The NFL 100: Gratitude to Greats Project

Welcome, NFL fans…

2019 was a milestone year in the world of pro football. That year, the NFL celebrated its 100th season of bringing its iconic game to all of us fans. As a 24-year fan of the game, a pro football autograph collector in one of the league’s most loyal markets, that of the New Orleans Saints,…

01) Dermontti Dawson

The first football legend to respond to the Gratitude to Greats project was Steelers Hall of Fame center, Dermontti Dawson. Nicknamed “Dirt” because of the way he would just “grind” defenders into the ground, Dawson succeeded Mike Webster, who was the center in front of Terry Bradshaw for the 70s dynasty era Steelers, the greatest…

02) Dan Fouts

My second response that I got the same day as my first one was from one of the most prolific stat-producing passers in NFL history who was at the helm of one of the greatest, yet somewhat overlooked, offenses in history, nicknamed Air Coryell, Dan Fouts. The Chargers great led the NFL in passing four…

03) Dave Casper

My first response via Messenger in the Gratitude to Greats project was from legendary Raiders Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper. Casper was most famous for an iconic play in the 1977 AFC Divisional playoff against the Bert Jones-led Colts that was billed “Ghost to the Post”, where Casper caught a 42-yard reception route…

04) Roger Craig

My next response was from one of the greatest all-purpose players of all-time, Roger Craig. All of you new fans are familiar with Christian McCaffrey’s recent record breaking in 2019 on an all-purpose level, as well as Marshall Faulk being the most famous to break rushing and receiving records. Roger was the first player (and…

05) Cliff Branch

Quite possibly the most moving response in the Gratitude to Greats project came on August 1, 2019, when I heard from Cliff Branch… just two days before his untimely passing. Branch was without a doubt one of the fastest, greatest, deep threats in the 70s NFL. In 1974, Branch had an average of 24.2 yards…

06) Marv Levy

Another early email response I got in the project…as well as one of the most eloquent and expressive, was from Pro Football Hall of Fame coach for the Buffalo Bills, Marv Levy. After inheriting a Bills franchise who had struggled for quite some time, going 2-14 in 2 of the three years before he took…

07) Jim Kelly

In early August, I received a response from one of the greatest quarterbacks of the 90s via his foundation, Jim Kelly. This Hall of Fame quarterback led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive AFC Championships from the 1990-93 seasons. I wrote Kelly asking for advice as I recover from cancer, with Kelly battling cancer himself,…

08) Ken Riley

My eighth response in the Gratitude to Greats project was from 70s Bengals interception ace, a forgotten great, Ken Riley. “The Rattler” is fifth on the NFL’s all-time interception list with 65 picks. However, amazingly, he is not only one of only two of the top eight on the all-time interceptions list to not be…

09) Eddie Meador

My ninth response was from Eddie Meador, linebacking great for the Rams, who played from 1959-70. Meador, in his day, was labeled a smart, aggressive, and instinctive player, as well as versatile, playing in Pro Bowls as both backfield positions, and still to this day holds Rams records in career interceptions and blocked punts 44 years after his…

10) Chris Hanburger

In early August, I heard from innovative Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger, who started a new era of linebackers in the NFL in the 1970s that were more mobile and could be more effective against the pass just as much against the run. A 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame senior inductee who was the centerpiece…

11) Lynn Swann

Another NFL Hall of Famer I received a response from in the Gratitude to Greats project was the top receiver of the 70s Steelers dynasty, Lynn Swann. The Chuck Noll Steelers, one of the most productive passing offenses of the NFL in that period, which is needless to say, utilized the wide receiver position, and…

12) Gil Brandt

Shortly after my 34th birthday, I heard from 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in the Contributor category, Gil Brandt. A former executive with the Dallas Cowboys, Brandt was not only the Cowboys’ scouting guru, but during 29 years with Dallas, this legendary scout pioneered so many great innovations that you see and hear…

