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Tuesday, October 29, 2002
Updated: November 4, 7:08 PM ET
Greatest NFL records

From the Page 2 mailbag

Earlier this week, Page 2 listed its choices for the 10 greatest NFL records of all time. We thought our readers should have a say, so we opened it up for discussion in this week's List.

We received more than 875 letters on the topic, and here's how our readers ranked the top 10 greatest records in NFL history. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the most distinguished football record of all time.

1. Jerry Rice -- career TDs (185 letters)
Jerry Rice's 198 touchdowns (and counting) is a record that will not soon be broken by any non-quarterback. For anyone to even come close to No. 80's mark, three rare factors must all come together in a person. First, the player must play at a sustained high level for 15-plus seasons. Playing 15 NFL seasons is an impressive feat in itself for a running back or wide receiver. In the annals of NFL history, only a handful of players managed to survive that long about whom it can be said that their physical skill suffered little noticeable drop-off from year five to year 15 of their careers.

Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice just keeps going, and going, and going ...
Second, the player must stay healthy. While playing for 15-plus years implies a fairly healthy career to a certain extent and is at least evidence of the good fortune of avoiding a career ending or career altering injury, the Fred Taylors of the world will never break this type of record, regardless of how many years they remain on an NFL roster. Playing a high percentage of the team's games is critical.

Third, in order for a player to even sniff Jerry's ever-increasing threshold for offensive excellence, they must be part of a highly productive offense for the bulk of their careers. While the free agency era has allowed for the player mobility that might enable a star player to escape a sinking franchise, the salary cap has gone a long way toward ending the glory days of team dynasties.

The 49ers were the exception to the rule, in large part because they were blessed to have two different Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks starting every game for the better part of two decades. Even the greatest and healthiest superstar is dependent on the supporting cast and coaching staff. It doesn't get much better than Joe Montana, Roger Craig, John Taylor, Steve Young and Terrell Owens. And having offensive innovators such as Bill Walsh, George Siefert, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren and Steve Mariucci running the show doesn't hurt either! The chances of all of these planets aligning are so slim that I would bet Jerry's record (wherever it may end!) will be safe for many years to come.
James Peyster
Washington

You got one of Jerry Rice's records, but I don't understand how you can eliminate Jerry's all-time touchdown record of 198 and counting as one of the great records of all time. The fact that he's a wide receiver and isn't guaranteed 20 to 30 touches like Emmitt Smith or Walter "Sweetness" Payton makes the accomplishment all the more sweet. Rice scores a TD every 7.55 times he touches the ball compared with every 27.38 times for Smith.
David Garrett
Atlanta

2. Brett Favre -- consecutive starts as a QB (122 letters)
Brett Favre has amazed everyone with his durability. 164 straight games started -- that's more than the length of a full baseball season! Not one person on the Cincinnati Reds played in all 162 games this year. That's just baseball.

Michael Strahan
Brett Favre takes a beating every outing, but that doesn't keep him away from his next start.
Brett holds one of sports' greatest accomplishments. For a quarterback who gets beat up every game the way he does, to start every game for a team for more than 10 straight years -- that's incredible! Not only has he done it for the length of time, but the level of play he brings for every game is remarkable. He has thrown for more than 3,000 yards each of the past 10 seasons. Another record he holds that may never be broken.

Through every injury he has suffered in his career, he has worked his way through all of them and gone out and battled week in and week out. There is no limit to what you can say about this guy.
Jeremy Roell
Batesville, Ind.

Even the "throwback" players with whom he is compared never came close. Cal Ripken and his streak, unimaginable and insurmountable as it is, never had Warren Sapp attacking him on the diamond. In a day when Steve Spurrier crumples up his quarterbacks and throws them aside with the unnerving casualness of a genocidal dictator ... when the man-beasts on the other side of the line are futuristic and fantastical in their capabilities, one man has stuck his hands under butts, game in and game out, season after season, with the unflinching care-free calm of a koala sipping a martini and with the enthusiasm and naive charisma of a kid who just won a fantasy camp raffle to start an NFL game.

