NFC West: Barry Sanders
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
Three of a kind. Not since 1991 have three NFC West teams finished a season with winning records. It could happen in 2012 if the St. Louis Rams upset the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Rams would finish 8-7-1 with a victory. Seattle and San Francisco already have 10 victories apiece. The 1991 NFC West race finished with New Orleans (11-5), Atlanta (10-6) and San Francisco (10-6) ahead of the Los Angeles Rams (3-13). Also with a victory, the Rams would become the second team since the merger to post an undefeated division record without qualifying for postseason.
Milestone weekend. Steven Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aldon Smith are chasing milestones as the regular season wraps up.
The Rams' Jackson needs 10 yards rushing for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season, which would tie LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas for fourth behind Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10) and Barry Sanders (10).
Seattle's Wilson has 25 touchdown passes, within one of Peyton Manning's rookie record. Wilson, with a 98.0 NFL passer rating, also has a shot at breaking Matt Hasselbeck's single-season franchise record (98.2).
Smith, with 19.5 sacks, needs three to break Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks. Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5) is nearer the record, however.
Stopping the bleeding. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points and allowed more than 700 yards over their past five-plus quarters. That is nearly as much yardage as the 49ers allowed over a 12-quarter stretch of games against Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. The trend is about to end. The 49ers' Week 17 opponent, Arizona, has 735 yards in its past four games. The Cardinals' Brian Hoyer is making his first NFL start at quarterback.
Crabtree's time. The NFC West is in danger of finishing without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree needs 67 yards against Arizona to become the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald needs 215 yards to reach 1,000 for the sixth consecutive season. Seattle's Sidney Rice needs 252 yards for 1,000. Crabtree is averaging 91.5 yards per game since Week 13, sixth-most in the NFL.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
CANTON, Ohio -- Curtis Martin won his bet to make it through his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech without crying.
Did anyone else?
Martin, in accepting his enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared details about his life that would wrench the hardest heart: the murders of his grandmother and aunt; the manner in which his father tortured his mother; the time someone held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger seven times, only to have a bullet discharge on the eighth pull, when the gun was pointed elsewhere.
This was as moving a speech as I can recall hearing.
That Martin would survive all this and grow into a man with the wherewithal to nurture his mother to health? That, together, they would forgive his father?
It's a good thing Martin's speech came last. No one could have followed him.
Martin closed by saying he hoped his daughter, when delivering his eulogy years from now, would speak not of the yards he gained, but of the man he became. He hoped she would speak of having sought a man of similar character. He hoped she would, in closing his eulogy, leave mourners with a footnote.
"Oh yeah," she would say, "he was a pretty good football player."
Martin's presenter, retired coach Bill Parcells, spoke of his former player's great balance. Martin's speech showed the same quality. He balanced those emotional reflections with humor. And he showed great wisdom.
Martin busted on fellow enshrinee Willie Roaf for suggesting the Class of 2012 go for pedicures this week. He joked about Cortez Kennedy speaking for so long that God decided to turn off the lights.
Martin again found the right balance when discussing player safety issues, particularly whether he'd feel OK about his own child playing the game, were Martin to have a son.
Two previously enshrined Hall of Famers -- I could not identify them from a distance -- rose and applauded when Martin provided a thoughtful answer. Martin said he never sought football or loved it, but he learned life lessons from it through Parcells, through his former high school coach and through experiences on the field.
"If kids can learn what I learned from playing the game," Martin said in words to that effect, "I'd let him play. It would be worth the risk."
Martin rushed for 102 yards and the winning touchdown in his first regular-season NFL game. Parcells, upon seeing reporters gather around Martin's locker for postgame interviews, let it be known Martin was merely a "one-game wonder."
Before too long, "one-game wonder" would give way to "Boy Wonder" as Parcells' preferred nickname for Martin. The more flattering moniker survives to this day, for good reason. Martin opened his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, an NFL record shared by another Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.
Martin turned out to be a pretty good football player, all right, and so much more.
Mike Sando: Yes, that is definitely the case. The Hall of Fame lists them by round. I also track this information. By my count, 143 of 188 drafted Hall of Famers were chosen in the first three rounds. That is 76.1 percent. That includes 94 first-round selections, 29 second-rounders and 20 third-rounders.
No players drafted after 1995 have been enshrined to this point.
Curtis Martin, named as part of the 2012 class, was a third-round choice in 1995. The previous six drafts have produced eight Hall of Famers, and all eight were first-round choices: Marshall Faulk, Willie Roaf, Cortez Kennedy, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.
Later-round picks fared better long ago, when the draft had many more rounds. The NFL went from 17 to 12 rounds in 1977, then to eight in 1993 and seven the following year.
The chart below shows round-by-round distribution for drafted Hall of Famers since the 1983 class produced six Hall of Famers in the first round, the most for any first round.
Players drafted in first rounds tend to have more talent. They also tend to get every opportunity to succeed. The combination of those factors explains why more of them have found their way to Canton, in my view.
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 31
Preseason Power Ranking: 17
Biggest disappointment: Failing to build on Sam Bradford's promising rookie season. Bradford was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year after setting rookie records for completions (354) and pass attempts (590). Only Peyton Manning had thrown for more yards than Bradford as an NFL rookie. There were challenges this season with the lockout, a tough early schedule and all that goes with learning a new scheme. Bradford and first-year coordinator Josh McDaniels liked their chances, but the offense suffered huge setbacks when injuries sidelined Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola in the season opener. The Rams approached the season eager to see how Jackson, Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Mike Hoomanawanui and Lance Kendricks functioned together. That group never took a snap together. Bradford completed only 53.5 percent of his passes. He took 36 sacks in 10 starts and threw for only six touchdowns.
Biggest need: Offensive playmakers. Bradford completed only 1 of 16 attempts in goal-to-go situations. For perspective, consider that Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, another young quarterback facing struggles in 2011, completed 14 of 20 passes with eight touchdowns in these situations. Picking up Brandon Lloyd by trade helped, but the veteran receiver might wind up being a one-year rental. Lloyd's contract expires in March. The man influential in bringing him to St. Louis, McDaniels, might not be back. The Rams need to draft a difference- maker at receiver. That could be tough to justify with so many needs elsewhere on the roster.
Team MVP: Jackson was an obvious choice. If only he hadn't strained a quadriceps while breaking a 47-yard touchdown run against Philadelphia on his first carry of the season. That injury limited Jackson to six carries over the first three games. Jackson still topped 1,100 yards for the season. He joined Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He rushed for 159, 130 and 128 yards during a three-game stretch when the Rams went 2-1.
Starting over up front: The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for St. Louis after the team signed guard Harvey Dahl in free agency. Dahl held up his end, but the rest of the line fell apart. Rodger Saffold will be back at left tackle or somewhere along the line. Dahl will return. Right tackle Jason Smith, chosen second overall in 2009, will not return at his current salary. Center Jason Brown lost his starting job during the season. Left guard Jacob Bell took a pay reduction and a one-year deal right before the season. The team has not developed young depth on the line. How will the team protect Bradford?
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- Steven Jackson carried 24 times for 103 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season and 31st of his career. Only Ray Rice and Arian Foster had topped 100 yards against the Steelers previously this season.
- Jackson joined Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin, Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders as the only running backs with seven consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
- Cornerback Josh Gordy picked off a pass for the second game in a row.
- Nick Miller had a 17-yard punt return and a 10.3-yard average.
- The Rams committed no turnovers. In fact, they became the first team since at least 1940 to rush for 164-plus yards and commit no turnovers while getting shut out by 27 or more points. I'm not sure whether that counts as a silver lining, but it's an amazing note.
- The Rams held the Steelers to one third-down conversion in seven attempts, one reason they narrowly won time of possession.
- Rookie Robert Quinn had a tackle for loss.
Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News has the details from Mayor Ed Lee: "Investigators have known the first outage shortly before kickoff was caused when the main power line that feeds the stadium broke. Now, Lee said an investigation by state utilities officials and city fire inspectors showed the second outage at the beginning of the second quarter was caused by a malfunctioning switch on the stadium's backup power system. Lee said officials expect to start replacing the switch Friday and should have the work completed by the middle of next week. He said officials will test the new equipment before putting it into use."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says cold weather in Seattle and concerns about having Patrick Willis ready for the playoffs could lead to the 49ers giving Willis' injured hamstring additional recovery time. Maiocco: "With temperature at Qwest Field expected to be in the mid-40s with showers in the forecast, the 49ers will have to weigh the risk of playing Willis when Larry Grant has done a good job in his absence. The 49ers want Willis healthy for the playoffs." Noted: Willis returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. It's unlikely the team would rush him back into a game situation only two days after Willis returned on a limited basis. It's an upset if Willis plays Saturday.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams guard Harvey Dahl has become a bit of an online sensation after referee Jerome Boger's microphone caught Dahl using choice language while disputing a holding call Sunday. Thomas: "Although what transpired Sunday wasn't exactly what the Rams had in mind when they signed him to a four-year, $16 million free-agent contract from Atlanta on July 31, they did want an offensive lineman with toughness and attitude. And that's what Dahl has delivered this season." Noted: The call did seem pretty weak, although the replay angle I saw did not allow for a clear view of the play. Boger also made questionable calls while working the Houston-Indianapolis game Thursday night.
Also from Thomas: Sam Bradford almost certainly will not play against the Steelers in Week 16.
Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steven Jackson is looking forward to his first career game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Jackson needs 34 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Nelson: "Jackson would join elite company. The only other backs to reach the milestone seven consecutive times are Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson." Noted: Jackson figures to reach 1,000 even though the Rams face two tough run defenses to close the season. They return from Pittsburgh to face the 49ers in the final game of the regular season.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com previews the pending matchup between Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Urban: "In Green’s two games against LSU while Peterson was playing, he had three catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in a Georgia win and five for 99 and a score in a 2009 loss. This year, he already has become the Bengals’ top pass target, catching 61 passes for 1,006 yards and seven touchdowns already. Peterson, who has been hooking up against the opponents’ top receivers for a few games now, figures to shadow his former college nemesis."
Also from Urban: Calais Campbell's dominance is easy to see despite his role as a 3-4 defensive end. Urban: "Campbell is third on the Cardinals in tackles -- 65, trailing the 89 of both Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington, linebackers -- an impressive feat for any defensive lineman. He leads the team in sacks with seven. His nine passes defenses (nothing like a good knockdown at the line of scrimmage) is by far the most of any player who doesn’t play in the secondary. And his 10 tackles for loss is second only to Washington’s 13."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says he'll be "very surprised" if Kevin Kolb starts at quarterback against the Bengals even though coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't saying much.
Also from Somers: Adrian Wilson broke a recent boycott of local reporters.
More from Somers: Second-year outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield has made significant strides.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are getting big results from their big secondary. O'Neil: "Seattle has 21 interceptions this season, already its most in any season since 2004. The secondary has accounted for all but five of those picks, and of the five turnovers Seattle forced in Chicago last week, the secondary produced four of them. The Seahawks have the youngest secondary in the NFL. They might also have the most unlikely. One starting cornerback played the past four years in Canada. That would be the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner, and all he's done is become the first Seahawk since Eugene Robinson in 1991 to intercept a pass in four consecutive games. Then there's Richard Sherman, who's 6-3. He's a rookie who was catching passes up until three years ago at Stanford, not defending them."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers post-practice notes, including result from a locker room dance-off between Sherman and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. Sherman: "I am definitely claiming victory. I put a couple of things on tape that he was unable to match. He put a lot of good plays out there with the ‘wheel chair.’ He pulled out all the stops. It was an incredibly impressive effort from a 300-pounder."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Faulk had no equal as an all-around running back. Miklasz: "Of the 27 modern-era backs to reach Canton before Faulk, only six rushed for more yards: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Jim Brown. But among the 27 modern-day backs, only Smith and Payton had more yards from scrimmage than Faulk (12,279.) And this is what separates Faulk from the others: He has the most receptions (767) and the most receiving yards (6,587) of any Hall of Fame running back. Faulk, in fact, has more catches than 17 Hall of Fame wide receivers."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses how Cadillac Williams' addition will affect the Rams. Thomas: "The search for a backup to Pro Bowler Steven Jackson has been an ongoing saga for three offseasons. Because of the lockout, it spilled into training camp this year. But the addition of Williams, plus the arrival of Atlanta free agent Jerious Norwood on Tuesday, gives the Rams sudden depth and flexibility in the backfield."
Also from Thomas: Rams executive Kevin Demoff negotiates rookie salaries that are palindromes, according to Mac's Football Blog. Demoff has been doing this for at least a couple years, toying with the system.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com looks at how the team's free-agent additions will fit. On Justin Bannan: "In hopes of getting better against the run, the Rams brought in this big body to help occupy blockers. Bannan will probably be plugged right into the starting lineup as well, holding down the position next to Fred Robbins on first and second down."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about newly signed center Jonathan Goodwin: "Goodwin (6-foot-3, 318) is expected to start at center for the 49ers this season. The club appeared satisfied with the play of Adam Snyder at center through the first week of camp after David Baas left the organization to sign a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Giants. The 49ers signed Goodwin, in part, because of his familiarity with the scheme and the same blocking techniques. Now, the versatile Snyder can serve as a backup at each of the team's offensive line positions."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says rookie Aldon Smith is making a positive impression. Price: "In his first week of practices with the 49ers, Smith’s work in one-on-one pass rushing drills has been impressive so far. There, he’s flashed pass-rushing moves that utilize his propeller-like, 83 and 7/8-inch wingspan. Smith also spends time in seven-on-seven periods covering tight ends in passing routes sometimes 20 yards down the field."
Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along a transcript from 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman's interview session. Roman on working with Vernon Davis: "Tight ends are something I hold near and dear to my heart and I just love giving them tips, and we talk through things and Vernon is a very, very professionally minded guy, very impressive work ethic and loves to pick up little tidbits. It’s just something else he can add to his game, so we throw things back and forth and work on drills and we just spend a little extra time refining things. He’s a real pleasure to work with, real pleasure to work with."
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News has this to say about the 49ers' stadium plans: "To refresh your browser in terms of the 49ers’ stadium, it offers a C-shape bowl with a west-side suite tower, in a relatively tight space. To drop the bowl lower to the field, there are no club-level suites, per the request of 49ers owner John York at the project’s onset. That is intended to create a college-stadium atmosphere (although Lambeau Field’s redesign offers that, too)."
Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals deserve credit for spending wisely in free agency.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals hope guard Deuce Lutui will do a better job controlling his weight after meeting an unfriendly fate during free agency. Somers: "For the second consecutive year, Lutui has cost himself millions by failing to control his weight. It's the main reason the Cardinals didn't sign him to a multiyear deal last year. It's the reason the Bengals cut him this week after agreeing to terms on a two-year, $8 million deal. So Lutui, who is from Mesa, returned home to the team that drafted him, signing a one-year deal worth far less than the $5 million he would have made this year in Cincinnati."
Also from Somers: Veteran safety Adrian Wilson likes what he sees from rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson. Wilson: "I love the kid, honestly. His confidence level makes me confident. He knows the playbook. He knows the things we want him to do. He doesn't talk back, which is great. You can tell he's very well-rounded and he wants to be great."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com passes along a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailing a generous move by defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Horton sold for $20 a prized vehicle.
Also from Urban: Veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday shares his mindset heading into his 14th season in the NFL.
More from Urban: Will Beanie Wells bounce back from a down season? Coach Ken Whisenhunt, alluding to Wells' draft status: "You have to understand Beanie’s makeup. That was tough for Beanie. Quite frankly, he didn’t handle it as well as he probably could have, and that’s part of maturity. He’s a different player from that standpoint this year. I don’t question Beanie’s toughness. I have seen Beanie do things when he was nicked up. What Beanie has had to learn is you have to adapt to whatever you are faced with."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks at changes to the team's roster. There have been many.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times runs through a few roster moves for Seattle. The Seahwks signed Kelly Jennings, Michael Johnson, Zach Miller, Jeff Reed, Chase Reynolds and Jimmy Wilkerson. The team released Ladi Ajiboye, Wes Byrum, Michael Huey, Zac Lee and Blake Sorensen.
Also from O'Neil: a look at the Seahawks in free agency. O'Neil: "Seattle had 22 players entering unrestricted free agency, tied for second-most in the league. Seven of those free agents have been re-signed, but only defensive tackle Brandon Mebane came with what could be considered a sizeable deal."
More from O'Neil: Former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has hit the ground running in Tennessee. O'Neil: "Hasselbeck was off to Nashville without getting a chance to really say goodbye. The Seahawks took out a half-page newspaper ad on Sunday, thanking Hasselbeck, his wife Sarah and their children Annabelle, Mallory and Henry for their contributions to the community. Hasselbeck said he appreciated the gesture. During his trip east, he wrote a letter summarizing his feelings to the man who shared so many of his experiences -- both the successes and failures -- during Hasselbeck's decade with the team. That's how Hasselbeck wound up emailing Seahawks owner Paul Allen for the first time. He got a response, too."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks have interest in Viking linebacker Ben Leber, according to John Clayton.
Peyton Manning could win the award every season. There isn't a surer bet in the league. He's reached 4,000 yards passing nine times in the past 10 seasons and his teams have averaged 12.7 victories over the past seven. What more could anyone want from an MVP candidate?
Answer: another 2,000-yard rushing season from Johnson, this time with a winning record for the Tennessee Titans.
Johnson was the sixth player in NFL history to reach the milestone, but the first to do so for a team with a non-winning record. O.J. Simpson (1973), Barry Sanders (1997) Terrell Davis (1998) won MVP awards (Sanders shared his with Favre). Eric Dickerson (1984) lost out to Dan Marino. Jamal Lewis (2003) watched Manning and Steve McNair share the award. Manning beat out Johnson last season.
A look at some of the favorites heading into the 2010 season ...
Various reports have cast Bulger and Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney as potentially leaning toward retirement.
Both could have incentive to hang around until their teams release them, however. Retiring partway through a lucrative contract can invite teams to recoup some of the bonus money. Jake Plummer reportedly paid back $3.5 million in bonus money after retiring. Barry Sanders reportedly paid back $1.8 million to the Lions.
I don't know if the Rams or Seahawks would try to recoup bonus money if Bulger and Kerney retired, but precedent might be on their side. Bulger's contract still carries $6 million in prorated signing bonus money scheduled to count against future salary caps, should they exist. The total for Kerney is more than $9 million.
Both players could receive their releases this offseason if they do not retire. If that happens, neither would have to worry about repaying bonus money under any circumstances. That could provide disincentive for retirement even if both players were leaning against playing (and Kerney has subsequently said he wants to play).
Walter Jones' situation with the Seahawks is a bit different. While his salary is $7.3 million in 2010, his deal carries only $400,000 in outstanding bonus proration.
Eight of the 15 current and former players on the stage spent all or part of their careers with the Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals or 49ers. Each is actively representing the NFLPA as the league and its players head toward an uncapped year and possible lockout.
"More than anything, what I feel my role can be is educating some of these younger players," former 49ers and Seahawks running back Ricky Watters said. "I was able to do a good job of keeping my money. I have a good life and a great family. When I talk to a lot of the younger guys, they look at me as kind of the tough guy, the rebel guy, but I want them to know I was always tough and all that, but at the same time, intelligence is the whole thing."
Watters thinks too many players are living beyond their means without knowing it. As the NFL and the NFLPA head toward a possible lockout, Watters said it's important for the union to make sure players are prepared for what awaits if the league shuts down.
A quick look at the eight players and the current NFC West teams for which they play or played:
- Walt Harris, CB (49ers). Rehabbing from knee surgery and hoping to re-sign with the 49ers or play for another team.
- Watters, RB (49ers, Seahawks). Retired and living in Orlando with his wife and their 8-year-old son.
- Kevin Carter, DE (Rams). Retired.
- Ernie Conwell, TE (Rams). Retired and living in Tennessee.
