Whether it's rookie NFL players starting a Hall of Fame career or a seasoned veteran proving he's still got what it takes, local and national fans pick a few favorites and spend the fall and winter months arguing their merits.
Many NFL players enjoy their popularity only for a brief period of time. A select few become legends of the game, either for their skills, their personalities or their perseverance.
Here are five players (in no particular order) who have stood the test of time and continue to inspire NFL fans today.
Ask anyone who was the greatest quarterback of the 1980s, and the answer will be Marino, unless you're talking to a San Francisco 49ers fan with a crush on Joe Montana.
In seventeen seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Marino set multiple NFL quarterback records and was recognized as the heart of the team. Marino only made it to the big game once, losing Super Bowl XIX to Montana and the 49ers, but during that 1984 season, he broke six NFL records, including most touchdowns in a season and most passing yards in a season.
Both on the field and off, Marino has demonstrated hard work, good sportsmanship and humility. Though no longer an NFL player, he continues to be a vital part of the NFL as a commentator for CBS.
Hard work and a love of sports characterized Vincent "Bo" Jackson, who electrified baseball and football fans alike in the early 1980s.
Jackson is one of the few athletes to play in both Major League Baseball and the NFL, and the only athlete to be named an all-star in more than one professional league. As a college student at Auburn University, Jackson excelled at both baseball and football, winning the 1985 Heisman Trophy as the outstanding college player of the year.
When it came time to turn pro, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who refused to let him play baseball. Jackson refused to sign the contract, opting instead to join the MLB's Kansas City Royals.
The Los Angeles Raiders lured him back to the NFL with a contract that asked only that he play a partial season; once baseball season ended.
Jackson dazzled fans with his combination of strength and speed, his stamina and his commitment to professional sports. A hip injury ended his NFL career in 1991, but he returned to baseball in 1993 as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
Fans to this day still marvel at his achievements and wonder what he would have accomplished had he not suffered from injuries.
"Mean Joe" Greene:
Defensive tackles seldom get the same attention as quarterbacks, receivers, and runners. Charles "Mean Joe" Greene is an exception, considered one of the greatest NFL players in history.
Standing 6 feet and 4 inches tall and weighing 275 pounds, Greene was an impressive sight on the field. Along with size, Greene had tremendous speed and a fiercely competitve nature.
During his early years, Greene found himself in trouble with officials and teammates for unsportsmanlike actions on the field. Veteran players and coaches harnessed his desire to win, and Greene became the heart of Pitssburgh's Steel Curtain defensive unit, which helped the team win four Super Bowls during the 1970s.
With those victories, the gentler, human side of Greene started to emerge. Public perception largely changed in 1979, when Greene co-starred in a famous Coca-Cola commercial with a young boy who offered the feared player a bottle of Coke after a game.
While there's no statistical definition of "clutch," there's no doubt that some players handle game pressure better than others, and kicker Adam Vinatieri has earned a reputation as one of the greatest clutch players of all time.
His NFL records alone are worthy of the Hall of Fame; Vinatieri holds records for most postseason field goals in a career (40), most points in a postseason (49, set in 2006) among others.
However, it's a handful of high-profile field goals that cemented his place in the hearts of NFL fans.
During the 2001 season, Vinatieri kicked two field goals during a blizzard to help the New England Patriots edge the Oakland Raiders and make it to the postseason. He also won Super Bowl XXXVI and Super Bowl XXXVIII with field goals of more than 40 yards in the final seconds of both games.
His calm approach in these high-pressure situations earned him the nickname "Mr. Clutch" from fellow NFL players and fans.
Known as "Sweetness" to his teammates and fans, Payton is considered one of the greatest running backs of all time. In 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears, Payton scored 110 touchdowns, made the Pro Bowl nine times and helped win Super Bowl XX.
On the field, Payton was known as a tough, physical runner who dished out punishment to NFL players who tried to tackle him. Off the field, Payton was known as an easygoing prankster who would sometimes answer the phones for the Chicago Bears or call his teammates' wives, pretending to be a girlfriend.
Payton's dedication to the community was as strong as his love for the game, and he became involved in several philanthropic organizations for children, eventually founding his own Walter and Connie Payton Foundation in 1998.
Payton died in 1999 at the age of 45 from a rare liver disease.
Though all but one of these players no longer plays the game, and one has passed on from this world completely, none of them will ever be forgotten completely. They are legends of the game and will forever be revered by NFL fans across the world.
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