My grandkids will know Favre's name more than Montana or Marino, Elway or Unitas. Favre's streak does more than any quantitative yards or TD statistic. It defies all logic and throws the basic underpinnings of the NFL environment into a whole new orbit.
Matt
Washington

Sure, the NFL record for consecutive games played is almost twice as Favre's current 162 games (and counting), but Favre has done it at the most vulnerable position in sports -- the quarterback.

The recent trend indicates quarterbacks rarely make it through an entire season taking all of his team's respective snaps. With the exception of only four games (including the Pack's most recent game) during his streak, Favre has taken every snap of every game (less the fourth-quarter blowout kill-the-clock games). Toughness can only be summed up in one word: Favre.

With quarterbacks being replaced with a new "flavor of the week" more than ever, Favre's streak will never be broken.
Travis Lavin
San Jose, Calif.

3. Dan Marino -- single season passing for TDs (78 letters)
Of Dan Marino's records, the one that seems most out of reach is 48 touchdowns in one season. That's averaging three a game, every single week!

His career total for passing yards could be broken by Favre in five or six years, and his single season total for passing yards could be broken this year by Rich Gannon or Drew Bledsoe.

The closest anyone came to 48 was Kurt Warner in his "sold my soul to the devil" season -- and he still came up short. I don't see 48 being touched anytime soon.
Jeff Nelson
Milwaukee

Dan Marino
Ben Roethlisberger could learn plenty from Dan Marino.
It's Barry Bonds 73, Wayne Gretzky's 92, and Wilt Chamberlain's 50 per game -- and even more amazing when you consider it beat the prior record of 36 by a full 33 percent! That it didn't make your top 10 is a crime, it's never once been in jeopardy.
Shaun
Boston

Brett Favre acknowledged this impressive feat in an interview a few years ago as the hardest to break. He said that if he threw "only" two TD passes one week ... then he'd have to throw four the next week just to keep pace. The only QB to really threaten that mark was Kurt Warner, and with the balance the Rams achieve with a great runner (and scorer) such as Marshall Faulk there is no way that the current Rams offense will challenge Marino's mark no matter how kamikaze Mike Martz goes on his pass play calling.
David Jacobs
Atlanta

4. Emmitt Smith -- career rushing yards (59 letters)
Emmitt's rushing record. By far. You don't get lucky and win a rushing record ... you don't have one good year. Instead, you get hit on every play, whether you are running the ball or not. This record shows true grit, endurance and toughness.

Wide receivers don't pass block. Quarterbacks don't get pounded on every snap. Kickers don't ... well ... play. Outside of the linemen, the backs take the most damage, and for Emmitt to last this long is remarkable.

Emmitt Smith
Emmitt Smith will keep updating one of the NFL's most treasured records.
Those of you who say he is a product of great lines haven't watched the Cowboys in the last five years, all years where Emmitt has run behind a mediocre line at best, still attaining more than 1,000 yards each year.

Maybe not the best running back ever, as there are too many intangibles to decipher, but certainly one of the best ever.
Brad
Normal, Ill.

I have finally cracked because of the publishing of every sports website, sports magazine, and sportswriter stirring up the debate of best running back. Enough with all of this speculation! Emmitt Smith deserves the distinction. Of course, this takes nothing away from Walter Payton, but records are made to be broken. Sure, Barry Sanders was quick and exciting, Jim Brown was a yard-gaining stud, but love for the game can only bring an individual this record. Smith passed the greatest running back ever to become the greatest running back ever.

Emmitt Smith will retire some day, and some other young stud will see an impressive five-figured number with Smith's name attached to it, and he may beat it. Until then, I say congratulations to Smith, who has run for more yards than any other running back in NFL history, period.
Jeff
Pittsburgh

First of all, Gary Andersen has no business being in your top 10. The fact that he achieved regular season perfection is great. But wouldn't he be more greatly regarded if we could trade one regular season kick for the one, last-minute-would-be-NFC-championship-clinching blunder? I think a Denver-Minnesota Super Bowl would have been way more fun to watch, and much less heartbreaking for all of the fans who watched Andersen blow the Vikes' chances in his "perfect" season.

