NFL Athlete Number 19 - Johnny Unitas

The greatest quarterback of all-time? Maybe. The greatest athlete to ever wear the NFL jersey number 19? Definitely. Johnny Unitas is our choice as the best NFL athlete to ever wear number 19.

The Pittsburgh, PA native, who played his college ball at Louisville, was drafted by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955. The Steelers decided to cut Unitas that year. Not the organization's best personnel move.

Weeb Ewbank, the coach of the Baltimore Colts, decided to give this youngster out of Louisville a try. This may have been the best personnel move ever by the Colts. Unitas was not the chosen starter as a rookie, however he did get playing time. In the fourth game of the 1956 season, starting QB George Shaw went down with an injury, and Unitas was given the ball. His pro career started with an interception which was returned for a touchdown. It was not an indication of things to come.

Unitas went on to throw nine touchdown passes as a rookie. In his last game of the 1956 season, he threw a TD pass that started a record 47 game consecutive streak of touchdowns thrown.

What else did Unitas accomplish in his NFL career?

  • AP NFL MVP twice (1964 and 1967)
  • 10-time Pro Bowl Selection
  • 1979 Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection
  • 290 Career Touchdowns
  • 40,239 Career Passing Yards
  • 78.2 Career QB Rating
  • Super Bowl Champion Quarterback (Super Bowl V)

Did you know......Unitas worked at Bethlehem Steel in the off-season in addition to playing pro football for the Colts?

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NFL Athlete Number 18 - Peyton Manning

His father and brother are both professional quarterbacks, however he is the best NFL athlete to ever wear the uniform number 18. He is Peyton Manning.

Peyton Manning became a household name when he was playing quarterback for Tennessee, with Todd Helton backing him up, and a debate ongoing as to whether he or Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf would be taken with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Ultimately, Manning was selected first overall, and has gone on to a stellar, some would say already a Hall of Fame caliber, career as an NFL quarterback.

Some of Peyton Manning's accomplishments to date:

  • Twice the AP NFL MVP (2003 and 2004)
  • Eight time Pro Bowl selection
  • Super Bowl Champion (XLI)
  • Super Bowl MVP (XLI)
  • 303 Career TDs (through 14 games in the 2007 season)
  • 41,220 Career Passing Yards (through 14 games in the 2007 season)
  • Pro Bowl MVP (2005)
  • Best NFL Player - ESPY (2004)
  • 2005 Walter Payton Man of the Year

Did you know......he has started at quarterback in every Colts game since his rookie season? (Through 14 games in the 2007 season.)

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NFL Athlete Number 17 - Red Badgro

He played for the New York Yankees, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. He also played professional baseball though. Yes, he played professional football for the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. He played professional baseball for the Browns. The St. Louis Browns that is. How times have changed? In any case, Morris "Red" Badgro is the best NFL athlete to ever wear the uniform number 17.

Badgro, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, played in the NFL between the years of 1927 and 1936. He spent two of the years in that time span playing pro baseball with the Browns. During his time in the NFL, Badgro was well regarded as a defensive end, and also played on offense as an end in the "pre-modern" era. He was a superb receiver, in fact, he tied for the NFL lead in 1934 with 16 TD receptions.

Red was a first or second team All-NFL selection in 1930, 1931, 1933 and 1934. In 1933, he became the first player to score a TD in the NFL championship series.

Did you know.....Red Badgro batted .284 for the Browns in 148 at-bats in 1929?

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Rams Retiring Faulk's Jersey Number 28

The best professional athlete to ever wear the uniform number 28 will have his number retired tonight by the St. Louis Rams. Marshall Faulk, the longtime Colt and Ram will have his number put up on the shelves by the Rams, for whom he played running back as a member of the "Greatest Show on Turf." He deserves it. See his credentials here.

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NFL Athlete Number 16 - Joe Montana

Joe Montana. What did he ever do on the gridiron in the NFL? Why does he deserve to be nominated as the best athlete to ever wear the NFL uniform number 16, not to mention the best professional athlete to ever wear the uniform number 16? Well, we could probably fill up half the pages on the internet with all of the reasons he deserves this accolade. Here are just a few of the reasons, and a few of his accomplishments:

  • 40,551 Career Passing Yards
  • 273 Career Touchdowns
  • 63.2% Career Completion Rate
  • 4 Super Bowl Championships (XVI, XIX, XXIII, and XXIV)
  • 3-time Super Bowl MVP (XVI, XIX and XXIV
  • 1989 AP NFL MVP
  • 1990 AP NFL MVP
  • 92.3 Career QB Rating
  • 8-time Pro Bowler
  • 7-time All Pro

Joe twice led the NFL in passing touchdowns (1982 - 17 and 1987 - 31,) and once in yards per pass attempt (1989 at 9.1 yds/att.) What really tells the story of how good a quarterback and true passer Joe Montana was, is the fact that he led the NFL in pass completion percentage five times (1980 at 64.5%, 1981 at 63.7%, 1985 at 61.3%, 1987 at 66.8%, and 1989 at an amazing 70.2%.)

Quite simply, you can certainly make an argument for Joe Montana being the best NFL quarterback ever.