- Kevin Mawae, C (Seahawks). Titans starter.
- Pete Kendall, G (Seahawks, Cardinals). Retired unless a team calls and requests his services.
- Leonard Weaver, FB (Seahawks). Eagles starter.
- Dwayne White, OL (Rams). Retired.
Former players Barry Sanders, Nolan Harrison, Ki-Jana Carter, Mike McBath, Ben Utt and Mark Bruener joined current Texans guard Chester Pitts among the 15 players.
Greg from Carlisle, Pa., writes: Hey there Mike, Jim Thorpe should probably be on any football great list. I guess it was NFL though. Jerry Rice is an all-time great, but best ever? Please! The man played with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and a great offensive line. Not to mention the great mind of Bill Walsh. Rice benefited from these tremendously. Put him on a terrible team, and he looks like a normal great receiver like an Issac Bruce.
There are more than 10 players that are better than Jerry Rice, and that is with no doubt. Probably 10 or 20 more. Of course that is only my opinion. Even a guy like Brett Favre is an all-around better player than Jerry Rice. Mark it down! Wide receivers aren't even involved in a lot of the game. Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young to make him involved. Watching Rice his last few years was painful. Best WR ever? YES. Best player ever, not even close.
Mike Sando: I think the most accurate way to put it is that Rice had the best career. Lots of factors go into that, including enjoying team success thanks to having great teammates. Rice made his quarterbacks look good, too. People questioning Kurt Warner's credentials often point out how he played with great wide receivers. I always counter by asking what those receivers ever won without Warner as their quarterback. Warner wasn't the only reason those teams won, but he was a big reason.
Rice was a big reason for the 49ers' success. We did cover some of the ground you alluded to through the comments Aeneas Williams made about what it's like playing on good teams.
James from Baytown, Texas, writes: I think Barry Sanders is the best running back of all time, because of what he accomplished and who he did it with. Now, I really don't like comparing different eras, because for one, the players' skill sets have changed and rules have changed. Like today we have defensive ends, defensive tackles and linebackers running faster than running backs. If that would have happened back then, the players would have been assumed to be taking steroids.
This is the same reason you can't compare quarterbackss from different eras. The rules are set up for a QB to stand upright in the pocket and pick a defense apart. Defensive backs can't even touch a reciever now, when back in the day, the reciever had to fight the DB all the way up the field. So, comparing the Bradys and Mannings to the Montanas and Elways would not be fair, because their eras are totally different. It's still a fun barber shop argument, though, we just love to have.
Mike Sando: Great points, James. Some have said we should look at where players ranked when they retired. For example, Steve Largent ranked first in all-time receptions when he retired. Those numbers reflected NFL history to that point. Where he ranked, not how many catches he had, should stand as the more telling indicator.
The rules changes and corresponding styles of play definitely affect production. John Elway had a career passer rating of 79.9. Brian Griese has a career passer rating of 82.7. Those figures seem comparable, but there is absolutely nothing similar about how they played, what the accomplished or what they meant to the league.
Dan from Duluth, Minn., writes: Why is Emmitt Smith not at least in the discussion? You've got Walter Payton and not Emmitt? Come on, there is more to his game than just longevity and even still you gotta give him props for being an indestructible beast at a position with a ridiculously short career span. You Cowboys haters will do anything to keep a Cowboy out of any discussion about the greatest -- apparently even exclude the NFL's all-time leading rusher. Wow.
Mike Sando: It's a positional thing to a degree. I loved the way Smith played the game and wouldn't have a problem with him being in the discussion. Remember the way he ran against the Giants in that playoff game despite a pretty serious injury? I won't forget it. Great, great player. My thinking was that Sanders, Brown and Payton were better runners, and that is why I left off Smith. Perhaps I was wrong there. The Cowboys conspiracy theory is admittedly more fun, though.
Matt from parts unknown writes: Greatest of all time? Rice surely is ... but Tim Brown's stats put him in the Carter, Harrison, Owens comment you stated.
Mike Sando: Brown was one of my favorite players to watch. I remember the touchdown he scored to win at Buffalo in 1993. Rich Stadium was such a tough place to play back then. The Bills could be dominant there. Buffalo had hammered the Raiders, 51-0, in the AFC title game after the 1990 season. Brown caught 10 passes for 183 yards in that 1993 game, a 25-24 Raiders victory. Brown provided the winning 29-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. That is one of my lasting memories of him.
Go ahead and include Brown in any discussion about all-time great receivers.
Ray from Hannibal, Mo., writes: Mike, I'm a huge Niners fan and love your blog. I don't know if you ever caught this Ralph Wiley column comparing Rice to Jordan, but it is a neat read.
Mike Sando: Thanks for that. Jordan was more dominant as a basketball player than Rice was as a football player, I think, but that also has a lot to do with the nature of their sports. Basketball definitely highlights the individual more than football. That worked against Rice because the ball wasn't in his hands all the time. Jordan probably touched the ball on the vast majority of offensive plays. He also played great defense, impractical for an NFL wide receiver.
