Friday, October 4, 2013

How Do I Rank the BestCoolest Defensive Football Players?

Jonah Keri at Grantland wrote a few of my favorite baseball articles of the summer in his BestCoolest series. (Click here for his BestCoolest Pitchers and here for his BestCoolest Hitters.) Keri invented the term BestCoolest in an attempt at "combining the best players of the past generation with the coolest ones, the ones that were the most fun to watch."

Now that we're one-quarter of the way through the NFL season, I thought it would be fun to rank the BestCoolest football players of my lifetime.* Since a quick Google search confirms that nobody else has used Keri's gimmick for another sport, I'll have to be the one to shamelessly steal his idea. Hey, if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.

Since the Giants are 0-4 and my fantasy team is 1-3, but I still want a reason to think a lot about pro football.

Keri had a bunch of rules for his rankings, but here are my only three selection criteria:
--I have to be old enough to remember watching the player in his prime. That means anyone who peaked before 1992 is pretty much disqualified from these lists. Sorry, Bo.
--BestCoolest simply means "most fun to watch." Flair counts as much as skill.
--We'll select 11 offensive and 11 defensive players, but not exactly a full team. Again, it's the most fun-to-watch players. For instance, you won't see too many linemen on the offensive list, because I don't derive much fun from watching sumo wrestling in pads.

One of the BestCoolest athletes ever couldn't crack these rankings.
We'll start with the BestCoolest defensive players today, then we'll count down the BestCoolest offensive guys later this week.

The BestCoolest Defensive Players of My Lifetime

11. Junior Seau
Most stories about Seau now correctly focus on the possible link between his concussion history and suicide. But it's nicer to remember him for his terrific combination of joy and athleticism on the field.

One story about Seau involves Nick Saban, who coached the linebacker in Miami. Saban chewed out Seau for wearing normal sneakers instead of cleats on the practice field. Seau calmly responded that if he wore cleats, he'd run faster than everyone else and risk hurting a teammate. The best part of that story is that Seau was absolutely correct.

10. J.J. Watt
We're just over two years into his career, but Watt is already one of the league's brightest stars. He'll be batting down passes and amazing us with his freakish athleticism for years and years.


9. Jevon Kearse
Speaking of freakish athleticism, the BestCoolest list wouldn't be complete without the man nicknamed the Freak. Kearse never fully lived up to his potential, but he was incredible during his first few seasons. In his rookie year alone, the Titans end forced eight fumbles to go along with his 14.5 sacks. A Freak of a Titan he was.

8. Darelle Revis
Because there's plenty to be said for shutting down the opposing team's best receiver week after week. Revis Island doesn't quite have the panache of some other corners or the gaudy numbers of the guys higher on this list, but he always comes to play. That in itself is enjoyable for most football fans.

7. DeMarcus Ware
The last active player on this list, Ware has piled up almost 14 sacks per season in his first eight years. (He has four sacks in as many games this season.) I couldn't rank him higher because I have absolutely no fun watching him torment Eli Manning when the Cowboys play the Giants twice a year.

6. Warren Sapp
He was in-your-face and ocassionally moronic, but I found him funny. He was also one of the best defensive tackles who ever played, an unblockable beast in the middle of Tampa Bay's dominant defenses. Watch this video about the showdowns between Brett Favre and Sapp, who said he wanted "the notoriety of the world."


Fun fact: Pro-Football-Reference.com's EloRater, which allows fans to rank the best NFL players of all-time, puts Sapp directly between Michael Irivin and Paul Hornung. Can you think of three more different players than Sapp, Irvin, and Hornung?

5. Urlacher

Maximus Decimus Urlachus
Urlacher is one of those bald guys who transformed into a monster when he put on his headgear. He was a modern-day Roman gladiator who delivered ferocious hits every Sunday. I can't even imagine the sting of an Urlacher tackle on a sub-zero January day in the Windy City. I mean, I cringe when I hit a ball of the handle in softball on a cold day. SMH...

4. Michael Strahan
I still remember how excited I was the day Strahan was going for the sack record in 2001. Then ... well, you know. But even though Brett "Deanna"* Favre looked incredibly wimpy in laying down for Sack #22.5, Strahan was still an absolute beast that season. He was a pleasure to watch play and had an awesome personality. I'm glad that he, his gap-tooth, and Kelly Ripa are now entertaining middle-aged women every morning.

*It's very weird that I didn't even have to Google Favre's wife's name. We know way too much about that dude's personal life.

3. Troy Polamalu
In his prime,* the Steelers safety looked like an untamed beast running the width of the field to make a ferocious tackle or break up a pass. And it it's not just his unshorn hair. Polamalu plays with a reckless abandon that makes fans sit on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately, it also often earns him a seat on the bench due to injury.

*Sadly, his career is decidedly on the downswing. 

2. Ed Reed
Reed and Ray Lewis (more on him in a bit) anchored one of the NFL's top defenses for a decade of my life. Steelers fans have nightmares about Reed flying in front of seemingly impossible-to-track-down deep balls. Oh, and after he picked a ball off, the fun was just getting started. In 2004, he returned an interception 106 yards to the house. Then, he broke his own record when he took one back 108 yards.




1. Deion Sanders


The high-step. The Prime Time Dance. The bandana.* Neon Deion was a cocky bastard, but nobody was more fun to watch on the defensive side of the ball. The unintentional comedy of his announcing career somehow even adds to my memories of Deion's playing days.

*I loved it when Deion put a bandana on his Hall of Fame bust during his induction ceremony.
 
The BestCoolest defender? Who else?

Honorable Mention: Notable Players Left off the List

Jared Allen
He definitely had the BestCoolest Mullet in the game for awhile, wears the number 69, has a Website called Jared Allen 69 Inc., and runs a foundation that raises money for Wounded Warriors. A lot to love about the guy, but he has a little too much "Coolest" and not enough "Best."

Ray Lewis
He may have been the best linebacker I've ever seen, but there's nothing cool about murder. Well, except this:


Jesse Armstead
Armstead was the heart of the Giants defense and one of my favorite players when I was growing up, but he wasn't quite good enough to crack the Top 11.

Ronnie Lott
He played until 1994, but I remember him more for his announcing than his playing. Most people know that he got part of his pinky amputated in 1985 so he could be ready to play the next season. Ultimate badass move.

Rod Woodson
Eight pick-sixes is pretty BestCool, but I honestly don't remember watching any of them. I guess I just missed the Woodson Train. That, or I just blacked out his career because he was part of that 2000 Ravens team that demolished the Giants in the Super Bowl. (Which doesn't make sense either, because I have so many memories of Ray Lewis's career. Let's just move on.)

Von Miller
Because if he were a baseball player, the media would be chastizing the shit out of him for his PED use.

We'll be back with a post about the BestCoolest offensive players in a few days. And you know what that means ... RUNNING BACKS! I can't wait.

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