Few players dominated in the league like White

DETROIT -- Jon Runyan, an Eagles offensive tackle, stands 6-foot-7 and weighs more than 320 pounds. But when he talks about Reggie White, his voice carries a sheepish awe that belies his forceful presence in today's game.

"The first time I played him, it was like a man among boys -- he was that dominant," Runyan said earlier this season at the Eagles' facility. "He tossed me around and blasted me a couple of times with that forearm shiver."

Runyan, fearing his point hadn't been made, shivered for effect.

White is gone now. He died suddenly and tragically, on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2004. A respiratory failure related to sleep apnea took him at the age of 43.

A devout Christian, his departure on a Sunday was appropriate. And though his conservative and sometimes controversial message -- his speech to the Wisconsin state legislature in which he denounced homosexuals made national headlines in 1998 -- rankled some, there was never a question about his conviction.

White's contributions to society away from the field have been celebrated widely, but this weekend, his football prowess will be the primary focus. According to the men that vote, White will sail into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday as a first-ballot inductee.

The last two years have been marquee-rich as far as Hall of Fame talent goes. In 2004, John Elway and Barry Sanders were voted in. Last year, Dan Marino and Steve Young were honored. This year's locks are White and quarterback Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls in a span of four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

White played 15 seasons in the NFL, was named to 13 consecutive Pro Bowls and was a member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team.

Technically, White recorded the second-most sacks in NFL history, 198 with the Philadelphia Eagles (1985 to 1992), Green Bay Packers (1993 to 1998) and Carolina Panthers (2000). He retired as the Eagles' all-time sack leader (124 in 121 games) and the Packers' all-time leader, with 68½. But then there is the matter of the 23½ sacks he produced in the two seasons (1984 to '85) he was with the Memphis Showboats of the late, great United States Football League.

The 17-season total is 221.5 -- 21½ more than Bruce Smith recorded in 19 seasons. You can do the math to determine who created a bigger bang.

White, 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, left 75 different quarterbacks in his wake. The list, like Nolan Ryan's list of strikeout victims, is intriguing. The top 10: Phil Simms (15½), Neil Lomax (13), Trent Dilfer (8), Jeff Hostetler (7½), Troy Aikman (7), Tommy Kramer (6.5), Chris Miller (6½), John Elway (6½), Warren Moon (5) and Steve Pelluer (5).

Simms, now a CBS analyst, views his place in White's history with a sense of humor.

"Is that all?" he asked. "It took a real act of courage to stand in there against Reggie White. He was the best player, offense or defense, I ever played against.

"Every pass play, it was 'OK, if you do this, double Reggie. If you are going to do that, double Reggie.' That's all we talked about."

Considering the obstacles placed in White's path, the numbers are remarkable. Most often, he lined up on the left side of the defense. Beyond the right tackle, he often was confronted by a combination of tight ends and fullbacks -- sometimes all three on a single play. Today's NFL is highly specialized. Most defensive ends don't play every down the way White did. His sacks were his calling card, but White played the run with equal skill.

"I would have to put him at the top," former Giants linebacker Harry Carson said. "He always had great games against us. The size, the strength … he could run you over or use his moves to finesse you.

"Down here, we'd call him cock strong -- country strong. He was relentless."

Carson is an interesting case. He, too, is one of 15 Hall of Fame finalists who will be considered by professional football writers. Carson, who has been eligible for 13 years but passed over to this point, is on record as saying that he wants his name stricken from the list.

"It ain't all that important to me," he said wearily.

White, he said, should get in immediately.

"Outside of maybe Deacon Jones, there was no one more dominant," Carson said.

Tom Jackson, an annual candidate for the Hall of Fame, played linebacker for the Denver Broncos from 1973 to '86. He was visiting relatives in 1984 in Memphis when he got his first look at White.

"Reggie was playing for the Memphis Showboats of the USFL," Jackson remembered. "My first cousin, Brad Holmes, said, 'You've got to see this guy play.' So we went to the stadium and we watched him play. I thought to myself, 'This is the best defensive end I've ever seen.'"

Jackson's eyes grew wide as he retold the story, and his hand gripped the arm of his listener.

"Joe Greene [Steelers, 1969 to '81] was the only other guy who was comparable. The quickness, the size, the power -- he was overpowering. Domination, that's what it was. That's just the way Joe did people."

The sports archivists believe White is one of only three athletes in history to have his number retired by three teams in the same season. The other two are Wayne Gretzky and Jackie Robinson.

His biggest plays, it seemed, came in the biggest moments.

In his only Super Bowl appearance, with the Packers in XXXI, White sacked New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe three times -- a record that still stands.

"He was dominant when he had to be dominant," said former quarterback Joe Theismann, who will broadcast "Monday Night Football" next season on ESPN. "When you're a defensive lineman, and your team needs a play -- against all the obstacles in your path -- that ability places him in another category.

"He was dominant. If this man isn't a Hall of Famer, there shouldn't be a Hall of Fame."

For Simms, White's induction is not negotiable.

"Everybody in the NFL is still looking for the next Lawrence Taylor," Simms said. "You know what? They're still looking for the next Reggie White."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.