13) Alan Page

One of the biggest names I heard from in the NFL 100: Gratitude to Greats Project was a defensive icon, Alan Page. Regarded as one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history, Page anchored the Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” defense to four NFC Championships throughout the 70s and was the first defensive player…

14) Anthony Munoz

In August, I heard from the man widely considered to be the greatest offensive tackle in NFL history, with eleven consecutive Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro honors, Anthony Munoz. Despite having three knee injuries in college at USC, which caused him to see only one game his senior season, the Bengals drafted him third overall…

15) Karl Mecklenburg

In early September, I heard via email from a man who may be the biggest of the many Denver Broncos Pro Football Hall of Fame snubs, and a great who has been very responsive to my sporadic emails over the past few years, as well as a cancer survivor himself, Karl Mecklenburg. In my honest…

16) Zach Thomas

In September, I also heard in the NFL 100: Gratitude to Greats project from a man who I am reasonably sure, based on how I heard his presentation to voters went this year and how close he got to being inducted for the NFL’s Centennial year this year, will have Canton calling in 2021 when…

17) Dick LeBeau

Later in September, I heard from a man who was a master of both playing and coaching, Class of 2010 Pro Football Hall of Famer, Dick LeBeau. One of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history, LeBeau still ranks in the top five amongst cornerbacks on the all-time interceptions list 40 years after his retirement. LeBeau went on…

18) Jim Covert

I received an email response from a man who would soon be named one of the inductees to the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class, Jim Covert. Known to Chicago as “Jimbo”, Mr. Covert was a 1980s All-Decade Team member who blocked for Walter Payton, with their work combining for the Bears to…

19) Joe Jacoby

Arguably one of the most touching responses I received was from future Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Jacoby, one of the original Hogs who anchored the Joe Gibbs three-time championship dynasty Redskins of the 80s and early 90s. Jacoby was named one of the 70 Greatest Redskins, and a member of the NFL 1980s…

20) Jerry Jones

Another response I received was from one of the most powerful men in the NFL, the owner of the third most valuable franchise in the world, transcending football, as reported by Forbes, the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones. Mr. Jones sent me some very encouraging words, not just concerning moving forward, but encouraging me to share all…

21) Ted Hendricks

One Raiders great who takes a lot of time out to respond to the fans is “The Mad Stork” Ted Hendricks, who used his height to give punishing tackles, as well as to specialize in blocking field goals, punts, and extra-point tries. He may have been one of the best all-around offense disrupters in NFL…

22) Tony Dorsett

The only player I’ve received a full response from in the Gratitude to Greats project that since starting the project, I’ve happened to meet in New Orleans happens to be Tony Dorsett, the face of the Landry Cowboys rushing game. Dorsett rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first eight non-strike seasons, and in 1982…

23) Willie Roaf

It is always an honor to hear from a great player from your hometown team that you’ve been behind for years. As an eleven-time Pro Bowler, 9-time All-Pro, and a member of not one, but two All-Decade Teams, (90s and 2000s), Willie Roaf would arguably be at a neck and neck run with Brees for the most…

24) Bill Parcells

I also received a response from the greatest coach at turning around stumbling franchises in NFL history, Bill Parcells. Mr. Parcells was the only coach to lead four different teams to the playoffs, and three of those teams to conference championship games, all of these teams of whom had horrible records just several years earlier.…

25) Lee Roy Jordan

After a College Hall of Fame career with Alabama Crimson Tide under Bear Bryant, Lee Roy Jordan had a phenomenal career in the NFL, winning a ring with the Cowboys, and to this day is the 2nd all-time leading tackler in America’s Team’s history. I thank Mr. Jordan very, very much for taking the time…

26) Paul Warfield

I received a thorough and touching response right around Thanksgiving from wide receiver Paul Warfield, a big part of the only undefeated NFL champion of our modern era, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Warfield won three NFL Championships, first with the Cleveland Browns late in the Jim Brown days, and then two back to back with…

