Welcome to the second installment of Sportscasting’s 10-part series, “The 101 Greatest NFL Players by Uniform Number.”
For those who may have missed the first installment, what we’re doing here is exactly what it sounds like. As there have been 101 NFL seasons played and 101 different numbers worn in that time (0, 00, 1-99), we’re simply putting together a list of the best players to wear each, and from now until the start of the 2021 NFL season, we’ll release a new list of 10. Easy enough, right?
Last week, we kicked things off with a list of 11 as we looked at the best NFL players to wear Nos. 00-9, and we continue this week with Nos. 10-19.
No. 10: Fran Tarkenton
Coming in at No. 10 is Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who played 18 NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. Tarkenton played 246 regular-season games over the course of his career and completed 57% of his passes for 47,003 yards with 342 touchdowns against 266 interceptions, also adding 32 scores on the ground. Named the 1975 NFL MVP, Tarkenton was also a nine-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro selection, and he has his No. 10 retired in Minnesota.
No. 11: Larry Fitzgerald
Easily one of the greatest wide receivers of his generation (or any other for that matter), Larry Fitzgerald, who has played his entire 17-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, is the easy choice at No. 11. In 263 regular-season games with the Cardinals, Fitzgerald has caught 1,432 passes (second all-time) for 17,492 yards (second all-time) with 121 touchdowns (sixth all-time). He’s an 11-time Pro Bowler, was a three-time All-Pro selection, and was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2016.
No. 12: Tom Brady
Many great quarterbacks throughout NFL history have worn No. 12. Terry Bradshaw. Bob Griese. Jim Kelly. Joe Namath. Aaron Rodgers. Ken Stabler. Roger Staubach. And if we had to pick from one of those for this list, we’d honestly have some trouble. Luckily, we don’t have to make that choice as seven-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady is the easy pick at No. 12.
About to enter his 22nd season, his second with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 with the New England Patriots, Brady has thrown for 79,204 yards (second all-time) in 301 regular-season games with 581 touchdowns (first all-time) against just 191 interceptions, adding 12,449 yards and 83 touchdowns in 45 postseason games. In addition to being a three-time NFL MVP, TB12 is a 14-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro selection, a four-time passing touchdowns leader, a three-time passing yards leader, and a two-time passer rating leader.
No. 13: Dan Marino
Considered by many to be the greatest quarterback in NFL history to never win a Super Bowl (some consider him the greatest quarterback in history overall), Dan Marino, who played his entire 17-year career with the Miami Dolphins, is the easy call at No. 13. In 242 regular-season games for the Fins, Marino completed 59.4% of his passes for 61,361 yards (sixth all-time) with 420 touchdowns (sixth all-time) against 252 interceptions. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, a five-time passing yards leader, and a three-time passing touchdowns leader, and he was named the 1984 NFL MVP.
No. 14: Don Hutson
Green Bay Packers legend Don Hutson may not be a well-known name to some, but he’s one of the best all-around players in NFL history and is our choice at No. 14. Essentially the first great wideout in NFL history, Hutson, who played 11 seasons in Green Bay, led the league in receiving touchdowns nine times, led in receptions eight times, and led in receiving yards on seven occasions. He was a three-time NFL champion, a two-time NFL MVP, and an eight-time All-Pro selection. His 99 receiving touchdowns stood as the most in NFL history for 44 years until his record was broken by Steve Largent in 1989.
But Hutson wasn’t just a star on offense as he played defensive back for the Packers for a few seasons as well, recording 30 interceptions over the course of his career. He also served as Green Bay’s kicker for parts of nine seasons and made 94% of his extra-point attempts.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a football player.
No. 15: Bart Starr
We’ll keep with the Packers theme at No. 15 with Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, who was a five-time NFL champion, led Green Bay to victory in the first two Super Bowls, and was named the MVP of each. In 16 seasons with the Packers, Starr was a four-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro selection, a five-time passer rating leader, and the 1966 NFL MVP.
No. 16: Joe Montana
Yet another easy call was our choice at No. 16: four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana, who played 13 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before finishing his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 192 regular-season games over the course of his 15-year career, Montana completed 63.2% of his passes for 40,551 yards with 273 touchdowns against 139 interceptions. He was a two-time NFL MVP, an eight-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro selection, a two-time passing touchdowns leader, a two-time passer rating leader, and a five-time completion percentage leader, and he was named MVP in three of his four Super Bowl wins.
No. 17: Philip Rivers
Coming in at No. 17 is recently-retired quarterback Philip Rivers, who played the first 16 years of his NFL career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers before finishing up his career with one season for the Indianapolis Colts. In 244 regular-season games, he completed 64.9% of his passes for 63,440 yards (fifth all-time) with 421 touchdowns (fifth all-time) against 209 interceptions. While Rivers surprisingly never managed to make an All-Pro team, he was a nine-time Pro Bowler and led the league in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passer rating one time each.
No. 18: Peyton Manning
l know this is sounding a little redundant, but we’ve got another easy call at No. 18 with two-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning, who played his first 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and his final four with the Denver Broncos. In 266 regular-season games, he completed 65.3% of his passes for 71,940 yards (third all-time) with 539 touchdowns (third all-time) against 251 interceptions and added 7,339 yards and 40 touchdowns in the postseason.
Manning was a five-time NFL MVP (first all-time), a 14-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro selection, a four-time passing touchdowns leader, a three-time passer rating leader, a three-time passing yards leader, and a two-time completion percentage leader. His No. 18 is retired by both teams.
No. 19: Johnny Unitas
Closing out our list today is the great Johnny Unitas at No. 19. Still considered by some as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Unitas played the first 17 years of his Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts, with whom he won three NFL titles and a Super Bowl, before spending the final year of his career with the Chargers.
In 211 regular-season games over 18 seasons, he completed 54.6% of his passes for 40,239 yards with 290 touchdowns against 253 interceptions. Unitas was a three-time NFL MVP, a 10-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, a four-time passing yards leader, a four-time passing touchdowns leader, a two-time passer rating leader, and a one-time completion percentage leader.
We’ll see you next time for Nos. 20-29.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference