Monday, February 13, 2012
Top 10 Greatest New York Football Giants
This is the first of a new series: The top 10 performers for each of the New York Tri-State Area major league teams.
I'll be leaving out the WNBA's New York Liberty and MLS' New York-New Jersey MetroStars/New York Red Bulls. But I will be including the 2 baseball teams that left after the 1957 season.
I'm starting with the newly recrowned Super Bowl Champions, since they're still freshest in our minds.
Top 10 New York Football Giants
Honorable Mention to the Giant players not in this Top 10 who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Ray Flaherty, Benny Friedman, Pete "Fats" Henry, Clarence "Red" Badgro, Ken Strong, Alphonse "Tuffy" Leemans, Andy Robustelli, Harry Carson, Arnie Weinmeister and Y.A. Tittle. And to owners Tim and Wellington Mara, and to player & coach Steve Owen.
And, while they are not yet in the Hall of Fame, Honorable Mention also to coaches Jim Lee Howell, Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin; to general manager George Young; to owners Jack Mara and Bob Tisch; and to players Al Blozis, Charlie Conerly, Alex Webster, Dick Lynch, Joe Morrison, Pete Gogolak, Brad Van Pelt, Dave Jennings, George Martin, Carl Banks, Mark Bavaro, Jessie Armstead, Amani Toomer, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. All of these except the active ones, including Coach Coughlin, are in the Giants' Ring of Honor at MetLife Stadium.
10. Roosevelt Brown, Number 79, offensive tackle, 1953-65. Maybe the Giants should look for more players from old college towns in Virginia: Lawrence Taylor was from Williamsburg, and Rosey Brown was from Charlottesville. Unlike L.T., who went to a fully-integrated University of North Carolina, Brown came from a different era, and had to go to a "historically black college," Morgan State University in Baltimore.
But it got him noticed, and he became one of the best tackles in football history, protecting quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and Y.A. Tittle and blocking for runners Frank Gifford and Mel Triplett. In 1999, when The Sporting News listed the 100 Greatest Football Players, Rosey was listed at Number 57 -- albeit 3rd among men named Brown, behind running back Jim at 1 and defensive back Willie at Number 50.
9. Phil Simms, Number 11, quarterback, 1979-93. Considering how many injuries -- and how many boos -- he got at the beginning of his career, it's amazing how loved he now is. Perhaps, like another "blond bomber" 10 years earlier, Terry Bradshaw, he used that as motivation to make himself respected and his team World Champions. He didn't make people say, "Ooh" and, "Aah" like his contemporary Dan Marino. But which one has 2 rings? Or even 1? That Simms is not yet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, after 13 years of eligibility, is ridiculous.
8. Tiki Barber, Number 21, running back, 1997-2006. True, he hurt his legacy by flapping his gums, and even more by an ill-timed retirement, which saw the Giants win the Super Bowl the very next season, making him football's Elgin Baylor. (This also happened to Stan Musial, but he had helped the St. Louis Cardinals win 3 World Series long before.) But there is only one New York Giant who has rushed for over 10,000 yards, and that's Tiki. And he did help the Giants get into a Super Bowl -- albeit one that became the only NFL Championship Game (under that name or the name "Super Bowl") that the franchise has lost since the aftermath of the JFK assassination.
7. Michael Strahan, Number 29, defensive end, 1993-2007. Sure, he can be a comical figure, with his appearances on Fox NFL Sunday, and that infamous gap in his front teeth. But the man wouldn't be on that show if he didn't know his football. Smirk all you want at his single-season record of 22 1/2 sacks in 2001, but his 141 1/2 sacks are a New York football record. And he did go out in style, leading the Giant defense in Super Bowl XLII, showing the world how to beat Tom Brady: Get in his face, again and again, and knock him on his ass, again and again.
6. Eli Manning, Number 10, quarterback, 2004–present. Simms led the Giants to 2 Super Bowl seasons and was Super Bowl MVP in 1 of them. Eli has now been named MVP of 2 Super Bowls, and both were better games than the ones Simms and Namath played in. And let's not forget: Much like the Jets were in Super Bowl III, the Giants were underdogs in both of their Supes with the Patriots.
No more underdog status for Eli. At the beginning of this season, he was asked if he was "an elite quarterback." He said he was. He has now proven his ability, his determination, and his courage. From now on, doubt him at your own peril.
5. Mel Hein, Number 7, center-linebacker, 1931-45. Until Mike Webster came along, Hein was generally regarded as the greatest center in NFL history. He helped the Giants into 7 NFL Championship Game, winning in 1934 and 1938. In the latter year, the NFL Most Valuable Player award was given out for the firs time, and Hein won it. He remains the only offensive lineman ever to win it.
He was named to the charter class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, the center on the NFL's 50th Anniversary Team in 1969 and also to its 75th Anniversary Team in 1994. When TSN named its 100 Greatest Players in 1999, Hein came in at Number 74. That same year, TSN also listed him as one of 3 centers on their College Football Team of the Century. He was an All-American at both football and basketball at Washington State University.
4. Emlen Tunnell, Number 45, safety, 1948-58. He died in 1975, while a Giant assistant coach, and as a result never got to be interviewed for any of the great NFL Films pieces on the Giants of his era. As a result, he may be the most forgotten great player ever.
He intercepted 79 passes, an all-time record that has only once been surpassed (and then just barely, by Paul Krause's 81). Records that have not been surpassed are his 1,282 yards on interception returns, and 2,217 yards on punt returns. He helped the Giants win the 1956 NFL Championship, and won another title with the Green Bay Packers in 1961 -- with head coach Vince Lombardi having been the Giants' offensive coordinator until 1958.
He was named the NFL's all-time greatest safety on its 50th Anniversary Team in 1969, 2 years after becoming the first black player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On TSN's 100 Greatest Football Players, Tunnell came in at Number 70 -- clearly, their experts remembered him. We should, too.
3. Sam Huff, Number 70, linebacker, 1956-63. This guy was L.T. before L.T. was even born: The defining player at the position of linebacker. He didn't use drugs like L.T., either. As Charlie Sheen would say, he was on a drug called Sam Huff.
To put it another way: In 1960, CBS Reports (the successor series to Edward R. Murrow's See It Now) did a piece called "The Violent World of Sam Huff." After this program, hosted by Walter Cronkite, aired and practically invented what NFL Films would soon start doing, with Huff miked up, showing the masses for the first time what a football game really sounded like, a CBS executive put an envelope in a mailbox, marked only "Number 70." No name. No address. No return address. In 2 days, that envelope arrived at Huff's locker at the old Yankee Stadium. The post office -- and thus the federal government -- recognized that "Number 70" could only mean Huff. To this day, he's probably the greatest athlete ever to wear the number.
After 1963, he went to the Washington Redskins, extended his career, and is now remembered there as a broadcaster, much as the man at Number 2 is remembered now. On TSN's 100 Greatest Football Players, Huff came in at Number 76.
2. Frank Gifford, Number 16, running back-receiver, 1952-64. We've known him as a broadcaster (or at least as the husband of Kathie Lee Gifford) for so long, it's easy to forget what a sensational player he was. Before Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, Charles White, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush, he was the man who started the USC running back tradition. At the start of his career, when NFL players were still expected to play on offense and defense, all 60 minutes, he was also a good defensive back. He was a glamour boy, so a lot of people who didn't like the Giants didn't like him. But he was sensational.
After getting clobbered by Chuck Bednarik in 1960 (EDIT: Had to fix that), he did not return, and retired rather than play in 1961. But he got the bug back, and returned for 3 more seasons, becoming the league's best receiver, before age caught up with him and a few others in 1964. He became the only player in any of the 4 major league sports to be elected to its Hall of Fame as both a player and a broadcaster.
1. Lawrence Taylor, Number 56, linebacker, 1981-93. For all the controversies, during and since his pro career, Taylor has been considered one of the best players ever. On TSN's 100 Greatest Football Players, L.T. came in at Number 4, the highest-ranking defensive player.
All of the above are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, except Simms and Barber, both now eligible, and Strahan, who becomes eligible next year.