27) Raymond Berry

I was honored a myriad to have heard on behalf of a primary figure in the NFL’s 100th anniversary from the Baltimore Colts in the Johnny Unitas days. This response was actually from Mr. Berry’s daughter, Ashley, which was expected, due to Mr. Berry’s current condition, and which I reflected in the letter. However, Mr.…

28) John Wooten

I also heard from a future Hall of Famer in the contributor category, John Wooten. After a solid career blocking for Jim Brown in the Cleveland Browns dynasty, Wooten was the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. The Alliance pushes for the hiring of minority candidates for head coach and front office vacancies in the…

29) Mike Curtis

Mike was one of the most intense players in NFL history. If you were a guy carrying the football against the Baltimore Colts, you were going to get drilled when you passed Mike. Running backs such as Larry Csonka and Jim Brown were among Curtis’ victims. There was even a time at Memorial Stadium in…

30) Paul Hornung

Another response I was extremely, extremely honored to receive was from another primary member of arguably the most celebrated NFL dynasty, Paul Hornung. This great was one of the faces of the Lombardi Packers dynasty of the 60s, was the first player in NFL history to win the Heisman trophy, was the first player to…

31) Lance Alworth

I also received a response from arguably the greatest pre-merger AFL player of all time, Lance Alworth. “Bambi” was the first player to get inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who spent the majority of his career in the AFL, winning the AFL MVP award in 1963, and holds, to this day, the…

32) Terrell Owens

One player who has taken the time to respond to several of my emails over the past few years is receiving phenom Terrell Owens. T.O. will always be considered one of the great wide receivers of our generation, despite having his accolades, in some’s eyes, overshadowed by controversy. You certainly cannot argue with Owens’ accomplishments,…

33) Ron Wolf

I also heard from another front-office genius, 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Ron Wolf. The Personnel Director of the Oakland Raiders from 1979-89 and General Manager of the Green Bay Packers from 1991-2000, Wolf built both of those teams into champions. Wolf took the time to wish me health, happiness, and all success…

34) Mel Renfro

I also heard from one of America’s Team’s greats, who is one of the most versatile defensive powerhouses of the early Cowboys, as well as the Cowboys’ all-time interception return yards leader, Mel Renfro. Renfro offered his prayers that I fully recover from cancer, which, according to my last doctor in Shreveport-Bossier, I have, and…

35) Mike Holmgren

Shortly after the Coaches category nominees for the Centennial Class of the Hall of Fame were announced, I wrote to some of those great coaches, and I heard from one of those nominees…Mike Holmgren was one of the best quarterback-molding coaches in NFL history, grooming Joe Montana and Steve Young of the 49ers as the…

36) Mike Haynes

I got a very touching letter from who many say is the greatest cornerback in NFL history, Mike Haynes. A nine-time Pro Bowler, winner of the 1976 Defensive Rookie of the Year, as well as the 1984 Defensive Player of the Year, and a unanimous vote to the NFL 100th Anniversary team, not to mention…

37) Mike Ditka

I also heard from legendary tight end and coach Mike Ditka, a man who doesn’t respond to a lot of fan mail. Ditka redefined the tight end position as a player, being the first to receive catches. Before Ditka, the tight end position was solely another blocking position. Ditka went on to be the head…

38) Leroy Kelly

I also heard from the Browns’ heir to the throne of Jim Brown at running back, Leroy Kelly. This great was a very versatile running back who also excelled as a punt returner. Kelly gave his blessings…while it appears Mr. Kelly got the wrong end of the stick on my surgery, thinking my surgery had…

39) Kurt Warner

One of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in modern NFL history, this Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback paid his dues bagging groceries at a supermarket, while playing Arena and World League football. And then, Warner finally got a serious look by head coach Dick Vermeil, a coach who was not afraid to give an unknown…

40) Tom Flores

Got a great response after settling back to the NOLA area from two-time winning coach of the big game, and future Hall of Famer, Tom Flores! This man is one of only two NFL personalities in the league’s history to win the big game as a player, head coach, and assistant coach. Flores is also…

