It's "Decades Month" here at NFL Network/NFL.com, and this week is dedicated to an era NFL Films truly illuminated: the 1970s. Earlier this week, I ranked the decade's best plays. Certainly a tough task -- like trying to decide a pecking order of the top players from this amazing 10-year period.
You see, the 1970s represented a time when football was taking shape, post-merger, as THE sport in America. So it's no surprise that I'm presented with a bevy of high-profile Hall of Famers to choose from. Yes, this list pops out at you like an afro out of a helmet.
Of course, with subject matter like this, there's sure to be debate. Feel free to send your thoughts to @HarrisonNFL. One thing to keep in mind: I tried to rank each player according to his impact on this particular decade -- as opposed to the impact he made over the course of his entire career.
First, I'd like to count down from No. 20 to 11, in somewhat of an expedited fashion:
16) Bob Lilly: The top defensive tackle in NFL history. Lilly only ranks this low because he retired after the 1974 season (and six of his seven First-Team All-Pro nods came in the 1960s).
14) Art Shell: Shell was as consistent as anyone in football in the '70s, a Raider stalwart on what was arguably the best offensive line ever.
OK, now we've reached the meat of this deal: The top 10 players of the '70s. Time to go a bit more in-depth ...
10) Earl Campbell: Yes, I know that Campbell only played two years in the 1970s. Yet, it was such an unbelievable two-year run of unilateral defensive decimation. Just ask the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which placed this guy on its Team of the 1970s. You can make a legitimate case that Campbell was the best player in football in 1978 and '79 (he led the league in rushing both years). The bulldozing back pushed the Oilers to two straight AFC Championship Game appearances -- this after the franchise hadn't made the postseason since 1969.
9) Franco Harris: Harris' sheer productivity lands him on this list; he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in seven of his eight seasons during the decade. Don't forget: Most of those were 14-game seasons, making that milestone more difficult to accomplish. Harris also helped author -- key word: helped -- the most famous play in NFL history, which kick-started a decade of supremacy for the Steelers that netted the franchise four Lombardi Trophies.
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8) Larry Little: Tough choices abound among the offensive linemen in this time period. Little's spot could go to a host of great players, be it DeLamielleure, Yary, Dan Dierdorf ... or the left side of the Raiders' line (Shell and Gene Upshaw). That said, Little deserves the honor. Not only was he a five-time First-Team All-Pro, but his Dolphins fielded what might have been the greatest ground attack in league history. From 1971 to '73, the Dolphins amassed 7,910 rushing yards, easily the most in the NFL during that time -- that's an average of 188.3 yards per game. Little was arguably the best overall player on one of the most successful teams of all time.
7) Walter Payton: The only reason "Sweetness" isn't higher on this list is because he wasn't around for the first five years of the decade. Payton led the NFC in rushing each season from 1976 through '79. In 1977, he led the NFL with an incredible total of 1,852 rushing yards -- in 14 games. That includes a contest against Minnesota in which he ran for 275 yards despite dealing with flu-like symptoms. The 1970s Payton was different from the running back you might remember from the '80s. Early in his career, he displayed a violent running style despite having a frame that was not necessarily suited for it.
6) Ken Houston: Houston is the "P.Y.T." of the 1970s. You know, the Michael Jackson jam from the "Thriller" album that gets lost in the shuffle of "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Thriller." Houston scared the daylights out of quarterbacks, but he has become that lost hit from a decade past. The safety is never mentioned among the game's greatest defensive players ever, yet he was a starter on both the Team of the 1970s and the 75th Anniversary Team. A 12-time Pro Bowler over the course of his career, he earned his place on the esteemed squad every year of the decade, despite wallowing in relative obscurity with the Oilers. Houston has nine pick-sixes to his name.
5) Alan Page:Quick Trivia: Only two defensive players have earned NFL MVP honors: Lawrence Taylor in 1986 and ... who? Well, if we're asking this in Alan Page's blurb, then you can probably guess. The dominant Vikings DT didn't make First-Team All-Decade, as Hall voters gave those nods to Joe Greene and Lilly. While the latter might be the best to ever play the position -- as I declared above -- he logged just five seasons in the decade. Page was a standout throughout the entire 10-year period and deserves his due.
4) Jack Ham: If ever a Pittsburgh Steeler can be considered underrated, it's this guy. You can make the argument Ham was as good a player as Greene, Harris or any other Steelers legend from the 1970s. Ham made the Pro Bowl every season from 1973 to '79, earning First-Team All-Pro honors in the final six years of that seven-year span. He picked off 28 passes from his rookie season of 1971 through the end of the decade -- a remarkable feat for an outside linebacker. Ham is clearly a deserving member of the 75th Anniversary Team.
3) O.J. Simpson: Irrespective of the sordid off-field story, Simpson's run from 1972 to mid-1977 is a span of dominance that has only been rivaled since by Eric Dickerson (in the first six years of his career). "The Juice" was the first running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, and he did it in just 14 games. Two years later, he surpassed 1,800 yards -- again, in just 14 games. During that five-and-a-half year period of excellence, Simpson easily cleared 110 yards per game. A knee injury sustained in 1977 is what ultimately slowed the Juice to a trickle.
2) Roger Staubach: Only one quarterback makes the top 10 of our list, and Staubach is the choice. Here's why: From 1975 to '79, he was the best quarterback in pro football. His stats and record bear that out. Staubach's 84 regular-season wins in the decade were the most in the NFL at the quarterback position. And unlike Bradshaw or Stabler, he was consistent, posting the highest NFC passer rating in 1971, '73, '77, '78 and '79. Bradshaw presents the stiffest challenge, as he beat Dallas twice in the Super Bowl, but some of his best years individually came in the 1980s, when Pittsburgh was in decline.
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1) Joe Greene: When it comes to the 1960s, there's no debating the No. 1 overall player. (Jim Brown -- ever heard of him?) That's just not the case with this decade -- there were several viable candidates for this honor. That said, Greene was as dominant a force in the first half of the decade as any defensive tackle has ever been. A neck injury sustained in a 1975 preseason game brought him closer to the pack of the very good -- as opposed to the best ever -- but his dominance, along with that of the '70s Steelers, makes "Mean Joe" a fine pick for the top spot.