It is fitting that this comes out a couple days after the Oscars. Just like Sunday night, we are going to honor those that can’t be with us. These players would’ve been no doubters on the greatest team ever assembled but because of the rules constraints spelled out in Part I, I have to leave them off.
I am not going to assemble an entire team, but I picked 8 players who deserved to be mentioned for their transcendent years.
1987 Jerry Rice
22 touchdowns in 12 games…. Let that line sink in for a little bit. 22 freaking touchdowns in 12 FREAKING GAMES! I knew Rice had held the record before 2007 Randy Moss broke it but I never knew it was in 12 games. Why is 12 games such a sticking point? Wasn’t the NFL well into their 16 game schedule era? You are right, but the NFL strike happened in the first month of the 1987 season. So Rice played the first two games then sat out the next 4 till the strike ended and then got back to playing. And yes, the usual level of play was a little bit down, but it was down in 2011 as well for lack of an off-season/training camp during their work stoppage. If I’m fine with considering players in that year, I’m fine with considering the ‘87 season as well.
Scabs or not, in 1987 I get the best version of arguably the greatest football player ever. I get him in his 3rd year at age 25, he is just beginning to get to the height of his powers. If you disagree with me, 22 touchdowns in 12 games.
1986 Lawrence Taylor
Unfortunately my main research site pro-football-reference.com, didn’t have any hard stats for LT other than sacks. If we’re looking for a dominant pass-rusher and ultimate disrupter of stuff, ’86 LT is on the short list. He anchored one of the best defenses of all-time in the 1986 Giants. He the first prototype for the 3-4 outside rush-backer. He also was one of the few defensive players to win the NFL MVP in ’86. He brought an edge and an attitude that became the hallmark of those late 80s/early 90s Giants. Plus, what do you think the aliens would think when they see LT doing this non-stop for four quarters.
1963 Jim Brown
I might be a millennial but I’m not a prisoner of the moment when it comes to the greatest running back of all-time. The discussion starts and ends with Jim Brown. In 1963 I get the G.O.A.T RB in his finest season ever. And by the way, those 1863 yards was in 14 games too. Give Brown those extra two games and he would probably hold the single-season record to this very day. His size and speed would translate into any era. Jim Brown on the Memoriam Wine Cellar Team? As easy a call as there is to make.
1984 Dan Marino
Before the passing rules changed back in 2004, the holy grail of any quarterbacking season was always Marino’s 1984 effort. Those numbers are stupid even by today’s standard, easily MVP numbers. Back in ’84, unfathomable. It would be a very interesting debate over who would start quarterback for this team. But I felt that Marino’s year should be recognized no matter what. In ’84 I would get absolute prime Dan Marino in his second year and at age 23. This year really started his 3 year run at setting the league ablaze with his passing. No one was more prolific in the passing game than 1984 Marino.
1989 Joe Montana
You know I had to find a way to get Montana on this list. In my opinion he is the G.O.A.T QB, with Brady nipping right at his heels. Montana is similar to Brady in the sense that their team success came early but their statistical success finally caught up in their 30s. Montana finest job ever in my opinion was his ’89 season. At 33, maybe he wasn’t athletically gifted as he was earlier but the mental part of the game was completely mastered. He had seen everything and done everything. He combined efficiency with the ability to attack downfield, as we see with his completion % but also his Y/A over 9.0. His demolition of the 1989 playoffs and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl XXIV is Montana’s pinnacle. ’89 Joe Montana is as good as it gets for the Memoriam team, and perhaps ever.
1990 Derrick Thomas
|Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Fumble Recoveries|
The second defensive player to make this list. Very much in the mold of Lawrence Taylor. Derrick Thomas was the ultimate terror as a pass rusher. As we saw with the 2015 Denver Broncos, 2011 and 2007 Giants; an elite pass rush can neutralize even the best of offenses. Having Derrick Thomas opposite LT and the aliens would shit themselves (if they didn’t already from LT’s trash talk). In 1990 Thomas, we get him at 23 and at the “absolute height of his athletic powers” (get use to the phrase, it will be used a lot). I can’t think of a better talent pre-1995 that lived up to the billing so fast.
1987 Reggie White
|Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Defensive Touchdowns|
“The Minister of Defense”. Here is another 1987 freak season and the last of our defensive players for our In Memoriam team. Ask anybody about young Reggie White and they will tell you he was the most feared defensive linemen of his time and perhaps ever. He combined strength, size, speed and quickness into a lethal combination that I don’t think has been matched since (maybe, guess you’ll have to read Part IV). Again, in 1987 we get prime Reggie at only 26 years old and he is just coming off posting a ridiculous 21 sacks in 12 games. I’m not sure whose stat line is more transcendent, ’87 Rice or ’87 White’s? It doesn’t matter because both get spots on the Memoriam team.
1975 O.J. Simpson
“The Juice”. Before he was the Hertz spokesman, the Naked Gun movie star and the center piece in the trial of the century, he was “The Juice”. He was the first ever to break the 2,000 yard rushing mark, a hallowed number when it came to running backs in the NFL. Perhaps even more so now with the advantage the passing game gets. And O.J. did it in 14 games too. I wasn’t sure about putting him on this list, but he posted the second best pro-football-reference “approximate value” score of all-time. He average 6.0 yards/carry and a ludicrous 143.1 yards/game. All for an average Buffalo Bills team in 1975. Dickerson was considered here but 1975 O.J. was as good as it got running the football pre-1995. And you wonder why so many characters in The People vs O.J. Simpson gushed about this guy to Marcia Clark. 1975 is among the top reasons why.
The NFL Wine Cellar Team – Part III : The Offense