NFL Nation: John Hannah
But as the game has grown, rules have changed. Much of the emphasis has been on player safety, with quarterbacks and other offensive players increasingly afforded greater protection.
Reaction to the changes has been mixed. To some, it's part of a natural evolution toward a faster-paced, speed-based game. To others, football has shifted away from its roots as a physical sport.
Given the chance to be NFL commissioner for a day, which rule would you change?
That's the question we asked several Pro Football Hall of Famers at the Hall's inaugural Fan Fest in Cleveland in May. From stars of the 1960s to players who earned their gold jackets playing a more modern version of football, there was no shortage of opinions about how to change the game -- even some you wouldn't expect.
"Well, I'd put the head slap back in," former defensive lineman Carl Eller cracked.
Eller, a member of the Minnesota Vikings' famed "Purple People Eaters" of the early 1970s, took a more serious note when he offered a popular commentary about the modern NFL: It's becoming too much of an offensive game.
Here are more proposed rule changes and thoughts from Hall of Famers in our latest NFL Nation Says:
Contributing: Coley Harvey, Pat McManamon and Michael C. Wright.
-- Steelers DB Rod Woodson, Class of 2009
-- Patriots G John Hannah, Class of 1991
-- Vikings G Randall McDaniel, Class of 2009
-- Redskins LB Chris Hanburger, Class of 2011
-- Packers LB Dave Robinson, Class of 2013
-- Vikings DE Carl Eller, Class of 2004
-- Lions CB Lem Barney, Class of 1992
-- Bills RB Thurman Thomas, Class of 2007
Contributing: Coley Harvey, Pat McManamon, Michael C. Wright
At the inaugural NFL Hall of Fame Fan Fest in Cleveland in May, ESPN.com caught up with several Hall of Famers who shared a variety of opinions on whether they would encourage their children or grandchildren to play football, considering the concussion risk.
It's a topic that's been discussed from youth football parents to President Barack Obama, who said if he had a son he wouldn't let him play pro football.
Despite the rule changes the NFL has made in recent years to eliminate the types of violent collisions that can cause concussions, and despite the league's push for teaching youth coaches “heads-up” tackling techniques, some former players still have their reservations about letting their grandkids play the game.
“I'd rather for them to be a doctor or lawyers,” Cowboys Hall of Fame offensive tackle Rayfield Wright said.
Not all of the Hall of Famers shared Wright's sentiments. Here are more thoughts from others when asked if they would want their youngest relatives to play the game that made them legends:
-- New England Patriots G John Hannah, Class of 1991
-- Minnesota Vikings DE Carl Eller, Class of 2004
-- Dallas Cowboys OT Rayfield Wright, Class of 2006
-- Green Bay Packers LB Dave Robinson, Class of 2013
-- Minnesota Vikings G Randall McDaniel, Class of 2009
-- Pittsburgh Steelers DB Rod Woodson, Class of 2009
-- Buffalo Bills RB Thurman Thomas, Class of 2007
Contributing: Mike Rodak, Michael C. Wright, Pat McManamonContributing: Mike Rodak, Michael C. Wright and Pat McManamon
“You didn’t sleep easy the night before, hoping you get to play against Larry Allen,” Madden said. “They knew it. There’s no pro football player that has a fear of another guy that plays on that level, but he was so doggone strong and there wasn’t much you could do against him.”
Allen will be the 14th Cowboy inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, and Madden, a Hall of Famer himself, can’t wait to see him in Canton, Ohio. He shares northern California ties with Allen and got to know him over the years.
Madden remembers Joe Greene praising Allen, even if Greene never played against him. He recalls the respect Reggie White had for Allen. And he remembers the words coaches like Mike Holmgren and George Seifert had for Allen.
Even Allen’s teammates were amazed at what he could do.
“When Nate Newton played he came in at 300 pounds, and that was a number that you didn’t want to exceed,” Madden said. “I remember those days because I coached and those 300-pound guys would be 299, and Nate always fought his weight. He said he always had to be under 300 pounds and he said, ‘Then this Larry Allen comes in and he weighs 330 pounds and they’re all bragging about it. They never let me weigh 330 pounds, and then we got this guy and I saw him and he was a different 330 pounds than I (had) ever seen.’”
What made Allen so great?
“He had everything,” Madden said. “That was the thing he had. He had strength and knew how to use it. There are a lot of guys that have strength and power and don’t use it. There are other guys that don’t have it and go and get beat. He was the type of guy that could use it at the line of scrimmage and use that in space. He could pull and get at defensive back downfield and he could block at the point of attack and pass protect. That’s what makes a great player. You don’t say he had one thing. He had everything.”
Allen made offensive line play cool, and few were cooler or better than Allen, according to Madden.
“He has to rank right up there at the top,” Madden said. “I think you have to go by the ones you’ve seen, and I’ve always put John Hanna up there as that guy. I had Gene Upshaw and he’s a Hall of Fame guard, and I put Larry Allen right there with that group. There was never a question with me whether or not he was a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the all-time great NFL players at his position, and you could make an argument that he’s the best, but you’d have to wrestle some other guys for it.”
As expected, no AFC East players made the top 10 because all of the big names already had been revealed. Some New England Patriots fans probably would argue about their three-time champion quarterback being listed 21st compared to a certain Indianapolis Colts quarterback being eighth.
Here's the rundown of players from the AFC East (with the fan ranking):
- 20 (6). Brett Favre, Jets quarterback
- 21 (20). Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback
- 24 (--). John Hannah, Patriots guard
- 25 (7). Dan Marino, Dolphins quarterback
- 31 (33). Bruce Smith, Bills defensive end
- 40 (44). O.J. Simpson, Bills running back
- 49 (--). Mike Haynes, Patriots cornerback
- 61 (31). LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets running back
- 65 (24). Randy Moss, Patriots receiver
- 100 (42). Joe Namath, Jets quarterback
What do you think of the list?
Who is missing? Who is overrated? Who isn't high enough?
Reviewing the list made me think back to a phone call I had with Moss two summers ago. In addition to forecasting better offensive numbers in 2009 than the Patriots posted in their record-breaking 2007 season, Moss proclaimed himself the greatest receiver -- and maybe player -- in NFL history.
"I'm the best wide receiver of all-time, hands down," Moss told me.
"I don't really like to judge people or other athletes. I know what I'm able to do on the field, but the things I'm able to do to dictate how a defense plays the game, I don't think there's no other receiver but myself and Jerry Rice to be able to do that."
Moss later added: "To hell with wide receiver. I think I go down as one of the greatest players to ever play this game."
The NFL Network rated Rice as the greatest player of all-time and Don Hutson ninth. Moss was ranked the third-best receiver on the list.
"What I chose to do this year was go to people who opposed Russ. I don't mean the voters, I mean the people who played and coached against him," said Elfin. "Because if they had good things to say, that would be more decisive than anything [Joe Bugel] or [Joe] Gibbs or anybody on the Redskins could say.
"And Randy White said that Russ Grimm was one of the best guards he ever faced. Bill Parcells said that Mike Munchak was the only one that he's ever seen in his time who was better than Russ -- and he was on the Patriots when they had John Hannah.
"Harry Carson said that Russ always gave him a headache and was the glue that held the Hogs together. And Matt Millen said basically that he was the smartest offensive lineman he had ever seen. So that was the basic gist. Those four people, I think, were pretty decisive."Terl also asked Elfin to talk about who's next for the Redskins in the Hall of Fame:
"For me, if you wanted to name Redskins who are deserving, Chris Hanburger is number one," says Elfin. "Nine Pro Bowls, there's no question. I would say Len Hauss is second, with, like, seven Pro Bowls. And then you'd probably throw [Dave] Butz into the group with Jake and Pat Fischer and Larry Brown and ... off the top of my head, those'd be the lead guys."The one name missing from that group in my mind is wide receiver Gary Clark. Who's next in your minds? As hard as this is to believe, defensive end Dexter Manley only went to one Pro Bowl. But he was named to the All-Pro team twice and had 103.5 sacks. That sack total is higher than Charles Haley's. Defensive end Charles Mann went to four Pro Bowls but he only finished with 83 career sacks, 82 with the Redskins. But he did play on three Super Bowl-winning teams.
Joe DeLamielleure is considered a football student of the highest order.
He estimates he has visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame a dozen times before he was inducted in 2003. Conversations with him are sprinkled with obscure trivia questions and name dropping that demonstrates a humbling knowledge.
He also is a vocal advocate for retired players in need of financial assistance, waging war against NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw.
DeLamielleure has passionate opinions and backs them up.
So people ought to listen when the sensational pulling guard for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns declares Andre Tippett was a better outside linebacker than Lawrence Taylor.
Tippett, who recorded 100 sacks for the New England Patriots, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.
"I thought he was better all around," DeLamielleure told ESPN.com by phone from Canton. "A lot of guys thought he was better.
"He played the run better than Lawrence Taylor. They never asked Lawrence Taylor to put his hand down on the ground. Lawrence Taylor was just a standup rusher.
"I always said if Tippett would have put his hand down on the ground every down, he probably would have been one of the top rushing defensive ends to ever play."
DeLamielleure was a member of the Electric Company, the gang who blocked for O.J. Simpson. Their coach was Jim Ringo, another Hall of Famer.
DeLamielleure said Ringo, a position coach for four Hall of Fame linemen, shared his belief Tippett was the best.
"Think of how many sacks Tippett had, and he always had a tight end on his side," DeLamielleure said. "He played the strong side. Lawrence Taylor was a weak-side linebacker."
Not surprisingly, DeLamielleure had a couple other names to push for induction. The first was his football role model, former Miami Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg, a finalist each of the past five years.
"John Hannah and I both looked at him when we were younger and said 'That's the guy we want to be like,' and we're in the Hall of Fame and he isn't," DeLamielleure said. "Strange."
Another oversight in DeLamielleure's mind is former New York Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko.
"He made the Pro Bowl as a nose guard, as a defensive tackle and as a defensive end," DeLamielleure said.
"Think about that."