Welcome to the ninth installment of Sportscasting’s 10-part series, “The 101 Greatest NFL Players by Uniform Number.”
For those just joining us, what we’ve been doing here the last couple of months is exactly what the title says we’ve been doing. As there have been 101 NFL seasons played and 101 different numbers worn in that time (00, 0, 1-99), we’ve been naming the best player to wear each. So if you’ve missed our selections for Nos. 00-79 or just want a reminder, here you go.
Naturally, we continue this week with our choices for Nos. 80-89. Enjoy.
No. 80: Jerry Rice
One of the easiest calls on this entire list — not just this portion — was our selection at No. 80, Jerry Rice, who is easily the greatest wide receiver of all time and arguably the greatest player in NFL history. Taken with the 16th overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft out of Mississippi Valley State, Rice played the first 16 seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he won three Super Bowls. He then played parts of four seasons with the Oakland Raiders before finishing his career with the Seattle Seahawks.
In 303 regular-season games over the course of his career, Rice caught 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns, all of which are NFL records, and added 151 receptions for 2,245 yards and 22 touchdowns in 29 postseason appearances. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler, an 11-time All-Pro selection, a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year award winner, and was named the MVP of Super Bowl 23.
No. 81: Dick “Night Train” Lane
We looked at Rice’s former Niners teammate, Terrell Owens, as well as legendary defensive end Carl Eller for the No. 81 slot. In the end, however, we chose Hall of Fame defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane, who played 14 NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and Detroit Lions.
Lane was one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs in NFL history but certainly also knew how to pick off a pass. His 14 interceptions as a rookie in 1952 still stand for the most in a single NFL season. Over the course of his career, Lane recorded 68 interceptions, the fourth-most in NFL history, and was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection.
No. 82: Raymond Berry
Our choice at No. 82 is wide receiver Raymond Berry, who spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Baltimore Colts. Taken in the 20th round of the 1956 NFL Draft, Berry became Johnny Unitas’ favorite target and caught 631 passes for 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns in 154 regular-season games, which were incredible numbers for that era. He was a two-time NFL champion, a six-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro selection, a three-time receiving yards leader, a three-time receptions leader, and a two-time receiving touchdowns leader.
No. 83: Ted Hendricks
Our selection at No. 83 is Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, who played 15 NFL seasons with the Baltimore Colts, Green Bay Packers, and Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. A two-time All-American at the University of Miami, where the 6-foot-7-incher earned the nickname “The Mad Stork,” Hendricks was the 15th overall pick in the 1969 NFL Draft and won four Super Bowls. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro selection, and was a member of both the 75th and 100th NFL Anniversary All-Time Teams.
No. 84: Randy Moss
The fact that Randy Moss wore a number other than No. 84 during a few of the most productive years of his career and still gets this slot only proves how great he truly was. Over the course of his 14-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers, he caught 982 passes (15th all-time) for 15,292 yards (fourth all-time) and 156 touchdowns (second all-time) in 2018 regular-season games.
Moss was a six-time Pro Bowler, a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection, and a five-time receiving touchdowns leader.
No. 85: Jack Youngblood
We considered several players at No. 85, including Chad Johnson and Antonio Gates, but it was hard to pass up legendary defensive end Jack Youngblood, who played his entire 14-year NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams. Youngblood, who played with a fractured left fibula during the postseason while helping the Rams to Super Bowl 14, recorded 151.5 sacks in his career, the sixth-most in NFL history, was a seven-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection, and a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year.
No. 86: Buck Buchanan
An NAIA All-American at Grambling State, 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound defensive tackle Buck Buchanan was the 265th pick in the 1963 NFL Draft by the New York Giants and the No. 1 pick in that year’s AFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Buchanan signed with the Chiefs and played 13 years with the franchise, helping them to an upset victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl 4. He was a two-time AFL champion, a six-time AFL All-Star, a six-time First-Team All-AFL selection, a two-time Pro Bowler, and a one-time All-Pro selection.
No. 87: Rob Gronkowski
No. 87 was one of the toughest calls of this portion of the list. Longtime Green Bay Packers defensive end Willie Davis was considered, as was former Indianapolis Colts wideout Reggie Wayne. But after a lot of back and forth, we chose Rob Gronkowski, who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history.
After winning three Super Bowls in nine seasons with the New England Patriots, he reunited with Tom Brady and won a fourth in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over the course of his 10-year career, Gronk has caught 566 passes for 8,484 yards and 86 touchdowns in 131 regular-season games and another 89 for 1,273 yards and 14 TDs in 20 postseason games. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler and a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection.
No. 88: Alan Page
While we looked at several Hall of Fame wide receivers at No. 88, including Marvin Harrison, Michael Irvin, and Lynn Swann, we instead went the defensive route and chose Hall of Fame tackle Alan Page, who played 15 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
The 15th pick in the 1967 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame, Page helped the Vikings to an NFL title in 1969 and became the first defensive player to ever win NFL MVP in 1971, the same year he won the first of two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a nine-time All-Pro selection, and actually helped build the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, where he was enshrined in 1988.
In retirement, he was an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018. And, somehow, he can’t get the blue verification checkmark on Twitter.
No. 89: Gino Marchetti
No. 89 was another difficult choice as we took long looks at the likes of Mike Ditka and John Mackey before settling on Gino Marchetti, who was once called the greatest defensive end in NFL history by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Marchetti was taken in the second round of the 1952 NFL Draft out of San Francisco by the New York Yanks, who became the Dallas Texans during his rookie year. When the Texans folded, the team’s assets were awarded to the new Baltimore Colts franchise, with whom Marchetti spent the remainder of his 14-year NFL career.
In those 14 seasons, he was a two-time NFL champion, an 11-time Pro Bowler, and a 10-time All-Pro selection.
We’ll see you next time as we wrap up the series with the best to wear Nos. 90-99.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference