South, even though they're geographically north of the Cincinnati Bengals, a member of the AFC North. note
- Prior to the four-division alignments in 2002, many of the teams were placed in even worse configurations compared to the division name. A prime example: the Arizona Cardinals played in the NFC East from 1988 to 2001. note Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers were originally in the NFC West (and no, they hadn't moved from somewhere else).note
The divisions are presently as follows:
- NFC East (Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia, & Washington): A slight artifact title because Dallas is west of the Mississippi, however, it was structured this way to preserve the intense rivalries amongst its four teams. The NFC East is considered one of the league's stronger divisions and is its most decorated with its teams holding 12 Super Bowls (as of 2012). The winner usually rotating among the Giants, the Eagles, or the 'Boys (with the 'Skins holding the bag). Each of the teams usually puts up a pretty good game against each other as well. Sometimes called "The Glamour Division", both because all four teams are big-market teams with long histories, and because, in recent years, all four have a tendency to excite hype and excitement in the offseason which they usually do not live up to.
- NFC North (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, & Minnesota): AKA, "The Black & Blue Division" and "The Norris Division."note It was known as the NFC Central Division prior to the 2002 season and was the only division to remain intact after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Thus, it is considered the oldest division in professional football. Green Bay won the first crown en route to its eleventh NFL Championship and second Super Bowl victory in 1967. The next two were won by Minnesota which went on to dominate the division in the '70s, followed by Chicago in the '80s and Green Bay in the '90s with the division crown rotating between the three of them in the '00s. Detroit has struggled since the 1950s, with the low point for the franchise being a winless season in 2008 - but those struggles have resulted in some high draft picks that the team has used as of late to become...well, pretty darn good. It is home to some of the longest running rivalries in the NFL and two of the teams were previously led by Brett Favre over the course of 18 seasons (GB: 1992-2007 & MIN: 2009-2010).
- NFC South (Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, & Tampa Bay): Originally thought of as the castoffs when pro football went to four divisions, they've actually played pretty good having sent a team to most NFC Championship games, except for 2008 and 2009. New Orleans and Atlanta had fairly solid seasons in recent years, while Carolina and Tampa Bay are currently in rebuilding mode. All four teams in the division have been to the Super Bowl since 1998, and since the formation of the division in 2002, a different team has won the division every year. Oddly, from 2003 to 2007 and in 2009, the previous year's last-place team won the division. In 2008, the previously last place team, Atlanta, merely made the wild card playoff spot instead, and in 2010, Tampa Bay, 2009's last place team, just missed out on the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to Green Bay.
- NFC West (Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco, & Seattle): For most of the 2000s one of the league's weakest divisions, usually only sending its division winner to a one-and-done playoff experience although this was subverted by RB Marshawn Lynch and Seattle with a shocking victory over the defending champion Saintsnote , despite having a losing record heading into the game. Also inverted by Arizona in 2008 thanks in large part to Kurt Warner's resurgence where they reached the Super Bowl despite only nine regular season wins and being called "the worst playoff team" by many people. (Speaking of Warner, St. Louis' Greatest Show on Turf offense dominated the division in the early 00's but slowly fell out of power to Seattle, and then Arizona.) San Francisco used to be one of the NFL's strongest franchises with four championships in the 80's and one in the 90's, when it was known for the innovative "West Coast Offense" and having several hall of fame players on the roster (Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, see above). However, as those players all retired or fell to injury as the 90's wore on, the team slipped into "also ran" status for nearly a decade until they returned to the playoffs in 2011. After that, with the resurgence of the 49ers and the rise of the Seahawks and Cardinals, the NFC West was considered by many to be the toughest conference in the league.
- AFC East (Buffalo, Miami, New England, & New York Jets): Starting from the early 2000s, New England had an absolute lock on this division, winning it EVERY SINGLE YEAR note , with the best thing any other team could hope for being a wild-card berth. Aside from the Patriots, it's a fairly weak division - the Dolphins and Jets occasionally rise to contender status but it never lasts, and the Bills have been dire since the mid-late 90s. Notable for the fact that it contains several of the oldest franchises from the AFL, which is why it retained the geographic oddity of having Miami in its division even though it is geographically the southernmost NFL city.
- AFC North (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, & Pittsburgh): The home of intimidating defenses and hardcore players...and the Cleveland Browns. All of these teams have fairly storied histories - well, except Cincinnati (were fairly decent in the '80s, making the Super Bowl twice, but typically struggle so much they are better know as the Bungles). The division's typically a showdown between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, with Cincy a respectable third and Cleveland a distant fourth.
- AFC South (Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, & Tennessee): Until recently a contender for "strongest division", at the moment they're another "one good team and three bad ones" division. Indy ran away with the division during the Peyton Manning years, and will likely continue to do so in the Andrew Luck era. Tennessee and Jacksonville used put up a decent fight, but since the end of the Noughties both have been in the bottom half of the league. Houston was known as a decent team in a division where "decent" wasn't good enough. They earned (their first two) playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012note before the wheels came off in 2013.
- AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, & San Diego): Another entrant into the contest for "weakest division". San Diego has had a fairly solid lock on the division for a while now, though Denver usually makes a solid push (but dies out around midseason). Kansas City and Oakland have made top-10 draft picks for several years now - although with a few recent coach/QB shifts (John Fox and Peyton Manning to Denver, and Alex Smith and Andy Reid to Kansas City), the division suddenly stacks up as one of the stronger ones in the NFL. By the way, these four teams have been in the same division since the beginning of the AFL.
AFC History by Teams
- The Baltimore Ravens began play as an expansion team in 1996 when the entire roster and coaching staff of the Cleveland Browns vanished and rematerialized in Baltimore. That's obviously not true, but it's more or less the NFL's official story. What happened is that owner Art Modell wanted to leave Cleveland with the Browns, but the Browns name and history remained in Cleveland (to be used by a "revived" Browns team under new ownership) while the Ravens were considered to be the "new" team. Confused? You should be. note The Ravens are known mostly for their stifling defense. The face of the team for their first 17 years of existence was linebacker Ray Lewis, who led the team to Super Bowl wins in the 2000 and 2012 seasons, but non-Baltimore fans prefer to focus on how he was indicted for murder in 2000. Ah, the NFL. The Ravens are division rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rivalry between the two teams has been said to be the most bitter in the NFL note
- The Buffalo Bills are the third team to lose four Super Bowls. Not only that, they did it four years in a row. In fact, they're the only team to ever make it to more than two consecutive Super Bowls. Other than that, possibly the only NFL city with weather worse than Green Bay. As the city of Buffalo's economy has been in a tailspin for nearly four decades, the Bills are commonly mentioned when talking about putting a team in Los Angeles. They have begun playing some home games in nearby Toronto to attempt to alleviate this concern. Thereby raising others; there's also talk of having them become the first Canadian NFL team. Speculation about a future move increased after founding owner Ralph Wilson died in 2014. A few weeks later, Donald Trump publicly expressed an interest in buying the team to keep it in Buffalo, but lost out to Terry Pegula, an energy billionaire who also owns the Buffalo Sabres and was also committed to keeping the team in town.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are a historically bad team that has been in two Super Bowls (XVI and XXIII) and lost both to the San Francisco 49ers. Pretty much came into existence solely as a Take That effort to allow former Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown to come back to the league after being fired years before; the team even uses the same helmet color as the Browns. Currently suffering from an image problem due to having more players arrested in the mid-2000s than every other team combined. Like every other team in the AFC that has at some point been associated with the state of Ohio, they are bitter rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Until recently, they were famous as the home of the NFL's resident Cloud Cuckoolander, wide receiver Chad Johnson (who temporarily renamed himself Chad Ochocinco in 2008, then changed his name back a few years later).
- The Cleveland Browns are a former powerhouse that has won and appeared in more professional championships than any other team, but has not been to a championship game since 1964. Known for choking in the clutch, especially against the Denver Broncos in the mid to late 1980s. (Don't ask Browns fans about "The Drive" or "The Fumble".) After the original team was taken to Baltimore by owner Art Modell (don't mention him around Browns fans either) in 1996, the city filed a federal lawsuit and was awarded the team name, colors, and franchise history, then an expansion team in 1999. Since then, the team has been a laughingstock, in large part due to constantly-shifting coaching staffs and quarterbacks that haven't panned out, along with a paranoid front office that has all but banned the team's main broadcaster via their CBS affiliation for merely reporting team news they disagree with (they have their team shows and the preseason games on the NBC affiliate, which is oddly more flowery about Browns team news). Rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers and (to a lesser extent) the Baltimore Ravens, though this more or less just makes them a punchline in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Were purchased by truck stop mogul Jimmy Haslam in 2012, and he seems to be serious about reforming the team. However; Cleveland's penchant of rotten luck seems to be continuing, as soon after Haslam's purchase of the Browns his truck stop company (Pilot Flying J) would soon be investigated for fraud; complete with the FBI and IRS staging a raid at one point. Fans are hoping that the drafting of Johnny "Football" Manziel in the 2014 draft finally helps bring the team to respectability.
- The Denver Broncos are the second team to lose four Super Bowls and the first to lose five. Historically a strong franchise, they eventually won two behind quarterback John Elway at the tail end of his career. Also always seem to have a stud anonymous 1000-yard rusher every year. Their stadium, called Sports Authority Field at Mile High (the "Mile High" having been added in an attempt to calm complaints about the corporate name, and as a Shout-Out to previous home Mile High Stadium), is literally a mile up, just like the rest of Denver, which makes their home games tough on the visiting teams. Some players with certain medical conditions cannot play there without literally risking their lives and thus must miss the games. Made a lot of noise in the 2009 offseason when new coach Josh McDaniels succeeded in alienating the team's star quarterback so badly that they were forced to trade him to Chicago. (Chicago made the playoffs in 2010, McDaniels got fired before the season was over). McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow before leaving Denver, who led the Broncos to a stunning playoff spot. However, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets after John Elway was returned to the franchise as President, and signed veteran QB Peyton Manning. In the 2013-2014 season, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl with the most productive offense in NFL history according to many sports experts, but they ended up losing 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks whom had the best defense of the year and one of the best defenses in NFL history.
- The Houston Texans are the NFL's newest franchise. They began play in 2002, five years after the old Houston Oilers left town to become the Tennessee Titans. Incidentally, the NFL originally awarded the franchise to Los Angeles, but civic arguments over a new stadium in L.A., coupled with a record breaking expansion bid by Houston businessman Bob McNair ($700 million, not including the price tag for the new stadium) forced the NFL to change its mind and award the team to Houston instead. However, since the Titans owned (and refused to sell) the rights to the Oilers name and colors (Titans owner Bud Adams specifically had the team spend one season as the "Tennessee Oilers" so that a repeat of the Cleveland Browns situation would be impossible), they based their name after the original Houston Texans, a WFL team that played in 1974. After several seasons at or below mediocrity, the Texans broke through in 2011 with their first division win and the franchise's first playoff berth, fueled mostly by a revitalized defense.
- The Indianapolis Colts are a mediocre franchise that suddenly became dominant after drafting popular media-darling quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998. With Manning on the team, they became a regular playoff contender (including a Super Bowl win in 2007), but when he was out for the 2011 season due to a neck injury they instantly fell to worst in the league. But thanks to No.1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, new head coach Chuck Pagano, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, (Who took over as interim Coach when Pagano was diagonesed with Leukemia) and other players and staff the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 and right back in the playoffs. The Colts are a long-running franchise that dates, in some form, all the way back to 1913note . They were in Baltimore until they literally escaped in moving vans in the middle of the night in 1983; the city of Baltimore now wishes they had had the presence of mind to do to this team what Cleveland did to the Browns... A team of many firsts. As the Baltimore Colts, they had the first cheerleading squad and the first official mascot in the NFL, and were also the first NFL team to put a logo on their helmets. Contrary to popular belief, the Colts don't have the first NFL marching band—that honor belongs to the Redskins. Also, the band predates the current Colts franchise; it was created for the first Baltimore Colts, which folded after the 1950 season.note The Colts also won the first-ever sudden-death overtime game, which has sometimes been referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played". Divisional rivals of Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars are an average franchise based in the South that began play in 1995 and chose a predatory feline as their mascot. Along with the Carolina Panthers (another expansion team with a predatory feline mascot created that year), they made it to their respective conference championship in 1996 but lost. As the Jacksonville Metro area has only 1.5 million people (and thus a tiny media market), this is another team that's been considered for a move to Los Angeles. The current face of the franchise is Maurice Jones-Drew, a running back of small stature but enormous talent who is often among the league leaders in rushing and has a popular nationally syndicated fantasy football radio show. Also known for currently having the league's most popular (and one of the more outrageous when it comes to antics) mascot, Jaxson De Ville. Midway into the 2011 season, the Jaguars made a little news via firing long time head coach Jack Del Rio and previous owner Wayne Weaver selling the franchise to Shahid Khan, a multimillionaire from Illinois whose mustache is as well known as his business skills — fans can be seen wearing "Khanstaches" at home games in support of their new owner. They share divisional rivalries with Tennessee, Houston and Indianapolis and are geographical rivals of Miami and Tampa Bay, although none of the teams in Florida take their rivalries seriously.
- The Kansas City Chiefs started life as an original AFL team as the Dallas Texans, owned by AFL founder Lamar Hunt until his death. They moved to Kansas City once it became obvious that Dallas wouldn't support two teams (the Cowboys started at the same time; the Texans won the AFL championship in 1962 but the not-very-good-at-the-time Cowboys were the more popular team), changed their name because the Kansas City Texans is clearly ridiculous (although there is word Hunt did consider keeping the Texans name), but still includes their pre-Chiefs years in the team history. Under Hank Stram, the Chiefs won three AFL championships (1962, '66 and '69) and appeared in the first and fourth Super Bowls, beating the Vikings in the latter. Unfortunately, it didn't last and the Chiefs went into a decline in the mid-1970s, not long after they lost to the Miami Dolphins in a playoff game that went into two overtime periods and is still the longest game in NFL history (A United States Football League game in the 1980s went into a third overtime, but that doesn't count). There was a brief renaissance during the early years of Marty Schottenheimer and a scorched-earth 2003 campaign that ended with a first round playoff loss but since the mid-'00s they have been increasingly pathetic. If you ever heard the phrase "you play to win the game" with odd stressing on the syllables, blame the Chiefs' former head coach, Herm Edwards, who nearly destroyed the team. They did however win their division in 2010 thanks to a new coach and a much-improved offense and front office. In the 2013-2014 season, the Chief's would sadly be added to the history of greatest upset losses in playoff history. They had a 28 point lead over the Colts, but lost the game with a final score of 45-44, finishing second under the infamous Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills game of 92 in terms of upset losses in a playoff game. They've got a running rivalry with Seattle over who has the loudest fans; at many of their home games, they and Seattle attempt to set new world records for crowd noise.
- The Miami Dolphins are best known as the only team in the Super Bowl era to achieve a "perfect season" (no losses or ties in regular season or playoffs), doing so in 1972. The only team that came close were the 18-1 Patriots below (The 49ers and Bears put up 18-1 seasons in '84 and '85 respectively; their losses came during the regular season). Other than that, the Dolphins were the team of Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who never won a Super Bowl. Ever since his retirement, they've pretty much had a revolving door at quarterback, but they've apparently settled at Ryan Tannehill. Also had Don Shula, the winningest coach in the NFL, and since 1970, have been the winningest team in the league. To their credit, they've appeared in five different Super Bowls, losing three, but winning two back-to-back.
- The New England Patriots are best known for their 18-1 2007 season; they were undefeated heading into the Super Bowl before suffering a very close defeat to the New York Giants, one of the most epic upsets in sports history. Led by quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots transformed into a perennial juggernaut, winning three Super Bowls in four years and repeating as champions in 2003-2004. They were accused of illegally recording their opponents' defensive signals from the sidelines in 2007, an allegation known as "Spygate". Belichick was fined $500,000 note , the Patriots' organization was fined $250,000 and they lost their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Due to their winning ways and their coach being compared to a mad genius, they're often joked to be the Big Bad of the NFL. Were called the Boston Patriots from 1960-1970 until the building of Foxboro Stadium, which was actually closer to Providence, Rhode Island than it was to Boston. Around this time it was decided that the team represented the whole New England area.
- The New York Jets are New Jersey's other, more forgettable team. Originally the New York Titans. Traditionally Long Island's football team, they have been based in the Giants' home stadium since 1984. Sometimes derisively referred to as "Jersey-B" in the sports media. They are known for their "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets" chant, which some of the rowdier fans translate this to.......other four-letter words. Did we mention that the Jets have a rather tough fanbase (although not as rough as the Eagles'). They've even stopped selling alcohol at a few games because of it. The high point of the franchise came in 1968, when quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" victory over the heavily favored Colts, and actually won Super Bowl III, giving the AFL teams credibility. (The guarantee thing seems to be endemic to New York City sports: see Babe Ruth in 1932, Mark Messier in 1994, Jim Fassel in 2000.) Besides creating the annoying tradition of underdog teams "guaranteeing" victory in important games, this had the more lasting effect of proving the viability of the AFL and validating the merger with the NFL that had been agreed to. After the Super Bowl win, they spent decades as a bottom-of-the-barrel team, though they're generally decent to good these days, and in the '80s they were known as a defensive powerhouse led by their "New York Sack Exchange" D-line. Led by extremely outspoken head coach Rex Ryan, they made it to two AFC Championship games in two years, beating the favored Colts and Patriots to get there. Since then they've slid back into mediocrity and been known more for the ongoing soap opera revolving around who their starting quarterback is while talking trash that they then badly fail to back up, along with an infamous play in 2012 against the Patriots where Mark Sanchez's head collied with the rear end of an offensive lineman, resulting in the "Butt Fumble" which lead ESPN's 'Not Top 10' for nearly an entire year. After 40 straight weeks of the Butt Fumble, ESPN retired it so that other embarrassing plays could have a chance of winning the "top" spot.
