This article originally was published a few days before the season opened, and to my knowledge, hasn’t been read. Since all five of the players in the piece still have fair odds of playing in the Super Bowl this season, I’ll run it again.
“You play to win the game.” Every football fan knows that Herm Edwards repeatedly said these words in a now famous post-game press conference turned beer commercial, but is it true? Sometimes I wonder.
I find myself wondering every time I see a player score in the fourth quarter and beat his chest and give the number one sign to the camera, even though his team still trails by 35. I find myself wondering when players don yellow sports coats on the sidelines, suggesting that they are worthy of the game’s highest honor. I find myself wondering whenever I see a player pull a sharpie from his sock after scoring, or a cover-corner pull up short of making the tackle in run support.
These things happen, I can accept this, but they don’t promote the idea that winning is the most important thing.
I know Herman Edwards believes it, and so did Vince Lombardi, who summed it up nicely when he said, “winning isn’t everything—it’s the ONLY thing.” How appropriate that they named the Super Bowl trophy after him.
The Lombardi Trophy is the ultimate achievement in football, and most of the players who’ve never had a chance to hoist it, while raptured in a confetti-filled euphoria, long to do so. So many greats never got the chance, and although they don ‘real’ yellow sports coats, oh how they would have loved to win it all.
Here are five players who have played at a high level for over a decade. They have played in pro-bowls, won the respect of their peers and fans, and will probably visit Canton sometime in their near futures. That last bit is speculation, of course, but what in football isn’t? At any rate they share this in common, none of them has a ring, and the window for getting one is getting very small. For these five players, it may be now or never to raise Lombardi.
For the 35 year old linebacker with the twenty-two inch neck, the football road has been long and full of twists and turns, all of which have led to dead end signs. Entering his fifteenth season with his fifth team, this year could be Takeo’s last. The two time All-Pro has played in 203 games in his career, but not one of these have been in the post-season. With 1,350* tackles to his credit, a single lifting of Lombardi would be sweeter than all those take downs.
Before there was Revis Island there was Champ. For 13 years, he has been one of the best pass defenders in the game, and one of the best ‘shut down’ corners ever. Never one to do a lot of talking, Champ has quietly gone about his business, making the job of his defensive coaches much easier by removing the opposition’s best receiver from the equation. After 829* tackles and 50 interceptions, he has little left to prove and only one thing left to gain. Holding the Lombardi Trophy would make him a champ in every sense of the word.
Playing middle linebacker in Chicago is a tough gig; following Dick Butkis and Mike Singletary leaves rather big shoes for a player to fill, but Brian Urlacher has done this admirably. He started down this path by winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2000 and hasn’t let up since. The 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been to 8 Pro-Bowls, netted 1,294* tackles and 41.5 sacks. He got close to holding Lombardi once (2007), but instead had to watch as Peyton got the honor. At 34, going into his 13th season and returning from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, 2012 could be his last opportunity.
The superlatives begin and end with a simple statement: Tony Gonzalez is the best tight-end in the history of football. Some may debate this, but the numbers tell the story. Heading into his 16th season, Tony has totaled 1,149 catches for 13,338 yards and 95 touchdowns. These are all records for his position, and he will add significantly to those this year, which he has said will, in all probability, be his last. He’s still in the league for only one reason, and catching Lombardi would be his biggest achievement.
Love him or hate him (there’s no lukewarm with Randy), there’s no denying the talent level. In his first six seasons with Minnesota, Randy Moss had arguably the best stats to start a career than any pass catcher in league history. There’s also his 2007 campaign with New England when he caught a record 23 TD’s. His volatile personality aside, the numbers are off the charts: 954 receptions for 14,858 yards and 153 touchdowns. 10 seasons of 1,000+ yards and 9 years with 10+ TD’s make him a sure bet for Canton, but he’s never touched Lombardi. He does have the distinction of playing for two of the best teams to NOT win the Super Bowl (Vikings ’98 & Patriots ‘07), and he’s hoping that this year’s 49ers won’t be the third to close out a brilliant career.
Unfortunately, at least four of these players will ride into the sunset without their fingerprints smudging Lombardi, but they will all have left their fingerprints on the game.
* Unofficial. Tackle data is not available before 2001 per NFL.com
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible at @prosportsblogging.com, a weekly column covering all things NFL related. He is originally from California, but now resides in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife and best friend, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9