With the 2018 World Cup upon us, Jeremy Bergman and Adam Rank are divvying up the NFL and selecting the top 11 -- or in, yes, FOOTBALL parlance, all-time XI -- players from each of the 32 teams' history. Today, Rank presents the top XI for each team in the NFC West.
1) Larry Fitzgerald, WR (2004-present)
2) Larry Wilson, DB (1960-1972)
3) Aeneas Williams, CB (1991-2000)
4) Dan Dierdorf, OT (1971-1983)
5) Roger Wehrli, CB (1969-1982)
6) Patrick Peterson, CB (2011-present)
7) Jackie Smith, TE (1963-1977)
8) Ollie Matson, RB (1952-58)
9) Kurt Warner, QB (2005-09)
10) Charley Trippi, HB/QB/DB (1947-1955)
11) Pat Tillman, DB (1998-2001)
Coach: Bruce Arians (2013-17)
The great Twitter handle @MLBcathedrals' posts aboutold Comiskey Park make me verklempt because it looked amazing. What you might not know is that it was once home to the Chicago Cardinals, before the franchise moved to St. Louis, then Tempe and now Glendale. The point being: There is a rich history of Cardinals football. But we're currently witnessing the single-greatest Cardinals player of all time: Larry Fitzgerald.
Roger Staubach considered Wehrli one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history, and often held him in high regard. So, don't just take my word for it. Speaking of DBs, Dick "Night Train" Lane was good for the Cardinals ... but he already made one of these lists (the Lions edition). I'm going to project Peterson to great heights.
Also, I'm putting Tillman on this list. As I've stated on many occasions, I'm prone to going with a guy based on emotion -- and I'm not going to back down from that. He's on the list, and that's that. He was a seventh-round selection of the Cardinals. Some -- even some of his teammates -- thought it was a gimmick pick because he played at ASU. But he worked his way to relevance as an NFL starter. Tillman passed on big money from St. Louis to stay home. Though he eventually left the Cardinals to join the U.S. Army Rangers after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Los Angeles Rams
1) Deacon Jones, DE (1961-1971)
2) Merlin Olsen, DT (1962-1976)
3) Norm Van Brocklin, QB (1949-1957)
4) Jack Youngblood, DE (1971-1984)
5) Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, RB/WR (1949-1957)
6) Eric Dickerson, RB (1983-87)
7) Jackie Slater, OT (1976-1994)
8) Orlando Pace, OT (1997-2008)
9) Marshall Faulk, RB (1999-2005)
10) Tom Mack, G (1966-1978)
11) Torry Holt, WR (1999-2008)
Coach: George Allen (1966-1970)
When I was young, my neighbor would often take me to the preseason games. He'd make fun of me because I had a Jack Youngblood shirt that said "Jack the Ripper." Looking back, I would like to meet the marketing genius who put that on a T-shirt for children. But that neighbor loved Deacon Jones and would talk about him at great length. And I really studied his career -- Deacon's, not my neighbor's -- when I started interning for NFL Publishing. I've come to this conclusion: Deacon is one of the top five NFL players of all time. He also coined the term "sack." He said it was akin to sticking an opponent in a burlap sack and beating him into submission. Sacks didn't become an official stat until 1982, but he unofficially retired with 173.5. In an era when they never threw the ball.
I would have had Dickerson higher on this list, but his Rams career was cut short because he was traded away. In fact, I was trick-or-treating in a Dickerson jersey the night he was traded to Indianapolis. Fun times. Dickerson might have gone down as the second-greatest running back in NFL history if he played his entire career with the Rams. Or he didn't waste those years in Indy. And speaking of wasted years in Indy, Marshall Faulk did the reverse: Playing well in Indy, but truly thriving in St. Louis.
My biggest dilemma was at No. 11. Do I go Tom Fears, Isaac Bruce or Holt? Bruce was the first to be eliminated. He once led the NFL in receiving yards. And he's not going to the Hall of Fame -- I mean, he might visit, but not as an inductee. Fears and Holt were both selected to their respective All-Decade Teams and each earned All-Pro Honors once. I won't hold the HOF against Holt, because he might get in. But if Crazy Legs was the 1a for the Rams in the 1950s and Fears was the 1b, I should give the nod to the Rams' 1a of the 2000s, right? Listen, I'd be happy to keep the St. Louis guys out of here and give them their own designation. But I'll be fair and go Holt.
San Francisco 49ers
1) Joe Montana, QB (1979-1992)
2) Jerry Rice, WR (1985-2000)
3) Ronnie Lott, DB (1981-1990)
4) Steve Young, QB (1987-1999)
5) Terrell Owens, WR (1996-2003)
6) Jimmy Johnson, DB (1961-1976)
7) Joe Perry, FB (1948-1960, 1963)
8) Bob St. Clair, OT (1953-1963)
9) Hugh McElhenny, RB (1952-1960)
10) Leo Nomellini, DT (1950-1963)
11) Roger Craig, RB (1983-1990)
Coach: Bill Walsh (1979-1988)
I asked a friend of mine if there is any sect of 49ers fans who feel Young is better than Montana. And she said no -- most are of the opinion that Montana is better. Though I know there are people out there who will take up for Young. But they are silent. Like the people who like caffeine-free Mountain Dew. It's like, I don't want any of the stuff that would actually make Mountain Dew worthwhile; I just want all of these harmful chemicals with the taste of goat urine warmed in a lead paint can. But there are clearly fans, because they make it. So ...
Montana is clearly the top option here. My main reason? The four rings. I can't get off of it. And really, Young's one ring was kind of a gift. I mean, the Niners pulled a Warriors (before the Warriors) for one season. And even that might not have been enough if Jerry Jones hadn't selected the worst coach in NFL history to head up the Cowboys. But Montana -- 11 touchdowns and zero picks in his Super Bowl career. We're good here.
Roger Craig is the only non-Hall of Famer listed here. And I hope, at some point, that distinction can be done away with. Craig was a vital part of those great 49ers teams -- he should be be inducted. I would have put him in over Jerome Bettis.
1) Steve Largent, WR (1976-1989)
2) Walter Jones, LT (1997-2008)
3) Cortez Kennedy, DT (1990-2000)
4) Kenny Easley, S (1981-87)
5) Russell Wilson, QB (2012-present)
6) Earl Thomas, S (2010-present)
7) Richard Sherman, CB (2011-17)
8) Marshawn Lynch, RB (2010-15)
9) Shaun Alexander, RB (2000-07)
10) Jacob Green, DE (1980-1991)
11) Kam Chancellor, S (2010-present)
Coach: Pete Carroll (2010-present)
Here's my thing: As I put each of these rankings together, I always began by naming guys off the top of my head first. Like I was doing a Sporcle list or whatnot. And then I would go back to make sure I wasn't missing any Hall of Famers or other luminaries. And of course, I've had a crack editorial staff to keep me from going off the rails and trying to explain to you why Jim Zorn was better than you thought. So, I've been mindful not to have too much recency bias with these lists. But as I wrapped up the Seahawks' top XI, my last one in this series, it was hard not to favor the franchise's impressive mini-dynasty from this decade.
I know Alexander won an MVP award, but I'm putting Lynch ahead of him because of the "Beast Quake" and his general awesomeness. He made his biggest impact in playoff games. Lynch also scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX -- is a fact I should be able to point to right now. But I can't. And I'm not going to hold that against him.