- The Oakland Raiders are the Eagles of the West Coast, as their fans often dress up in ridiculous costumes for the game. From 1966 (when Al Davis became a permanent part of the team's ownership) to 1983, "The Silver and Black" performed consistently well, winning ten division titles and three out of four Super Bowl appearances (XI, XIV, and XVIII), and serving as The Rival to the Pittsburgh Steelers (from 1974-76 they played in three consecutive AFC championship games). In 1982, after a drawn-out fight with both the Oakland Coliseum (over improvements) and the NFL (over Davis's right to relocate his team), the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. They were quite popular in LA, but had to play in the aging Los Angeles Coliseum. With 95,000 seats the Coliseum was usually not sold out for games which caused TV blackouts for the Raiders in LA. The area was also considered dangerous and the Raiders attracted many gang members as fans. After failing to get a new stadium, Davis moved the team back to Oakland in 1995. Once a pretty good team, the Raiders are now known mostly for a revolving-door coaching staff, for picking up players that (due to either age or criminal history) no one else will touch, for drafting/signing speedy players who can't really do anything else to outrageous contracts. Al Davis was also known for massively interfering in the coaches' jobs during his tenure as owner. The Raiders have a long-standing rivalry with San Francisco due to their proximity (their home cities are separated only by the width of the San Francisco Bay) that has historically been more intense between the administrators of each club than on the field. For a long time, the two clubs even refused to schedule each other in preseason because of it, and they won't again beginning in 2012 due to fan violence after their 2011 preseason game. As of 2012, it's the only team that shares its home field with a Major League Baseball team, in this case, the Athletics, thus it plays over dirt during the early part of the season rather than a full grass field. Oakland fans are among the most loyal in professional sports despite the team's recordnote , and constitute a Hatedom for every other NFL team in existence (with particular emphasis on the Chargers, Chiefs, and 49ers). Nowadays considered the team most likely to move to San Antonio. The team's unofficial anthem is "The Autumn Wind" - have a listen.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps the most successful team of the modern NFL era, a contrast to their status as perhaps the most pathetic team in the pre-merger NFL. They have won the Super Bowl six times and have played in eight, more than any other team for the former and tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the latter. Generally known for playing a conservative offense and aggressive defense. They won two Super Bowls in the 2000s, but are historically known for their great teams in the 1970s and their "Steel Curtain" defense. In a disturbing turn of fate, many members of the great 1970s teams later suffered various misfortunes and mental/physical problems traced to their playing days. The team of current broadcaster and occasional TV personality Terry Bradshaw, winner of 4 Super Bowls. They've recently had a couple of big-name players (Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger) in the news for various reasons (not good reasons, either). Heinz Field is known for having a field that's been called the worst in the NFL, though the players refuse to switch to turf like the Patriots did because of tradition (during a horrible rainstorm in 2006 the Steelers and Dolphins nearly played into overtime scoreless because of a very muddy field already pummeled by a pack of college and high school football games the week before; the Steelers only won near the end on a chip-shot field goal. This game might be remembered for the punt that stuck in the turf when it landed). Prior to Chuck Noll's tenure, which began in 1969, the Steelers had never won an NFL title in any era and had only one playoff appearance, which was a divisional tie-breaker, not a championship game. Since 1969, the Steelers have had just three head coaches: Noll, Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin.
- The San Diego Chargers were an original AFL franchise who made the jump to the NFL. They were based in Los Angeles and got their nickname because they were owned by Barron Hilton (yes, Paris's grandfather), who also owned the Carte Blanche credit card (though because of their lightning logo scheme this has almost been all but forgotten). Since Los Angeles thinks it's too good for the NFL, San Diego is pretty much the de facto Southern California team. San Diego has a longtime habit of choking in the playoffs, first with Dan Fouts in the 1980s, then 20 years later with LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. Made the Super Bowl in 1994, but suffered a humiliating blowout at the hands of the 49ers. Fun fact: former Charger placekicker Rolf Benirschke once hosted Wheel of Fortune. In other trivia Eli Manning was drafted by the Chargers, but demanded a trade before he even started playing. The Chargers' general manager, A.J. Smith, is widely mocked as "The Lord of No Rings" (coined by Eli's father Archie) for his inability to put together a Super Bowl winning team. His continued failure to do so, despite offensive superstars as Tomlinson and Drew Brees, and exceptional return specialist Darren Sproles having played for his team (all of them now either playing elsewhere or retired, in the case of Tomlinson), has made the nickname stick among fans. San Diego has a very nasty rivalry (as in: violence in the stands between fans, resulting in the San Diego Police Department having a standing tactical alert for all Chargers-Raiders games) with the Oakland Raiders, possibly fueled by the fact that the late Al Davis had started his career as an assitant coach with the Chargers and only went to the Raiders when he was passed up for the head coaching job. Never Live It Down, indeed... The Chargers have been making noises about moving back to LA for nearly a decade now (largely because their home stadium was built in the 1960s), so they're another possibility for an LA team.
- The Tennessee Titans were formerly known as the Houston Oilers. Generally pretty good year in and out, they were well-known for using the "Run and Shoot" offense in which two extra wide receivers replace the tight end and fullback. Led by QB Warren Moon, they put together good records in the '90s but never made it through the playoffs, once blowing a 32-point lead in the 4th quarter to Buffalo (The largest surrendered margin in playoff history). They moved to Tennessee in the late 90's, dropped the "Run and Shoot", (and the "Oilers" name, since Tennessee is not particularly famous for oil production.) and got their revenge on Buffalo in 1999 by pulling off an absolutely ridiculous last-play kickoff return to win the game, dubbed the "Music City Miracle". They made it to the Super Bowl and lost when the game's final play ended just inches short of the goal line. The team has struggled in the years since, drafting players (Vince Young, Chris Johnson) with high prospects that have ended up disappointing in high-profile ways. The Titans were coached for 16 seasons by Jeff Fisher and Jeff Fisher's mustache, one of the great underrated coaching duos in the league; at the start of his tenure, they were still the Oilers.
NFC History by Teams
- The Arizona Cardinals are the NFL's oldest franchise (they began in Chicago in 1898 as the "Morgan Athletic Club"), and historically one of its least successful. They have only ever won the NFL title twice, and the first time was a Disqualification-Induced Victory. In 2008, however, they won more playoff games in three weeks than the team had won in the previous 60 futile years, coming within a minute or so of winning a Super Bowl. Sometimes called the "football Cardinals", a throwback to the time they played in St. Louis, a city which already had (and still does have) a baseball team by the same name. Currently play in a stadium that looks like a giant steel rattlesnake curled up in the desert and is named for the University of Phoenix, an online school which doesn't even field a chess team. They own one of the best playing wide receivers around in Larry Fitzgerald.
- The Atlanta Falcons were rushed into the NFL in the mid-'60s when it looked like the AFL was going to put a team there. They really haven't gotten over that birthright, seeming to always fall just short of credibility (although they did make it to the Super Bowl in 1998). It took the team 43 seasons to earn their first consecutive winning seasons. They're currently owned by Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, and were the team Michael Vick was playing for when his rather cruel hobby was exposed. Since drafting Matt Ryan and hiring coach Mike Smith, they've been one of the NFC's more solid teams, but are coming down with a reputation as a team that chokes in the playoffs.
- The Carolina Panthers are an expansion team created in 1995 alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars. They made it to the conference championship in 1996, and all the way to the Super Bowl in 2003, where they lost to the Patriots by a field goal (though it was later revealed that numerous members of that team had been using steroids). Since then, it's been a slow erosion to non-contender status. The drafting of college superstar Cam Newton has helped revitalize fan interest in the Panthers.
- The Chicago Bears are the other original NFL franchise, actually predating the league. They started in Decatur, Illinois, before being moved to Chicago by NFL legend George Halas. As with most Chicago sports franchises, their best days are far in the past, with eight league championships through 1963 (including the first true championship, won in the first 'indoor' NFL game in 1932, which was played in Chicago Stadium due to subzero conditions), and only one (in 1985) since then. Classy NFL good guy Walter Payton played here, as did Brian Piccolo (as in Brian's Song), William "Refrigerator" Perry, and Dick Butkus. The SNL "da Bears" sketches are based on stereotypical Chicago fans. Although the topic is a subject of frequent debate, the 1985 Bears are generally considered to be in the running with the '70s versions of the Steelers and Cowboys for "Best team of all time". Their Super Bowl win that year was an epic 46-10 dismantling of the New England Patriots, one of the most statistically lopsided Super Bowls ever. Non-football fans probably know the 1985 Bears less as a powerhouse and more for their ill-advised "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video. Currently, the fans wish the Bears would get an offensive line for Jay Cutler because it seems like every play ends with a sack or a Cutler INT.
- The Dallas Cowboys are possibly the most storied NFL franchise, as well as the most hated according to an ESPN poll (they edged the Patriots for the dubious honor), they were the Team of the '90s, winning three Super Bowls to go along with their two in the '70s. The team of Tom Landry and later Jimmy Johnson. Owned by Jerry Jones, one of the more divisive executives in the league. Rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to some classic matchups in the '70s. All three other teams in the NFC East hates the Cowboys; the Eagles would claim to be the Cowboys' biggest rival, but the distinction really goes to the Washington Redskins, which is a much more heated and historic rivalry. Became known as "America's Team" in the '70s and is sometimes derisively referred to as "South America's Team" due to the drug habits of some of its players during the '90s. Also known by some detractors as "Mexico's Team"...though this is actually true, since the Cowboys are phenomenally popular south of the border, being the only NFL team whose games are consistently available on Mexican television. Always, always, always play on Thanksgiving Day. The team plays in the league's largest stadium, which is known for having the largest television display in the world above the field. In addition to various names mocking Jones, the new stadium's external appearance has also led to it being nicknamed the Death Star.
- The Detroit Lions started out in Portsmouth, Ohio, where they were known as the Spartans, and moved to Detroit in 1934. They were arguably the team of the 1950s. Since then, they have struggled. They became the first team to go 0-16 in a season in 2008, and have made fewer playoff appearances than many teams half their age. They've been really bad for a really long time (their last championship was in 1957). It got so bad under the tenure of general manager Matt Millen that fans organized protest marches and put up billboards demanding he be fired, some of them appearing at sporting events in other cities. Barry Sanders, an incredible running back, quit the NFL rather than continue his career carrying such an abysmal squad on his shoulders. The Sanders-era Lions peaked in 1991, when they went 12-4, only to be defeated by the Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. The other team that always plays on Thanksgiving Day. They're currently rebuilding their team after drafting popular and dominant college players Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best in recent drafts; the investment seems to have paid off, with the Lions coming up with their first 5-0 start since 1956 in 2011 before being narrowly defeated by the 49ers; Detroit also clinched their first winning season and playoff appearance since 1999. The 2012 season was a return to traditional Lions losing form, marked by generally good gameplay followed by inexplicable 4th-quarter collapses.
- The Green Bay Packers, originally named the "Acme Packers" during the initial birth of the NFL, were the team of the '60s, when under the reign of legendary head coach Vince Lombardi they won five of their record 13 NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) and earned the city of Green Bay the nickname of "Titletown, USA." With a population of just over 100,000, Green Bay is microscopic by American major league sports standards; note nonetheless, their success has helped them cultivate a notoriously large and rabid fan base that extends throughout the whole world, resulting in a presence of "cheeseheads" at every road game that sometimes even drowns out the home crowd. Their home stadium, Lambeau Field, is subject to some absolutely terrible weather late in the season, leading to it being termed "The Frozen Tundra"note . Countless games have been played (and watched) in ridiculous conditions such as -15 degrees plus wind, including the notorious 1967 "Ice Bowl" which they won to get to Super Bowl II. It is also home to a tradition known as the "Lambeau Leap"note where players are expected to leap into the stands after scoring a touchdown. The team is also known for its unique community ownership note , banned under current league rules but grandfathered in for the Packers, which guarantees that they'll never move to a larger market.
- The Minnesota Vikings are another entrant in the "ridiculous fans" department; some fans dress in elaborate Viking costumes for games. The Vikings were led by popular quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the '70s (except for his five-year interlude with the New York Giants), which only led to them becoming the first team to lose four Super Bowls. (Technically, the Vikings first Super Bowl loss was with Joe Kapp as quarterback; this hasn't stopped Fran from being known as the guy who lost 4 Super Bowls) Was the home of Brett Favre for his final two seasons, which caused some drama as he was essentially a cult hero in neighbor/rival Wisconsin (where the Packers play). Known for a rather ridiculous series of painful playoff collapses, including a loss in 1998 when their placekicker (who hadn't missed a single kick all season) shanked an easy game-winning FG against the Falcons, as well as in the 2010 NFC Championship game where despite dominating the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints in nearly every statistic, they gave up 8 turnovers and lost in incredibly painful fashion. Home to the "Purple People Eaters", a dominating defense in the 70's including the likes of Alan Page and John Randle.
- The New Orleans Saints have historically been a consistently terrible team, fans of the Saints actually started the practice of wearing paper bags over one's head to protest a poorly performing team. Their inability to win games also earned them the derisive nickname "The Ain'ts". They are the team that killed Archie Manning's once-promising pro career, as he was their only good player (and arguably their only even decent player). For a while in the '90s they were known as "the only team that has never won a playoff game", a label they finally shed in 2000. Their home city has this nasty tendency to get obliterated by hurricanes, so they've played home games elsewhere. Recovered in the late '00s after hiring Sean Payton and signing Drew Brees, they're now quite good, and won in Super Bowl XLIV against the favored Indianapolis Colts - their first ever Super Bowl game. The key to their turnaround has been developing a deep roster of solid, close-knit players rather than relying on big stars. The strategy paid off in the 2010 season when, despite injuries plaguing the starting lineup, the Saints called on a seemingly endless supply of effective running backs and wide receivers well-suited to Brees's pass-heavy play style.
- The New York Giants are historically the better of the two teams that play in New Jersey. Like the Jets, they used to actually play in New York, but they moved to New Jersey in 1976 so that they could have a dedicated football stadium instead of having to share with the New York Yankees. One of the oldest teams in the NFL, dating back to 1925. Have won 4 Super Bowls and 4 additional NFL championships from before the Super Bowl. Officially named the "New York Football Giants", even though there hasn't been a baseball New York Giants since 1957. Won a miracle Super Bowl in '07 against the then-undefeated New England Patriots, the most notable part of which being a play where quarterback Eli Manning evaded an almost certain sack and threw the ball to third-string receiver David Tyree, who caught it against his helmet in mid-air with safety Rodney Harrison hanging on him. They're known for being "road warriors" who perform better in hostile stadiums than in their own... which was certainly the case in '07, in which their six losses included only one on the road, and their playoff run to win the Super Bowl was entirely on the road.
- The Philadelphia Eagles are known mostly for their rowdy, unpleasable fan base, which the Guardian has compared to British football hooligansnote . Veterans Stadium, before its demolition to make way for "The Link" (Lincoln Financial Field), had a courthouse in the basement (Seamus McCaffrey, Jr. of the Philadelphia County Municipal Court, presiding; he was later elected to the PA Supreme Court), because of the number of fans that were arrested during games, although things have calmed down considerably in the past few years and "Eagles Court" was abolished in 2003 when the old stadium was closed. The 700 Level of Veterans Stadium was particularly infamous for containing the worst of the worst; quite intentionally no equivalent exists in The Link. Eagles fans are arguably best known for an incident in which Santa Claus was heckled and pelted with snowballs at halftime.note On one occasion, some fans cheered a career-ending neck injury to an opposing playernote who was a jerk off the field and the poster boy for everything fans of other teams hated about the Cowboys of the 1990s. That said, however, it should be noted that they have never killed or maimed fans of opposing teams (unlike other cities). They genuinely love their team and are extremely outspoken in their criticism. Their quarterback was Donovan McNabb for most of the 2000's, with whom the fans had a love-hate (well, mostly hate) relationship, which led the team to trade him in 2010 to the Redskins, which opened the door for his backup Michael Vick to start his comeback the next season. Home games always sell out, no matter how bad they are, and to them the most important thing about their players is that they play with all their heart, guaranteeing the city's love (yes, it really does exist).
- The St. Louis Rams are one of the more traveled NFL teams, they started in Cleveland, then moved to Los Angeles when the NFL needed a West Coast presence, then moved out of Los Angeles when owner Georgia Frontiere saw the chance to make more money in St. Louis. Frontiere took over the team 15 years earlier when her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, died mysteriously in a drowning accident. I'm not saying, I'm just saying... Won the Super Bowl in 1999 after being terrible for most of the '90s, when Kurt Warner rose from obscurity to lead a high-flying offense known as the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner and RB Marshall Faulk monopolized the MVP from 1999-2001, and the 2001 team looked like an all-time great until the Patriots shut them down and upset them in the Super Bowl. Since then, the Rams have declined to near-insignificance once again. During nearly every low ebb of team performance, someone in LA will make the argument that they ought to have them back....
