No, not the NFLPA. This is a little quiz-esque thingamabob I just had an idea for. I’m going to think of each team, and list the first person that comes to mind in association with that team.
I’ll leave a little snippet of why I thought of each person (could be a player, coach, etc), to see if you agree. These are the faces of their respective franchises, from the day of their inception up until today.
This list will go in divisional order, from the AFC East to the NFC West.
And away we go:
New England Patriots – Tom Brady
Why: Who else can you think of? Bellichick would be a close 2nd, but #12 is the man who everyone thinks of when they think of the Patriots. This isn’t a stretch. It’s way too obvious.
Miami Dolphins – Dan Marino
Why: My favorite team is my favorite team, in large part, because of Mr. Marino. He was my favorite player as a kid, remains my favorite QB to watch highlights of, and is a role model in so many ways. Dude is the Dolphins as far as I’m concerned.
New York Jets – Joe Namath
Why: As a historian of the game, some of these names may be alien to you. Joe Namath’s name, however, shouldn’t be. Easily the most popular Jets player in team history, Broadway Joe glamorized the NFL and the QB position, indirectly leading to the QB worship we’ve seen since. Oh, and he was front and center when the Jets won their only Lombardi trophy.
Buffalo Bills – Thurman Thomas
Why: Now we start to get a little controversial, no? “Jim Kelly?” “Bruce Smith?” “Marv Levy?” “Andre Reed?” “O.J. Simpson?” No, no, no, no and let’s just try to forget the last one. Thurman Thomas was the death knell of my Dolphins so many times that, when he actually signed with them to finish his career, I vividly remember feeling like a traitor to the cause. In the Wes Mantooth-Ron Burgundy dynamic, I hated him…but damn did I respect him.
Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis
Why: This man WAS the Baltimore Ravens, in spirit and in action, for nearly their entire existence. One of the best to ever play defense, one of the most intense and visceral individuals you’ll ever find on a football field, and quite a character off of it. ”
Pittsburgh Steelers – Jerome Bettis
Why: This is my age talking. He was the constant force for the Steelers during my younger years, the name most heard, the definition of what I would want to be if I were an NFL running back. I’ll hit you harder than you’ll hit me. The epitome of manliness, and one of the more enjoyable sideline presences any team has ever seen. The Bus keeps rolling in my mind.
Cincinnati Bengals – Boomer Esiason
Why: Well, he was front and center during the Bengals hey-day, for sure. But what brings him to mind immediately are all those broadcasts on CBS with him and Dan Marino. I can remember, more than once, where they looked ready to throw down over some QB-centered argument. I always believed that Boomer believed he was a better QB. I can respect the attitude, but the logic is so flawed that it always stuck with me as a walking, talking joke who used to try to play QB better than Marino and never could.
Cleveland Browns – Jim Brown
The last name. The records. Watching him on film is like watching every great RB you’ve ever seen mutated into one unbelievable specimen of speed, size, strength, agility and vision. He is, was, and might always be the best running back in the history of the game. The Factory of Sadness earned its title: the Browns haven’t been relevant since Brown was in their backfield.
Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning
Why: Yeah, he’s a Bronco, but he’s the reason why the Horseshoe is looked at with the respect it gets today. And he’s been gone for years. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a more cerebral football player. The man is a coach who just happens to be one of the best QBs ever: each aspect of his character benefits the other. He’s also pretty damn funny, which never hurts. And that forehead…how can you forget that forehead?
Tennessee Titans – Steve McNair
I remember seeing him play on one leg. With broken ribs. He looked like a hospital patient, but somehow kept going, kept getting up. He wasn’t the greatest QB, but in my lifetime, he was the face and the spirit of what a team wanted to be, and that’s why he’s the Titan amongst men in my mind.
NOTE: If we include the Oilers, as we should, this changes to Warren Moon. No explanation is needed, I think.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Mark Brunell
Bit of a running QB theme here, huh? It’s inevitable, I suppose, in the modern NFL. When the Jaguars became a team, it was Brunell who led them, along with a certain head coach who I’m not going to mention because he belongs to another team (I just ruined a future answer for you, dear readers, and for that you have my apologies). Mark wasn’t the best, but he was far from the worst and, for a relatively young franchise, he’s still their most noteworthy player to date in my mind.
Houston Texans – Andre Johnson
The youngest of the teams gets a guy who’s been there for 10 of their 11 years of existence. Nobody else can make that claim, and it doesn’t hurt that over his ten years, he’s consistently been one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Denver Broncos – John Elway
If there is a Broncos fan on the planet who has another name that pops into their head before Elway’s, I’d be floored. Floored, I tell you.
San Diego Chargers – Ladanian Tomlinson
By the time I was seriously interested in football, the Chargers were a Superbowl team. Beyond Junior Seau, I couldn’t tell you one person who was on that team off the top of my head. Years later, they would find themselves back in contention (but, inexplicably, never back in the Superbowl) with a dearth of talent. No one more talented than the 2nd LT. Watching him run was like watching somebody that was created to show other running backs how to play the position.
Kansas City Chiefs – Derrick Thomas
Another young age remembrance: hearing this guy’s name called every time the Chiefs were on television. The day he died is still engrained into my memory, as well. Those two things tend to make a man stick out, for great and tragic reasons all at once.
Oakland Raiders – Al Davis
He’s been gone for a few years now, but I cannot look at that team, their uniforms, highlights from any era (not the Madden era, the Marcus Allen/Bo Jackson era, the Rich Gannon/Jon Gruden era, none of them) without thinking of the face of the franchise. That is son is now working in much the same capacity only makes an enduring memory of a true NFL pioneer that much more obvious.
Dallas Cowboys – Emmitt Smith
This comes from a personal debate between myself and my younger brother throughout the 90’s and one that continues to this day. Whereas he thought Barry Sanders was the best back in the league, I argued for Emmitt Smith. I loved his workhorse mentality, his ability to consistently gain yardage whereas Sanders would sometimes lose yardage trying to make every run the ‘big one’. Now, Sanders was no doubt more skilled, and more exciting, but when it comes down to it, I’d still rather have an Emmitt Smith on my team. This is why, when it comes to one of the most storied sports franchises in NFL history, #22 is the first man I think of.
Philadelphia Eagles – Andy Reid
I knew much about the Eagles before Big Red came along, to be sure. But once he did, the next 14 years would cement his legacy as the greatest coach in franchise history. All of the team’s success over those years is so easily overlooked by the fact that they never won it all, but you don’t get to five NFC Championships and only miss the playoffs four times in fourteen seasons with bad leadership. In the end, I think Reid’s insistence on managing personnel and the bad memories that haunted him (his son’s suicide) were why he couldn’t do his job in Philadelphia anymore. He just took a Kansas City team from 2-14 to the playoffs in an extremely tough division. Andy Reid IS the Eagles, until somebody else comes along and makes me forget him.
Washington Redskins – Sean Taylor
Funny how tragedy burns itself into the mind, isn’t it? There is no doubt in my mind, having watched the young man play for four incredible seasons, that if he would have avoided major injuries, he would today be considered the greatest safety to ever play the game. There was nothing he couldn’t do, and nothing he couldn’t do as good or better than anyone else. That football fans lost this incredible young man was tragic; that his family and friends lost him was and remains unacceptable.
New York Giants – Bill Parcels
The Big Tuna was an NFL journeyman, revitalizing programs in New England, Dallas and the other New York squad. Before all that? He made his name with the Giants, with two Lombardis and a personality you couldn’t help but hate to love (or vice versa).
Green Bay Packers – Vince Lombardi
Needs no explanation, I think. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you hear his name at the end of every season, does it?
Chicago Bears – Mike Ditka
Many will argue George Halas, Papa Bear himself, but for me, Ditka was and still is the face of the franchise. As a player, as a coach, as a spoof subject on Saturday Night Live, as a constant source of quoteworthy and infectiously hostile media sessions. A storied franchise’s biggest story.
Minnesota Vikings – Randy Moss
By the time I was of an age where football was an addiction, Jerry Rice was still playing, and playing well, but I never saw anything like Randy Moss when he first hit the league. He left an impression on my mind that has yet to fade, despite my love for past Vikings (Tarkenton, Page, Marshall, Krause) and currents/recents as well (Randle, Carter, Peterson). Moss is 1-A in the argument of best receiver of all time…and he did it almost exclusively with his natural athleticism. Straight cash, homie.
Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders
Who else? Scott Mitchell? Maybe Calvin Johnson will have his say once he’s retired, but I doubt anything he does (or has done) will ever live up to the constant edge-of-your-seat excitement #20 gave us on a weekly basis.
Atlanta Falcons – Michael Vick
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? There have been quite a few Falcons who have done more, with less, but none that made the same impression. For good or for ill. With Vick, it was always a mix of both, on and off the field. I highly doubt Falcon fans have truly forgotten the Vick era, and won’t until they bring home a Lombardi with some other QB, Matt Ryan or otherwise.
New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees
Again, I don’t think I need to delve into details. He’s the face of the franchise behind center and in the community. A strong shoutout to Morten Anderson, however, who was always my favorite kicker during his long tenure in the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Warren Sapp
I really, really, REALLY can’t stand him. His on-screen personality is that of an obnoxious know-nothing who postures instead of offering any interesting perspective. But damn, was he a special player. I would pick almost anyone else, but considering the franchise and its mostly terrible history, Sapp is one of the few actual superstars to pick from, and the only one who went on to keep his name in the public eye after he retired.
Carolina Panthers – Steve Smith
Treat him well, Baltimore. A human quote machine, and a machine on the field, where he defied his diminutive frame constantly with speed, agility and fearlessness. He was and still is a special talent to watch, and no Panther has come close to matching his Carolina legacy. Cam Newton, I wish you luck in that endeavor.
San Fransisco 49ers – Joe Montana
Montana? Rice? Walsh? Young? Lott? Craig? Owens? Harbaugh? Kaepernick? Gore?
Seattle Seahawks – Shaun Alexander
A product of the times, I suppose. I think their current team has a handful of guys who will replace him in my mind before long, but before this team was cream of the crop, Alexander was their Barry Sanders (as in, the running back that drew attention away from the fact that the rest of the team wasn’t that good).
St. Louis Rams – Kurt Warner
The Greatest Show On Turf had an amazing side story to it, and it belonged to Warner. From an undrafted practice squader to a grocery bagger to an NFL and Superbowl MVP. Hollywood rarely puts together scripts as engaging as his life story. The Rams have more of a storied history than some may think, but for me, it was Warner and the turn of the decade Rams that caught my attention the most.
Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald
Because…well…who else? Seriously. I thought about it for awhile (against my own rules, I know, but I had to see if any other names came to mind…none did) and this is all I could come up with. Doesn’t say much about the franchise, does it? Or maybe it’s a gap in my football history I need to fill.
Going with the former.
Aaaaand, that’s that. Would love to hear from you on any of these that seem dead on, dead wrong, whatever.