MANHATTAN, July 29, 2013 — Football is about more than dedication. It is about inspiration, getting men to be better than themselves when it matters most. Many lists contain the greatest NFL legends and the most fun characters. This is a list of NFL personalities who may have been both of those or neither. They are simply the most inspiring, often due to their deeds unrelated to the football field.
With that, here are the 16 most inspiring NFC personalities of all time, one for each franchise.
Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi—In addition to being the greatest coach of all time and the man the Super Bowl trophy is named after, he inspired excellence in his players as football stars and as citizens. Whether one was black, Jewish, gay, or any other individual, all he cared about was that his men were dedicated to their God, their families and the Green Bay Packers in that order.
Chicago Bears: Brian Piccolo/Walter Payton—Cancer took Piccolo’s life at age 26, reducing Gale Sayers to tears and inspiring the movie “Brian’s Song.” Payton became the all time leading NFL rusher and then died himself at age 45 after suffering a crippling disease. The “NFL man of the year award” dedicated to community service and sportsmanship is named in Payton’s honor.
Detroit Lions: Mike Utley/Reggie Brown—Both of these men suffered career ending injuries that had grown men crying on the field. Utley in particular inspired the crowd when he gave the “thumbs up” gesture after being carted off the field.
Minnesota Vikings: Jim Marshall—For 19 seasons and 282 straight games, this iron man of football played in ice and snow and motivated his teammates to keep up with him.
New Orleans Saints: Steve Gleason—The greatest blocked punt in NFL history in 2006 lifted an entire Gulf region reeling from Hurricane Katrina. He now is suffering from the debilitating ALS, but he still penned a 4,000 word football column using only his eyes and new technology.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derrick Brooks—The orange creamsicle “Yucks” were long the cornerstone of pro football until he arrived in 1995. Soon after came “Pewter Power,” and now the term “Tampa 2” is synonymous with one of the all time great defenses.
Atlanta Falcons: Deion Sanders—Football is supposed to be fun, and “Prime Time” took a losing Atlanta franchise and made it must see television. He did plenty of showboating but backed it up on the field.
Carolina Panthers: Sam Mills—“The Field Mouse” left us at the age of 32 after a losing battle with cancer. A statue of him sits outside of Carolina Stadium as a reminder that what matters is the size of a man’s heart.
Philadelphia Eagles: Reggie White/Jerome Brown—The subjects of a tear-jerking “A Football Life” documentary will remain in Philadelphia hearts forever. White died at age 43 from sleep apnea while a car accident took Brown at age 27. Every year the fans hope for a Super Bowl so they can “bring it home for Jerome.”
New York Giants: Wellington Mara—The late owner was with the Giants for 80 of his 89 years. He was beloved by everybody, and the NFL would not be anywhere near as profitable or important without him. Honorable mention: Bill Parcells
Washington Redskins: Doug Williams—In 1987 he became the first black quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl, throwing four touchdown passes and forever putting to rest the notion that a signal caller’s ability had anything to do with skin color.
Dallas Cowboys: Roger Staubach—A devout Christian who served America in the Navy, Staubach got his teammates to believe in him. “America’s Team” won because with Staubach at the helm, they were always given the chance to win.
Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: Kurt Warner—In the 1990s he was a clerk stocking shelves at a grocery store who needed canned goods from the local church to feed his family. In 1999 he came from nowhere and led “The Greatest Show on Turf” to a Super Bowl title. He then took 10% of his new multi-million dollar contract and tithed it to his church.
San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana—“Joe Cool” kept everyone relaxed at the most pressure packed moments. His coolest moment came in the 1988 Super Bowl with the 49ers down by three points with three minutes left and 92 yards to go. He looked at his teammates and said, “Hey, that’s actor John Candy in the stands. Cool.” Then he drove the 49ers to the win.
Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals: Pat Tillman—He gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to become an $18,000 a year Army Ranger. He died from friendly fire in Afghanistan, but after 9/11 he was determined to find meaning in life.
Seattle Seahawks: The 12th man—The team actually retired the number 12 jersey as a tribute to their fans. The Kingdome was a house of horrors for opposing teams, and the players often credited the decibel level in the stands for some important victories.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog. Follow us: @wtcommunities on Twitter
Read more: The greatest 16 names in NFL history
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