- The San Francisco 49ers (named after the Forty Niners of the California Gold Rush) were a historically terrible team, with four playoff appearances in 30 years in the NFL...until the 1980s, when head coach Bill Walsh's innovative "West Coast Offense" helped transform them into the most dominant team in the NFL. Led by back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, and all-time leading wide receiver Jerry Rice, they notched fifteen playoff appearances and five Super Bowl wins from 1981-1998. Following Young's departure and an ownership change, they faded from relevance for most of the 21st century, but the 2011 hiring of former quarterback and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh as head coach signaled another change in fortunes. The new-look 49ers, successful behind a power running game and implacable defense, have since reached the NFC Championship game three years running and ignited a ferocious rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks. They were the only team in NFL history to have won more than one Super Bowl without losing once, until they finally lost to the Ravens (who themselves gained that distinction) on their sixth trip in 2013.
- The Seattle Seahawks are the current Super Bowl Champions. Throughout their history, though, they have not had many good seasons. In fact, they are known for their stretch of over twenty years without a single playoff win – starting in 1983 with a loss to the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, and finally ending in 2005 with a Super Bowl appearance. Throughout The Nineties, they were the benchmark of forgetfully average, with a majority of their seasons being at, or within one game of, a .500 record. Have gained a reputation as a place for future Hall-of-Famers to play the year before they retire. Were transferred from the AFC to the NFC in 2002 as part of realignment. Lost Super Bowl XL in one of the most controversial championship games in history, with many questionable referee calls consistently in the opponent Steelers' favor. Following a leadership change from semi-retired coaching legend Mike Holmgren to the Coach/GM duo of former USC coach Pete Carroll and Green Bay executive John Schneider in the 2010 season, they became the first team in 28 years to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9), causing a lot of complaining amongst fans because the playoff system gave them, as a division champion, a home field game in the wild card round against a numerically superior, but lower seeded opponent. Said critics, and most everyone else, were silenced with a shocking first-round win over the then-defending champion New Orleans Saints, culminating in a play late in the fourth quarter which became known as the "Beastquake", after Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch went "Beast Mode" with a 60+ yard touchdown run which sealed the deal for Seattle that caused the crowd to cheer so loudly that the rumbling registered on nearly seismographs as an earthquake. No, it did not have anything to do with Lynch stomping the turf so hard it shook the ground. They've since become a surprise NFC powerhouse after completely replacing every player on the team over a two-year period. In 2013, they became the first team in NFL history to re-sign a quarterback who had begun the season as a starter for them previously (Tarvaris Jackson in 2011) back to their roster as a backup. In 2012-2013, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson and made him the starter. In the 2013-2014 season, the Seahawks finally won their first Super Bowl in franchise history by surprisingly blowing out the Denver Broncos whom had the most productive offense in NFL history according to sports experts. The Seahawks had the best defense of the year, as well as one of the top defensive's in NFL history. They held the powered offense of the Broncos to a stunning 8 points, while scoring 43 points of their own.
- The Seahawks are also known for having the loudest fans in the league (who had the #12 retired in their honor as the "12th man" under license from Texas A&M, which originated the concept and holds the rights to that name). This is at least in part due to their stadium being deliberately designed to amplify the sound from the stands. For this reason, CenturyLink Field has more false starts than any other stadium in the league. The Kansas City Chiefs are their rivals in regard to crowd noise; the two teams often try to steal the world record from each other.
- CenturyLink Field is so loud that the Seahawks were once accused of piping artificial crowd noise through the stadium speakers. However, an investigation proved these claims untrue. The fans really are just that loud.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the previous NFL Butt Monkey before the Lions. Their first season in 1976 was perfect. Perfectly awful, as they lost all 14 games they played. The next year, they improved. They only lost their first 12 games, then won their last two (also notable that after their first win the opposing team's head coach and starting quarterback got fired). After making three playoff appearances between 1979 and 1982, things declined and didn't get much better until 1996, when Tony Dungy was delivered unto the Tampa Bay Area. The next year, they changed their uniforms from garish "creamsicle" orange-and-white to the current pewter-red-black scheme, and changed their logo from a winking pirate to a skull flag. That's around when they won the Super Bowl, led by coach Jon "Chuckie" Gruden. Team owner Malcolm Glazer is mildly disliked in Tampa. Don't ask English soccer fans about him, especially around Manchester.
- How bad was that 1976 winless season? One reporter asked then head coach John McKay, "What do you think of the offense's execution?" He replied, " I'm in favor of it."
- The Washington Redskins is the team with the deepest pockets, though this hasn't translated to success on the field since 1992 because current team owner Daniel Snyder seems to love buying overpriced free agents who flame out quickly, and cause fan hate with such actions as charging fans to watch training camp and make HD broadcasts of preseason games cable-only. Also possibly the most politically incorrect team name in all of sports, especially given that Native American-derived team names and mascots have in general been falling out of favor for years. (Although the implications of their name is lessened by the fact that a poll of native Americans came up with 91% of those asked having no problem with it. There was, however, a time when "redskin" was considered just as bad a racial slur as the N-word, and it's largely the existence of this team that's semi-mainstreamed the word.) Because of this and the fact that they play in Maryland, not Washington DC proper, sportswriter Gregg Easterbrook assigned them the joke name "Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons". They are the bitter rivals of the Dallas Cowboys, dating at least back to the early 1970s. Redskins games are jokingly used as bellwethers for presidential elections. If they win, it meant the incumbent party candidate would win.note They have won 3 Super Bowls; head coach Joe Gibbs was known as the first coach to win three Super Bowls with 3 different starting quarterbacks (Joe Theismann in 82, Doug Williams in 84, Mark Rypien in 91).
NFL Scheduling and Games
Each team plays a 4-game preseason, a 16-game regular season, and a postseason that involves 12 teams.
The 16 games (8 of which are at the home stadium and 8 of which are away games) during the regular season are determined as follows:
- 6 games against the team's three divisional rivals (2 each; 1 home, 1 away)
- 4 games against every team in another division in your conference (2 home, 2 away)
- 4 games against every team in a division in another conference (2 home, 2 away)
- 2 games against two other conference teams that finished in the same position in their division (1 home, 1 away)
Basically, let's say we have the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Dallas was second in their division in 2013. In 2014 the NFC East is playing the NFC West and AFC South. That means that 6 of Dallas's games will be against their divisional rivals (Philadelphia, New York Giants, Washington), 4 games will be against all 4 NFC West teams (Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis), 4 games will be against all 4 AFC South teams (Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee), and the other two will be against the teams that came in second place of the NFC North (Chicago) and NFC South (New Orleans). That's how a 16-game schedule is generated.
Postseason qualification involves 12 teams which qualify for the playoffs. Each division will send the team with the best record - this is the division champion. However, there are also 4 wild-card spots (2 AFC, 2 NFC) that are up for grabs. These go to the teams with the best records remaining in the leagues. There are some fantastically complicated tiebreaker rules to go along with that
, but an average football fan should be fine with just this knowledge.
Each team also gets some seeding
based on how they performed during the regular season. Each conference has six seeds. Seeds 1 through 4 are the divisional champions, seeds 5 and 6 are the wild-cards. The top two seeds in each conference get a first-round bye week during the playoffs. The 3 and 6 seeds will always square off against each other, and the 4 and 5 seeds will do the same. The lower-ranking of the teams that wins those contests will face against the 1 seed, and the higher-ranking will play the 2 seed. Playoff games are single-elimination.
In recent years there's been talk of extending the regular season to 18 games and reducing the preseason to two. It's tied to the labor contract talks the league has had with the NFLPA. Preseason games are sparsely attended and generally ignored by fans, but they're important for giving newly-signed players some time on the field, and for determining who should be the starters and who needs more time to develop. Proposals to lengthen the regular season are also controversial because in addition to resulting in less time on the field for rookies and backups, it would mean that starters would have to play more
...thus increasing the risk of injuries.
There have also been calls to modify the playoff format, either by expanding it to 14 teams, or by changing qualification or seeding to be based purely on record. The former proposal has been taken seriously by the NFL commissioner and is considered somewhat likely to eventually happen; the latter usually gets called for when a division winner with a mediocre or even losing record hosts a wild card team with a strong record in the playoffs, and usually is forgotten by the start of the next season.
The NFL Draft
Though the NFL no longer has a developmental league (similar to reserve or practice squads in other sports), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has shown interest in establishing such a league. As it currently stands, college football programs
provide most new NFL prospects, with owners and coaches also keeping an eye out for standout players in the Arena League, UFL, and Canadian Football League.
The NFL Draft occurs in April or May. However, following the Draft is a pastime in and of itself.
The draft scouting traditionally begins during Bowl Week in college football. There have been plenty of great performances that elevate players into first-round consideration, and vice versa - plenty of future first-rounders have given shoddy performances and seen their draft stock plummet.
The next portion of the draft comes during the NFL Combine, which is always held in Indianapolis
, where a select few players get to come to Lucas Oil Stadium to work out for coaches and scouts. There are a few traditional drills (the 40 yard dash, the cone drill, and others) that everyone participates in - and people are looking for specific things. Plenty of players decline to attend the combine for various reasons - but declining usually hurts their draft stock (though usually not as badly as a poor Combine performance would). Also, there will almost always be a no-name player who turns in a stunning performance at the Combine and shoots from "nobody" to "first-round pick" (Oakland has become sort of a joke for drafting these players). These players are called "workout warriors".
Next would be a college's Pro Day, when professional scouts come to the player's college where he is able to play in his own facility.
Finally, the Draft occurs. The first pick of each round goes to the team that had the worst record in the league in the previous year, and each selection goes up until the team that won the Super Bowl makes their pick. Draft picks can be traded just like players - and they often are (the Ricky Williams trade, in which New Orleans traded eight draft picks for the #5 overall pick with which they selected Williams, is an especially notable one). It's almost always speculated every year that the team holding the first overall draft pick will try to trade down to avoid giving a giant contract to a guy who hasn't even played in an NFL game, but that rarely happens.
There are traditionally seven rounds of the draft, though there have been supplemental rounds in the past. The last overall draft pick is called "Mr. Irrelevant" and receives the distinctive Lowsman Trophy (which looks like the Heisman, except the player is fumbling the ball).
A player who is highly-drafted but, for whatever reason (injury, underperformance, off-field issues), fails to have a distinguished career is known as a "draft bust". Since "bust" players are usually let go to save face and team reputation if no one else will take them in a trade, the drafting team may literally have nothing
to show on-field for their drafting effort. This is especially painful if the team is consistently bad enough to be awarded high picks for consecutive years. Some fanbases in particular seem perpetually haunted by their team suffering either years of draft futility or instances of drafting a merely passable player ahead of one who became a legitimate star. Ryan Leaf, drafted #2 overall in 1998, and out of the league by 2001; is known as the biggest bust in NFL history, and arguably in professional sports overall. "Workout warriors" from the Combine are seen as particularly high risks of being draft busts. Conversely, a player whose retrospective performance is greater than one would expect given their draft position is known as a "draft steal" (Best example: Tom Brady, picked 199th in 2000, in the sixth round). While the biggest examples of draft steals are low-round picks that turn out to be top-tier players, players drafted in the second, third, or even low in the first rounds can be considered steals depending on their talent and the interest on draft day.
After the draft, players who were eligible to be drafted but who were not selected may sign with any team as "undrafted free agents." Very few ever make a team's final roster right away, but are frequently signed to the practice squad, are resigned the following offseason for another chance, or move on to play in the CFL or Arena League. While it is not especially common, undrafted players can and have gone on to be highly successful players in the NFL. Some of the most famous examples in the league today are Tony Romo, Wes Welker, Antonio Gatesnote
, and Arian Foster. Hall of Fame players John Randle, Warren Moon, Dick "Night Train" Lane, and (likely future Hall of Famer) Kurt Warner also started their careers as undrafted free agents.
Prior to 2011, the contracts awarded to highly drafted rookies were ludicrously out of control. Frequently, players drafted in the top 10 picks were given total contracts and guaranteed money higher than all but the most elite veteran players at their respective positions. (For example, quarterback Sam Bradford, selected #1 overall by the Rams in 2010 received a contract worth $78 million, which had $50 million of guarantees and has a maximum value of $86 million. This placed him in the top 5 highest earning quarterbacks in the NFL before taking his first snap in the pros.) In 2011, the NFL instituted a "rookie salary structure" which greatly restricted the money that could be given to rookies, meaning more would be available to spend on veteran players. (Cam Newton, the #1 overall pick in 2011 to the Carolina Panthers, received a much more modest $22 million deal.) This, along with increased minimum veteran salary floors, has led to an unintended consequence of many teams going with a youth movement of higher-round rookies rather than mid-level veterans at many of their positions, preferring to look more often for rookie sleeper hits than pay higher salaries for a fair-to-middling placeholder. This means that some teams have a majority of rookie and first-contract players at a majority of positions with a handful of superstar contracts, with a decreasing amount of veteran depth.
The Pro Bowl
Most leagues have All-Star games, and the NFL is no exception. However, this league is notable because of how irrelevant their All-Star game is. The NBA and NHL have All-Star Games that are big to-dos, with the league's best and brightest coming out to play with giant concerts, festivities, and fun times for all. The MLB All-Star game determines which league, American or National, has the home-field advantage in the World Series (while few baseball fans actually like
this, it does keep the game relevant). The Pro Bowl... is roughly analogous to a flag-football game.
Late in the season, players are named to Pro Bowl teams. It's (supposed to be) considered a huge honor to get sent, but many players will pull out for whatever reason, usually because pro football is quite risky enough when there are meaningful stakes involved; it wouldn't be worth it to be injured in an exhibition game that doesn't count except for conference bragging rights that only stat geeks care about. Fan ballots account for a full third of the votes, with coaches and players making up the remaining two thirds.
All-Star games are generally relaxed affairs, with players taking a more casual approach because of the risk of injuries. Since American football is such an injury-heavy sport, the NFL codifies this by playing the Pro Bowl under a slightly different rule set than the regular game. Offensive changes basically remove any elements of surprise such as offensive motion, while all defenses must be run in the 4-3 formation, and absolutely no blitzing is allowed. Punts, field goals and PA Ts
are kicked unopposed as the defense isn't allowed to rush the play.
The Pro Bowl got even more irrelevant in 2010, when the game was played the week before
the Super Bowl (as opposed to the week after), and moved from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu to the Super Bowl host city (in 2010, this was Miami). This meant three things: first, that the Super Bowl teams universally barred their players from participating (even with the restrictive rules, there's still some
chance of injury, and no coach is going to let one of his players skip out on practice the week before the Super Bowl to play in a meaningless glorified scrimmage); second, that any number of players who didn't want to go to South Florida were pulling out; and third, the draw of a free trip to Hawaii was gone (many players live in Florida anyway, so a visit to suburban Miami isn't that exciting to them; the game was likewise a treat for Hawaiian fans, as Hawaii has no top-tier professional teams). All told, around 40 players ended up dropping out, allowing such luminaries as David Garrard (he of the 7-9 Jacksonville Jaguars) - the sixth alternate
at quarterback - and Vince Young (of the 8-8 Tennessee Titans) to play in the game. Huge honor, indeed. To add insult to injury, the league more or less had to force the Super Bowl teams to sit and watch the entire game. The game has since been moved back to Hawaii, but is still scheduled before the Super Bowl, so many of these problems are expected to persist. After NFC starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers publicly criticized the lack of effort from his teammates, commissioner Roger Goodell has mentioned the possibility of changing the Pro Bowl format, or dropping the game altogether.
In 2014, the AFC-NFC matchup will be dropped in favor of a draft format, in an attempt to prevent one team having a massive skill advantage due to drop-outs. Only the team captains will be assigned, and they each will be assisted in the selection process by a retired Hall of Fame player (for 2014, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders) and the winner of either of two Fantasy Football competitions
From 1961-70 the Pro Bowl was paired with the "Playoff Bowl
", a match between conference playoff losers to determine third place in the league overall (which is relevant for draft purposes, but can just as easily be handled on the basis of overall record). It was never very popular (Vince Lombardi called it "a loser's bowl for losers" among other, less printable, things), so it was eventually discontinued after the AFL-NFL merger.
Ah, awards; one of the many reason anyone follows sports leagues in general. Well, the National Football Leauge has got 'em if you want 'em. There are actually several bodies that give awards, but the ones from the Associated Press are the most widely recognized. They are as follows:
- Most Valuable Player (duh): The award given to - wait for it - the player who makes the biggest impact in the entire season. Peyton Manning has five of them, one shared with Steve McNair. Almost always goes to offensive players, specifically those of the quarterback and running back positions.
- Offensive Player Of The Year: Given to the best offensive player of the year. A lot of people view it as the official runner-up to MVP, given that it will usually (but not always) go to the player who finished second in voting (sometimes it will just go to the MVP anyway). Again, quarterbacks and running backs are almost universally favored here, but after an epic season, wide receivers note have occasionally been known to sneak away with this award. Offensive linemen? Who're they? note Marshall Faulk and Earl Campbell each have three.
