WHAT IS #NFLAnyEra?
Or, to put a finer point on it -- when Mike Ditka looks at today's player, whom does he want lining up next to him ... or across from him?
Which of today's players did our group of Hall of Famers deem really old school?
The playing days for our 20-member Hall of Fame panel spanned the '60s (Jim Brown) to the turn of the century (John Randle).
We'll present four players a day, culminating with our top four on Friday, Jan. 27.
#NFLANYERA TOP 20
WHAT THE HALL OF FAMERS SAY ABOUT PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY
KELLEN WINSLOW: You can't judge toughness over a season. ... It's doing it over and over again. Not just doing it one time. When you think about a tough player, you think of several instances where you can say, "That's a tough guy." Not just one play or game or year. It has to be the totality of their year, and you see guys like Tom Brady who do it over and over again. Brett Favre was in that category, who could have played in any era. My QB Dan Fouts falls into that category: tough leader and mentally strong and tough. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning. It's hard to evaluate a person if you're not in the huddle with him. That's when you can really evaluate a person's toughness. I'm talking about results. I don't know them or their threshold for pain. I know their mental toughness when the game is on the line.
MIKE DITKA: I don't think anybody understands his toughness. He's very smart. They create mismatches, and he knows how to use them. He uses those receivers so well. And if you're a receiver, you love to play for a guy like him. He makes you good. And he makes good players great. Wes Welker is a good player, but Tom Brady makes Wes Welker a great player.
JIM BROWN: Tom Brady is mentally tough. He has all kinds of talent and is able to work closely mentally with his coach, Bill Belichick. Brady has had the ability to work with him and to deliver their combined intelligence on the field, and I am sure he has a lot to do with potential players they would want to sign as a free agent or even draft. He makes everybody work well together. Players who succeed with him might not succeed on other teams.
RAYFIELD WRIGHT: Tom Brady reminds me a lot of Roger Staubach. He's tough, he's aware of the game and he moves around a lot in the pocket, which gives his offensive linemen a good opportunity. They know him and how he moves.
FLOYD LITTLE: He's the ultimate quarterback. You can say his name with Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino. When you talk about great quarterbacks, Tom Brady is right there, if not above that. He has become an icon and his name personifies greatness. He could have played yesterday, today, tomorrow. When you talk about quarterbacks, he's the first one that comes to mind. When you want to list the top 10 quarterbacks of all time, he's in that group. What he's done with the Patriots, I don't think can be duplicated in my lifetime. I think I'll see him at a Hall of Fame luncheon one of these days and I'll be the first one in line to shake his hand.
BRADY ON HIS TOUGHEST NFL MOMENT
For Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champ, the toughest moment of his career was not actually on the field, but dealing with not being on the field.
The toughest part was '08. We came off a great year and then you get hurt in Week 1 and you feel like you couldn't do anything to help the team. You sit on the sideline for a year and realize how much you love the game, how much you love your teammates and wish you were out there playing with them.
It's no fun being hurt. We all have stories, we all have adversities to overcome and injuries are a part of the game, but sometimes you feel like you're indestructible because you play so many in a row. To watch them, it gets pretty tough.
ESPN.COM'S JOHN CLAYTON ON BRADY
Three Super Bowl rings only partially tell the story. Like Bart Starr and most of the top championship quarterbacks, Brady displays the leadership that ranks among the best. In fact, I think of him as a taller Starr with pinpoint accuracy.
CLAYTON ON BRADY'S HALL OF FAME CHANCES: He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN
ON TWITTER #NFLNYERA
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 25, 2012
— Scott Nugent (@scott_nugent) January 25, 2012
#NFLAnyEraLove it.I think ESPN should do a version of deadliest warrior with teams from diff. eras. Put Staubach vs. Brady in 1st episode.
— MargoLipscomb (@margorenee) January 25, 2012
#NFLANYERA TOP 20
Additional reporting by ESPN The Magazine's Morty Ain, Louise Cornetta, Amy Parlapiano and Alyssa Roenigk.