Do you remember......that Joe finished his NFL career playing two years as quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, wearing number 19?

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NFL Athlete Number 15 - Bart Starr

Also our nominee for the best professional athlete to ever wear the number 15, Bart Starr is obviously the best NFL athlete to ever wear the NFL jersey number 15.

Drafted out of Alabama with the 200th overall pick in the 1956 NFL draft, Starr went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers, between the years of 1956 to 1971. He led the NFL in passing three times, and was the NFL MVP in 1966.

Starr remained in a supporting role at quarterback until Vince Lombardi took over as head coach of the Packers in 1959, when Lombardi made Starr the starter at QB. In a short period of time, Starr was leading the Packers to greatness. He captained the Packers to the NFL Championship in 1961 and 1962.

Starr was a four time Pro Bowler, MVP of Super Bowls I and II, threw 152 career touchdowns, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and his jersey number 15 is retired by the Green Bay Packers.

Did you know.....Starr was a Packers coach between the years 1975 and 1983?

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NFL Athlete Number 14 - Dan Fouts

There were several choices for the best NFL athlete to wear jersey number 14. Y.A. Tittle, Don Hutson, and Otto Graham were all in the running, and would all be very good choices. The choice made here however, is Dan Fouts, as the best NFL athlete to wear jersey number 14.

Fouts played his entire NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, between the years of 1973 to 1987. A third round selection in the 1973 NFL draft, out of the University of Oregon, Fouts played in ten games in his rookie year of 1973. He threw for 1,126 yards that year, although he had only six touchdowns and 13 INTs.

He had moderate success for the next four years, until his breakout season of 1978. In 1978, Fouts threw for 24 TDs and 2,999 yards. His finest year statistically was in 1981 when he threw 33 TDs and 4,802 yards. Fouts led the NFL in passing yardage four times over his career.

Fouts was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1982 AP Offensive Player of the Year. For his 15 year career, he threw for 43,040 yards, 254 TDs, and had an 80.2 passer rating. His jersey number 14 is retired by the San Diego Chargers.

Did you know......Dan Fouts was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993?

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NFL Athlete Number 13 - Dan Marino

Some consider Dan Marino to be the best NFL quarterback ever. He is certainly the best athlete to wear the NFL jersey number 13.

Like several of our other quarterbacks on this list, Dan Marino was drafted to play professional baseball. The Kansas City Royals took Marino in 1979. Luckily for us, after a stellar college football campaign with the University of Pittsburgh, Marino was drafted by the Miami Dolphins (27th overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft,) and chose to play professional football, rather than baseball.

Marino burst onto the NFL scene in 1983, playing in 11 games and totalling 2,210 passing yards and twenty touchdowns with only 6 INTs. (He also rushed for two touchdowns that season.) Although Marino had a excellent rookie campaign, he lost the NFL Rookie of the Year award to another future Hall of Famer by the name of Eric Dickerson.

In Marino's sophomore NFL year, he had the most prolific passing year of his 17 year career. He threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in 1984. He set an NFL record for the most passing yards in an NFL season that year. His 48 passing touchdowns that season was also an NFL record that stood until 2004 when Peyton Manning surpassed it.

Over his seventeen year career, Marino passed for 61,361 yards; an NFL record for a career. His 420 career passing touchdowns was also an NFL record until Brett Favre surpassed it in 2007.

In 1984, with the support of his stellar passing statistics that year, Marino was named the NFL MVP. Over his career, he was a nine-time Pro Bowler. He led the Dolphins to Super Bowl XIX, after the 1984 regular season (in which he was matched against the great Joe Montana.) He is also our pick for the best professional athlete to wear the number 13.

Did you know.....Dan's NFL jersey number 13 was retired by the Miami Dolphins in 2000?

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NFL Athlete Number 12 - Terry Bradshaw

Roger Staubach was one of the best. Tom Brady is one of the best. Terry Bradshaw is the best NFL athlete to ever wear the jersey number 12.

Terry Bradshaw, simply put, can be considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever take to an NFL field. He led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four, yes four, Super Bowl Championships. Unmatched by any NFL quarterback ever. Unmatched.

He was twice a Super Bowl MVP (XIII and XIV) and once an NFL MVP (1978.) Drafted first overall out of Louisiana Tech in 1970, he wound up playing his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers (from 1970 through 1983.)

Over his career with the Steelers, Bradshaw threw for 212 TDs, 27,989 yards, ran for 32 TDs and 2,257 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Did you know......Terry Bradshaw and Eric Dickerson were both born on September 2nd?

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NFL Athlete Number 11 - Norm Van Brocklin

With one of the coolest names in NFL history, Norm Van Brocklin is the best NFL athlete to ever wear the jersey number 11. What did Norm Van Brocklin ever do in the NFL you ask? Here is just a bit of what he accomplished:

  • 9 time Pro Bowler
  • 1960 UPI NFL MVP
  • 554 Passing Yards in one game (1951, NFL Record)
  • 23,611 Career Passing Yards
  • 173 Career Passing TDs
  • 11 Career Rushing TDs
  • 22,413 Career Punting Yards
  • 42.9 Yard Average Punt for Career
  • 3-Time NFL Passing Leader
  • 2-Time NFL Punting Leader
  • 1971 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee

Van Brocklin was twice a member of an NFL Championship team (in 1951 with the Rams and in 1960 with the Eagles.) He played nine years with the Rams and 3 with the Eagles.