41) Morten Andersen

I was extremely honored to hear from a former Saint, iconic kicker, Morten Andersen. “The Great Dane” holds the record for scoring the most overall points in NFL history, as well as being a first-team All-Decade selection in TWO DIFFERENT DECADES, the 80s and 90s, not to mention having the distinction of playing in the most games in…

42) Dan Reeves

Late in January, I heard from a legendary NFL head coach who was another 2020 Centennial class nominee, as well as a man who has been very responsive to my occasional email over the past few years, Dan Reeves. This NFL personality has been involved with more appearances in that final big game (I can’t…

43) Bob “Boomer” Brown

Bob “Boomer” Brown was one of the most explosive offensive linemen of the 1960s. “The Boomer” was a six-time Pro Bowler, playing for the Eagles, Rams, and Raiders, this was a guy who could just obliterate the defensive line. Brown was also a member of the 1960s NFL All-Decade Team. I am especially flattered and…

44) Jack Youngblood

I heard via email in late-January from arguably the greatest defensive player the Rams had in the 70s, Jack Youngblood, who played in seven Pro Bowls, leading the Rams in sacks in six of those years. The year the Rams played in the big game in 1979, Youngblood played every defensive down in that big…

45) Billy Shaw

I also heard from the first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee to play his entire career in the original AFL, rather than the NFL, Billy Shaw. Billy was one of the greatest run blockers of his era, having an uncanny ability to just pull out in front of runners, and was a great pass…

46) Mike Kenn

I heard via email from Falcons offensive line great Mike Kenn, who was a five-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, as well as the Falcons’ all-time leader in most consecutive games. Legendary 49ers head coach Bill Walsh once stated he had never seen an offensive tackle with his quickness and agility. I thank Mr. Kenn for…

47) Joe Schmidt

Joe Schmidt is one of the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history, as well as one of the earliest stars at that position. Schmidt helped the Lions win two NFL Championships, starred in ten consecutive Pro Bowls, as well as ten consecutive First-Team All-Pro honors, and was named to the NFL’s 50th and 100th Anniversary…

48) Carl Eller

I also heard from Carl Eller, another one of the “Purple People Eaters” from the Vikings’ defensive line of the 70s. Eller holds the record for the most sacks in Vikings’ history with 130 1/2. There really wasn’t anything Eller couldn’t do on the defensive line. He could rush the pass, as well as the…

49) Drew Pearson

Known as “Mr. Clutch” because of his proficiency for making some of the most iconic receiving plays in NFL history, such as the “Hail Mary”, the 50-yard bomb that won the 1975 NFC Divisional Round of the NFC Championship over the Minnesota Vikings, Drew Pearson is the only member of the 1970s NFL All-Decade First…

50) Roger Brown

I also heard from a member of the “original” Fearsome Foursome, Roger Brown. In the early 60s, the second Fearsome Foursome, which was for the Detroit Lions, consisting of Brown, Sam Williams, Darris McCord, and the legendary Alex Karras. Roger is best known for sacking Bart Starr seven times in the “Thanksgiving Massacre” game, which…

51) Tom Mack

I recently heard from Los Angeles Rams offensive line great, Tom Mack. The Rams had a .720 win percentage in Tom Mack’s days with the team, and won eight divisions, as well as made it to four NFC Championship games. This one got to me after CO-VID 19 spread, not to mention its out of…

52) Dick Vermeil

I received a response from Rams coaching legend, Dick Vermeil, a man whose motivational coaching has turned so many nobodies into somebodies. Vermeil took both the 1999 Rams, as well as the 1980 Eagles, to a championship, with the 1999 Rams winning the big game, as well as took the Kansas City Chiefs to the…

53) Jackie Smith

My last entry in the Gratitude to Greats project was from one of the best tight ends of the 70s, the Cardinals’ Jackie Smith. A former track star from my home state of Louisiana, there was so much that this guy could do on the field that made him one of the best at his…


Stay up to date on the Gratitude to Greats project

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s