Welcome to the fourth installment of Sportscasting’s 10-part series, “The 101 Greatest NFL Players by Uniform Number.”
For those who’ve missed the first three pieces of the series, what we’re doing here is exactly what the title suggests. As there have been 101 different numbers (0, 00, 1-99) used over the course of the 101 NFL seasons played, we’re simply naming the best player to wear each. Every Thursday from now until the start of the 2021 NFL season, which begins Thursday, September 9, we’ll release a new portion of the list. Easy enough, right?
We kicked things off with a list of 11 in looking at the greatest players to wear Nos. 00-9 and have since looked at the best to wear Nos. 10-19 and Nos. 20-29. And we naturally continue on today with the greatest to wear Nos. 30-39.
No. 30: Terrell Davis
We begin our latest list with Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis, who spent his entire seven-year pro career with the Denver Broncos. While his career was unfortunately cut short due to injuries, Davis certainly made the most of his time in the NFL. In just 78 regular-season games, he rushed for 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns, 56 of those coming in his first four seasons, the most in NFL history.
And he was even better in the postseason, rushing for 1,140 yards and a dozen scores, eight of those coming in the postseason following the 1997 campaign, including three in Super Bowl 32, where he was named MVP. Davis won NFL MVP in 1998, a season in which he rushed for 2,008 yards, the sixth-most in league history.
No. 31: Jim Taylor
Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor, who played nine of his 10 NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, is our choice at No. 31. He was the first back in history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in five consecutive seasons, and it’s no coincidence that his five selections to the Pro Bowl came in those same five seasons from 1960 to 1964.
Taylor was also the only back to beat out Jim Brown for a rushing title during Brown’s career, doing so in his NFL MVP season of 1962 when he ran for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns. He finished his career with 8,597 rushing yards and 83 rushing touchdowns, which are still good for 17th on the all-time list. Taylor was a six-time All-Pro selection, a four-time NFL champion, and helped the Packers to a win in Super Bowl 1. He played the 10th and final season of his career with the New Orleans Saints.
No. 32: Jim Brown
lt should come as no surprise that Jim Brown is our selection at No. 32 with the stat we gave you above, but we did take quick looks at a couple of other Hall of Fame running backs that wore the number, specifically O.J. Simpson, Franco Harris, and Marcus Allen. But given Brown’s dominance, it was an easy call to make.
In nine NFL seasons, all with the Cleveland Browns, Brown, as mentioned, won eight rushing titles and was also a nine-time Pro Bowler, a nine-time All-Pro selection, and helped the Browns to an NFL title in 1965. He still sits in 11th place on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list with 12,312 and sixth on the all-time rushing touchdowns list with 106.
No. 33: Sammy Baugh
As he’s still considered by many to be the greatest all-around player in NFL history, Sammy Baugh is the easy call at No. 33. Baugh spent his entire 16-year career in Washington and was the true definition of an ironman player.
As a quarterback, he threw for 21,886 yards and 187 touchdowns and held every major passing record when he retired following the 1952 season. As a defensive back, he recorded 31 interceptions, including a league-leading 11 in 1943 alone. Baugh also led the NFL in punting average five times, including a 51.4-yard average that still stands as an NFL record to this very day. He was a two-time NFL champion, a two-time NFL Player of the Year, a six-time Pro Bowler, and an eight-time All-Pro selection.
No. 34: Walter Payton
Yet another easy call to make is our pick at No. 34, Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, who spent his entire 13-year career with the Chicago Bears. Payton rushed for at least 1,000 yards in 10 of those 13 seasons and ended his career with 16,726 yards, at the time the most in NFL history. “Sweetness” still sits on second on the all-time NFL rushing yards list behind only Emmitt Smith. He also sits in fifth place on the all-time rushing touchdowns list with 110 and also holds the fifth-best single-game rushing total with a 275-yard performance against the Minnesota Vikings in 1977.
Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, the 1977 NFL MVP, and helped the Bears to a Super Bowl win following their famous 15-1 campaign in 1985. While Payton was the clear call here, we do have to at least mention Earl Campbell and Thurman Thomas.
No. 35: Pete Pihos
No. 35 was the toughest call to make on this portion of the list, and we came very close to giving the slot to eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro defensive back, Aeneas Williams. But after careful consideration, we gave the nod to Pete Pihos, who was the best receiver of his era and played his entire nine-year NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
From 1947 to 1955, Pihos was a six-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro selection, a three-time receptions leader, a two-time receiving yards leader, a one-time receiving touchdowns leader, a two-time NFL champion, and missed just one game his entire career.
No. 36: Jerome Bettis
Jerome Bettis, who spent the first three years of his Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams before playing a decade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the easy call at No. 36. “The Bus” carried the ball 3,479 times, the fifth-most in NFL history, and ended his career with 13,662 yards, good for eighth on the all-time list.
He was a six-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro selection, and helped the Steelers to a win in Super Bowl 40 in his hometown of Detroit in the final game of his career.
No. 37: Rodney Harrison
We seriously considered Detroit Lions legend Doak Walker for the No. 37 slot, but, in the end, we went with safety Rodney Harrison, who played 15 seasons with the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots. Harrison was the first player in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions and also had seven picks in nine postseason games, including two for the Pats in Super Bowl 39 against the Philadelphia Eagles, one of Harrison’s two Super Bowl wins.
He was a two-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro selection, and was named to both the Chargers’ and Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Teams.
No. 38: Arnie Herber
Considered by many to be one of the first great quarterbacks in NFL history, Arnie Herber is our choice at No. 38. Herber played the first 11 years of his career with the Green Bay Packers from 1930 to 1940 and then suited up for the New York Giants in 1944 and 1945. He was a four-time NFL champion, a three-time All-Pro selection, a three-time passing yards leader, and a three-time passing touchdowns leader.
No. 39: Larry Csonka
We’ve got one more Hall of Fame running back for you to close things out as Larry Csonka, who played eight seasons with the Miami Dolphins and three with the New York Giants, is our final choice of this portion of the list at No. 39. Csonka was a power back who helped the ‘Fins to back-to-back Super Bowl titles, the first of which came following their undefeated 1972 season. He was named MVP of the second after rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings in Super Bowl 8. Csonka was also a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro.
We’ll be back next week with Nos. 40-49.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference