FOXBORO, Mass. — The NFL Network has done its job. By creating a list that ranked the top-100 players of all-time, it has sparked a great deal of debate, from the low end of the scale, to the quarterbacks, to the top two on the board.
Former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and former Browns fullback Jim Brown were ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, and that selection, which was released Thursday, seems to have created the greatest stir. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who doubles as a great football historian, was asked Friday for his thoughts on Rice and Brown.
"I have a great relationship with Jim Brown," said Belichick, who didn’t watch the 10-part series. "He was a big part of my experience in Cleveland. That was really, I’d say, one of the true highlights — the opportunity to talk, and get to know him, and become friends with Jim, and have his perspective and friendship on a lot of levels. He is just a tremendous person, and of course, when you’re real close to that situation, you start to have a little more appreciation of him as a player than even I did as a kid, as a fan, watching him. You go back and really talk to him and understand, and that guy, he’s a man’s man now. He is so impressive in everything — not just as a player, but his physical presence, his competiveness playing golf with him and stuff like that. He is very competitive, focused, and has a great winning attitude and I definitely learned a lot from him.
"Jerry Rice is kind of the opposite of that. I don’t really have any kind of relationship with Jerry other than playing against him (when Belichick was the Giants defensive coordinator). Obviously, he was great player and great receiver, and [part of] an offense that was very productive. We had some great battles with them — the 49ers and Jerry. They had some plays and some games against us that I am sure they are happy about and we had plenty against them that we did well in. It was a great competitive rivalry between the two teams."
Tom Brady (No. 21) was the highest-ranking Patriot, and he was seventh among quarterbacks, behind former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana (No. 4), former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas (No. 6), current Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (No. 8), former Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh (No. 14), former Browns quarterback Otto Graham (No. 16) and current Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (No. 20).
Belichick wouldn’t really debate the rankings, saying everyone's criteria could be different.
"When you get into the Hall of Fame conversations, what’s the criteria?" Belichick said. "Is it an outstanding season? Is it the longevity of the career? Is it a stat thing, which a lot of times it is versus what some players do that aren’t in stats. They are hitting values. Just how do you want to measure it? Probably all those 20 guys, you can probably take more than that and make a case for a lot of them. It just depends on what your criteria is, which I don’t even know what it was.
"I appreciate all of them and all their different roles. But to me, what difference does it make? Whether the guy is first or third or fourth, they’re all pretty special."