Welcome to the sixth installment of Sportscasting’s 10-part series, “The 101 Greatest NFL Players by Uniform Number.”
For those who haven’t followed along for the first half of the series, what we’re doing here is exactly what it sounds like. At this point in time, there have been 101 NFL seasons played and 101 different numbers (00, 0, 1-99) have been used in that time. So we’re simply naming the best player to wear each. Every Thursday from now until the start of the 2021 NFL season, which begins on September 9, we’ll release the latest portion of the list.
For those who may have missed the first five installments or for those returning and just want a quick reminder on the players who best wore Nos. 00-49, here you go:
Naturally, we continue today with the best to wear Nos. 50-59 and we sure hope you’re ready for some linebackers.
No. 50: Mike Singletary
A two-time consensus All-American at Baylor and the last defensive player to win the Davey O’Brien Award (which he did twice) before it became a quarterback-only award, Mike Singletary was taken in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears and played his entire 12-year NFL career in the Windy City, a career in which he missed only two games.
Singletary was a 10-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and was the leader of Buddy Ryan’s vaunted “46” defense that helped the famed 1985 Bears to a 15-1 record and a win in Super Bowl 20.
No. 51: Dick Butkus
Yet another legendary Chicago Bears linebacker is up next as the great Dick Butkus is the easy choice at No. 51.
A two-time consensus All-American at the University of Illinois, Butkus was taken by the Bears with the third pick in the 1965 NFL draft, one spot ahead of Gale Sayers. And like Sayers, Butkus may not have had the longest career but he certainly made the most of it. In nine seasons in the Windy City, he was an eight-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
No. 52: Ray Lewis
Taken with the 26th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft, Ray Lewis spent his entire 17-year NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens and was the face of the franchise pretty much that whole time.
Over the course of his Hall of Famer career, he recorded 2,059 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, and 31 interceptions. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro selection, a three-time tackles leader, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and was only the second linebacker to be named Super Bowl MVP.
No. 53: Harry Carson
Despite playing second fiddle to Lawrence Taylor for the majority of his career, our choice at No. 53, Harry Carson was a great linebacker for the New York Giants in his own right.
A fourth-round pick out of South Carolina State in the 1976 NFL draft, Carson played his entire 13-year career with the Giants and was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro selection, and helped New York to a Super Bowl title following the 1986 season, a year in which he popularized the Gatorade bath.
No. 54: Randy White
We looked at a number of solid candidates for the No. 54 slot, including another Bears linebacker in Brian Urlacher. But in the end, we chose to go with Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White, who played 14 years for the Dallas Cowboys from 1975 to 1988.
White was a two-time All-American and a Lombardi Award winner at the University of Maryland and was taken by the Cowboys with the second overall pick of the 1975 NFL draft. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a nine-time All-Pro selection, and was named co-MVP of Super Bowl 12.
No. 55: Junior Seau
The 1989 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year at USC, Junior Seau was taken with the fifth overall pick of the 1990 NFL draft and spent the first 13 years of his career with the San Diego Chargers. He then played three seasons with the Miami Dolphins and closed out his career by playing four seasons for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Seau recorded 1,847 tackles over the course of his 20-year career, including 56.5 sacks, and was a 12-time Pro Bowler, a nine-time All-Pro selection, and was once named Defensive Player of the Year.
No. 56: Lawrence Taylor
Considered by many to be the greatest defensive player in NFL history, legendary New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the easy call at No. 56. Taken with the second overall pick of the 1981 NFL draft, Taylor became (and still is) the only player in history to win Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie. And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he won it a second time in his second season. LT won DPOY a third time in 1986, the year he also led the Giants to a Super Bowl title, and also became only the second defensive player to win NFL MVP.
Over the course of his 13-year career, Taylor was a 10-time Pro Bowler and a 10-time All-Pro selection. His 142 sacks are good for ninth on the all-time list.
No. 57: Dwight Stephenson
No. 57 was probably the toughest call we had to make on this portion of the list as we highly considered longtime New Orleans Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson for this slot. But just edging him out is arguably the greatest center of his generation, Dwight Stephenson, who spent his entire eight-year career with the Miami Dolphins.
Taken in the second round of the 1980 NFL draft out of Alabama, Stephenson was literally the centerpiece of an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league for six consecutive seasons. The man who snapped the ball to Dan Marino in the early years of his career was a five-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro selection.
No. 58: Jack Lambert
A highly important member of the vaunted defense that helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls in six seasons, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert is our pick at No. 58.
A second-round pick in the 1974 NFL draft out of Kent State, Lambert played all 11 of his NFL seasons in Pittsburgh and was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, and was once named Defensive Player of the Year.
No. 59: Jack Ham
Fun fact: Jack Ham is the only player in NFL history to have worn No. 59 to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he certainly earned that honor. A second-round pick in the 1971 NFL draft out of Penn State, Ham played his entire 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and he and Lambert were a devasting combination. Like Lambert, Ham obviously won four Super Bowl titles and was also an eight-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time All-Pro selection.
We’ll see you next week for Nos. 60-69.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference