The Face Of Each Franchise
By Steve Barnes
Years ago, I had a job interview with a Big Ten school. It was via conference call between me and three other gentlemen. Things went well with two of the men, but the third gave me the feeling that I was beating my head against a wall.
It seems the guy didn't think much of Southern football, which I had been working within for almost two decades. He also didn't think much of small schools, of which I had spent a lot of time covering, especially Troy.
The interviewer informed me small schools like Troy never played anyone. I countered that when Miami beat Nebraska in the national title game one year, Troy was the only common opponent. In one season, Troy played Nebraska, Kansas State, Virginia, Minnesota and Marshall. Also, on the next year's schedule was Ohio State.
The man said that Troy may have played some big schools, but could never beat one. I pointed out Troy had won at Mississippi State and defeated a nationally-ranked Missouri and Oklahoma State on ESPN.
He finally relented and told me Southern colleges do play good football, but if I looked at the most famous pro players from each franchise, most came from the Big Ten. That statement stayed with me long after I hung up the phone on the interview.
A few days later I got the call that the school was going to go in a different direction and I asked the age-old question that if I ever got a chance to interview again, how could I improve. The gentleman told me I had done great and he and one other wanted me, but that one other refused to budge. He indicated the man thought I was too Southern.
That is an oxymoron. No one can be too Southern. I am proud to be Southern. Despite what some think of us, I can assure you I have never dated a family member. I have never seen a UFO. I know Elvis is dead.
Still the statement the man made about more Big Ten players being the "face" of an NFL franchise ate at me. Finally I made a list.
I came up with two Big Ten players to fit that category. That is the same number of players I picked from the Gateway Conference and one fewer than the SWAC. And no one can accuse me of being biased about the South. The ACC got only two spots, the SEC garnered five. The Pac-12 and Independents led the way with seven selections each.
By the way, I used the conference affiliation the school had when the player was there. So I classified Brett Favre of Southern Mississippi as an Independent, not Conference USA. Syracuse also is an Independent, not the Big East, nor the ACC. And Miami's three picks came during the Hurricanes' stint in the Big East.
Let the debate begin.
ATLANTA -- With all due respect to Jamaal Anderson (Utah) and his "Dirty Bird" dance, I will go with the guy who did it for the Falcons about four times as long and saw things through from a team that almost was winless to a team that won the NFC.
Choice: LB Jesse Tuggle, Valdosta (Ga.) State.
ARIZONA -- Even though he got the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, I still think of Kurt Warner as a Rams quarterback. I thought about Larry Fitzgerald (Pitt), but in the end went with someone who did great things on the field, off the field and for his country.
Choice: S Pat Tillman, Arizona State.
BALTIMORE COLTS -- An easy choice.
Choice: QB Johnny Unitas, Louisville.
BALTIMORE RAVENS -- Another easy pick.
Choice: LB Ray Lewis, Miami.
BUFFALO -- I did think about Jim Kelly (Miami), but no matter what he did off the field, another face still is known for being a Buffalo Bills player.
Choice: RB O.J. Simpson, USC.
CAROLINA -- Although Cam Newton is now the face of the team, he simply hasn't done enough to warrant the honor. Another man got them to success.
Choice: QB Jake Delhomme, Southwestern Louisiana.
CHICAGO -- Dick Butkus (Illinois) was a choice from the Big Ten. Still, Sweetness did it better and longer.
Choice: RB Walter Payton, Jackson (Miss.) State.
CINCINNATI -- There were a lot of names I bantered around for this one, but one stood out over the great players of the '70s.
Choice: QB Boomer Esiason, Maryland.
CLEVELAND -- Another easy choice. I just wish he'd played longer. But if he had, he may not have been in "The Dirty Dozen."
Choice: RB Jim Brown, Syracuse.
DALLAS -- Roger Staubach (Navy) and Troy Aikman (UCLA/Oklahoma) were golden boy quarterbacks, but the NFL's all-time leading rusher cannot be denied the honor.
Choice: RB Emmitt Smith, Florida.
DENVER -- Is there another possibility?
Choice: QB John Elway, Stanford.
DETROIT -- I remember the Lions teams of the '70s, but I am going more modern. Like Jim Brown, I wish he'd been around longer.
Choice: RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State.
GREEN BAY -- Sorry Lombardi-era Packers. It has to be No. 4.
Choice: QB Brett Favre, Southern Mississippi.
HOUSTON OILERS -- He was the most dominating runner in the league during his day.
Choice: RB Earl Campbell, Texas.
HOUSTON TEXANS -- These guys are tough because of lack of history. It could be Matt Schaub (Virginia) or Arian Foster (Tennessee). But I will choose who I think is their best player
Choice: WR Andre Johnson, Miami.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Easiest team so far.
Choice: QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee.
JACKSONVILLE -- Again, a tough one because of a lack of history. I considered Fred Taylor (Florida), Jimmy Smith (Alabama State) and Tony Boselli (USC).
Choice: QB Mark Brunnel, Washington.
KANSAS CITY -- I really wanted to pick Derrick Thomas (Alabama), who was killed in the middle of his career in a car crash, but opted not to do it because Joe Delaney (Northwestern (La.) State) was killed in his prime trying to save some kids from drowning despite the fact he could not swim himself. Then I thought of Len Dawson (Purdue) and all those great defenders the Chiefs always had. Instead I will go with the running back famous for carrying the ball in the one play we see every year during Super Bowl week, 65 toss power trap.
Choice: RB Mike Garrett, USC.
LOS ANGELES RAIDERS -- During the team's short time in L.A., he was showtime before the Lakers.
Choice: RB Marcus Allen, USC.
LOS ANGELES RAMS -- Another tough choice. I would say the Fearsome Foursome, but that would be unfair, and I can't choose just one of them. Roman Gabriel (North Carolina State) was a great quarterback and he threw to Jack Snow (Notre Dame). Also in the running was a man who played in the Super Bowl with a broken leg, defensive end Jack Youngblood (Florida).
Choice: RB Eric Dickerson, Southern Methodist.
MIAMI -- The only undefeated team in NFL history was just that, a team.
Choice: QB Dan Marino, Pitt.
MINNESOTA -- This was tough because no one stood out. I went with the man that led the Vikings to three Super Bowls.
Choice: QB Fran Tarkenton, Georgia.
NEW ENGLAND -- OK Big Ten, here you go.
Choice: QB Tom Brady, Michigan.
NEW ORLEANS -- Most bandwagon fans will say Drew Brees, but only one Saints jersey number hangs in the Superdome rafters. Quarterback Archie Manning (Ole Miss). I tell you what, even though Archie will always be a Saint, I will toss the Big Ten a bone.
Choice: QB Drew Brees, Purdue.
NEW YORK GIANTS -- Just to prove there is not SEC bias, I am not picking Eli Manning. I am not sure he has done more than Y.A. Tittle for the Giants; he just did it during the technology age. Instead, I am going with the man who invented the current incarnation of his position.
Choice: OLB Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina.
NEW YORK JETS -- The Jets have tried to find a guy to spark the franchise forever. Only one ever did.
Choice: QB Joe Namath, Alabama.
OAKLAND -- I wish I could select a non-player and go with Al Davis or John Madden. I thought about Howie Long (Villanova), George Blanda (Kentucky), Cliff Branch (Colorado) and even punter Ray Guy (Southern Mississippi). Instead, in total Raiders mystique, the pick said he could as easily study the playbook by the light of a jukebox than by a lamp.
Choice: QB Ken Stabler, Alabama.
PHILADELPHIA -- Although he got more attention when he was in Green Bay.
Choice: DE Reggie White, Tennessee.
PITTSBURGH -- Another tough choice. The Steel Curtain defense featured players from North Texas (Mean Joe Greene), Kent State (Jack Lambert) and Penn State (Jack Ham). On offense, Franco Harris (Penn State), Lynn Swann (USC) and John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) are options. I guess I will go with the man responsible for running the show.
Choice: QB Terry Bradshaw, Louisiana Tech.
SAN DIEGO -- Dan Fouts (Oregon) was one of the great quarterbacks of the '70s. But I will keep it in-conference and go with the late defensive standout.
Choice: LB Junior Seau, USC.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Most think it is a toss-up between Joe Montana (Notre Dame) and Steve Young (BYU). I'm thinking of the one constant the two quarterbacks shared.
Choice: WR Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State.
SEATTLE -- Another tough decision. During the Seahawks' first successful period, I always remember the highlights showing an undersized wide receiver who went on to be a congressman.
Choice: WR Steve Largent, Tulsa.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS -- It might be easiest to go back to the '40s to pick someone. But during the years they competed for the NFC title, one guy led the Cards.
Choice: QB Jim Hart, Southern Illinois.
ST. LOUIS RAMS -- Still relatively new, the choice has to be the orchestrator of The Greatest Show On Turf.
Choice: QB Kurt Warner, Northern Iowa.
TAMPA BAY -- The first studs for the Bucs were the Selmon brothers (Oklahoma). The defense that won a Super Bowl featured Derrick Brooks (Florida State) and John Lynch (Stanford). I will go with the big man up front from that unit.
Choice: DT Warren Sapp, Miami.
TENNESSEE -- Another team without a lot of history. The man that got them to the most exciting Super Bowl in history gets the nod.
Choice: QB Steve McNair, Alcorn (Miss.) State.
WASHINGTON -- The Redskins won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, but the one who is remembered (and I am sorry for the leg) gets the nod.
Choice: QB Joe Theisman, Notre Dame.
ACC -- 2
Big East -- 3
Big Ten -- 2
Big 12 -- 1
Independents -- 7
Pac 12 -- 7
Soutwestern -- 2
SEC -- 5
Gateway -- 2
SWAC -- 3
Gulf South -- 1
One final note for that Big Ten gentleman. Neither of the choices from the Big Ten comes from the Midwest. Drew Brees is from Texas and Tom Brady is from California.