All-Time NFC North Team (1920-Present)

With the 2005 season approaching, I'd thought it might be nice to take a walk down memory lane and present my choices for an all-time greatest NFC North team.

With the 2005 season approaching, I'd thought it might be nice to take a walk down memory lane and present my choices for an all-time greatest NFC North team. The 25 best players (11 offense, 11 defense, 3 special teams) ever to take the field for the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings. Of course, any time a list like this is compiled – there is always room for debate. Included with each position is a list of honorable mentions that will hopefully help to jog memories and spur some lively discussion.

Offense

QB: Sid Luckman – Chicago Bears 1939-50

Some of you may scratch your head with this one, but trust me, Luckman was as good as anyone who ever played the position. Working tirelessly in 1940 with coaching masterminds, Clark Shaugnessy and George Halas, Luckman took the position of T-Formation quarterback to a level never before seen. Sid Luckman was to football what Babe Ruth was to baseball; Wayne Gretzky was to hockey, and what Magic Johnson was to the NBA – a revolutionary who smashed the status quo – and changed their respective games forever.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Layne (Lions), Bart Starr (Packers), Brett Favre (Packers), Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

HB: Walter Payton – Chicago Bears 1975-87

I know Detroit Lions' fans will be howling about not picking Barry Sanders here, but I just have to ask one question. How can you not pick Sweetness? He was the most completely skilled halfback in the history of the NFL; able to carry the ball, catch the ball, and block with equal effectiveness. Early in his career, he played on some putrid Bears teams, and was still the most feared back in the game. Barry Sanders was fantastic, but Walter Payton was better.

Honorable Mention: Red Grange (Bears), George McAfee (Bears), Gale Sayers (Bears), Barry Sanders (Lions)

FB: Bronko Nagurski – Chicago Bears 1930-37, 1943

In my opinion, the Bronk was the greatest fullback of all-time. A unanimous choice in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's charter class of 1963, Nagurski was a true legend in his time. There are others who come really close, such as Cleveland Brown great Marion Motley and the two Packer legends listed below; but I've got to go with one of the original Monsters of the Midway.

Honorable Mention: Clark Hinkle (Packers), Jim Taylor (Packers)

WR: Cris Carter – Minnesota Vikings 1990-2001; Philadelphia Eagles 1987-89; Miami Dolphins 2002

If not for playing during the era of Jerry Rice, Cris Carter may very well be considered the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. Carter's highlight reel of circus catches stretches for miles and he more than made good on former Philadelphia Eagle Head Coach Buddy Ryan's proclamation that "all he does is score touchdowns." Cris grabbed 130 of them during his 16-year career.

WR: Don Hutson – Green Bay Packers 1935-1945

Like Luckman and Nagurski, Don Hutson's mark on the game will forever remain. His record of 99 career touchdown catches stood for 44 years; and the numbers that Hutson put up in 1942 – 74 catches, 1,211 yards, and 17 touchdowns – all in an 11 game season, still boggle my mind.

Honorable Mention: Herman Moore (Lions), James Lofton (Packers), Sterling Sharpe (Packers), Randy Moss (Vikings, Raiders)

TE: Mike Ditka – Chicago Bears 1961-66; Philadelphia Eagles 1967-68; Dallas Cowboys 1969-72

Ditka put up incredible numbers at the TE position before injuries ravaged his body in the mid-sixties. He caught 56 passes, for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1961. Three years later, Ditka caught 75 passes. The latter number was a record for the TE position until 1980, when Kellen Winslow Sr. caught 89 for the San Diego Chargers.

Honorable Mention: Charlie Sanders (Lions)

OT: Forrest Gregg – Green Bay Packers 1956, 58-70; 1971 Dallas Cowboys

Vince Lombardi called him simply "the finest player I ever coached." Gregg played in 188 consecutive games from 1956-71, and was named All Pro eight consecutive seasons (1960-67). Gregg also went to nine Pro Bowls during his fifteen year career and helped his teams win five NFL Championships and three Super Bowls.

OT: Lou Creekmur – Detroit Lions 1950-59

Creekmur was a stalwart for Detroit at both offensive guard and tackle during their 1950's dynasty, when the Lions won three NFL Championships, and four Western Division crowns. Lou went to eight-straight Pro Bowls from 1950-57, and was named All Pro six-times; twice as a guard (1951-52) and four times at tackle (1953-54, 1956-57).

Honorable Mention OT's: Ed Healey (Bears), Joe Stydahar (Bears), George Musso (Bears), George Christensen (Lions), Ron Yary (Vikings), Gary Zimmerman (Vikings)

OG: Randall McDaniel – Minnesota Vikings 1988-1999; Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2000-01

McDaniel is the best offensive lineman I've seen in my 25 years of watching NFC Central/North football. A 12-time Pro Bowl nominee, McDaniel also earned All-NFL honors seven times (1990, 1992-96, 1998).

OG: Dan Fortmann – Chicago Bears 1936-43

A ninth-round selection in the NFL's first collegiate draft, Fortmann was named All NFL for six consecutive seasons (1938-43). He became the youngest starter in the NFL as a 20-year old rookie and was the best guard in pro football during his time. He helped the Bears earn five Western Division titles and three NFL Championships during his eight year career. He quit football at age 27 to begin his career as a doctor, earning his medical degree from the University of Chicago while playing for the Bears.

Honorable Mention OG's: Gover "Ox" Emerson (Lions), Dick Stanfel (Lions), Mike Michalske (Packers), Jerry Kramer (Packers), Fuzzy Thurston (Packers)

OC: Jim Ringo – Green Bay Packers 1953-63; Philadelphia Eagles 1964-67

A seven-time all league selection during his time with the Packers; Ringo was named the top NFL center of the 1960's during the NFL's 50th Anniversary celebration (1970). Ringo was also selected to the Pro Bowl in ten of his fifteen seasons.

Honorable Mention OC's: George Trafton (Bears), Clyde "Bulldog" Turner (Bears), Mick Tingelhoff (Vikings)

Defense

DE: Reggie White – Green Bay Packers 1993-98; 1985-92 Philadelphia Eagles; Carolina Panthers 2000

Arguably the best defensive end in NFL history; the "Minister of Defense", along with QB Brett Favre, were the key components in the Green Bay Packers' climb to their 1996 Super Bowl triumph. White collected 198 career sacks (2nd all-time) during his career and was named to the Pro Bowl and NFL record 13-straight times (1986-98). Reggie was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998 and was All-NFL 8-times (1986-1991, 1995, 1998)

DE: Willie Davis – Green Bay Packers 1960-69; Cleveland Browns 1958-59

Davis began his career in ho hum fashion with the Cleveland Browns and was traded to Green Bay two years later. It turned out to be one of the best trades the Packers ever made. In ten seasons in Green Bay, Davis was All Pro five times and appeared in five-straight Pro Bowls (1964-68). Davis' speed, agility, toughness, leadership abilities and all around IQ bloomed in Green Bay. Much as Bart Starr was the leader of the offensive, Willie Davis was the leader of the Packer defense during the Lombardi era.

Honorable Mention DE's: Doug Atkins (Bears), Richard Dent (Bears), Carl Eller (Vikings), Chris Doleman (Vikings)

DT: Alan Page – Minnesota Vikings 1967-78; Chicago Bears 1978-81

Many consider this current Minnesota Supreme Court Justice the best defensive tackle in NFL history. He was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1971, becoming one of only three defensive stars to earn that honor (the others being Joe Schmidt and Lawrence Taylor). Page was an All Pro and Pro Bowl participant for nine-consecutive seasons (1969-77). Unofficial numbers show that Page recovered 23 opponents' fumbles, blocked 28 kicks and collected 173 sacks during his remarkable career.

DT: Cal Hubbard – Green Bay Packers 1929-33, 1935; 1927-28, 1936 New York Giants; 1936 Pittsburgh Steelers

Of the 17 charter enshrines in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's first class in 1963, only three of them were lineman; Mel Hein of the New York Giants, Wilbur (Pete) Henry (most famously) of the Canton Bulldogs, and Cal Hubbard.

Hubbard played the majority of his career with the Packers, helping them to three-consecutive NFL Championships between 1929 and 1931. It would be 36 more years before another NFL team (ironically also located in Green Bay) would match that feat. He was an All NFL choice five times (1927-28, 1931-33) during his nine-year career and also helped the New York Giants' defense surrender only 20 points in 13 games (1.5 ppg) during their championship season of 1927.

Honorable Mention DT's: DT Dan Hampton (Bears), DT Alex Karras (Lions), DT Roger Brown (Lions), Henry Jordan (Packers)

MLB: Dick Butkus – Chicago Bears 1965-73

Arguably one of the top five players in NFL history, Butkus was an absolute terror who played the game at a level that few others have ever reached. A seven-time All Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler, Butkus amassed 47 takeaways during his career (23 interceptions, 25 fumble recoveries). If not for a 1970 knee injury that cut his career short three years later, there is no telling how many more statistics, or opponent's bodies, he may have piled up.

Honorable Mention: Mike Singletary (Bears), Joe Schmidt (Lions), Ray Nitschke (Packers)

OLB: Dave Robinson – Green Bay Packers 1963-72; Washington Redskins 1973-74

Another underrated player from the 1960's, Robinson was a playmaker with a nose for the football. A three-time Pro Bowl selection (1967-68, 1970), Robinson intercepted 27 passes during his 12-year career. His most famous play came during the 1966 NFL Championship Game in the Cotton Bowl when he pressured Dallas QB Don Meredith into an end zone interception that sealed the Packers' second-straight (and fourth in six years) NFL title and a birth in the first Super Bowl.

OLB: Wilber Marshall – Chicago Bears 1984-87; Washington Redskins 1988-92; Houston Oilers 1993; Arizona Cardinals 1994; New York Jets 1995

In the mold of Dave Robinson, Marshall was an unheralded playmaker on two of the most dominant teams of the 1980's and early 1990's; helping both the Bears (1985) and Redskins (1992) to Super Bowl championships; amassing 45 sacks, 23 interceptions and 4 defensive TD's during his 12-year career.

Honorable Mention: George Conner (Bears), Joe Fortunato (Bears), Wayne Walker (Lions), Matt Blair (Vikings)

CB: Herb Adderley – Green Bay Packers 1961-1969; Dallas Cowboys 1970-72

One of the top cornerbacks of all-time, Adderley was a cornerstone of the Packers' defense that still ranks among the top units in history. A tremendous hitter and playmaker, Adderley's 48 career-interceptions resulted in 1,046 yards in returns (21.8 avg.) and 7 touchdowns; including a 60-yard game-sealing score versus the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II. Adderley was named All Pro four times (1963, 1965-66, 1969) and went to five Pro Bowls (1964-68).

CB: Lem Barney – Detroit Lions 1967-78

Lem Barney returned his first NFL interception 24 yards for a touchdown . . . and never looked back. He finished his rookie season with 10 picks (three of which were returned for scores), and was named 1967 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. A tremendous playmaker, Lem scored 11 touchdowns during his 11-year career (7 interception returns, 2 punt returns, a 98-yard kickoff return, and a 94-yard missed field goal return), and was named All Pro in 1968 and 1969. He was also a seven-time Pro Bowler (1968-70, 1973-74, 1976-77).

Honorable Mention: Dick "Night Train" Lane (Lions)

FS: Willie Wood – Green Bay Packers 1960-71

Wood was a five-time All-Pro (1964-71), and eight-time Pro Bowler (1963, 1965-71), who went undrafted in 1960 after playing collegiate quarterback at USC. Instead of giving up on his NFL dreams, Willie wrote letters to numerous NFL teams asking for a tryout. The Packers brought Wood in as free agent that fall, and once Vince Lombardi took note of Willie's athleticism, he moved him over to defense as an understudy to veteran safety Emlen Tunnell. Tunnel had already cemented a Hall of Fame career with the Packers and New York Giants; and when Wood replaced the retired Tunnel as the Packers' starting free safety in 1961; it didn't take long for Wood to find himself on that same immortal path.

Honorable Mention: Yale Lary (Lions), LeRoy Butler (Packers), Paul Krause (Vikings)

SS: Jack Christiansen – Detroit Lions 1951-58

Christiansen was the leader of the NFL's most famous and feared secondary of the 1950's; named "Chris's Crew" in honor of Christiansen. In 1952, Chris's Crew, comprised mainly of cornerbacks Jim David, Don Doll, and Bob Smith, along Christiansen and fellow future Hall of Fame safety Yale Lary, would help the Lions win their first championship in 17 years with the stingiest defense in the league, allowing an average of 16 points per-game.

Christiansen was named all-pro six-consecutive years (1952-57), and went to five-straight Pro Bowls (1953-57). In 1972, Football Digest named him one of the top 25 players ever to play in the NFL.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Dillon (Packers)

Special Teams:

K: Jason Hanson – Detroit Lions 1992-Present

With a career FG percentage of .810 (308-380) Hanson is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. In 13 seasons, he has only missed nine field goals (204-213) from inside the 40 yard-line and just 35 (79-114) from inside 50 yards (.692), and is currently the Lions' all-time leading scorer with 1,336 points.

P: Yale Lary – Detroit Lions 1951-52, 1955-64

Aside from his abilities as a safety, Lary was one of the greatest punters in NFL history. He sits second in NFL history (behind Washington's Sammy Baugh) with a career gross average of 44.29 yards per punt. He also is second behind Baugh in the highest gross punting average of 48.94, set in 1963. Lary won three NFL punting titles (1959, ‘61, ‘63), and missed out on a fourth in 1962 by just 3.6 inches. In addition, over a six-game span in the 1960's, he once compiled a streak of 32 punts without a return.

Honorable Mention: Craig Hentrich (Packers)

Return Man: Gale Sayers – Chicago Bears 1965-71

In his first NFL preseason game versus the Los Angeles Rams, Sayers scored touchdowns on a 77-yard punt return and a 93-yard kick return. His career average in punt returns was 14.5 yards-per-return, and his kick return average was 30.6 yards-per-return; the latter mark remains an NFL record (minimum 75 returns). Sayers is tied with the Cardinals' Ollie Matson, the Packers' Travis Williams and the Lions' Mel Gray for the NFL record for career kick return TD's with six.

Honorable Mention: Mel Gray (Lions), Travis Williams (Packers)

Team-by-Team Tally:

Chicago Bears: 8

Detroit Lions: 5

Green Bay Packers: 8

Minnesota Vikings: 3

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Questions or comments: Go to the LionsFans.com message board or e-mail Doug Warren at schmidt56@tds.net


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