George from Buffalo writes: How do you have a list of greatest players ever and not have the all-time sack leader on the list, Bruce Smith. What a bogus list without it!
Mike Sando: Sacks became a stat in 1980, so I would not base a list of all-time greats solely on that category. However, it's true that Smith was a great, great player.
Steve from Odenton, Md., writes: I believe Rice playing for the Niners played a large impact on being voted to so many Pro Bowls. Don't agree? Look at London Fletcher. Identical stats to Ray Lewis, but Fletcher makes one Pro Bowl as an alternate! If Ray Lewis had played for St. Louis, would he have gone to so many Pro Bowls and be in the same conversation as the best ever?
Mike Sando: Ray Lewis was much more of a force at linebacker than Fletcher, and that is no knock on Fletcher. Lewis was the heart, soul and fists for one of the NFL's all-time great defenses. He dominated games physically and emotionally. Fletcher might be underrated. He probably should have gone to more Pro Bowls. But that has nothing to do with Lewis or Rice.
Rice put up historically great numbers. Remember, too, that when he went to the Raiders late in his career, he put up big numbers for two seasons and Rich Gannon became league MVP.
Tom from parts unknown writes: Johnny Unitas had a career rating of 78.2 Was that good for that era? Even so, why is he called one of the best ever? I don't think above average play coupled with longevity should get you in the talk of best ever.
Mike Sando: See earlier item referencing Elway. And please do brush up on NFL history. Unitas topped our list of greatest quarterbacks.
Nick from Littleton, Colo., writes: Jerry Rice is great no doubt. But a better story would be how an organization can be a six-time winner of AFC championships and have only two players in the hall. The Denver Broncos have consistently, since 1976, won games and conference championships. The Chargers have seven Hall of Fame players and one AFC championship. Please help spread the word. Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Louis Wright, Steve Atwater, Floyd Little, Dennis Smith, Tom Nalen, etc. These are all great football players that get no respect. How does the best tight end ever not make the hall on the first ballot.
Mike Sando: I have written that story, Nick. Shannon Sharpe will make it in. The only question is whether it happens right away given the other players ahead of him in line.
Bob from Winter Garden, Fla., writes: Mike, I am sure that you are a bright young man and a good writer, but you quote statistics like they are indisputable proof. You should remember that statistics are for losers.What you should be thinking about when deciding who was the best ever, the proof should be who dominated the game, league, etc., more than anyone during the time that they played. There is only one answer and that is Jimmy Brown. If you had ever seen him play, you would be convinced. He was bigger, faster, stronger than any linebackers in the league. He describes his talent as "strength, power, speed, vision and balance". He is the best football player that ever lived.
Mike Sando: I do not dispute what you are saying. I offered the case for Rice while acknowledging that statistics are not everything. The basic conclusion was that it's tough to make a case against Rice.
Rice averaged 1,145 yards receiving and more than 10 total touchdowns per season -- for 20 NFL seasons.
Rice caught 69 touchdown passes -- more than the career totals for Art Monk, Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner, John Stallworth and numerous other Hall of Fame receivers -- during a five-season span ending in 1993. Rice then caught 28 touchdown passes over the next two seasons, more than half the career total for Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.
He retired holding NFL records for:
- Touchdowns (208), receiving TDs (197), receiving TDs in a season (22), consecutive games with a TD reception (13), TDs in Super Bowls (8), receiving TDs in a single Super Bowl (3) and postseason TDs (22).
- Receptions (1,549), consecutive games with a reception (274), receptions in Super Bowls (33) and postseason receptions (151).
- Receiving yards (22,895), receiving yards in a season (1,848), receiving yards in Super Bowls (589), receiving yards in a Super Bowl (215), postseason receiving yards (2,245) and seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving (14).
Rice, whose selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a formality Saturday, probably enjoyed the greatest NFL career. He was probably the greatest wide receiver despite some arguments for Don Hutson. But was he the greatest player, period?
"Oh, yeah," Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said almost reflexively during Super Bowl media day.
Woodson, perhaps mindful of history as a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, then showed he could still backpedal a bit.
The conversation might include Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Sammy Baugh, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Hutson, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders among players no longer active. And that list is probably shortchanging defensive greats such as Deacon Jones and Dick Butkus.
But Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest defensive player of the current era, didn't hesitate in singling out Rice.
"I don't know what argument you are going to make why he is not," Lewis said.
And that might be what separates Rice from the rest. There really isn't a great case against him. No one played at such a high level for as long with such grace.
"Jerry Rice doesn't rank in the all-time greats," said Saints safety Darren Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowl choice and member of the 2000s All-Decade team. "He is the greatest receiver and maybe the greatest football player of all time."
"I can't comment on eras that I didn't perform in," retired cornerback Deion Sanders said, "but the era I performed in, Jerry Rice is the best football player to play in that era."
On what grounds beyond the numbers?
"Work ethic, precision, routes, physical toughness, awareness, that hunger," Sanders said. "Jerry stayed hungry until the day he retired."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' offensive line responded to Mike Singletary's criticism. Frank Gore: "I've got to give props to my offensive line. They did a great job. I'm proud of those guys. Coach Singletary really put pressure on them all week."
