(J.J. Watt photo courtesy of the Houston Texans)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
History is dead.
It must be because I just read where Lawrence Taylor proclaimed J.J. Watt one of the four best defensive players of all time. Look, it’s a free country, and L.T. is entitled to his opinion. But so am I. And J.J. Watt is not one of the top four defensive players of all time.
He might be … one day. But not now. The guy’s played five years, for crying out loud, and, OK, so he’s been named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year three times – or as many as Taylor -- and he could be one of the most dominant players in NFL history.
But pay attention, people. The key there is … could be. Give the man a chance to breathe. Which is another way of saying: Let his career run its course.
Look, Terrell Davis was the NFL’s most dominant back for three years, winning the Offensive Player of the Year twice, the MVP once and the Super Bowl MVP once. He ran for over 2,000 yards in one season, had seven 100-yard rushing games in eight playoff contests and was so damned electrifying that he was named to an all-decade team.
Reason: Ask Hall-of-Fame quarterback John Elway. He credits Davis as the key piece in Denver’s back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 1997-98.
But Terrell Davis is not considered one of the four best offensive players in league history. In fact, far from it. And he’s not considered one of the four best running backs in history, either, mostly because his career was cut short by injury. And let’s be honest: When we start measuring the best of all time longevity is a factor.
You not only look for guys whose stars shine as brightly as Watt’s but for individuals who produce consistently over a considerable period of time. Taylor named himself, Deacon Jones and Reggie White as the other three in his top four defenders of all time, and no one in that group played fewer than 13 seasons.
Which is how it should be.
But what I find interesting is that he ignored greats like Dick Butkus, “Mean Joe” Greene, Bruce Smith, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell, Gino Marchetti, Ronnie Lott, Jack Ham, Bob Lilly, Joe Schmidt and Chuck Bednarik. Of course, you’d have to study the game’s history to know that, and L.T. must’ve missed that class.
Butkus was the most disruptive linebacker I’ve watched and is the measuring stick for all middle linebackers before or after – with Lambert not far behind. He not only was an eight-time All-Pro and two-time Defensive Player of the Year; he’s a member of the Hall’s 75th anniversary team.
So, for that matter, is Lambert.
Lambert was part of Pittsburgh’s vaunted “Steel Curtain,” which is the best defense I’ve seen in my lifetime -- with the 1976 unit throwing five shutouts and allowing 28 points over its last nine starts, all of them victories. When we interviewed Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney on the Talk of Fame Network he made it clear who was the cornerstone of that defense. It was Greene, and you can see why: The guy was an eight-time All-Pro, four-time Super Bowl champ and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
He was also a member of the 75th anniversary team.
But why stop there? Lilly was a nine-time All-Pro and member of two all-decade teams. Schmidt was a nine-time All-Pro, too, and member of the league’s 50th anniversary team. Lott was an eight-time All-Pro, four-time Super Bowl champ and member of two all-decade teams, too. Bednarik was a 10-time All-Pro. And he, Lott, Lilly, Lanier, Marchetti and Ham joined Butkus, Lambert and Greene on the 75th anniversary team.
Good? No, they were great. And they proved it over, over and over again.
The point is: While L.T. was trying to articulate how talented Watt is – and he is the best defensive player in the game today – he demeaned some of the best and brightest defensive players of previous eras by ignoring them.
J.J. Watt is an outstanding player. We know that. But let’s not try to pump him up at the expense of others who are at least as deserving … if not more so. History tells us we should know better.
Unless, of course, history is dead.