That said, Smith's record gets the nod. Everything great in football is personified by a running back. Tough, durable, fast, deceiving, relentless, and most of all, exciting. Over the course of his career there have been running backs who have been better in a smaller window of time, but Emmitt had staying power. He took the licks and kept getting up. Many people hit more home runs than Hank Aaron over a short period of time, the same is true for Smith. He has shelf life.

The essence of a career record is in going to work every day, chipping away at it little by little, going for that extra yard, keeping the legs moving and having a never-quit attitude. Running football models all of these qualities over passing football. A running game doesn't look for a big play, it looks for many little ones that add up. Thirteen seasons have added up to greatness. Passing Payton is something to be noted, say ... as the most sought after record on the books.

Otherwise, wouldn't we be praising Dan Marino as the best ever?
Jeff Begin
Minnetonka, Minn.

5. Jerry Rice -- career receiving yards (57 letters)
Because the most important statistic behind receiving yards is yards after catch, which is almost solely a reflection of that receiver's ability. All of the other records stated have a larger factor relying on outside forces.

A kicker relies on an offense to get them within the range of his kicking ability. Kudos to Andersen for his kicking talent, but a lot of his success rested upon the success of that Vikings offense of 1998.

The QB relies on the ability of his receivers and benefits from YAC. Also important is the protection he receives from the offensive line.

Running backs benefit greatly from having good offensive lines as well.

The Paul Hornung record is tough to compare because in the NFL now, it is highly unlikely to have a kicker in a situation to also score TDs. He would have to get my second vote.

Rice, as you noted has crushed the second-place holder of most receiving yards by about 30 percent, unlike the most points in a season which is only higher by 12 points.
Daniel Keesey
Philadelphia

Jerry Rice
The numbers don't lie: Jerry Rice is the best receiver of all time.
Jerry Rice moved the sticks as reliably as any running back, he is undoubtedly the best receiver of all time. He's the only one of your record holders to actually be the best and thus, make the record meaningful.

Barry Sanders could have Payton's record. Emmitt Smith is classy, but he and Ricky Watters could trade places and careers all too easily.

Jim Marshall didn't get seriously hurt. That's not a record -- it's luck.

Gary Andersen kicked in a dome. Haven't you noticed these "great" kickers avoid grass outdoor fields. It's like pitchers in Colorado. I'd take Ryan Longwell or Jason Elam over Andersen any day.

Streaks aren't records, they're streaks. Sorry Johnny U.

Single season records hold a lot of value. The career records are interesting, but don't match up to a guy who captured lightning in a bottle for one season. That's a mark of greatness.

Being the best of all time for one moment not being second best for the longest. So, put Eric Dickerson in the two spot for rushing yards in a single season and Dan Marino in the three hole for passing yards in single season.
Will Stone
Topeka, Kan.

6. Johnny Unitas -- consecutive game TD passing (39 letters)
This is really football's equivalent of DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak -- another record that will never be broken.

Johnny Unitas
Death, taxes and Johnny Unitas' TD tosses.
Career yardage records come and go, and often require longevity rather than skill. (Remember, Fran Tarkenton used to have the career passing yardage record). With more games in the season, season records become easier to break. Unitas' record does not rely on any of these external factors. To break it involves an amazing amount of consistency and skill, the reason why it's the longest lasting record on your list, and probably the only one that will never be broken.
Jason Tebbe
Champaign, Ill.

Far and away, Johnny Unitas' 47 consecutive games of TD connections is the most impressive. In the ultimate team sport, Unitas' record helped to lead the Colts to two championships. Not only that, the record has stood now for over 40 years and is in no imminent danger of being broken.

While Emmitt Smith may have the rushing title, his record is tainted. If Barry Sanders hadn't retired, we would have been talking about whether or not he was better than Jim Brown or Walter Payton.
Mark Lachin
Nashville

7. Jim Brown -- yards per carry (35 letters)
Giving a man the ball and consistently landing second down and five nearly every time is more valuable than any other record on this list.