- Defensive Player Of The Year: Given to the best defensive player in the league in a given year. Linebackers, cornerbacks, and defensive linemen can be counted on to usually win the award. Safeties get the short end of the stick - only five have won the award since its inception, but three of those have been within the last decade, so maybe opinions are changing. Lawrence Taylor has three to his credit.
- Defensive Rookie Of The Year: Best defensive rookie. Usually goes to linebackers or defensive linemen.
- Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Shockingly enough, this one doesn't go to a lot of quarterbacks (to explain, a lot of teams that draft a quarterback early are wanting for other skilled players at other key positions, knowing that they'll accept a couple of years of losing so that they can build the team they want around that guy, and without a good line to protect him and good receivers to throw to it's hard for any quarterback, let alone a rookie, to really shine). There was a 34-year period between quarterbacks winning this award (Dennis Shaw in 1970 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004); so, running backs and wide receivers tend to dominate it; and offensive linemen are still left out in the cold.
- Coach of the Year: Given to the league's best coach. Shockingly, this one isn't automatically given out to the coach who has the league's best record, but instead, it's usually given to a coach who has experienced an epic turnaround, especially a coach who was just hired to a new team and turns them from losers to a playoff team. Don Shula has four of them.
- Comeback Player of the Year: The redheaded stepchild of the awards, the AP initially ditched it after a few seasons (1963-1966) and brought it back in 1998. "Comeback" has a lot of definitions with regards to sports - so, a comeback player could be a player who came back from a massive injury (Tom Brady, 2009), or came back from a couple of down years (Michael Vick, 2010note ), or maybe even finally had a good year when he had never had one before (Tommy Maddox, 2002note ). This one might create the most arguing among fans.
Names to know in the NFL (alphabetical in category, by last name)
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- Bill Belichick is the current coach of the New England Patriots. During his tenure, they won three Super Bowls in four years, then three years later became the first team to enter the Super Bowl with a record of 18-0 (which they lost, the ultimate Downer Ending for Patriots fans). This in a decade (the dawn of the 21st century) where only three other teams so much as made the Super Bowl more than once. Known for being even more secretive with the media than most coaches and for always wearing a customized Patriots hooded sweatshirt (sleeveless; bears his initials) on the sidelines. His critics see him as a Non-Action Big Bad; his fans see him as a mad genius.
- Paul Brown was coach of the Cleveland Browns and later owner-coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1940s-70. He developed several offensive plays that are still in use to this day. Won 8 professional championships with the Browns, all before the Super Bowl era. He mentored Bill Walsh and Don Shula. The Browns were named in his honor, something he wasn't enthusiastic aboutnote . The Bengals' current stadium, which opened in 2000 (nine years after Brown's passing), is named Paul Brown Stadium in his honor as well.
- Pete Carroll is the current head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Previously a head coach for the New York Jets and New England Patriots in a pair of short and extremely forgettable terms, Carroll is paradoxically one of the oldest coaches in the NFL and the most energetic. Extremely hands on and motivated, almost Keet-like, he took over the Seahawks after an extremely successful tenure as head coach of the USC Trojans and took on the job of dealing with a franchise in shambles. Known league-wide as a defensive mastermind, he helped put together the so-called "Legion of Boom" secondary. Given great power and leeway in drafting and personnel decisions, within three years he transformed the Seahawks from one of the worst teams in the league to a team that won its first Super Bowl.
- Tom Coughlin is the current head coach of the New York Giants and former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (the latter team admitted it was a mistake to fire him). He has won two Super Bowls (both against the Belichick-led New England Patriots). At the beginning of his tenure with the Giants, he was known as a bit of a Drill Sergeant Nasty, and while he still retains his knack for discipline, he is reported to have warmed up considerably and become A Father to His Men. Prior to his head coaching career, he served on Bill Parcells coaching staff along with Belichick. He is constantly scrutinized by the New York media if the Giants fail to produce playoff results, but is able to remain cool under pressure. At 67 years old, he is the oldest head coach in the NFL, but has no intentions to retire anytime soon.
- Mike Ditka was the coach of the Chicago Bears from 1982 to 1992. His 1985 Super Bowl winning team is sometimes considered the best football team of all time. As a player for the Bears, he won a pre-merger NFL Championship, making him one of the few men to have done so as a player and coach. His subsequent tenure in New Orleans was not nearly as successful, due to the Ricky Williams trade detailed below. Practically a god in Chicago; "Bill Swerski's Superfans" is only a slight exaggeration ("Da Bearss!"). Since leaving coaching, he's been a prominent sports commentator and has fought to bring attention to the plight of retired players suffering from chronic game-related injuries. He also appeared in several early commercials for the erectile dysfunction medication Levitra, to the amusement of many. Also an interesting bit of What Could Have Been: He briefly considered joining the 2004 Illinois Senate race, where his stature would have dwarfed then-local state politician Barack Obama, changing the latter's career.
- Tony Dungy most famously coached the Indianapolis Colts. He got his start in Tampa Bay, where he was well-known as a defensive guru. He went to Indy where things were...slightly different (the Colts were more of an offense-based team). He was also well-known - alongside with Peyton Manning - for being fantastic in the regular season but capitulating to their opponent during the playoffs. This until 2007, when they overcame the stigma to win it all—incidentally making him the first Black head coach to win the Super Bowl. He retired after the next year, and now he works as part of NBC's pregame show. He's also an outspoken Christian.
- Herm Edwards was a coach for the Jets and Chiefs, and before that, a player with the Eagles. He had a solid career as a head coach, but is most famous for delivering the popular "You play. To win. The game!" speech which has been replayed countless times since. He now works as an analyst for ESPN.
- Jeff Fisher Coached the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1994 to 2011, and owner of a Badass Mustache second only to Ditka's. His 1999 Titans squad fell literally one yard short of taking the Super Bowl to overtime (or possibly winning, if they'd gone for two). Current head coach of the St. Louis Rams, ironically, the same team that beat his Titans in that Super Bowl.
- The Harbaugh Brothers: John and Jim, who faced each other in Super Bowl XLVII, becoming the first set of brothers to do so. (John's Ravens beat Jim's 49ers 34-31.)
- John Harbaugh: The current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens (since 2009). One of the rare instances of a special teams coach being promoted to head coach. (Usually it's an offensive or defensive coordinator, or college head coach.)
- Jim Harbaugh: The current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (since 2011). Had a long and moderately successful career as a quarterback during the 1990s (and was actually the last quarterback to start a game for the Indianapolis Colts before Peyton Manning arrived), but after three seasons is already likely to be better remembered as a coach. The 49ers, a 6-10 team who had missed the playoffs for seven straight years before Harbaugh's arrival, have since made the NFC Championship three years running, and Harbaugh's...demonstrative, confrontational leadership has a great deal to do with it. Before the 49ers, Harbaugh was head coach at Stanford University and a bitter rival of Pete Carroll's USC, a rivalry that has conveniently carried over into the NFL where Seattle & San Francisco share a division.
- Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers for seven years and of the Seattle Seahawks for nine. He is best known for leading the Packers from division doormat to constant playoff success with the emergence of Brett Favre. He was also the Seahawks' first head coach after the purchase of the team by Microsoft executive Paul Allen. His hiring, making him the highest-paid NFL coach of all time, lent instant credibility to Seattle's on-field product and dedication to winning. Along with being head coach, he also served as the team's GM and vice president, letting him shape almost every aspect of the team and turning Seattle into a perennial playoff contender, including a very controversial loss in Super Bowl XL. Had he won, he would've been the first head coach to ever win two Super Bowls with two different teams. He left the Seahawks after the 2008 season, taking a one-year sabbatical before accepting a position with the Cleveland Browns (which was...not as successful as his stint with the Seahawks; he was let go after the team changed owners). He is also a disciple of the Bill Walsh coaching tree and has had over a dozen of his former assistants become future NFL head coaches.
- Tom Landry was the first, and for nearly 30 years only, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. His 'Boys put up an amazing streak of winning seasons that lasted 20 years from 1966 through 1985 - during this streak, his team only missed the playoffs twice. He is credited with inventing the 4-3 defense while an assistant with the Giants, then building an offense to beat it once he went to Dallas. Peyton 's Colts finally statistically broke the record for consecutive playoff appearances in 2010, but Cowboy fans are quick to point out that Landry's teams played in an era where fewer teams made the playoffs, cue the ceaseless debating over which streak is better. One of Jerry Jones' first moves was to give him the boot. Some might recognize him more as Hank Hill's role model.
- Vince Lombardi was the face of the NFL during the 1960s, as he led his team to five NFL Championship victories - three of them came before the Super Bowl Era, but he won the first two Super Bowls as well. He coached the Green Bay Packers for nine years and the Washington Redskins for one, and holds the distinction of not only being the only coach to win three consecutive postseasonsnote during the modern playoff era note , but of leading two of the greatest single-season turnarounds in professional league history note . As a result of his legacy, often considered to be the greatest in the sport's history, the trophy given to the winner of the Super Bowl is called the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
- Marv Levy was the coach of the 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills and the creator of the "K-Gun" no-huddle offense. His team dominated the AFC in the early '90s.
- John Madden, while probably better known as a broadcaster, was once a coach (and even less famously, a player). His overall winning percentage ranks first in league history; also, his Raiders never posted a losing season under him. Later became a famous broadcaster, which in turn led to him being the face of the Madden NFL video game.
- Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991. He has earned more Super Bowl rings as a head coach than anyone else. Architect of the feared "Steel Curtain" defense; ever since his tenure Pittsburgh has had a reputation as an excellent defensive team. His longevity has also contributed to the Steelers having more stability at head coach than almost any team in professional sports; the current head coach, Mike Tomlin, is only the third head coach (all of whom have won Super Bowls) since 1969.
- Bill Parcells is a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, most famously coaching the New York Giants (both Super Bowl rings are with them). He also coached the Patriots, the Jets, and most recently, the Dallas Cowboys. Best known for his emphasis on defense, and, while leading Dallas, his preference for signing/trading for players whom had previously played for him. He's retired from coaching three times. Fun fact: he was the first recipient of the Gatorade shower after winning the Super Bowl. For a while, signing him was akin to the franchise Growing the Beard; he turned Dallas around after three 5-11 seasons, then later did the same in Miami (taking them from 1-15 to 11-5 in one year) in a front-office position.
- Andy Reid is the current head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and previously held the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012). While he is the winningest coach in Eagles history and indeed helped turn them around from mediocrity, fans had a love-hate relationship with him because he was unsuccessful in delivering the Super Bowl title the city so very much wants. Despite his successes, he tends to be accused of costing the team quite a few winnable games by not watching the game clock and neglecting the run.
- The Ryan Family: Consists of Buddy Ryan and his twin sons, Rex and Rob Ryan.
- Buddy Ryan: Two-time Super Bowl winner — one for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III & one for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. He created the famed 46 defense. Buddy was known to have clashed with other coaches on his team; Buddy and head coach Mike Ditka were involved in a physical fight during halftime at the 1985 Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins (in which the Bears suffered their only loss that season). Later, during a Sunday Night Football game against the Jets in 1994, Buddy, now a defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers, punched Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, and openly criticized Gilbride's "Run and Shoot" offense, which he referred to as the "chuck and duck" offense.
- Rex Ryan: The current head coach of the New York Jets (since 2009). Rex started as an assistant coach for the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2008 (2004-2008 as a defensive coordinator), including their 2000 Super Bowl-winning season. Currently known for being one of the most outspoken coaches in the NFL, Rex gained notoriety in 2009 when he openly challenged Bill Belichick in a radio interview ("I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's, you know, [Super Bowl] rings. I came here to win. So we’ll see what happens. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."). He also antagonized the Giants, whom the Jets share a stadium with, when the two teams met to play each other, but only ended up hitting the Giants' Berserk Button. While his success as an assistant is unquestionable, his tenure as a head coach is controversial among Jets fans.
- Rob Ryan: Current defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints since 2013. He also had stints with the Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and the Dallas Cowboys.
- Mike Shanahan coached Denver for a long time (13 years), and last coached Washington until being fired after a poor 2013 season. He also briefly coached the Raiders. He's best known for taking some serious no-name players, starting them at running back, and getting 1,000-yard seasons out of them, leading some to wonder if it's his system that makes them successful or if he's good at scouting talent at the position. He's well known for the tactic of "icing" the opposing kicker by calling a timeout right before the kick (a tactic that usually does more to annoy the spectators than to rattle the kicker), and as a result, the tactic is colloquially known as "Shanahanigans." More recently, the term is applied to Shanahan's tendency to feature different running backs in different games, to the chagrin of fantasy football players.
- Don Shula is the winningest (347) coach in NFL history, also the only coach to achieve an undefeated regular and postseason in the modern era with the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
- Bill Walsh is famous for creating the "West Coast" offense (using short horizontal passes to set up long passes and runs), which heavily influenced the modern NFL passing game. Won 3 championships with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. He is also famous for having one of the most expansive "coaching trees" in the sport, with Sam Wyche, George Seifert, Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, and Ray Rhodes all service under him as assistants before branching out to become head coaches themselves.
- Troy Aikman was the first overall draft pick of 1989 and the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from then until 2000, a run that included three Super Bowl wins. A deadly efficient QB regarded as one of the most mechanically perfect and most accurate passers ever, as well as one of the greatest playoff performers in NFL history. His career was cut short by repeated concussions. He now calls games for FOX.
- George Blanda was a highly successful quarterback and placekicker for the Bears, Colts, Oilers and Raiders. He was the third highest-scoring player in NFL history (and would be in first place by a huge margin if touchdown passes counted as points for the quarterback instead of the receiver) and still holds the record for the most career PAT kicks made and most touchdown passes in a game. He's probably best known for his incredible longevity. He played for a record 26 seasons in the NFL (from 1949 to 1975), and at the age of 48 in his final game, was the oldest man ever to play professional football. This earned him the nickname "The Grand Old Man".
- Drew Bledsoe was one of the more prolific passers in the NFL in the late 1990s, even taking his New England Patriots team to a Superbowl (losing to Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers.) But what makes him particularly notable is his status as one of the most prominent Pete Bests in NFL history. Early in the 2001 season, he took a hard hit from NY Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, knocking Bledsoe out of action with internal bleeding. A little-known 2nd year player by the name of Tom Brady took Bledsoe's place after that, and the rest is history. Bledsoe himself went on to have a few more productive years with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys, but never got close to the level of success as his successor in New England. Speaking of...
- Tom Brady is the quarterback of the New England Patriots, often considered in tandem with Peyton Manning as the best QB of the modern era. Has played in 5 Super Bowls, winning 3 of them. Two time MVP (2007, 2010). Holds the record for highest completion percentage in a playoff game (92.9%), and most pass attempts in Super Bowl history (155 in his career). Lead the only team to go 16-0 in the regular season, which also became the highest scoring team of all time. Became the fastest QB to record 100 wins (not counting playoffs), doing so in his 131st game (the previous record was 139 and held by Montana). Known for outstanding post-season play, leading 4th quarter comebacks, and being a handsome ladies' man (he dated actress Bridget Moynahan, and he's now married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen). Is something of a Jerk Jock, sometimes storming off the field without shaking hands after a loss, and infamously laughing at Plaxico Burress' prediction of a 23-17 Giants victory (the Patriots only scored 14 points) in Super Bowl XLII. Got seriously injured during the 2008 season on a hit from then-current Kansas City Chiefs (and current Tennessee Titans) safety Bernard Pollardnote , but has returned to form. Subject to a meme known as "Bradying": after throwing an interception in Super Bowl XLVI, he suffered a Heroic BSOD on the field, leading to many people using his slouched over posture sitting on the field as their Facebook picture, much like Tebowing and planking before it. Also notable about his career is that he was drafted very low (picked 199th in the 6th round by the Patriots out of the 7-round draft) and essentially flew under the radar (he was a 4th string QB in his first season) until a injury to then-starter Drew Bledsoe made the Patriots call Brady to play. And the rest is history. He was one of two players (the other being Drew Brees) to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record in 2011 (but Brees had more yards, so he was credited with the record until Peyton Manning set a new record in 2013). He also surpassed Johnny Unitas' streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass... but Brees beat him to that one too, and when Brady's streak ended at 52 games in 2013, he was 2 short of Brees' record.
- Drew Brees is a quarterback who is the current face of the New Orleans Saints. He got his start with the San Diego Chargers, where he was almost always ignored despite putting up solid numbers. He turned free agent in 2005, just after a serious shoulder injury threatened his career but recovered and subsequently joined the Saints. Joining in a time when New Orleans couldn't even play at it's own stadium because of Hurricane Katrina, he helped the Saints have their best season yet (10-6) and first NFC championship game, when morale for The Big Easy was at an all time low. He later lead the then over 40-year old Saints to their first super bowl appearance and win ever, in 2009. Since joining the Saints, he has been mentioned in the same breath as Manning and Brady in terms of quarterback greatness. One of only a select few players to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season and the only one to do so more than once. Became the most accurate passer in NFL history in 2009, completing 70.5% of his attempts. And in 2011, he broke the single-season passing yardage record with one game to go, in addition to topping his own record regarding completion percentage, and has broken Unitas's streak of consecutive games with at least one passing TD, reaching a total of 54 in 2012.
- Anthony Calvillo is professional football's all-time leading passer, though unless you are a fan of Canadian football, you've likely never heard of him. He played his entire professional career in the CFL, most notably with the Montreal Alouettes where he won three Grey Cup championships and three league "Most Outstanding Player" awards. In an interesting bit of What Could Have Been, he had a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 after winning his first Grey Cup with Montreal. The Steelers at the time were looking for someone to compete with mediocre incumbent starter Tommy Maddox and were hoping that Calvillo could follow in the footsteps of past CFL-turned-NFL quarterbacks Doug Flutie and Warren Moon. However, a lingering ankle injury Calvillo suffered during the CFL season prevented him from completing the tryout. He wasn't signed and returned to Canada, while the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger the following year.
- Jay Cutler is the current quarterback for the Chicago Bears and formerly played for the Denver Broncos. With the retirement of Donovan McNabb, he is probably the NFL's new #1 No Respect Guy. In terms of starts, wins, and statistics, Cutler is arguably the best overall quarterback the Bears have had since Sid Luckman in the 1940s, but you wouldn't guess it by listening to the fans and media. The Bears have had one of the worst offensive lines in the league since Cutler joined the team, which leads to him being amongst the most sacked (and injured) quarterbacks in the league in a given year. He was injured in the 2010 NFC Championship game and did not return in the 2nd half. The resulting backlash from other players and the media questioning his toughness is something he may never live down. (Never mind the fact that he had a legitimate MCL sprain and was benched on the orders of his coaches.) His mopey demeanor also doesn't endear him to fans, but is by most accounts a real Nice Guy off the field. Married to Kristen Cavallari (of The Hills fame).
- John Elway is a quarterback who spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos, who had a reputation as being a great "comeback artist". At the time of his retirement, his 148 wins were an NFL record. After losing 3 Super Bowls (by often embarrassing margins) in the late 1980s, Elway staged a late-career renaissance and led Denver to Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998 before retiring. In 2011 he returned to the Broncos as executive VP of football operations, which is basically general manager with a few extra responsibilities and a fancier job title.
- Brett Favre (pronounced "farv") is the current all-time leading passer and was the literal Badass Grandpa of the NFL. He spent the majority of his 20-year career with the Green Bay Packers, during which he was mostly seen as an All American Face, although some late-career shenanigans ultimately damaged his image (including a string of un-retirements with different teams, including the Packers’ division rival, and allegations of sexual harassment). He is perhaps the greatest example of a Determinator in the history of the NFL, known for fourth-quarter comebacks, shrugging off injury and playing with more heart than anyone else in the league. The best example of this was in his 2003 season (most of which he played with a broken thumb on his throwing hand) when he elected to play a week-16 Monday Night game against Oakland despite his father dying of a heart attack the night before, scoring a miraculous 4 touchdowns in the first half of a 41-7 victory and breaking down in tears on the sidelines. Many football fans hold that game in higher esteem than his Super Bowl victory. He holds the record for consecutive starts (321, including playoffs, stretching from his first start as a Packer in ’92 into his last season as a Viking in 2010), and as the rules for protecting injured players grow more stringent, the record is considered unbreakable. Many of his backup QBs have spent many years of their careers on the sidelines and in his last few seasons, several of his wide receivers were young enough to still be in diapers when Brett first started playing pro. This longevity and his high-risk, high reward "gunslinger" passing style is why he holds so many records, both good (career wins, attempts,completions, touchdowns, and yards) and bad (career interceptions). After contemplating retirement for several years, he officially announced his retirement in January of 2008, only to change his mind late in the offseason. When the Packers refused to give him a starting position (causing outrage among fans; see Aaron Rodgers below), he was traded to the Jets, and played a lukewarm season, plagued by injuries to his right shoulder, after which he announced his retirement again, and was released from the team. He came out of retirement once again, however, this time being picked up by the Packers’ division rival, the Vikings, where he played one of the best seasons of his career, soundly defeating his former team twice and becoming the first player to beat all 32 teams in the NFL (a feat that Peyton Manning matched five years later). After a late-game interception cost his team the NFC Championship and a chance at the Super Bowl, he suffered a disastrous 2010 season (finishing 6-10 while the Packers, coincidentally, went on to win the Super Bowl under Favre's former backup), and announced his retirement for a third time. It appears to have stuck this time, after turning down an offer from the Rams in 2013, preferring to spend time with his grandchildren.
- Joe Flacco is the current face of the Baltimore Ravens and the AFC's response to Eli Manning. Known for taking the Ravens to the playoffs and winning at least one playoff game all of his first five years, all NFL records, including 3 AFC Championships and becoming Super Bowl MVP in his fifth year. Currently has 9 playoff wins (comparable to Peyton Manning), including the record for the most road playoff wins by a quarterback at 6. He is most known for his historic 2012 playoff run with the Baltimore Ravens, where he outplayed and won against Luck's Colts, Peyton Manning's Broncos (coming off an 11 win streak), Brady's Patriots, and the 49ers in the historic "Harbowl" between the Harbaugh brothers all while tying Joe Montana's playoff record making 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, not too long after a gutsy move by the Ravens to cut their previous offensive coordinator of almost 5 years.
- Matt Flynn is a backup quarterback who merits a spot on this list for his interesting story as much as he does for his solid play. Flynn was a backup to Aaron Rodgers (see below) in Green Bay, where he proved a capable backup, rallying when Aaron was injured. Then came a Week-17 game against the Lions in 2011: the Packers had already secured the #1 seed in the playoffs, and rested a number of their starters, while the Lions were still playing for the #5 seed. In a meaningless game, Flynn threw a team-record six touchdown passes, surpassing both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers' numbers note . After that season, he got big-money offers from all over the league as a starter, eventually signing with the Seahawks, before losing the starting job to Russell Wilson (see below). In the next two years, he would be traded or cut by the Seahawks, Raiders and Bills, before landing right back in Green Bay (whose season was in a death-spiral after Aaron Rodgers was injured), where he went back to playing admirably (in one case, he led a comeback victory against Cowboys, overcoming a 23-point deficit) and keeping the team afloat until Rodgers was healed. Debate continues over whether or not he would be a suitable starting QB somewhere, but Packers fans are just as happy to never find out, and to his credit, Flynn has handled the whole experience with humility and is an all-around class act.
- Doug Flutie was known to be a quarterback of modest success, but unique playing style. Very small for NFL standards (5'9", 180 pounds), Flutie often scrambled plays or threw Hail Mary passes, something that made him noticeable when compared to the common drop back and play quarterbacks. Flutie took the long road back to the NFL after the lockout, spending several years in Canada dominating the Canadian Football League and, according to his fans in the north, became one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL to play a Canadian style game. He also performed the first (and to date, the only) drop kick in a NFL season (regular or playoffs) game since the 1941 NFL Championship game.
- Robert Griffin III (RG3) was picked 2nd overall in the 2012 Draft by the Washington Redskins. Usually cast as the most Expy-ish of Michael Vick's expies. Despite having a significantly better arm than Vick, RG3 is best-known for his incredible speed; he can run the ball just as good as he can throw it. As an example of his explosiveness, he was the first rookie in NFL history to pass for 200 yards, pass for four touchdowns and rush for more than 75 yards in a single game (against the Eagles), finishing with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He took the Redskins from a 3-6 hole into a 10-6 record, and won the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, but after a disastrous playoff debut against the Seahawks, he was found to have sustained ligament damage in his knee that perhaps went back to the late regular season. Between his knee injury (he tried to emulate Adrian Peterson by returning by the start of the following regular season), and a concussion he had sustained earlier that year, RG3, while undeniably a dynamic player, he may or may not be the NFL's next Glass Cannon. The jury's still out. One thing, however, is for certain he's probably one of the smartest men in the league, having finished both high school and his bachelor's degree early, and holds a Master's in communications.
- Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, edging out Alex Smith. Selected 36th overall, he began as a backup for Alex Smith; Harbaugh's decision to start Kaepernick over Smith led to a brief controversy, one that ultimately died off once Kaepernick more than proved his worth to start. He's another one of the scrambling quarterbacks of the current generation, drawing numerous comparisons with RG3 and Russell Wilson. As a testament to his skill set, he set an NFL record for most rushing yards (181) by a quarterback in a game (both postseason and regular season) in his first playoff game. In just his tenth career start, he brought the Niners to the Super Bowl in 2013, but ultimately lost to the Ravens.
- Jim Kelly was one of the last real "field general" quarterbacks in the NFL that actually called his own plays as opposed to executing plays called in from coaches on the sidelines (the closest thing today is Peyton Manning, who generally has permission to modify plays on the fly). Was the quarterback of the 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills during their reign over the AFC. It's a common misconception that the "K-Gun" no-huddle offense was named after him, but it was actually named after the second tight end Keith McKellar who was used in the formation.
- Andrew Luck is the heir apparent to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Picked 1st overall in 2012, he set the single-season rookie passing yardage record in 2012. A prototypical quarterback, Luck is praised for his durability and pocket passing, which took the formally 2-14 Colts into an 11-5 rebound, propelling them into the playoffs, where they bowed out to the Ravens. He set numerous rookie records: Most passing yards by a rookie in a single season: 4,374, most 300+ yards passing games by a rookie QB, most wins by a #1 pick QB in his rookie season (11), most game-winning drives by a rookie quarterback (7) and most fourth quarter comebacks by a rookie quarterback (7). Indy is hoping that he can replicate the same bursts of success they attained with Peyton Manning.
- The Manning Family: Consist of Peyton, Eli, and their dad Archie.
- Archie Manning was a good quarterback on a horrible team (the New Orleans Saints, who at the time were nicknamed "The Ain'ts") for a number of years. Since this was before free agency, he didn't have the option to leave for a better team. Perhaps better known for his College Hall of Fame career at Ole Miss; he's considered in both cases the best player they've ever had, although there are now Saints fans who would argue for Drew Brees.
- Peyton Manning is en route to breaking every single statistical record held by either Marino, Favre, or Elway and is known for his intelligence (he is notable for last-second changes to plays at the line), ubiquity in commercials, and until the Colts won Super Bowl XLI, choking in the playoffs. He has had an incredible career, and has 4 MVP awards (three solo, one shared). It was almost a given that whatever two schlubs the Colts started at wideout would have big days thanks to his arm. Probably the only thing that could stop him from breaking those records is the injury that put him out for the 2011 season. The Colts 2-14 record that year gave substance to Peyton's implied Load-Bearing Boss status. Following this, Peyton was released by the Indianapolis Colts and their draft pick note has taken Peyton's reins now. After a recruitment tour that was breathlessly covered by the sports media, Peyton chose the Denver Broncos - home of fan favorite Tim Tebow, who subsequently moved to the New York Jets. Holds a large amount of records, including the single-season passing touchdown (55) and passing yardage (5,477) records. In the 2013-2014 season, Peyton Manning won a 5th regular season MVP award for his stellar performance, which began with him throwing 7 touchdowns in the opening game of the season. By the end of the season, many sports experts claimed Manning had the best year of any quarterback in the history of the sport. However, he ended up losing Super Bowl XLVIII, as he failed to established a solid offense during the whole game, only scoring 8 points. As a result, this is the second time Peyton Manning won the regular season MVP only to lose in the Super Bowl he was expected to win.
- Eli Manning, the younger brother, doesn't quite have the flashy numbers that his older brother has, but that's to be expected as the quarterback for the more defense- and run-oriented New York Giants. Was considered a bit of a Fake Ultimate Hero for a while, trading on the Manning name rather than his skills. That all changed after Super Bowl XLII, when he led the wild card Giants to victory against the 18-0 Patriots in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history, and after the team defeated the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI, he's generally considered to be at the same level as his brother. He's also now considered something of a Determinator due to his unflappable nature and his inability to get rattled by anything, on or off the field. Under constant New York criticism, Eli does not get discouraged by a bad play (or a series of them), and will get back up again after being sacked any number of times and continue playing as if nothing had happened. Eli is best known for an ad campaign which proclaimed him to be "Unstoppable" and his tendency to rally the Giants in the fourth quarter. Here◊ is a picture of Eli after a particularly bad sack, and he still had enough wits about him to call timeout (which was necessary at the time in the game), and continued to drive his team forward afterwards.
- There is a third Manning, Cooper, but he stopped playing football after high school due to injury and became an investment banker. However, reports suggest that had he not been injured he would have been better than Peyton (although Cooper was a wide receiver, not a quarterback, and can't be directly compared to either of his brothers...however, an offense pairing Cooper with either Peyton or Eli would have been spectacular!)
- Both Peyton and Eli were subjects of the "Manning Face" meme, coined by ESPN columnist Bill Simmons.
- Peyton and Eli are also the stars of "Football on Your Phone", a DIRECTV commercial that went viral. Archie also appears in the spot.
- Dan Marino was the Hall of Fame Dolphins QB who threw for a then-record 61,361 yards, and is the current or former holder of many other passing records. Marino had the unfortunate luck to be one of the all time greats at quarterback at a time when several other "greatest of all time" candidates (Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre) were playing. Thus he managed the paradoxical feat of setting all kinds of records while his team was just good enough to make it into the playoffs and then lose badly in the first round. He is often called the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. He appeared As Himself in the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
- Donovan McNabb is considered the best quarterback in Eagles' history and holds most of their records, but he's more notable because he might be the best real-life example of The Woobie or No Respect Guy there is, playing most of his career for a team whose fans arguably hated him and didn't mind letting him know it. Drafted in the same year as Ricky Williams, the Philly fans booed the team management when they took him instead. This would not be the last time they booed him. Every year since, without fail, his name came up when people were talking about trades. As a player, he was known for a number of years as a great QB who lacked a great supporting cast. When the Eagles brass finally gave him a reliable target in Terrell Owens (see below), he led the team all the way to the Super Bowl. The TO deal later came back to hurt Philly and he developed a bit of a reputation for being a Glass Cannon, which finally resulted in his trade to the rival Washington Redskins. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings the following year, but was ineffective. After being out of the league in 2012 (as an analyst, during which time he may have slid into Jerkass Woobie territory depending on who you talk to), he signed a ceremonial contract with the Eagles and retired before the 2013 season.
- Steve McNair became the second great quarterback for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. Known for having nerves of steel in the pocket, even willing to take a hit, as long as the ball went to the right receiver. He also could scramble well when needed to. Eventually surpassed Warren Moon's franchise passing yardage record and his franchise total wins record. Famous for coming a yard short of taking Super Bowl XXXIV into its first overtime game - in one of the greatest Super Bowl games of all time, according to many fans and experts. As of 2013, no Super Bowl has gone into overtime. Outside the game of football, McNair was also known for being quite the ladies man. Unfortunately, that would lead to his untimely death, as he was killed by one of his girlfriends who also committed suicide.
- Joe Montana was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers during their 1980s dominance. He was one half of the famous play in the 1981 NFC Championship game known in NFL lore as "The Catch", along with Dwight Clark; he also led the 49ers on a 92-yard touchdown drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. Montana played in and won 4 Super Bowls and never had an interception in any of them. Two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP. Considered by some to be the greatest player in history, as well as probably its most famous. Also known for having quite possibly the coolest name in sports. In 1993, the small town of Ismay, Montana was renamed Joe in his honor.
- Warren Moon played most of his career with the Houston Oilers, before they became the Tennessee Titans. There was a time when Warren Moon was considered the greatest quarterback in the game, as he set many records that would eventually get broken. He posted back-to-back 4,000 plus yard seasons tying Dan Marino and Dan Fouts, and he lead the NFL in passing attempts and completions until eventually surpassed by Brett Farve. Unfortunately for him, he's also remembered for his team blowing a 35-point lead to the Buffalo Bills during the first round of the Playoffs in '92, the biggest margin in playoff history. He got traded to the Minnesota Vikings where he continued to produce great numbers in passing yardage and completions, but once again would fail to take his team to the Super Bowl. As a result, Warren Moon, like Dan Marino, is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl ring. However, Warren Moon also played for the Canadian Football League and is still considered the greatest quarterback in the league, even though his passing yardage record in the CFL also got broken by Damon Allennote .
- Joe Namath was a quarterback who most famously played for the New York Jets. He sits in the Hall of Fame despite putting up what could be called mediocre numbers; this is largely because he guaranteed an upset victory in a Super Bowl III and backed it up with a win. This started the trend of players "guaranteeing" victory before key games, with varying degrees of success. This also was seen as having validated the plans to merge the NFL and AFL; the first two Super Bowls had been blowout wins for the NFL's Green Bay Packers, but by leading the AFL champion Jets to victory Namath proved that the Super Bowl actually mattered rather than being being a ceremonial beatdown delivered by the NFL to the AFL. Today, he's likely better known for drunkenly hitting on sideline reporter Suzy Kolber.
- Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 Super Bowl MVP. At the beginning of 2008 he was given the unenviable task of replacing long-time Packers quarterback Brett Favre who left the team holding every major NFL passing record. He responded by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, then led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, bringing Green Bay its first NFL title in 14 years. In terms of playing style he is the direct opposite of Favre, whereas Favre throws long bombs and takes a ton of risks, Rodgers is more precise and rarely throws an interception. He is also known for his "title belt" celebration where after a big play (usually when he makes a rushing touchdown), he makes a motion with his hands as if he's putting on an invisible championship belt. This has since been copied by a number of his teammates, most notably B.J. Raji in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, and is now part of a series of commercials for State Farm Insurance, where it becomes the "Discount Double-Check" as policy holders celebrate saving money and Rodgers wonders why his moves were stolen.
- Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has been since 2004. He won Rookie of the Year honors when he first played, becoming the first QB to do so since 1970 - first years usually aren't particularly kind to quarterbacks, as most teams that draft them are lacking other weapons (however, in the 2005-2008 time period, three quarterbacks have won RoY honors) and the QB position has a steeper learning curve than any other when transitioning from college to the pros. His career began with him winning his first 13 starts (the previous all-time record was six). He has two Super Bowl rings, including the win in Super Bowl XL, which often shows up in "worst performance by winning QB" lists - he acquitted himself rather nicely when they played the Cardinals, though. Despite all this, he's probably best known for his various run-ins with the law and media. First he crashed his motorcycle, which he was riding without a helmet or license, and then came a scandal about his involvement with a 20-year-old college student in a Georgia bar (which may have been non-consensual) that earned him a brief suspension. It was ominously the second such accusation that had been brought against him, the first one being a woman in Tahoe who claimed he had sexually assaulted her in his hotel room, though lack of physical evidence or corroborating witnesses meant no charges were filed in either case.
- Mark Sanchez is a Butt Monkey... er, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was drafted by the New York Jets in 2009. Although he was able to take the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Sanchez had a mediocre year in 2011, a horrible year in 2012, and he became known for the "Butt Fumble" on Thanksgiving Night against the Patriots that season. As with Brady, Sanchez appeared on covers for GQ Magazine, and he briefly dated actress Eva Longoria. A shoulder injury cost him the 2013 season and the Jets officially released him in March 2014. Sanchez later signed with the Eagles.
- Bart Starr was the quarterback of the 1960s champion Green Bay Packers. Won two league MVP awards. Known for clutch performances in big games, including the "Ice Bowl", an NFL Championship Game won by the Packers over the Cowboys in subzero temperatures. Led the Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls, as well as three other pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships, giving him more titles than any other quarterback (5).
- Roger Staubach was the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys during the heyday of "America's Team" during the '70s. He was famous for his ability to scramble and to rally his team from behind in the final seconds, most famously in the "Hail Mary" game against the Vikings in the '75 playoffs. He won two Super Bowls ('71 and '77) and appeared in two others ('75 and '78). While he was statistically the most dominant quarterback of his era, his four-year Navy commitment between his college and professional years kept his career totals well below those of players like Unitas, Favre, and Montana. He's the Cowboys quarterback in the adaptation of Black Sunday.
- Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings during their heyday in the 1970s. Nicknamed "Scramblin' Fran", he was notorious for his mobility within the pocket and his style of running around to avoid being sacked. Disagreements with his coach about quarterback mobility resulted in Tarkenton spending four years with the New York Giants. After returning to Minnesota, he lead the Vikings to three Super Bowls. Unfortunately, they lost all three of them. Worse, he's often remembered as the first quarterback to lose four Super Bowls - fans sometimes forget that the Vikings first loss was while Joe Kapp was quarterback. Tarkenton retired as the holder of many records, most of which were broken by Dan Marino, and to this day he's considered one of the best quarterbacks, along with Marino, Warren Moon and Jim Kelly, to never win a Super Bowl.
- Tim Tebow is a quarterback who last played with the New York Jets in the 2012 season. After being cut by the New England Patriots just before the start of the 2013 season, and not drawing any interest from other NFL teams during that season, he signed a multiyear deal with ESPN as an analyst for the SEC Network (devoted to the conference that his alma mater Florida belongs to).note While his accomplishments were not even close to the remainder of those on the list here, he has been one of the most polarizing and meme-generating players in the modern NFL. After an extraordinary college career that left some asking if he was the greatest player ever at that level, serious doubts were raised about his ability to succeed in the NFL. His career began when he was drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos; pundits almost universally panned the move, seeing him as a 4th or 5th round choice with good potential as a backup, rather than an immediate franchise player role he was forced into. What both his critics and fans can agree upon is that his throwing motion is horribly inconsistentnote , generating some good film for the highlight reels but making it impossible to gameplan around his talents, to the point where his own coaches publicly bashed it during a winning streak. His critics saw him as a terrible player who succeeded by the efforts of his teammates, but got all the credit due to Wolverine Publicity. His fans saw him as a natural leader and the walking embodiment of Crazy Enough to Work. His fans pointed to multiple 4th-quarter comebacks during his brief career as a starter, while critics said if he'd played better in the first three quarters of those games there would've been no need for a comeback. A running meme has "Tebowing" (dropping to one knee with a fist on your forehead to pray) replacing "planking" as the go-to Twitter/Facebook pic. In 2012, despite a winning record as a starter and a home playoff victory over the defending AFC Champs, he was replaced by Peyton Manning and was traded to the New York Jets. The fact that he spent the next season mostly on the bench was probably a blessing in disguise, given how bad a year the Jets had. He was released by the Jets in 2013 and picked up by the Pats (leading to brief speculation that Belichick would use him as a tight end or a fullback), but couldn't make the roster.
- Much of Tebow's polarizing effect comes not from his on-the-field football skills, which are typical of a backup quarterback, but from his off-the-field religious views which color almost anything he does in public. An outspoken Christian, he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial before being drafted in a highly controversial anti-abortion segment, marking the first time a political issue ad has seen airtime during the big game. Because of this and other stances, he remains in the public spotlight and is the talk of sports pundits almost daily, despite having been a relatively obscure player on the field and now apparently heading for the broadcast booth.
- Johnny Unitas was the quarterback for the Baltimore Colts from 1956 to 1972. He led them to victory in the "greatest game ever played", a 1958 playoff against the New York Giants that featured the first "sudden death" overtime. He also played in Super Bowl III (Earl Morrall started and played most of the game for the Colts) against Joe Namath's Jets and won Super Bowl V against the Cowboys; ironically the latter was considered one of the worst-played championship games, with 11 turnovers and 14 penalties between the teams. After retiring Unitas settled down in the Baltimore area; when the Colts surreptitiously relocated to Indianapolis in 1984, Unitas cut almost all ties with the franchise and "adopted" the Ravens when they came to Baltimore in 1996. He is known for his black high-top cleats and flat-top haircut, symbolizing the prototype "old school" QB. Unitas held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a record that has stood for five decades but which Drew Brees broke in 2012 and Tom Brady then pushed him into third place all-time.
- Kurt Warner is a quarterback who led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl win in 1999 and a close-fought loss in 2001, won two season MVP awards for himself, later led the Arizona Cardinals to their first (losing) Super Bowl appearance, and is statistically among the elite quarterbacks of all time. However, he's still probably better known for his unusual route to the NFL; after an undistinguished career at the obscure University of Northern Iowa, Warner bagged groceries for a little while, married his hard-luck college sweetheart, then began to bounce around the Arena League (where he lead his team to two Arena Bowls, which they lost) and NFL Europe before finally settling with the Rams. Also known for being a hardcore charismatic Christian.
- Doug Williams began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in professional football, but it's his legendary performance at Super Bowl XXII that he's most famous for. During the 1987 season, Doug Williams was the backup quarterback for Jay Schroeder, but the starting quarterback kept getting injured throughout the season. Because Williams often stepped in and led the Redskins to victory when he subbed for Schroeder, he was chosen as the starting quarterback for the playoffs. It paid off, as Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. Seen as a team of destiny, the Broncos were huge favorites to win the Super Bowl with superstar John Elway at quarterback. Many experts also believed that the Broncos would get revenge for the bad Super Bowl loss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI. At first, it seemed like this would prove true. During the Super Bowl game, the Broncos struck first with Elway throwing a quick strike for a touchdown during his first possession of the ball. Meanwhile, most of the passes Doug Williams threw were dropped. By the end of the first quarter, the Broncos led the game 10-0. However, from the second quarter onward, it was the Doug Williams show. He set a Super Bowl record scoring four touchdowns in a single half. And during the second half, scored again, while the Redskins defense dominated the rest of the game. The game ended with the score 42-10. Doug Williams won the Super Bowl MVP. His overall career wasn't that great when looking at his quarterback stats as he ended his career with a rating of 69.4. Doug Williams was the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, until the 2013-2014 season where Russell Wilson won Super Bowl XLVIII. However, he still remains the only quarterback in Super Bowl history who was losing by ten points or more and came back to win the game.
- Russell Wilson signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 draft, picked 75th overall with the expectation that he would be a quality backup. Unlike 2012 draft wunderkinds Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, Wilson had to fight his way into the starting lineup in the preseason, winning the starting role over former Green Bay star backup (if that's not a contradiction in terms) Matt Flynn, who himself had previously set a Packers record with 6 touchdown passes in one game. A scrambling quarterback like RG3, his ability to run and throw the ball took Seattle into an 11-5 record, and he has earned league-wide praise for his excellent decision making, precision, and coolness under pressure. Between himself, Luck and RG3, Wilson was the only rookie quarterback to win a playoff game in the 2012 Playoffs, and he was a finalist for the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He currently shares an NFL record with Peyton Manning for most season TD passes by a rookie with 26; all the more impressive as Seattle had a run-first offense during that season, with Wilson having nearly half as many pass attempts as Manning did in his own record-breaking year. In the 2013-2014 season, Russell Wilson won his first Super Bowl over the seemly unstoppable Denver Broncos and their powered offense - which was ranked by sports experts as the greatest offense in NFL history. He became the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and the first starting black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win was actually a back up quarterback. Russell Wilson is also the 4th quarterback in Super Bowl history to win the big game in his second year. He is also the shortest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at 5 feet and 11 inches.
- Was the centerpoint of the most controversial game in the 2012 season when Seattle played the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. In the final seconds of the game, Wilson lobbed a Hail Mary pass into the end zone to wide receiver Golden Tate that was ruled a catch and a touchdown, giving Seattle the victory. A Packers defender also had two hands on the ball, and it appeared that both players may have had possession at the same time when they hit the ground. At the time, games were being officiated by replacement referees, as the regular NFL referees were locked out barring a new contract agreement. Moments after the catch, one referee signaled touchdown, while another signaled incomplete; photos of the two referees' conflicting signals became instant meme fodder. All details of the play have been analyzed to microscopic and nanosecond precision and there is evidence of both views being correct, and that's all we have to say about that. Regardless, at the time it was deemed a game-changing blunder by the replacement refs and the outcry was fierce; a new contract for the pro referees was approved in a matter of days almost entirely because of the fallout. It also led to a renewed (though unsurprisingly short-lived) appreciation of just how hard it actually is to officiate an NFL game. The call is known to this day as the "Fail Mary" incident.
- One of the first star running backs was Byron "Whizzer" White. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he was taken on by the Pittsburgh Football Pirates (they weren't the Steelers yet). During his rookie season at Pittsburgh in 1938, he was the most highly-paid player in the NFL... and he dropped football to take up a Rhodes Scholarship. After coming back from Oxford, White played two years (1940-41) in Detroit, where he had a contract for the then-obscene sum of $15,000 (about a quarter of a million in today's dollars). In 1941, the US joined World War II and White joined the Navy. He never played pro football again; after the war he went to Yale Law School, became Deputy Attorney General in 1961, and was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1962. Nevertheless, he kept up his relationship with football (for instance, when interviewing a prospective law clerk, the conversation inevitably revolved around football and not legal issues, as it usually did with other Justices), and the annual NFL community service/humanitarian award is named after him. (Fun fact: one recipient of the award, Michael McCrary was the plaintiff in a major Supreme Court casenote about whether it was acceptable for private secondary schools to deny black students admission based on race. The Court found for McCrary, but funnily enough White dissented—not because he agreed with the schools' racial politics, but because he was afraid that the contrary ruling would be bad for private groups and institutions intended to advance the interests of Blacks and other minorities.)
- Jim Brown was the first running back to amass over 10,000 career yards and the only one to average more than 100 yards per game. Brown led the league in rushing yards 8 times (more than any other running back) and won one championship in 9 years with the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s-60s before retiring at the top of his game to pursue a film career. Considered the prototypical power back. Because of his size and appearance (he was as large as most linemen during his career), has more often played a linebacker or defensive coach in film roles than a running back.
- Terrell Davis was a running back for the Denver Broncos, and one of Mike Shanahan's aforementioned stud runners. The quality portion of Davis' career only lasted for four years before a devastating knee injury. However, during those years, he was widely regarded as unstoppable. He was one of the focal points of their '90s Super Bowl years. In the Broncos' 1st of 2 consecutive Super Bowl wins, he was Super Bowl XXXII  MVP in spite of, (or perhaps because of) a migraine he was suffering during the game, lining up in order to give the illusion that Denver wasn't solely relying on Elway's passing attack.
- Franco Harris was the Hall of Fame running back for the four-time Superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. He is perhaps best known as the "receiver" who caught the deflected pass during the play now referred to as the "Immaculate Reception."
- Bo Jackson was one of the most highly anticipated and marketed athletes ever. He played running back for the then-Los Angeles Raiders. He also played in Major League Baseball for the Kansas City Royals, so he chose to be a part-time player throughout his career. Still, he is probably the best American two-sport athlete in history, and the only one to become a legitimate star in both sports. Until, unfortunately, he was tackled hard and suffered a major injury to his hip in a playoff game against the Bengals, which ended his football career. He eventually had a hip replacement and played Major League Baseball again, though without much of the speed that made him such an asset. And, after all of this, he's still probably best remembered for being absolutely unstoppable in Tecmo Super Bowl.
- Interestingly, despite his all-star status, Jackson shows up fairly often on lists of all-time NFL draft busts. In his final year of college play, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the #1 overall pick, even though Jackson still wanted to play a final season of college baseball and flat out told the Bucs that he had no interest in playing football at that time. Regardless, the Bucs flew him out for a meeting on their dime, telling him that it would not break any NCAA regulations to do so. The aftermath cost Jackson any further amateur eligibility, with the obvious hope being that Jackson would sign with the Bucs because now he had no other choice. Instead, he declined to sign any contract whatsoever, choosing instead to sign for far less money to play pro baseball, meaning the Bucs spent the most valuable pick in the draft and got nothing in return. The next year, Jackson was drafted again after his rights reverted and he was fully prepared to sit out again, but Raiders owner Al Davis offered him "full-time" pay for a "part-time" deal where he would be allowed to play only in games following the end of the baseball season. He then became a league-leading rusher despite missing a full quarter of games every year.
- John Kuhn is a fullback for the Green Bay Packers. In an era where the fullback position is facing extinction, the undrafted Kuhn has become a folk hero in Green Bay and a true Ensemble Darkhorse for the Packers. As a blocker and special teams player, he has been directly responsible for countless highlight-reel moments of other players. He was instrumental in the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl season, particularly as a runner, where he emerged as a near-unstoppable short-yardage specialist (leading to fans cheering “KUUUUUUHN” in 3rd and short situations). All that, combined with his reliability as a receiver, merited him a spot in the NFL Top 100 in 2012.
- Marshawn Lynch is the halfback for the Seattle Seahawks. He's considered an integral part of the offense that led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. His ability to plow through tackles and gain additional yardage has earned him the nickname "The Beast" (and when he does this, it's known throughout the league as "going into Beast Mode.") He also has a notorious Sweet Tooth, to the point where his love for Skittlesnote has reached Memetic Mutation status (At CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks home stadium, the "Beast Mode Burger" is always sold with a bag of Skittles on the side). Easily his biggest career highlight came during a January, 2011 playoff game against the defending champion New Orleans Saints. He broke 6 tackles on a nearly 70 yard TD run. The reaction of the fans at the stadium actually set off a local seismograph, registering as a small earthquake.
- Walter Payton was a running back who played for Chicago in the '70s and '80s. When he retired, his 16,726 rushing yards were the most ever gained by a running back. Nicknamed "Sweetness". Known for refusing to deliberately run out of bounds, and brought back the practice of stiff-arming would-be tacklers. Infamously never scored a touchdown in his sole Super Bowl appearance; his prowess ensured he was double and triple teamed every play. Died in 1999 due to a rare liver disease, becoming a spokesman for organ donation in his final months (his disease had progressed too far for a transplant by then).
- Barry Sanders currently sits third on the all-time rushing list. Unquestionably one of the greatest players in Detroit Lions history, if not the greatest (especially in recent memory). In a game that often focuses on size, strength, and durability, Sanders relied on speed, elusiveness, and incredible athleticism. Thus, despite frequently being the smallest man on the field, he often produced mind blowing plays that made him seem impossible to stop or tackle. When he was active, it was an oft-repeated cliche that fans could watch Sanders run for a loss and come away convinced that he was the greatest running back of all time. Notable because he retired suddenly in 1999 when he was in striking distance of the all-time rushing yardage record. He didn't retire because of old age or health issues - he was just tired of playing for such a perennially losing organization.A short feature.
- Emmitt Smith is the all time leading rusher in NFL history (18.355 yards) spending most of his career with the Dallas Cowboys before ending it with the Arizona Cardinals. His rushing record seems safe for the time being, considering the active leading rusher (Steven Jackson) is over 8000 yards away and nearing the end of his career. He wasn't known for being particularly big, strong, or fast, instead relying on his phenomenal vision to predict where the holes in the defense would be.
- LaDainian Tomlinson is a recently retired running back, one of the greater ones of the first decade of the 21st century. He played with the San Diego Chargers from 2001-2009 and the New York Jets from 2010-2011. San Diego made out better on this deal. He was one of the earlier running backs to be known as a reliable pass catcher, starting something of a trend. Early in his career, it was believed that he might have a chance to break Emmitt Smith's rushing record, but injuries and a couple of bad years put an end to that. Retired after signing a ceremonial contract to return to the Chargers in 2012.
- Ricky Williams was one of the most heavily-hyped players in the year he was drafted. In an especially notable case, Mike Ditka, then coach of the New Orleans Saints, traded away all of his team's draft picks to ensure that he could draft him. Adding to the notability, the Eagles fans booed the team management for taking Donovan McNabb over him. As a player, he was mediocre until he went to the Miami Dolphins, where he was a dynamic, unstoppable force - until he suddenly retired in 2004, when it was revealed he had tested positive for marijuana. After he retired he spent a year Walking the Earth to "find himself" which included living in a tent in the Australian outback and then working for a hollistic medicine college in California. He unretired in 2005, played solidly for a season, then tested positive for marijuana a third time, jumped to the Canadian Football League for the 2006 season, missing most of the 2007 season, then played in one game before a hard stomp to the chest ended his season. Played for the Dolphins through 2010, one year for the Ravens in 2011, then retired.
- Larry Fitzgerald plays for the Arizona Cardinals and is generally considered one of the top wide receivers in the game today along with Calvin Johnson. Is known for being quiet and soft-spoken compared to most other receivers. Would probably be the biggest threat to Jerry Rice's records if not for several seasons stuck with horrendous quarterback play in Arizona hurting his statistics.
- Marvin Harrison #2 in most career receiving categories behind only Jerry Rice. Spent most of his career as Peyton Manning's go-to guy in Indianapolis. His career was derailed by injuries towards the end and he retired following a shooting incident outside a Philadelphia business which he owned that resulted in the death of a man.
- Michael Irvin was one of "The Triplets" with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, both of whom are listed above. "The Playmaker" was arguably the game's best wide receiver from 1991-1996, putting up huge numbers with the run heavy Cowboys. His career ended on a horrific neck injury in Philadelphia in 1999, where in a remarkable act of poor sportsmanship the fans booed as he was carted off the field.
- Calvin Johnson is considered the top current wide receiver in the NFL. Nicknamed "Megatron", in 2012 Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards with one game left to go, leading to speculation that he could become the first to ever record 2,000 receiving yards in a season, as he had recorded at least 100 yards in each of the last eight games (also an NFL record) and needed only 108 to reach 2,000; however, he was held to just 72 in his final game and fell short of that mark. Critics note that while Rice set those records playing for a perennial playoff contender, Johnson plays for the woeful Detroit Lions and therefore gets more opportunities for receptions (since teams tend to pass more when they're trying to come from behind and run the ball more when they've got a lead), but regardless of circumstances, his talent cannot be denied.
- Steve Largent was a wide receiver for the 1976 Seattle Seahawks expansion team and the first true superstar of the franchise. He played for thirteen years and retired with almost every career receiving record on the books; it was his bad luck that Jerry Rice came along only a few years behind to break almost every single one. Largent was fairly small and not particularly fast, but had incredibly sure hands and could read pass defenses like a book.
- Randy Moss is a wide receiver, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers. He has the distinction of being the top target for the two highest scoring teams of all time (the 1998 Vikings and the 2007 Patriots), currently holds the record for touchdown receptions in a season (23, 2007) and is 3rd in most of the all-time stats behind the also retired Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. Known as a loose cannon prior to joining New England; in Minnesota he openly admitted to coasting during games and smoking weed, hit a traffic cop with his car, and fake mooned the fans in Green Bay after scoring a touchdown. note During the 2010 season, he was part of a bizarre rollercoaster of trades/releases/signings that saw him traded back to Minnesota...for all of one month, after which he was waived and picked up by Tennessee. He then retired before the next season began, only to unretire a little over a year later. He played one final season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. Now an analyst for Fox Football Daily, a studio show for the Fox Sports 1 cable network.
- Terrell Owens is a wide receiver who, alongside Randy Moss, sits just behind Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison in most of the all-time receiving stats. He's also up there with Randy Moss in Jerk Ass status, as he's well known for his outspoken egotistical behavior. He's played for the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cincinnati Bengals, and each time his personal behavior has overshadowed his immense talent. Off the field, he's best known for alienating just about every quarterback that played with him - in San Francisco, he questioned Jeff Garcia's sexuality; in Philly, he feuded with Donovan McNabb. In Dallas, he ultimately accused Tony Romo of conspiring to keep him out of the offense...and Romo was the first QB who actually tolerated T.O.'s antics. He didn't do too much damage in Buffalo, but that's mostly because he was gone after one year. He did have a pretty good year in Cincy (top 5 in most receiving stats).
- Jerry Rice is the current all-time leader in receiving yards, all-purpose yardsnote , catches and touchdowns, most famously playing for the San Francisco 49ers during their dominant years. He also played for Oakland and Seattle. He was going to try to play for Denver, but he would not have been guaranteed a spot among the top three wide receivers, so he retired instead. Played for 20 years, won 3 Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP award and an AFC championship, as well as being the first receiver in NFL history with more than 1000 catches. If there's a record that is held by a wide receiver, chances are he holds it. NFL.com placed him at #1 on their list of 100 greatest NFL players.
Tight Ends and Offensive Linemen
- Antonio Gates, a tight end who has spent his entire career with the San Diego Chargers, has made the Pro Bowl eight times and been named All-Pro five times, and was along with Tony Gonzalez (see below) one of two tight ends on the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Also notable as one of the few NFL players who never played college football; he was an undersized power forward for a Kent State basketball team that made an NCAA regional final in 2002.
- Tony Gonzalez is the current holder of all the tight end receiving records, as well as the first tight end to amass over 1,000 receptions. He spent most of his career with the Chiefs, and ended his career in Atlanta, retiring at the end of the 2013 season.
- Jimmy Graham is a hyper-athletic tight end for the New Orleans Saints. He led the NFL in most major receiving categories early in the 2013 season, earning him an NFL Offensive Player of the Month award, the first tight end in the history of that award (dating back to 1986) to win it. Graham played only one year of college football at the University of Miami, playing basketball for his first four years there. He was the center of a controversy during the 2014 offseason after the Saints applied the "franchise tag"note to him as a Tight End. Graham, whose athleticism allows him to play split out wide as a wide receiver quite often, argued that he should get the Wide Receiver franchise tag instead. (A difference of about $5 million.) This is despite Graham being drafted as a tight end, listed on the roster as a tight end, having accepted a pro bowl invitation as a tight end, and having tight end in his Twitter handle. The case went to court where the judge ruled in favor of the NFL, listing Graham as a tight end. (The Saints struck a long term deal with Graham later in offseason anyway, making it a moot point other than for precedent.)
- Rob Gronkowski is the current tight end for the New England Patriots, and was one-half of the "Boston TE Party" before Aaron Hernandez (see "Notorious figures" below) was released. Off-field, Gronk was known for his hard-partying ways.
- William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was an All-American guard at Yale in the late 1800s and is considered the first ever professional football player. In the 1960s, a page from an 1892 accounting ledger for the Allegheny Athletic Association was found and showed a payment of $500 to Heffelfinger to play for the team. (About $13,000 in today's money.) He played only two games before going on to become a college head coach.
- Walter Jones is widely regarded as one of the best left tackles to ever play the game. He played for the Seattle Seahawks for 11 years. He was selected for the Pro Bowl nine times and was almost singlehandedly responsible for the dominant offensive line performance that led Shaun Alexander to dominance as a running back.
- Anthony Muñoz was ranked #12 on the NFL top 100 greatest players list, the highest of all offensive linemen. In any debate of who is the greatest offensive lineman, you will often hear his name. Played almost his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals. Due to an injury from his playing days, pinky finger now bends outward at a 90 degree angle.
- Michael Oher is currently an offensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans. So far, he has had a solid if unspectacular NFL career, but is best known as the main subject of the 2006 Michael Lewis book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which was adapted into the 2009 film The Blind Side.
- Orlando Pace is another name mentioned amongst the greatest offensive linemen of all time. He was the #1 overall pick of the 1997 NFL draft (after not allowing a sack in his final two college seasons and finishing 4th in Heisman voting, unheard of for an offensive lineman in the modern era.) He was as big of part of the St. Louis Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" success as anyone else, keeping Kurt Warner upright and opening running lanes for Marshall Faulk.
- Shannon Sharpe is considered one of the greatest receiving tight ends of all time. He spent most of his career with the Denver Broncos and was one of the featured weapons during their two Super Bowl years. He then joined the Ravens for a two-year stint, during which he won another Super Bowl ring. He was also very well-known for his trash talking.
- Mel Blount also played for the dominant Steelers teams of the 1970s. He is considered one of the best defensive backs of all time and his style of play was so ruthlessly effective that he inspired the "Mel Blount Rule", which limited how a defender could play on a receiver, making passing much easier and heralding the beginning of the pass-oriented era of the NFL it remains to this day.
- Dick Butkus was by far the best linebacker of the late '60s-early '70s, and easily in the running for the best ever - he once made a Sports Illustrated cover as "The Most Feared Man in the Game". He had incredible speed, strength, and instinct. Bet you aren't making fun of his name now, right?
- Joe Greene was a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and the cornerstone of the "Steel Curtain" defense. The fact that he was called "Mean" Joe Greene tells you all you need to know about his on-the-field ruthlessness. He's probably best known for this Coca-Cola commercial. Cool fact: His alma mater, North Texas, changed its athletic nickname to "Mean Green" specifically to honor him.
- James Harrison is a hard-hitting linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers. An unheralded draft pick out of Kent State, he worked his way up to become one of the most dominating defenders in the league. He won the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award over Ware. He's probably currently better known for his frequent instances of "Foot-In-Mouth Disease" than anything. Among other things, he's called out Ben Roethlisberger over the Super Bowl XLV loss and he called league commissioner Roger Goodell a homophobic slur in response to getting fined for hits on other players that are against new NFL rules against helmet-to-helmet contact to limit injury. (He also threatened retirement over the same rules.) Spent most of his career playing for the Steelers, with whom he won two Super Bowls, before signing with division rival the Bengals in 2013. Was released after that season, and then retired just before the start of the 2014 season—but came back to the Steelers after one of their linebackers was lost for the season to injury.
- Rodney Harrison was an incredibly hard-hitting safety for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots (with which he won two Super Bowl rings). He is the first player in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. Fun fact: he was the guy who injured Trent Green, the quarterback whom Kurt Warner was backing up. Second fun fact: He was the guy holding David Tyree's right arm, forcing him to catch the ball against his helmet in the New York Giants entry noted below.
- Deacon Jones was a defensive end who most famously played for the Los Angeles Rams in the '60s and '70s. Considered one of the greatest pass rushers ever, he coined the term 'sack' in its current usage, and is believed by many NFL historians to unofficially have the most sacks by any player (career or an individual season both); however, these sacks are unofficial, as they all occurred before the NFL started going over its records to make it an official stat in 1982. Jones' signature move, the "Head Slap", involved whacking the opposing lineman in the head with his forearm and running around him while he was dazed; it was so effective that the NFL eventually outlawed it. Died on June 3, 2013. Later that same month, the NFL finally announced the creation of an official yearly award for the league lead in sacks - named, of course, after Deacon Jones.
- Cortez Kennedy was a defensive tackle who played for the Seattle Seahawks over eleven years throughout the '90s. He is best known for having been selected as the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in a season where Seattle went 2-14, by far the worst performance by any team whose player has been so honored. It makes for a sharp contrast in an era where Heisman Trophies are given to the QB or RB of the national champion almost by default to see such a dominating personal performance being recognized despite struggling aspects on other parts of the team.
- Mo Lewis was a 3-time Pro Bowler who won't be mentioned on any 'greatest players of all time' list, and whose numbers look pedestrian compared to some of the other players on this one. (He is known as one of the better linebackers the New York Jets ever had, however.) His notoriety in the sport comes from one singular play - a monster hit in the early 2001 season against then Patriots starting QB Drew Bledsoe. The hit caused Bledsoe internal bleeding, forcing the Patriots to turn to Bledsoe's backup, an untested second-year player they had drafted in the 6th round. His name: Tom Brady.
- Ray Lewis was a dominating linebacker and the face of the Baltimore Ravens from the late 90s through the 2012 season. Widely considered one of the best defensive players of all time, he's especially known as a complete defender. He's also become a bit of a meme due to his Shatner-esque style of answering interview questions. Retired in 2013 after winning his second Super Bowl with the Ravens.
- Bob Lilly, aka "Mr. Cowboy", the first NFL draft pick and first Hall of Famer for the Dallas Cowboys. A cornerstone of the "Doomsday Defense", he missed only one game over the course of his career. Famous for throwing his helmet half the length of the field when Dallas lost Super Bowl V on the last play, although they finally won Super Bowl VI the next year. Selected 1st team All-Pro seven times, sharing the title for most for selections as a defensive tackle with:
- Ronnie Lott is perhaps the greatest all-around defensive back ever. He won four Super Bowl rings with the 49ers, played every position in the defensive backfield and was a Pro Bowler at all three. Famous for amputating part of his left pinkie rather than opt for surgery that would sideline him.
- Clay Matthews III, also known as "The Predator", "The Claymaker", and "Thor" is a Green Bay Packers linebacker who has established himself as one of the most dominating defenders in the NFL after just two years in the league. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year in 2009 and finished a narrow second in the voting for Defensive Player Of The Year in 2010. He and his cousin Kevin Matthews, a center for the Tennessee Titans, are third-generation NFL players and part of a vast football family that has included his grandfather Clay Sr. (linebacker, 49ers), his father Clay Jr. (linebacker, Browns and Falcons) and his uncle (and Kevin's father) Bruce (Hall of Fame offensive lineman, Oilers and Titans). His younger brother Casey is a linebacker for the Eagles. His cousin Jake is a lineman for the Falcons, who was drafted 6th overall in 2014. One more cousin, Mike Matthews, is a lineman for Texas A&M University. Clay is perhaps best known for his performance in Super Bowl XLV, where he forced a game-changing fumble at the start of the fourth quarter in what is often called the best play of the game.
- Alan Page was an eleven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who was the first Defensive Player to win a MVP award and, as a lineman, blocked an impressive 15 field goal attempts. After football, he became a prominent attorney and now sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
- Troy Polamalu is a hard-hitting safety who has spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's well-known as a gamechanger - the seasons he's missed due to injury are often ones where the Steelers stay home during the postseason. He's also well-known for his very long hair (out of respect for his Samoan ancestry), which has gotten him in trouble with league officials every once in a while.note Has announced, however, that he will cut much of his hair as part of a fundraiser for US veterans in November 2013. In one infamous hair-related incident, Larry Johnson, then of the Chiefs, pulled him down by his hair during an interception return. He's also well-liked among Orthodox Christians for being one of very few Eastern Orthodox public figures to display and discuss his faith publicly. If you pay close attention, you'll notice he makes the Sign of the Cross up-down-right-left before plays, as opposed to the western style of up-down-left-right.
- Ed Reed is a free safety drafted by the Baltimore Ravens who currently plays for the New York Jets. Best known for his ability to read most quarterbacks like a book, and for making a NFL record 107 yard interception for a touchdown versus the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2008 season. The interception had broken his previous NFL record which was 106 yards.
- Darrelle Revis is currently a cornerback for the New England Patriots. During his days with the New York Jets (2007-2012), Revis was known as "Revis Island" because of his ability to singlehandedly cover even the best wide receivers. Revis missed the 2012 season due to injuries, and after the Jets' season ended, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Deion Sanders was a very skilled cornerback, most famously playing for San Francisco and Dallas. Nicknamed "Prime Time". He was so fast that he could usually make up for getting burned by catching up to receivers during the time the ball took to get there, and he was widely recognized as "shutting down" his side of the field - that is, he was so skilled that opposing teams wouldn't even throw to the guy he was covering. Also known for craving the spotlight, being a dangerous punt returner, and having poor tackling skills. He ocassionally played wide receiver for the Cowboys, mostly due to Michael Irvin's drug habits, and over his career scored touchdowns in six different ways (kickoff return, punt return, interception return, fumble recovery, receiving and rushing), making him one of only two men to score in all six ways (along with Bill Dudley). Like Bo Jackson, he played in the NFL and MLB. So far, he is the first and only man to play in both the Super Bowl and World Series (winning the Super Bowl twice — once for the 49ers and once for the Cowboys — and playing for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series).
- Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were two top-drafted players by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who helped turn the team from the league Butt Monkey into a Super Bowl champ. Sapp worked as one of the most disruptive - and noisiest - defensive linemen of the 90s, while Brooks was the best tackling and pass-defending linebacker of the day.
- Richard Sherman is the current cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, and is part of the "Legion of Boom" secondary, which is currently considered one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Known for his brash and outspoken attitude, Sherman gained attention in October 2012 when, after the Seahawks defeated the Patriots, he tweeted a picture of himself yelling at Tom Brady, with the caption, "U MAD BRO?" over Sherman's head. After the Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013-14 NFC Championship Game thanks to an interception in the end zone made possible by Sherman tipping the ball, his fiery postgame interview in which he dissed Niners wide receiver Michael Crabtree (the intended target of the aforementioned intercepted pass) gained him even more attention.
- Bruce Smith is officially the all-time leading sack specialist of the NFL - he holds the career sack record with 200 quarterback sacks. He played for the Buffalo Bills during their reign as 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-ups.
- Michael Strahan is a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the New York Giants. His last season was the one where they upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He currently owns the single season sack record with 22.5. He also has a huge, enormous gap in his teeth. Currently the co-host, with Kelly Ripa, of the morning television talk show Live! with Kelly and Michael, having replaced long-time host Regis Philbin.
- Jack Tatum was a hard-hitting safety for the 1970s Oakland Raiders nicknamed "The Assassin." He's (in)famous for paralyzing Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during the 1978 preseason (Stingley died years later as a result of the injury). He often said his best hits "bordered on felonious assault." He was the Raiders defender involved in Pittsburgh's famous "Immaculate Reception."
- Lawrence Taylor, while probably better known today as a drug addict, was at one time the most dominating defender in the NFL. The two-tight end offensive set was invented just because of this guy. He's also the player who laid out a gigantic hit on Redskins QB Joe Theismann which broke his leg and ended his pro career. To his credit, it was a legal hit (and still would be even under today's much more stringent rules) and Taylor immediately called for help after he realized what had happened, but expect the highlight reels to omit that.
- Sean Taylor was a safety for the Washington Redskins, known primarily for his freakish athleticism and for being one of the most vicious tacklers in the league, frequently separating footballs and helmets from offensive players by way of sheer force. His early career, as is the case for a lot of players of his makeup, was fraught with personal foul penalties and peppered with a legal issue here and there. By 2007, however, it seemed that he had finally gotten his head on straight. Known as a soft-spoken family man off the field and an intimidating enforcer on it, he was on his way to an all-pro performance, when an injury cut his season short. After returning home to Miami to recover from his injury, he was the victim of an attempted burglary, shot in the leg while trying to protect his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter. He would later die from his injuries, aged 24, without having achieved the peak of his potential, becoming perhaps one of the greatest and saddest examples of What Could Have Been in NFL history. note
- DeMarcus Ware is a sack-producing linebacker for the Denver Broncos, and previously for the Dallas Cowboys. He's led the league in sacks twice, and is one of only a few players to notch a 20-sack season. He finished a very close second in Defensive Player of the Year voting that year.
- J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans is the 2012 Defensive Player of The Year and one of the most feared defensive lineman in the game today. He posses a rare dual threat at his position, the ability to sack the quarterback, AND the ability to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage, thus earning him the nickname, "J.J. Swat". In 2012, he notched a 15 sack/15 passes defended season, an astonishing feat for a defensive lineman.
- Randy White, aka "The Manster", was part of the Cowboys legendary 1975 draft and probably the best player on the "Doomsday II" defense that won Super Bowl XII (where White was co-MVP) and carried the Cowboys for years afterward. He was NFC defensive player of the year in 1978.
- Reggie White, the feared "Minister of Defense" played as Defensive End for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers from the late '80s through the early 2000s. He briefly held the career sack record with 198 sacks, but Bruce Smith passed him 2 years after his retirement. He was a key member of the 1997 Green Bay Packers Super Bowl winning team. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players to ever play the game. Died unexpectedly only four years after retiring in 2000. Was an actual Bad Ass Preacher.
- Charles Woodson is a cornerback (recently turned safety) with a penchant for returning interceptions for touchdowns. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year award. After being named an All-Pro in his first three seasons, he would suffer a series of injuries that led to the Raiders choosing not to re-sign him following the 2005 season. He signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 for what was supposed to be the twilight of his career. Instead, he became one of the NFL's most dominating corners, having intercepted 28 passes in his first four seasons as a Packer (he had 17 in eight years as a Raider), 8 of which he returned for touchdowns. He won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 when he intercepted 9 passes, returning for 3 touchdowns (both career highs). He is also (as of 2013) the only person to ever win the Heisman Trophy as a defensive player, winning the honor over Peyton Manning. Also notable was that he was Tom Brady's teammate during his Michigan Wolverines days, and he was involved in the so-called Tuck Rule Game (the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs between Brady's Patriots and Woodson's Raiders), in which Woodson's strip-sack of Brady was overturned by the then-unknown "tuck rule"note , which was introduced in 1999 and abolished in 2013.
- Michael Sam is a defensive end, taken by the St. Louis Rams right at the end of the 2014 NFL Draft. He came out as gay a few months beforehand, making him the first openly gay player in NFL history, depending on whether one considers him "in the league". He was one of the Rams' last cuts prior to the start of the 2014 regular season; he was quickly picked up by the Cowboys for their practice squad, but was released again on October 21st.
- Pete Gogolak, aside from being the first kicker to adapt and popularize soccer-style placekicking, isn't particularly known for his career. However, he's accidentally one of the most important people in NFL history. When the NFL's New York Giants lured him away from the AFL's Buffalo Bills, they broke an unwritten rule that neither league would steal the other league's players. The Gogolak trade triggered a bidding war between NFL and AFL teams, as each rushed to grab players they previously thought were unattainable. Both leagues soon realized the fight would be costly and counterproductive for both leagues, so they instead began discussing a merger.
- Ray Guy is considered the best punter in the history of the NFL. His punts were so good that rumors got started that the balls were full of heliumnote . The annual award for the best punter in college football is named for him. Finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.
- Devin Hester is the most decorated return specialist of all time - he holds the all-time record for touchdown returns, passing Deion Sanders in 2014. He began his career with the Chicago Bears and currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons, with whom he broke the record. He's also famous for being in Madden 08, where he was the sole recipient of a 100 ratingnote for his blazing speed. He is also the only player to return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown, doing so in Super Bowl XLI.
- Nate Kaeding is statistically the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He has spent 8 years of his career playing for the San Diego Chargers (2004-2012), and known for having an unfortunate habit of missing important kicks in the playoffs (whether he's solely to blame for the Chargers' playoff woes is up for debate.)
- Chris Kluwe, a punter who is now a free agent after being cut by the Oakland Raiders just before the 2013 season, is known as much for his off field actions as he is his on field performance. Known as One of Us, Chris was a long time fan of World of Warcraft (even going by the Twitter handle ChrisWarcaft), as well as being a fan of tabletop games and various comics. Chris gained some notoriety in 2012 when he authored an open letter to a Maryland politician that had urged the Baltimore Ravens owner to silence then Ravens' linebacker Brenden Ayanbadejo, an outspoken supporter of the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. Kluwe's letter, laced with profanity spoke in support of Brendan, while at the same time pointed out to the politician that the legalization of gay marriage would not turn him into a "lustful cockmonster" (the full letter is here).
- Shane Lechler is a punter who has been a member of two teams: the Oakland Raiders (2000-2012) and the Houston Texans (2013-present). He is considered the modern era's answer to Ray Guy.
- Scott Norwood is infamously known among the general public for missing a 47-yard field goal that sailed wide right in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXV, giving the Bills the first of its four Super Bowl losses. Had the kick made it, the team would have won the game. However, at the time, only half of the field goals at long distances (40-plus yards) on grass were successfully made, and Norwood, a turf kicker, wasn't good at kicking them (he was one for five throughout his career). Despite this, Norwood surpassed O.J. Simpson as the Bills' all-time leading scorer, which has since been surpassed by Norwood's successor, Steve Christie. Norwood did play with the Bills for one more season, before his release. Norwood was the subject of an episode of ESPN's "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame..." series, which showed the other reasons why he can't be blamed for the loss. Finally, he was the basis for the character "Scott Woods" in the 1998 film, Buffalo 66.
- Steve Tasker essentially defined the modern position of "gunner" (see the "Special Teams" folder of the main American football page for a description of the position). While he began his career with the then-Houston Oilers, he played his final 12 seasons with the Bills. Tasker's skills in that role led to a change in NFL rules—the rule that requires the punting team's gunners to stay in bounds or incur a 15-yard penaltynote was created because of him. At times, punt return teams put three blockers on him to try to slow him down (normally, one or two blockers are used in that role). He made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player seven times, blocked a punt in a Super Bowl, and was named the Pro Bowl MVP in 1993; in that game, he made four special teams tackles, recovered a fumble, and blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
- Mike Vanderjagt is the most accurate kicker in NFL and CFL history (having regained the NFL record after the aforementioned Nate Kaeding dropped a few accuracy points during the 2010 season). Played with the Indianapolis Colts for most of his NFL career; Peyton Manning once referred to him as "our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off." He ended his career with a rather dismal season in Dallas after Adam Vinatieri replaced him in Indianapolis.
- Adam Vinatieri is known as one of the better kickers in the league. He played for New England (1996-2005) during their three Super Bowl wins and Indianapolis (2006-present) during their one Super Bowl win. He helped the Patriots win two of their three Super Bowls with field goals at the end of the games, and all three of the Patriots' Super Bowl wins were won by three points.
- Howard Cosell was a commentator on ABC's Monday Night Football from 1970-84. He was well known for his colorful personality, inimitable delivery, and awful toupee. Got fired after a Never Live It Down incident when he referred to a speedy black player (Alvin Garrett) as "that little monkey".note
- John Madden, as mentioned above, is the definitive pro football broadcaster. Madden has spent time on all four of the major networks. He also has his name on the Madden NFL series of video games. Had a charming, if somewhat... unique, commentary style and a fondness for the telestrator. He's known for a crippling fear of flying, which has been marketed to create one of his signature awards, the Madden Bus with his players-of-the-week posted on the sides. Retired from broadcasting in 2009. BOOM!! Tough actin' Tinactin!
- Keith Jackson is the most famous college football announcer ever. He has a very soothing voice and tends to use a lot of homespun sayings in his commentary. Whoa, Nellie!
- Roger Goodell is the current commissioner. When he got the job, he stated that he wanted to clean up the league, since some teams have been well-known for their...somewhat illegal behavior. The other hot-button issues under his tenure have been the work stoppage and the ever-growing threat of concussions. While detractors accuse him of being too slow to address the concussion issue, his actions have been a dramatic reversal from his predecessor Tagliabue's policy of ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away. More recently, he's come under fire for his handling of the Ray Rice situation (see "Notorious Players and Coaches" below). When video surfaced in September 2014 of Rice punching his then-fiancée, Goodell and other league officials claimed they never received or saw the video until TMZ posted it. Then, it came out that the league apparently had the video in its possession six months earlier. By the end of the week, two more teams had ended up deactivating players who had also been arrested, and charged with domestic abuse cases (Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, and the Panther's Greg Hardy). Since then, Goodell has come increasingly underfire for seemingly trying to ignore or sweep such major problems away, and then when the league is finally forced to confront them, coming up with seemingly random lengths of time for the suspension.
- Pete Rozelle was active from 1960-1989, when he led the NFL through the war with the AFL and came out as the winner. He then proceeded to build the merged league into the strongest sports entity in the country. Hunter S. Thompson knew him and had a strong dislike for him.
- Paul Tagliabue was the commissioner between Rozelle and Goodell (1989-2006). His legacy mainly consisted of expanding on Rozelle's successes, especially through many troubles including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, making the NFL the dominant pro sports league in America. He took great pains to make sure Cleveland (specifically the Cleveland Browns) would return after Art Modell's movement of the team to Baltimore, while at the same time lost Los Angeles as an NFL market when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders moved back to Oakland (though there have been many overtures, there hasn't been a team in Los Angeles since 1995).
- Jerry Jones is the current owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He might be the most hated figure in the league, even (or rather, especially) among fans of his own team. For example, despite bringing three championships to Dallas many older Cowboys fans have never forgiven him for firing Tom Landry and then running his popular successor, Jimmy Johnson, out of town. He's best known for being very, very active in running his team, refusing to appoint a general manager and giving that role to himself instead. He is sometimes considered a real-life expy of J.R. Ewing which was lampshaded in a series of advertisements in the '90s, and he even showed up alongside J.R. in the revival of Dallas. His reputation has led to the extravagant new stadium he had built for his team in 2009 being referred to by such nicknames as "Jerryworld", "the Boss Hogg Bowl", and "Six Flags Over Jerry".
- Daniel Snyder is the current owner of the Washington Redskins. While he has managed to make Washington the second most valuable NFL franchise, he's best known for being in an odd flux of Aesop Amnesia - one year, he'll snap up loads of (often past-their-prime) expensive free agents, then pledge to cut back in the next offseason. Which he does, but he usually goes back to his old tricks in the next offseason after that. Also a key figure in the controversy over his team's name; "Redskin" is a racial slur for Native Americans (now almost never used except to refer to the team, but at the time of its naming almost as common as using the N-word to slur blacks), and several tribes have been putting increasing pressure on the League to force a name-change since Snyder refuses to do so himself.
- Al Davis was the one-time coach and most recent owner of the Oakland Raiders, and challenged Jerry Jones for "most hated figure in the league". Despite being a member of the Hall of Fame and once serving as commissioner of the pre-merger AFL, he was frequently caricatured by the sports media as an out-of-touch Disco Dan who made bizarre coaching/player decisions on a model of football that worked during the last period of Raiders' dominance in the league (1970-1983) but has since been rendered obsolete. Davis' stubborn refusal to adopt to the "West Coast Offense" may be a Take That to the San Francisco 49ers as a result of the bad blood rivalry between them. He also sued the league several times claiming anti-trust law violations. Passed away on October 8, 2011.
- George Halas, known affectionately to Bears fans as "Papa Bear", owned the Bears from 1920 until his death in 1983. In the Bears' early seasons, Halas was not only the owner, but head coach and player - appearing on both offense and defense, earning him the nickname "Mr. Everything". After retiring from playing following the 1929 season, Halas also hired a new head coach, though he would return to the sidelines for three more stints. Halas was one of the influential figures in guiding the NFL from a loose association of ever-changing teams into a stable, coherent league. He also became the first owner to be permanently memorialized on his team's uniform, with his initials "GSH" gracing the left sleeve strpes of the Bears' uniforms since 1984. The NFC Championship Trophy is named the George Halas Trophy in his honor.
- Lamar Hunt was the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founder of the American Football League. He founded the AFL because the NFL awarded the Dallas franchise to another group of owners. His league was known for many innovations in the game such as more open passing offenses (as opposed to the NFL's reliance on power running games) and was so improbably successful that the AFL and NFL were in an unsustainable competition for the best rookies. The rise of his league created the Super Bowl, which he named, (initially the AFL-NFL World Championship Game) and forced the NFL agree to a merger with the AFL. Today many fans believe that the NFL is much more like the AFL used to be than how the NFL used to be. Since his passing, the Chiefs have worn a special AFL commemorative patch bearing his initials in his honor. The AFC Championship Trophy is named the Lamar Hunt Trophy in his honor.
- Hunt is also considered a very important figure in American soccer, as he was one of the founding figures in the creation of Major League Soccer. His contributions to the sport were so important that the US Open Cup (equivalent to the FA Cup) is named after him.
- George Preston Marshall was founder and longtime owner of the Washington Redskins. Marshall was known for using many innovations to build his fan base (e.g. gala halftime shows and cheerleaders), but was also the NFL's leading bigot for 40 years, not only naming his team the Redskins but also refusing to sign black players until the government forced him to (they owned the stadium he was leasing).
- The Green Bay Packers are unique in the league in that they do not have a "traditional" ownership; instead they are collectively owned by 121,012 shareholdersnote mostly based in Green Bay and the surrounding communities. They have an Executive Committee that makes most of the traditional owner decisions, and it is the president of this committee that generally gets sent to owner meetings. The purpose behind this was twofold: when the team was strapped for cash in the pre-revenue sharing days, it allowed the team to survive without being bought or moving. Secondly, due to restrictions in the stock, they will effectively never move from Green Baynote . Much to the lament of many other teams' fans (especially the Cowboys and Raiders), this ownership setup is actually banned under current league rules (no more than 32 people can be co-owners of a team, and there has to be one person with at least a 30% share); it is allowed to continue due a Grandfather Clause.
- Bill Polian was the general manager for Indianapolis Colts until his firing in 2012, after they went 2-14 without Peyton Manning. Before that, Polian served as the GM of the Buffalo Bills (during their three consecutive Super Bowl trips; he was fired after Super Bowl XXVII) and was the first GM of the Carolina Panthers. Polian became the Colts GM in 1998, when he would draft Peyton Manning, and together, they would have several winning seasons, and made two Super Bowl trips, winning one. Polian was at the forefront of turning the current NFL into a "passing league", when, as a member of the Competition Committee, lobbied the NFL to strictly enforce the holding and illegal contact rules, after the Colts lost to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. Polian was also known for his tendency to bench starters after locking up a playoff seed to allow them to rest up for the playoffs; his most infamous case being in Week 16 of the 2009 season, when the 14-0 Colts, having already clinched the AFC's top seed, pulled their starters against the Jets, and lost to them, ending their bid for a perfect season. Fans naturally hated this, and analysts are divided as to whether it's actually an effective strategy or just something that just makes your starters rusty in their first playoff game. Currently, Polian is an NFL analyst for ESPN.
- Several teams, especially very old ones, have had owners over multiple generations. These include the Chicago Bears' Halas/McCaskey family, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rooney Family, the New York Giants' Mara family note , and the Arizona/Phoenix/St. Louis/Chicago Cardinals' Bidwill family. One particularly interesting case: the Detroit Lions have been owned by the Ford family—yes, Ford, as in Henry—since 1963.
Notorious Players and Coaches
For some of the more notable NFL plays, go here