By now many of you have heard about or read the recent Sports Illustrated (SI.com) story that rates the best players at every uniform number from 00-99. The Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis comes out on top for the number 52, but to be honest, the competition wasn't that tough. The late Mike Webster (Pittsburgh Steelers) was the runner up, and while he was a great warrior before succumbing to football-related dementia, there was no difficulty in making this decision.
It also wasn't that hard to pick the best player ever to wear #19, as the Baltimore Colts' Johnny Unitas easily took that honor. Same for #24, where the great Colts running back Lenny Moore was rated the best to wear that jersey number. Other former Baltimore Colts deemed "worthy of consideration" included QB Bert Jones at #7 (won by John Elway) and RB Lydell Mitchell at #26 (won by Rod Woodson). Current Baltimore Raven Ed Reed finished runner-up to Detroit Lion great running back Barry Sanders, which is a tough one to try to argue. Those guys were easy to pick. Not so for a few of the other numbers that involved a few Baltimore football heroes.
(See who I'm talking about and the SI.com story writer's response to my objection after the 'Jump')
Tight end John Mackey finished runner-up in the #88 jersey to former Minnesota Vikings DE Alan Page, which sort of surprised me. My thoughts were that while Page absolutely deserved consideration due to his Hall of Fame status and great career, Mackey re-defined the tight end position and is considered among the best of all-time at his position. It intrigued me enough to contact the writer of the SI story, Richard Deitsch, to get his justification and thought process on the decision. Here's what he said:
Thanks for the interest in the piece. Let's start with the premise that all of this is subjective. Plenty of readers have disagreed with our choices, which made this project even more fun. The number 88 is a toss-up in my opinion between Page and Mackey. Both guys could claim the top spot. Page played in four Super Bowls and was the NFL MVP in 1971 as well the Defensive Player of Year that same year. He and Lawrence Taylor are the only defensive players to win the AP's NFL MVP in the last 40 years. Everyone knows Mackey revolutionized the tight end position, and he's arguably the best ever at the position. He's an All-Decade player from the 1960s, a Hall of Famer, and certainly worthy of any honor. In the end, we gave it to Page because his statistics are really hard to ignore including 9 Pro Bowls, six All Pro selections and the multiple Super Bowl appearances. But I'd never disagree with any of your readers if they argued Mackey should be the best No. 88 of all time.
The other number of note that your readers would be interested in was No. 89. We got plenty of reader email arguing that Gino Marchetti should have been ahead of Mike Ditka. Again, I think that's a fair argument to make and if you asked people from that era, they certainly would cite Gino as one of the greatest defensive players in history. Maybe we shoul;d have made them the co-picks for the best at No. 89.
Lydell Mitchell is at No. 26 and Bert Jones is listed at No. 7 as well.
Hard to argue with his response and also good to hear the old Baltimore Colts' fans come out of the woodwork to stand up for Gino Marchetti, who wore #89 (won by Mike Ditka), who is often overlooked when taking about the best players at their positions.