Every other division has at least two great players that jump out at you. That’s not the case for the NFC South. You try it, quick, name the best player ever to play for the Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, or Falcons.
The Panthers are one of the youngest teams in the league, and I think Steve Smith may currently stand as the best player in franchise history. Smith, though has been hampered by bad quarterbacking and the occasional nagging injury. Either way, he’s still active and thus disqualified. Sam Mills gets honorable mention for being a small beast at middle linebacker for the first three years of the Panthers existence. Mills, a Jersey guy, also spent 9 years leading the Saints “Dome Patrol” linebacker core, before joining the Panthers, however the Saints played in the NFC West prior to the 2002 realignment.
Mills passed away in 2005 after a battle with intestinal cancer and there is a statue of him outside Bank of America stadium. New rule: if you have you’re own statue, you are in this discussion.
Speaking of the Saints I’m going to zoom by Archie Manning. Would he be historically regarded as a much better quarterback if he were on much better teams? Maybe, but he’s not the only player that’s ever been bitten by the bad teammates bug, Steven Jackson leaps to mind. One Manning nugget that I wasn’t aware of was that he was replaced as the Saints starter in ’82 by the aging Ken Stabler. Stabler, by the way was left off my list of great Raiders for no other reason than I can be an idiot some times.
Either way, Archie may go down as the third best quarterback in his family so he’s out of contention.
Any other Saints you want to throw in here? I’d pick Aaron Brooks, Deuce McAllister, and Joe Horn for the memorable fantasy year of 2002, but I choked that championship away and I’m still bitter.
Iron Head? Good name for a division, not a great player. Now you want to talk about Willie Roaf? That we can do. Playing left tackle, Roaf was selected for the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 90’s and the 2000’s to go along with 11 Pro Bowl selections (4 with the Chiefs). I don’t enjoy saying Roaf as much as I enjoy saying Nitschke, but I do enjoy saying Roaf nonetheless.
I’m not dismissing Roaf just yet, but I am moving on to the Falcons. Don’t worry, I won’t be spending too much time here. During my research for this I kept coming across the name Tommy Nobis. I had never heard of him, but apparently he was big in Atlanta back in the day. Nobis was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 60’s, won Defensive Rookie of the Year in ’66 and went to 5 Pro Bowls as a middle linebacker. He’s even got his own foundation.
I honestly can’t say how good he was, but he may be the greatest Falcon ever. From what I’ve seen during my life, that distinction would have to go to Deion Sanders, but he played as many years for the Cowboys as he did with the Falcons, all before the divisional realignment when the Falcons were in the NFC West. Falcons fans may argue Jessie Tuggle for longevity’s sake, but I’m not a Falcon fan, so I won’t argue that.
Alas, we wind up with the Buccaneers. Is it possible that the greatest player in the history of this division will come from one of the historically worst teams in sports history? I remember back when they still had the orange creamsicle colored uniforms, there was a stat that they would have to go undefeated for something like 15 years in a row just to get their franchise to have an all-time .500 record. There are players who either started careers in Tampa Bay and went on to have success elsewhere (Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer?) as well as players that were great elsewhere and finished their careers in Tampa (Randall McDaniel).
There are players that have had memorable fantasy seasons, (Good: Errict Rhett in ’95, Bad: Keyshawn’s 1 TD year in ’01) and there are great players from the early years, Lee Roy Selmon and Ricky Bell. Selmon, a defensive end, was the 1st overall pick in the ’76 Draft and the 1st player selected in team history. He went on to win the Defensive Player of the Year award in ’79. Bell, a running back, was picked 1st overall in the ’77 draft ahead of Tony Dorsett. More importantly to me is that his brother fronted this band. You can take a break and go dance, I understand.
Back? Good, that brings us to the guys that turned the Buccaneers around. John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, and Warren Sapp. Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn were there, but they didn’t anchor one of the most dominating defenses the league has ever seen. How do you pick one out of the three? I eliminate Lynch right away, because there have been at least five better safeties in league history. I suppose the same could be said about Derrick Brooks and linebackers, but he was the brains of the operation and the operation was very successful. Part of me doesn’t want to say this for some reason, but the best Buccaneer ever might just be Warren Sapp. 96.5 sacks as a defensive tackle? Ridiculous. It was his constant pressure up front that allowed everything else on the Cover 2 defense to take place and eventually lead this team to a Super Bowl win in ’02. I also enjoyed his career immensely, because the Jets were nice enough to pass on him in the ’95 NFL Draft in favor of Kyle Brady.
Am I renaming the NFC South after him? I’m actually not sure. I need help on this one, mainly because it’s a tough choice and I need some opinions from people that may have seen Tommy Nobis play. I leave it to you, dear readers: