BOSTON — IN picking an all-time team for this year's National Football League 75th anniversary celebration, voters allowed themselves the luxury of selecting 25 offensive players, 20 defensive players, four specialists, and even a 19-member Two-Way Team that salutes the stars of a simpler (mostly pre-1950s) era. The committee of journalists and NFL executives organized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to select the team had to make some tough choices even so.
Despite picking seven running backs, Eric Dickerson is excluded, even though his name is among the most prominent in the league's rushing records. His 1984 total of 2,105 rushing yards is unmatched, for example. And although the committee generously named four quarterbacks, it left off Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, and Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw can match all-timer Joe Montana with his four Super Bowl rings. Shouldn't championships be the gauge of a quarterback's worth?
The NFL uses a statistical yardstick that sheds some light on athletic brilliance. Its passer-rating system is too complex to fully explain here, but the formula factors in percentage of touchdown passes, completions, interceptions per passing attempt, and average yards per attempt.
The ratings clearly identify Joe Montana as having the best season-long passing performance (112.4 points in 1989, when he threw 26 touchdowns and completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 3,521 yards with only 2.1 percent of his tosses intercepted). But the presence of Johnny Unitas and Otto Graham on the all-time team is not confirmed by their ratings.
Neither player ever had a 100-point seasonal rating, a feat achieved 19 times. Bradshaw also failed to join this exclusive fraternity.
Here's the 75th Anniversary NFL All-Time Team roster, in alphabetical order.
Quarterbacks: Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas.
Running backs: Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Bronko Nagurski, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Steve Van Buren.
Wide receivers: Lance Alworth, Raymond Berry, Don Hutson, Jerry Rice.
Tight ends: Mike Ditka, Kellen Winslow.
Tackles: Roosevelt Brown, Forrest Gregg, Anthony Munoz.
Guards: John Hannah, Jim Parker, Gene Upshaw.
Centers: Mel Hein, Mike Webster.
Ends: Deacon Jones, Gino Marchetti, Reggie White.
Tackles: Joe Greene, Bob Lilly, Merlin Olsen.
Linebackers: Dick Butkus, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ray Nitschke, Lawrence Taylor.
Cornerbacks: Mel Blount, Mike Haynes, Dick (Night Train) Lane, Rod Woodson.
Safeties: Ken Houston, Ronnie Lott, Larry Wilson.
Punter: Ray Guy.
Kicker: Jan Stenerud.
Punt returner: Billy Johnson.
Kickoff returner: Gale Sayers.