How can you rate this lower than Emmitt? Emmitt had the benefit of one of the best offensive lines in history for most of his career, along with a QB and WR that kept defenses on their heels. Barry would have 22,000 yards by now if he had that line. Look at what Emmitt has done without the line, Troy and Irvin ... exactly ... nothing.
Eric Gibbs
Phoenix

Jim Brown has got to get the nod for the best stat of all time. He averaged 5 yards every time he touched the ball! And you would think that after teams figured out he was good and put eight or nine in the box, he would be neutralized. But he kept plugging away. No one will ever approach this level of dominance again in the NFL.
Chris Dalton
Norman, Okla.

8. John Elway -- career wins (33 letters)
The one and only job of a quarterback (or a football player for that matter) is to win games. That's it. Supporting players provide stats. Offensive lines helped Emmitt Smith get where he is. Joe Montana was helped to success with all the talent he had around him, including Bill Walsh. But for years Elway played with no one and still managed to claim win after win ... not to mention he took three under-achieving teams to the Super Bowl.
Sean Thompson
Overland Park, Kan

If Cy Young is so strongly recognized for being the winningest pitcher in the history of baseball, then John Elway should be recognized for being the winningest quarterback of all time. Any true athlete will tell you that winning is more important than any other statistic, so why then is the winningest quarterback not recognized on your list? John Elway is a winner, and nobody won like he won, or did it as often as he did ... 148 times.
Matt Newbold Columbia, S.C.

9. Paul Hornung -- single season points (30 letters)
I would have to vote for Paul Hornung's 176 points scored in a season. Since he played 12 games that works out to 14.67 points a game.

Paul Hornung
Bet you nobody comes close to breaking Paul Hornung's record for many years.
Currently the pathetic Bengals, the inept New York Giants, the defunct Cowboys, and the Carolina Pussycats are all averaging less than the 14.67 points a game that Hornung did. Also the expansion Texans are averaging just 14.9 points a game so they could drop below that mark. Truly an amazing record and the era of less offense and shorter seasons just makes it that much better. Truly Amazing.
Alex Baldwin
Mitchell, S.D.

While Unitas' 47 games with a TD pass is the most unlikely record to ever be broken, eclipsing Hornung's mark for points in a season is virtually impossible. Even if a kicker were able to kick a record number of 40 field goals in one season, (Olindo Mare's record is 39) he would still need 57 extra points to get to 177. No team could have that many (117) total FG and TD scoring drives in one season. Hornung was the last skill player (halfback) to double as a prolific placekicking specialist, which puts the record out of reach. (Unless Marshall Faulk adds a 2-point conversion after every one of his touchdowns!) Hornung averaged nearly 15 points a game, or 2.5 TDs in every game! Unreal.
Sean Boardman
Westbrook, Conn.

10. Gary Anderson -- FG kicking percentage (29 letters)
Perfection. Impossible (until he did it) in professional sports. There were many poor holds on those kicks (check film) but he made adjustments and still hit. Also, most importantly, the pressure he was under-many game winners that year, and also when he got towards the end of the season knowing he was perfect and still converted EVERY kick. This has got to be, from an athletic performance and pressure standpoint, the greatest record ever. IT WILL NEVER BE BROKEN - what does that say in itself?!
Mark Pronio
Shenandoah, Pa.

Gary Anderson's perfect season is truly unbelievable. Anyone who can march onto a field 94 times over days, weeks and months to do their job and trot off knowing they have done it perfectly every time is truly amazing. Unlike the majority of the other options that rely heavily on the talent of others on the team and God given athleticism, Gary Anderson's feat could only be completed with his preparedness and strong focus. Truly a role model for our children ...
Mike Carr
Minneapolis

Gary Anderson does not even deserve consideration on such a list. Sure he was perfect during the regular season, but he missed the most important field goal ever on a very disturbing day in Minnesota Vikings football history. As a avid Vikes fan, I will never forget his record OR the big miss that really mattered.
Robert Braun
Appleton, Wisc.