(Peyton Manning will be missed by many when he’s gone, Courtesy Getty Images)
I’ve started to notice the emotion that players are feeling as they approach the end of their times playing for fans. Eric Weddle has been a notable example. With San Diego rumored to relocate, Weddle has been outwardly emotional with fans and the organization. He has stayed after to sign autographs and just spend more time at Qualcomm.
Charles Woodson is one of those players who I’ve noticed has become more sentimental as the season progresses. One of the best players from my generation, Woodson is finishing his career where it all began in Oakland, California. As a legendary Raider and Packer, Woodson has been one of the best defensive players of all time. This season, news organizations all over have paid close attention to the swan song season of his.
So now I’m thinking. This is the first time it has dawned on me that some guys that have been playing for the entirety of my NFL fandom are starting to retire or decline. Some of these guys I am more emotionally attached to than others.
Sure I’ve seen all-time greats retire before like Brett Favre, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Terrell Owens. I’ve seen guys who may not be the best ever but who will always stick in my mind. Guys like Brian Urlacher, Torry Holt, Bob Sanders, and Tedy Bruschi. I can name loads more but that list will expand.
Sure us younger sportswriters may not have seen Joe Montana or Lawrence Taylor in their careers but every era has its household names.
There are plenty of guys still in the NFL as of the 2015 regular season, that will have be remembered for at least the next few years. I’d like to take a look at some of them and what they have meant to me.
There is a whole slew of quarterbacks playing in the NFL right now who will slowly, one after the other be leaving the league.
The obvious first one is Peyton Manning who has followed the sad decline that we have seen with Tiger Woods in the world of golf. Manning has one Super Bowl ring on his hand when he beat the Chicago Bears in 2007. Peyton helped to create legendary receivers in Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. He has been a face of the league since the late 90’s.
Peyton Manning will be in the conversation for top 5 quarterback all time for years to come but truthfully, he needs to leave. He has never been a particularly thrilling quarterback off the field and is more noticeably advertised in recent years with Papa John’s and Nationwide. As for his on-field abilities, he has cozied up to Denver’s fans but Brock Osweiler is sneaking in to become the short-term franchise guy.
Following Manning will be the cluster that I have adored for so long. Drew Brees. Tom Brady. Tony Romo. Carson Palmer….
Fortunately these guys have been playing at such a high level, they may be around longer than we expect. There is a distinct difference between these four and the Matt Hasselbecks and Ryan Fitzpatricks who we have seen for the last decade or so but are not in the elite category that houses the big guys.
Carson Palmer is playing lights-out and arguably better this year than he ever did with Cincinnati (even ’05).
Tony Romo had a short season due to injury this year but has been one of the most underrated quarterbacks of the last decade.
He has gotten media flak for most of his career. Given the attention his buddy Terrell Owens got for the duration of his time in Dallas (and really everywhere), I’m confused how Romo was so hated. He still has a few years left in him but it’s a name that has always been there and was never given enough credit. When he’s gone you might not notice for a while, but it’ll be odd not hearing his name.
Drew Brees is a guy who I really respect and was one of the players that brought me into football. As I have mentioned a few times, I am a Saints fan and I started getting into football around 2004/2005 which was the end of the Aaron Brooks era in New Orleans. Brees was one of the first passers to consistently post huge passing yard numbers and has also won the Super Bowl once in his career (against Peyton’s Colts no less).
Watching Drew Brees play has been truly a gift and hopefully he keeps his word and continues to produce when he says he can play until he’s 45.
Lastly, Tom Terrific. I am stunned that Marvel Comics hasn’t made a series dedicated to the man who I believe currently stands as the best quarterback, maybe best player, of all time.
He has played with dozens of rotations of offensive skill players. From the best of the best in Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski to the reception magnets of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, Tom Brady has been the guy to beat throughout his entire career.
Four Super Bowl victories and 12 playoff appearances help Brady’s continued success in the NFL. Tom Brady holds the record for most wins with a single team with 172 and has dozens of accolades to his name throughout his football career.
One of the most interesting things about Tom Brady is the way he is vilified by the media. He has hit a point of success that is unmatched and thus the New England Patriots have been under a microscope for years. If Tom Brady ever slips up everyone is all over him. He has achieved stardom that is up there with any other icon.
When Brady retires, we can only hope another quarterback will rise up and run the NFL in a similar manner, but boy are those tough shoes to fill.
Enough about quarterbacks. I apologize if this article is too quarterback heavy but those are the big name guys. Here are a few that I think deserve to be brought up because of what they have given fans in their careers.
The ground-and-pound running back has always been a viable asset to good offenses in football. In recent times, however, the dual-threat back has seen a rise in value with guys who can run and catch.
However, in his lower 30s and maybe gone before we know it is one of the premier triple-threat running backs. Darren Sproles has been a bit of a journeyman in his career and never was a featured back.
He began in San Diego where he played in the backfield with LT. He then went to New Orleans to fill the gap left by Reggie Bush. Now Sproles is part of a confusing committee in Philadelphia.
Throughout his career, he has represented a pass-catching back that offers a returning threat as well. If he plays for one more team before he retires, that’ll give that fan base the opportunity to experience the unique talent that is, Darren Sproles.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships. What does special teams do? Well Special teams can make or break a game.
When you think of the best return man of all time, there is a good chance two names come up. One of those is defensive superstar and return legend Deion Sanders. The other is 21st century return specialist who doubled as a wide receiver… Devin Hester.
Hester played most of his career with the Chicago Bears. He was a kick returner, punt returner, and wide receiver for the Bears for many seasons before recently becoming a Falcon.
His best season came in 2007 when he had 6 return touchdowns and caught his first career offensive TD. Hester was a very important role in the Bears aforementioned Super Bowl run. Hester also holds many NFL and franchise records in all sorts of return category.
Devin Hester has been one of the best special teams players of all time and although he is in Atlanta, Chicago locals along with NFL fans will surely miss 23 when he retires.
Another guy who has done wonders for the special teams unit in his time is Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri scored the winning points in Super Bowl XXXVI and XXXVIII with the Patriots becoming the first player to ever do so. He also holds many postseason points and field goal records.
Vinatieri brought attention the kicker position after his continued Super Bowl successes with the Pats and Colts. He represented an X factor that was often forgotten when comparing opposing teams.
The Honorable Mentions
Finally, a couple of guys I remember watching growing up that I’m not going to go into too much detail on because they weren’t quite as revolutionary..
Dwight Freeney- Defensive lineman for the Colts and an anchor of their defense through the mid-2000s
Antonio Gates- Chargers tight end who was one of the first breakout tight ends of the 21st century
Greg Jennings- Packers wide receiver through the Favre and Rodgers eras.
DeAngelo Williams- Panthers running back who never really seemed to slow down
Have any players that are hitting the tail end of their careers and you want to reminisce on? Feel free to contact me in the forums or on Twitter @CoachKochman.