Bruising Running Backs
- Published: July 20, 2011 at 03:09 p.m.
- Updated: July 20, 2011 at 07:36 p.m.
Inspired by a recent visit by Browns running back and "Madden" cover boy Peyton Hillis, here is a look at some of the most bruising running backs in NFL history.
Tank Younger (Reader's Choice)
Thank you to Farjad Carmona, who sent this one to me via Twitter. Younger is such an obvious choice because his name is Tank and he played in the Bull Elephant backfield with the Los Angeles Rams. Younger started his career as a tackle, but was quickly made into a defensive back by his college coach - Grambling's Eddie Robinson. Younger is the sixth leading rusher in Los Angeles Rams history.
The Fridge (Dameshek's Choice)
William Perry became a national sensation when Mike Ditka inserted him into the Bears' backfield during the 1980s. People loved seeing the big man plowing through the defensive line. Well, everybody except for my dad, who continues to curse the name of Ditka for getting Perry a touchdown in Super Bowl XX and not giving the ball to Walter Payton - the man who carried the Bears during their lean years.
With a nickname like the "Bus," how could Bettis not be on this list. Bettis, an admitted bowling enthusiast, became an instant favorite of Los Angeles Rams fans in 1993 thanks to a running style that resembled that of a bowling ball rolling down the field. Known as the "Battering Ram" back then, Bettis rushed for 1,429 yards and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Bettis also topped 1,000 rushing yards the next season. Funny, I am not sure what happened to him after that.
Means was a key member on the Chargers' AFC title run in 1994, when he rushed for 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns. Means also was a key cog in the Jaguars' improbable playoff run to the AFC Championship Game in 1996. But like many of these bruising backs, his career faded out quickly.
Hillis compared his running style to that of George, who was a long-time Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans running back. What made George so incredibly tough to bring down was his sheer size, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 240 pounds. George was outstanding in Super Bowl XXXIV, rushing for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns and figured to be the game's MVP if the Titans had won.
There is a tale that is told around the terrace level of Angel Stadium (where the Rams played from 1980-1994) that Dickerson was racing for a score against the 49ers and was in the clear, but took a detour to run over safety Ronnie Lott on his way to the end zone. And it's a great story, except for the fact that Dickerson never had a rushing touchdown against the 49ers at Anaheim Stadium. Still doesn't keep me from telling the story, though.
Andrews actually did have a much-publicized run-in with Lott, to which the Hall of Fame safety later said it was the hardest hit he had ever received during his NFL career. Andrews hit Lott so hard, part of his finger flew off. Alright, that is a tall tale. But it is no exaggeration to say that Williams remains one of the more underrated players in NFL history. He was a guy I always looked forward to see during those great NFC West battles with the Rams.
The Nigerian Nightmare burst into the NFL in the late 1980s and became an NFL phenomena because of his punishing running style and futile attempts to tackle him. And that was just his "Super Tecmo Bowl" profile, too. The amazing thing about Okoye was as hard as it was to tackle him on the NFL level, how did they ever bring him down on the NAIA level when he played at Azusa Pacific? If you made me wager, I would say he was tackled four times, tops, during his college days.
Everything you need to know about Riggins was his 43-yard touchdown run against the Dolphins to seal the Redskins' win in Super Bowl XVII. Riggins rushed for 166 yards and was selected as the game's most valuable player. More importantly, the selection meant that Joe Theismann was not the MVP, which, to me, makes him somewhat of an American hero.
The Dolphins running back was so punishing that his last name - Csonka - turned into a verb for running people over. An amazing story about Csonka is that he played defensive end at Stow High School in Ohio, before getting a chance to return a kickoff as a sophomore. That gave Csonka a taste of running the ball, and he eventually lobbied his coaches to let him carry the ball. And the rest - they say - is history as he went on to a Hall-of-Fame career.
On a recent visit to the NFL.com studios, Titans QB Jake Locker was raving about Jackson running over Brian Bosworth. Admittedly, it was weird because Locker didn't seem old enough to have seen that game. But like a whole new generation of fans, they have been watching Jackson's punishing runs on YouTube and falling in love with his running style. That was the case for many of us who grew up in the 1980s watching Jackson and playing "Super Tecmo Bowl."
Before there was any of those famed Browns running backs, there was Motley, who started his playing career with Paul Brown on the US Navy's team emanating from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Team. Motley was not only a punishing runner, he played linebacker for those great Browns teams of the AAFC and the 1950s NFL. Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman called Motley the greatest player of all-time. Who is to argue?
Don't let the nickname "Sweetness" fool you, Payton was one of the most punishing runners in NFL history. His running style was nothing short of aggressive. Payton also rarely ran out of bounds, instead choosing to get a lick on a defender. As he once said, "My coach at Jackson State, Bob Hill, always said that if you are going to die, you should die hard, never die easy." Hillis told the story on Tuesday that he suspects that he was named after Payton, despite the different spelling. But shouldn't that be something Peyton has asked about by now?
Campbell was once described as a one-man demolition team because his of running style. Steelers defensive end Joe Greene, speaking for seemingly everybody, called Campbell the most devastating running back he played against, saying nobody could inflict more damage. The most amazing thing was the size of Campbell's legs, which were often compared to the trunks of redwood trees. Campbell is one of only three running backs to win the Heisman Trophy, be selected first overall, and be inducted into the Pro and College Football Hall of Fames.
Brown had a style that had his opponents fearing his every move - and that was just in lacrosse. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to allow Brown to run around with a stick? His knees were more of a lethal weapon than any stick with a net on it could have been (and sorry lacrosse fans if your equipment has some other name). Brown finished his career on top, being selected as the NFL MVP and leading the league in rushing. He retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, but you wonder how unobtainable his record could have been had he hung on for some extra years.