EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Earlier this week, Miami Heat forward LeBron James made it clear that he intends to land on the NBA version of Mount Rushmore before his playing days are over.
Which is to say James believes he will be one of the four greatest players in league history, placing him next to Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. He's probably right. Barring major injuries, James absolutely has a chance to go down as one of the best ever.
Like anything, though, comparing players in any sport across eras is an inexact and difficult science. So when I set about trying to come up with a Rams version of Mount Rushmore, I figured it'd be a little easier than doing one for the entire sport.
I was wrong.
If I limited the choices to strictly the team's history in St. Louis, things would be a little easier. Quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, tackle Orlando Pace and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are the only real options. Cutting one of them would be difficult but not as difficult as choosing four from the franchise's rich history.
Alas, I gave it my best to come up with four deserving players and attempted to balance the Los Angeles greats with the St. Louis legends and simply come up with the best quartet possible.
Ultimately, my opinion is that the Rams' history has been best defined by two phenomenal eras, one on offense and one on defense. That's the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis and the Fearsome Foursome in Los Angeles. To me, that means both sides should be equally represented here.
Without further ado, here's my version of the Rams' Mt. Rushmore. I'd love to hear your answers in the comments.
No. 1 -- DE Deacon Jones
This one is an absolute no-brainer. The Hall of Famer was one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL and served as the face (and mouthpiece) of the Fearsome Foursome. Had Jones played in the modern era, he likely would have gone down as one of sport's biggest superstars. A case can be made for different names in each of the next three spots but this is one that shouldn't even be up for consideration.
No. 2 -- DT Merlin Olsen
In many ways, Jones' larger than life presence overshadowed the unadulterated greatness of Olsen. But for as much as Jones benefited from playing alongside Olsen, the opposite was equally true. Olsen went to the Pro Bowl a record 14 times, missing it a grand total of one time in his career. The Fearsome Foursome was great because it featured a quartet of dominant players, but Olsen and Jones were two of the most dominant defensive players of that or any era. I also considered Jack Youngblood for this spot as a way of spacing out the history of the franchise but Olsen's credentials are just too good to ignore.
No. 3 -- RB Marshall Faulk
This is where things get difficult. When I started looking at this, I knew immediately that a running back had to make the list. The choice comes down to Faulk or Eric Dickerson. Certainly, an argument could be made for Dickerson, who had the most prolific rushing season in league history with the Rams in 1984. And Dickerson had more rushing yards as a Ram than Faulk in a shorter period of time with the team.
Tipping the scales in Faulk's favor were two factors impossible to overlook: First, he was the key cog to taking the Rams to a world championship and his ability as a receiver and pass blocker were unlike any back that came before him, Dickerson included. Faulk's 470 catches for 4,071 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns with the Rams dwarfs Dickerson's 123, 912 and two.
No. 4 -- QB Kurt Warner
For the record, I changed the name in this spot multiple times before going with my first instinct here with Warner. The nature of Warner's journey is an irreplaceable element in the ultimate story of the Rams franchise. His rise from little-known Arena League quarterback to two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion is not only one of the great stories in Rams history but also the NFL.
Compared to the rest of the list, the sample size is small as Warner's star only shined for three seasons in St. Louis. Because of that, I gave strong consideration to longtime Rams mainstays such as Bruce, Jackie Slater and Pace. Ultimately, Warner's meteoric three years were too good and too important to the organization's history to leave out.
Honorable Mention: Bruce, Dickerson, Pace, Jackie Slater, Elroy Hirsch, Norm Van Brocklin, Dick Vermeil, Bob Waterfield, Youngblood.