Also from Crumpacker: Singletary isn't going to let the 49ers get carried away after two victories.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' defense has "eviscerated" what should be the two best offenses in the NFC West. Ratto: "As of this moment, the 49ers' defense has allowed two touchdowns and four field goals in two games and 26 possessions, and though there are mitigating circumstances in both examples (neither Arizona nor Seattle can run the ball worth a damn, and Seattle was missing 10 starters by game's end Sunday), this is still a scoreboard league. You win, you talk."
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle provides examples of Gore's conscientiousness. Knapp: "Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye heard a very different running back on the phone a week ago, waking him at 2 a.m. Gore couldn't get over the feeling of repeatedly being driven backward by the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener, of slamming his body into a wall of futility, gaining 30 yards on 22 carries." Raye: "He just wanted someone to hug, rub and lie to him."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com provides an overview of the 49ers' victory against Seattle. Shaun Hill on Gore: "I don’t think I've ever seen anything like that. Frank was running away from people. That guy ... he’s impressive."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat provides a player-by-player look at the 49ers in Week 2. On cornerback Shawntae Spencer: "Was all over fade route to [T.J.] Houshmandzadeh on third-down pass in end zone to force a Seattle FG; did another good job on Housh on another deep route later in game."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are not satisfied.
More from Maiocco: Patrick Willis defends his hit on Matt Hasselbeck.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Gore looked like he did in 2006. Barrows: "The two linemen who struggled the most in that game were left guard David Baas and right tackle Adam Snyder. In fact, Snyder platooned with newly signed Tony Pashos at right tackle throughout Sunday's game. It was Snyder, however, who was on the field for Gore's long runs. On the first, he sealed off the edge while Baas pulled on the play and delivered the block that sprang Gore. That play was a favorite in 2006 when Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator."
Also from Barrows: Jerry Rice offers says Michael Crabtree is hurting himself.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News puts Gore's performance in perspective: "He joined Barry Sanders as the only NFL running back with two touchdown runs of at least 75 yards in the same game. (Sanders went 80 and 82 yards for Detroit against Tampa Bay in 1997."
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News lists similarities -- and big differences -- between these 2-0 49ers and the successful teams of the past.
Cam Inman of the Contra Costa Times says the 49ers have moved on without Crabtree. Inman: "Crabtree is missing the start of something special. Pity the poor fool? Nope. He could be here. He could be a rich fool. He's not. He's Ferris Bueller, cavorting elsewhere while school is in session."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers coach Mike Singletary knows about missing camp during a contract dispute. He did it as a player -- twice. Singletary also ruled out any chance of the 49ers signing Michael Vick.
49ers.com provides a transcript of the answers Singletary gave to reporters' questions.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides lots of 49ers notes before concluding that the third day of training camp should be pivotal in finding out which players are tough enough to handle Singletary's regimen. Good to know. I'll be there that day.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com checks in with players as they report for training camp. Facility upgrades mean changes to the locker room. Shaun Hill had some fun with it: "Frank Gore has one of the messiest lockers in the history of lockers. So, I'm a little bit excited that I'm no longer next to Frank. But I did move one locker closer to Alex [Smith] and he has the second-messiest locker in the locker room. It is a little bit of an upgrade ... but not much."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation breaks out the dictionary to determine whether 49ers rookie receiver Michael Crabtree is holding out. I think the term is misapplied to unsigned players. We assume both sides have made contract proposals. Either side could end the stalemate by agreeing to the other side's proposal. Does anyone accuse the team of holding out? Exactly. The term is a loaded one.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo decided to hold training camp at the team's facility with an eye toward the fans. Coats: "Spagnuolo 'had the option' for the location of the Rams' camp, GM Billy Devaney said Tuesday. 'And he said, 'You know what? We need to reconnect. I understand that part of the problem around here was not connecting with the fans. At least this year for sure, we've got to stay here.' And I know it kind of went against what he's used to doing. But he gave the fan part of it a lot of importance. And that was his call. If he'd have said, 'I want to go some place [out of town],' we'd have found some place."
Also from Coats: The Rams' situation at wide receiver is wide open. Hard to imagine they'll face Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce as opponents this season.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom. Thomas: "During Croom's four-year stint as offensive coordinator in Detroit (1997-2000), the Lions earned two playoff berths and had some of the league's most productive offenses with Barry Sanders at running back (until Sanders abruptly retired before the '99 season), and Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton at wide receiver."
Also from Thomas: Rams-related thoughts during his weekly chat. Thomas: "Even with the addition of [Ronald] Curry, I think the WR position remains the biggest question mark on the team. And I seriously wonder if the Rams are even close to having enough at the position to keep defenses honest. Yes, I realize that the return to health of TE Randy McMichael helps, and that Steven Jackson is a good pass-catching at RB. But has [Donnie] Avery shown you enough to convince you that he's a legit No. 1 wideout? Can [Keenan] Burton stay healthy enough to develop into a consistent pass-catcher? Will Curry and [Laurent] Robinson show up when it counts? There are a lot of questions about this group."
VanRam of Turf Show Times suggests best- and worst-case scenarios for the Rams' offensive line. Wait, I thought the worst-case scenario was last season. Or was it 2007?
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com offers 10 tips for fans visiting Rams training camp. Klutsarits: "If you go to training camp and watch nothing else, I ask you to please watch the one-on-one pass blocking drills between the offensive and defensive lineman. That is by far the most interesting and intense work you will see during an NFL practice." Agreed.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals received their NFC championship rings Tuesday. Meanwhile, negotiations with first-round choice Beanie Wells are expected to continue Wednesday.
Also from Somers: a look at the Cardinals' secondary. Somers: "The real competition will come for the backup jobs. Rashad Johnson, a third-round pick, is going to make the team. He was drafted out of Alabama because he excelled at playing the ball and creating turnovers. Aaron Francisco and Matt Ware return. Both are solid special teams players, especially Francisco. But Francisco is due to make $1.25 million in 2009, so that could be a factor if cap space becomes a concern. It would be hard to part with Francisco, however, because of his special teams prowess."
More from Somers: Ken Whisenhunt's mindset coming off a Super Bowl defeat.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind projects locks and bubble players on the Cardinals' 53-man roster. Hard to believe Mike Gandy qualifies as a bubble player, but you never know.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com offers a tentative Seahawks depth chart heading into training camp. Look for Max Unger to rise from his third-string listing.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune suggests the Seahawks do not necessarily need a highly ranked running game to succeed. The Cardinals, though ranked 32nd in regular-season rushing yards, use
d the running game more effectively during their Super Bowl run.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck paid tribute to longtime Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson with this message via Twitter: "Jim Johnson -- one of the best Def Coordinators of all time. Ask any QB."
Mike Parker of Seahawk Addicts says Kelly Jennings must prove he belongs in the Seahawks' secondary.Adam Caplan of scout.com says the Seahawks worked out veteran offensive linemen Cory Withrow and Grey Ruegamer.
John Morgan of Field Gulls assesses the injury situation on the Seahawks' offensive line. I'll have a few more thoughts injury-wise as the day progresses.
Also from Morgan: thoughts on what those offensive line workouts might mean. Might the Seahawks need insurance at center? They might if they weren't sure Unger would sign in time for camp, or if they thought an injury might sideline another player.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines possible training camp sites for the Rams, who will not return to Concordia University this summer. Also, Steve Spagnuolo has become the first coach in St. Louis Rams history to shut out reporters from watching full minicamp practices. Every coach has his style, but the only championship coach in St. Louis Rams history -- Dick Vermeil -- was also the most accommodating. I once saw Vermeil seek out a reporter in a media workroom at an NFL owners' meeting, just to make sure a beat reporter had gotten the access he needed.
Also from Thomas: Orlando Pace would be reunited with former Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith if he took a job with the Bears.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com reports from the first day of the Cardinals' 2009 offseason conditioning program. It's a chance for new teammates to meet one another and see which ones are willing to work the hardest. New cornerback Bryant McFadden: "It develops team chemistry and team unity. It's a big part of being successful, being around in the offseason and getting to know your teammates."
Peter King of SI.com suggests Anquan Boldin's agent might be able to pressure the Cardinals into a trade through "guerrilla" tactics. King: "If the Cards think it's going to be tense with Boldin, with more problems at training camp like last year, they're going to have to think seriously of auctioning Boldin and spending the money on Karlos Dansby long-term." On the other hand, signing Dansby to a long-term deal would actually create cap room that could be used to re-sign Boldin.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat clarifies an earlier report by saying the 49ers have yet to meet with draft prospect Michael Oher. He also expects Michael Crabtree and B.J. Raji to visit the 49ers.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider watched 2007 Steelers-Chargers and Steelers-49ers tape to see how a healthy Marvel Smith handles himself. Quite ably, it turns out. As Lynch saw things, Smith often handled Shawne Merriman.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Smith grew up a Raiders fan. According to Smith, his fan allegiances vanished once he made it to the NFL.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the Cowboys listed Aug. 29 as the date for the 49ers-Cowboys game at the Cowboys' new stadium.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation sees modest upside and very little downside in the 49ers' offseason moves to date.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune provides a positional roster breakdown for the Seahawks. At receiver, he thinks Jordan Kent and Courtney Taylor could have an edge over Logan Payne and Ben Obomanu. Of the four, Obomanu enjoyed the strongest training camp last season. He spent the season on injured reserve.
Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts wonders how serious the Seahawks might be about Ken Lucas after the Chicago Sun-Times suggested Seattle might have interest. Seattle is not going to pursue Lucas with a lucrative offer, but I do think the Seahawks would sign him to a modest deal if Lucas were willing to compete for playing time.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times explains the player grading scale Seattle uses for draft prospects. O'Neil: "The Seahawks use a grading scale that ranges from 1 up through a perfect 10. However, the highest grade [general manager Tim] Ruskell's teams have ever applied is an eight, which he affixed to Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders and Troy Aikman. A rating of a 5.9 translates to a solid starter. A grade of 6 or higher is what the Seahawks equate to an impact player."