As the off-season continues and I satisfy my football fix with documentaries of games and teams from the past decade, I realize there are a lot of players I had developed a liking to over the years. We all have certain players that personally captivate us due to their unique skills, size, celebrations or playing style. Everyone will have a different list of players depending on their criteria, but without further ado, here is my list of 5 players I miss the most.
5. Rich Gannon: His best seasons coincided just when I really developed a passion for the NFL. I did not care much about what he did in Minnesota, but when he came to Oakland under the tutelage of Jon Gruden, they both made beautiful magic. They were one of the last teams to truly run the West-Coast offense to perfection. That meant no shotgun formations, employment of two-back offensive sets (I-Formation and Pro-Formation) and they had a mastering of the short passing game. Gannon was gritty and had underrated elusiveness, but he was also extremely cerebral, made great reads and was accurate. He could pass it around to 8 different receivers to perfection and could also side arm it depending on the type of throw he needed. I hate clichés, but Gannon was a pure gamer who I could watch in any era, past or present.
4. Priest Holmes: It is baffling how the Chiefs current struggles have clouded our minds and made us forget how good those Chiefs teams from the early 2000’s were. Holmes had some amazing years due to a resurrection coming from Baltimore and thanks to a terrific offensive line featuring two All-Pro linemen in Willie Roaf and Will Shields. He did not have a flashy running style, but despite his size, was a very tough interior runner. Holmes was also a great receiver out of the backfield. In this era of players who go over the top with their celebrations, Priest had one that was simple and relatively unassuming (See below). Between 2002 and 2003 he had over 3000 yards and 48 touchdowns and was an absolute stud. A neck injury cut short his prime years and made him a shell of his old self, but he was one of the better backs of the early 2000’s.
3. Steve McNair: I’m not going to delve on how he died, but as sad as it was, Steve definitely left too early. From a player stand point; there was not a tougher quarterback than “Air McNair”. His passing stats were never spectacular and he never threw for over 4000 yards, but people forget that he never played with an elite receiver and he made due with conservative offenses in Tennessee and Baltimore. Regardless of his injuries, he was never afraid to get outside the pocket and fight for extra yards. His success as a running quarterback, showed a precedent over the next decade for many running quarterbacks to be taken high in the draft. Even though he came up short in Super Bowl 34 against the Rams, his co-MVP award with Peyton Manning in 2003 was much deserved and was his crowning individual achievement. I will never forget his battles with the Colts and Ravens that formed one of the better rivalries of the late 90’s and 2000’s.
2. Marshall Faulk: It is so hard to make an opening statement about how spectacular a player Marshall Faulk was. Better than tell you, I would invite you to find any video of his during the Rams 1999 season or his entire career for that matter. He could start and stop on a dime better than anyone in the league. His agility and ability to make people miss was like Barry Sanders but he was so smooth when he ran, it looked effortless. We always hear how certain backs are great pass catchers, but few of them actually line up in the slot, flanker or split end. Marshall would line up all over the field and run routes like a wide receiver. Forget the fact that he had over 12,000 rushing yards. When you get over 700 catches as a running back, you have to go down as the most complete back ever and he is personally the greatest runner I ever saw. There may be another back that runs and catches for 1000 yards in a season, but they will never do it with the flash and flair that Faulk did.
1. Daunte Culpepper: I scoff when people say that Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger have redefined the quarterback position with their size, strength and mobility. I have always felt that Daunte Culpepper was one of the most underappreciated pivots in the league and we took his talent for granted. DCP was a rare breed. He was legitimately a defensive end at 6’4, 270 lbs. of muscle. He had an absolute power arm that could launch it 70-80 yards in the air and was the only quarterback during that time who could over throw Randy Moss. When factoring in his running ability for a player of his size, Culpepper was an unstoppable force who was a joy to watch in that high powered Vikings offense. It is a shame how he cared more about money than the game and eventually injuries ended his career. There was no reason he could not have gone down as one of the best QB’s in the league with his skillset. His celebration was pretty awesome too.