Many readers have traveled to Keystone, South Dakota, to visit Mount Rushmore, one of the most popular national monuments in the United States. The huge sculpture, depicting the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, designed by Gutson Borglum and finished by Chief Carver Luigi del Bianco, was completed in 1941. The four presidents were chosen to represent the progress of our nation as we traversed the first 130 years of our republic.
A recent parody of the iconic Rushmore image posted on social media caught my attention this week. I have seen famous (and infamous) foursomes being photo-shopped onto the faces of our venerated quartet before, but never before had the Old Coach seen one that represented four historically great NFL quarterbacks. When I relayed my findings to my sports buddies, we started speculating on our own candidates for the top four in many of the most popular sports. Realizing that this could be a discussion bonanza, we decided to just take one category at a time. (When you’re old like us, sometimes it’s hard to stay on topic.)
We had a lot of fun with the exercise, so I’ll share some of the results that we came up with in one of the categories. Maybe that will inspire you to start a discussion with some of your sports pals with your own “(sport) Mount Rushmore.”
Harold “Red” Grange
Grange, who played for the Chicago Bears from 1925 through 1934, was the first of the great running backs to play in the National Football League during its formative years. He was a football pioneer whose offensive dominance helped make the fledgling National Football League popular. Think of him as the George Washington of the NFL.
Brown played for the NFL champion Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. He was big, fast, athletic and durable. He played in an era when rushing the ball was the primary offensive strategy. Defenses were focused on stopping him, but he was able to pound out important yardage, sometimes carrying more than 30 times a game. He was a three-time NFL MVP. Liken him to Teddy of the Bull Moose Party.
Walter “Sweetness” Payton
Payton, who played for the Chicago Bears for 13 seasons (long for a running back) during the 1970s and 1980s, was the complete running back. He had both speed and toughness. He was an outstanding blocker and was one of the best receivers among all NFL running backs. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. Very Jefferson-like in his versatility.
During the 1990s, Sanders played behind a Detroit Lions offensive line that was not very good, yet he still managed to average 1,500 yards for 10 seasons in a row, creating many of his yards due to his own effort. He was maybe the most elusive of any NFL running back, able to change direction and create a hole where none existed. He led the NFL in rushing four times. Like “Old Abe,” he was able to do great things without a great supporting cast.
Of course, there are several other running backs worthy of a mountain carving: Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys has three Super Bowl rings and the most rushing yards in NFL history to show for his efforts. Extremely durable, he only missed 14 games in his 15-year career; LaDainian Tomlinson, who spent his career playing for the San Diego Chargers, is noted for the most points scored in a season by a non-kicker and the first to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in a season. Earl Campbell of the Houston Oilers and later New Orleans Saints, was a load to tackle and provided more highlight runs as he ran through a half dozen tacklers on his way to some unbelievable TD jaunts.
It’s always fun and fruitless to debate the merits of players from different eras. Depending on your age, you have your own fond memories of players that you witnessed do amazing feats, either in person or on TV. For me, I like to put more stock in a player’s longevity. It takes more effort to perform at a high level year after year. Those players, like Adrian Peterson, that stay in top playing shape despite their age, are equally “Rush More” worthy.
I also tend to favor running backs who are complete players and can contribute to the team effort by run-and-pass blocking, carrying out fakes, and catching passes. Being able to get the necessary yardage needed in critical situations should also be rewarded heavily. And, as is always the case with the Old Coach, I admire smaller running backs who are still highly productive despite their size.
Styles of play have changed so dramatically over the 100-year history of the NFL that one doesn’t really know if a Red Grange could even make an NFL roster today, much less excel. The days of “3 yards and a cloud of dust” have evolved into spread offenses and West Coast passing games requiring different skills than the early days of the game. Year-round training, better nutrition, safer equipment and medical technology all have contributed to football players being more adept at the modern game. But one must also respect the toughness, both mental and physical, that early players had to have in a day when they were playing mostly for pride, their team and love of the game, not for a multi-million dollar contract.
If you can come up with your own Mount “Rush More,” don’t hesitate to share your choices with the Old Coach. Opinions are welcome. Yours are as good as mine.