Did you know......Van Brocklin also coached the Vikings and Falcons?

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NFL Athlete Number 10 - Fran Tarkenton

Playing in the NFL between the years of 1961 to 1978 for two franchises, the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, former quarterback Fran Tarkenton is the best NFL athlete to ever wear the jersey number 10.

Known for his scrambling, Fran earned the nickname of "Scramblin' Fran." He was also referred to by the moniker of "Sir Francis." Fran was one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. As a matter of fact, he was the all-time leader in passing touchdowns before Dan Marino, and then Brett Favre passed him. He remains third on the all-time list with 342 passing TDs. He is also fifth on the all-time passing list with 47,003 passing yards, being eclipsed only by these great quarterbacks in passing yardage (in ascending order of yardage): Moon, Elway, Favre and Marino.

In line with his nickname, Tarkenton also rushed for quite a bit. He gathered 3674 yards and 32 TDs rushing the ball over his career in the NFL.

Fran was a nine time Pro Bowl invitee and the 1964 Pro Bowl MVP. He was twice an All-NFL player, and led his Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls. In 1986 the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Fran Tarkenton.

Did you know.....Fran's jersey number 10 has been retired by the Minnesota Vikings?

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NFL Athlete Number 9 - Sonny Jurgensen

Vince Lombardi once stated of Sonny Jurgensen: "Jurgensen is a great quarterback. He hangs in there under adverse conditions. He may be the best the league has ever seen. He is the best I have ever seen."* Sonny Jurgensen is also the best athlete to wear the NFL jersey number 9.

Sonny played seven years with the Philadelphia Eagles and eleven years with the Washington Redskins. (NFL career spanned the years 1957 to 1974.) He was a five time Pro Bowl selection, once while an Eagle and four times while a Redskin (1961, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969.)

He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1983, after amassing 255 career touchdown passes, 32,224 career passing yards, and a QB rating of 82.6, while winning the NFL passing title three times (once as a 40 year old.)

Did you know......Jurgensen was coached by Vince Lombardi as a member of the 1969 Redskins?

* source:

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NFL Athlete Number 8 - Troy Aikman

Troy Aikman led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl Championships in a four year span, and in the process became one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks. A 2006 Professional Football Hall of Fame inductee, he is also the best NFL athlete to wear the jersey number 8.

Did you know....Troy is one of four NFL quarterbacks to be selected first overall in the draft and to win the Super Bowl in their first appearance? (The other three are Jim Plunkett, Terry Bradshaw and Peyton Manning.)

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NFL Athlete Number 7 - John Elway

Simply put, he's one of the best quarterbacks ever. You could make an argument that he is the best quarterback ever. John Elway is the best athlete to ever wear the NFL jersey number 7.

Elway, who has the added distinction of playing his entire career with one team, the Denver Broncos, was almost a Baltimore Colt. He was drafted to play baseball and football. When picked by the Colts, Elway had indicated he would play baseball (he was selected in a draft by the New York Yankees also,) unless traded. The Colts conceded and traded Elway to the Denver Broncos. The rest is history. Over a career that spanned the years 1983 through 1998 he achieved the following.

  • 51,475 career (regular season) yards passing (3rd all-time)

  • 300 career (regular season) touchdowns (4th all-time)

  • 3,407 career (regular season) rushing yards

  • 33 career (regular season) rushing touchdowns

  • 4,964 playoff passing yards

  • 27 playoff touchdowns

  • 461 rushing yards

  • 6 rushing touchdowns

  • 2-time Super Bowl winner

  • Pro Hall of Fame inductee (2004)

  • Super Bowl XXXIII MVP

  • 5-time Super Bowl quarterback

  • 1987 AP NFL MVP

  • Jersey number 7 retired by the Broncos

Did you know.....John Elway played for the Oneonta Yankees in the New York Yankees minor league system?

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NFL Athlete Number 6 - Bubby Brister

Walter "Bubby" Brister is the best NFL athlete to have worn the jersey number 6 for his career. He may not have been a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he sure could sling the ball, and he has two Super Bowl rings to prove it.

Over an NFL career spanning the years of 1986 to 2000, Bubby Brister played behind center primarily for the Steelers, but picked up Super Bowl rings filling in admirably for the Denver Broncos. In fact, in 1998, when John Elway went down with an injury, Brister went 5-0 as the Broncos starting QB, finishing the season with a higher QB rating than Elway.*

Brister amassed some quality stats over his NFL career:

  • 14,445 passing yards in the regular season
  • 81 passing TDs
  • 1,207 completions
  • 54.6 career completion percentage
  • 546 rushing yards
  • 8 rushing TDs

Did you know........Bubby Brister was drafted by the Detroit Tigers to play pro baseball in 1981, before being drafted by the Steelers in 1986?

(* source: wikipedia)

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