Identifying the 100 best players from 100 years of NFL football is no small feat.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was part of the 25-person panel that chose the NFL 100 All-Time Team, offered an inside look at the selection process during an appearance Monday on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria.”
“The tough thing about the whole process is just comparing two-way players to one-way players,” Belichick said. “The two-way players that played through, let’s call it the mid-40s — even to some degree the late 40s, but at that point, it really became one-way football.
“So you have a great receiver, a great quarterback, or a great defensive back, or a great linebacker. How do you compare them to a player who was a two-way player (who was) maybe not as good at the specific skill that a player in later years had, but was an all-around player — played on everything, played on every special team, played on offense, played on defense? It’s kind of apples and oranges. The great players in the earlier years weren’t probably as skilled as the players that have played in, let’s call it, the modern era — the one-way players. But there’s a lot of one-way players that could not have played both ways.”
The panel’s desire to recognize the early greats of the game — many of whom were recommended by Belichick or John Madden, according to fellow committee member Peter King — has been controversial. The group of 12 running backs selected included names like Dutch Clark, Marion Motley and Steve Van Buren while modern stars like Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson were left off.
“I think that’s the judgment that the voters tried to make in making those selections,” Belichick said on WEEI. “I think there’s a lot of players in today’s era that would have a hard time playing today’s game both ways. There’s no position for them on the other side of the ball. In those days, when you played both ways, they had to have a second position. Now, how good were they at that second position? Would they be good enough to be a receiver in the modern era or a linebacker in the modern era? But the combination of both and being able to play both is what made them great in their day.
“So I look at players that dominated in their era — in the ’30s and the ’40s. The Dutch Clarks of the world, guys like that. Don Hutson — people like that that dominated their era, but they were also two-way players. And I look at players in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s that dominated their game that weren’t two-way players, but they dominated their game in the game that they played. They weren’t playing two ways at that point. But it’s an interesting conversation when you try to compare the two, and that’s kind of what makes it fun and makes it interesting.”
The All-Time Team will be announced position-by-position in a series of Friday night specials on NFL Network hosted by Belichick, Rich Eisen and Cris Collinsworth. Belichick also was one of 10 coaches honored by the selection panel.
“It was a fantastic experience,” the Patriots coach said on WEEI. “Just being part of the whole process was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But to be able to talk to the great players and some of the great people in the game and their perspective on it, some of them I know fairly well, or pretty well, and others I either knew a little bit or just met, it was awesome. I can’t put it into words. It was a great honor to be involved in that and a great thrill to be part of the program of revealing who the players were and being able to talk about some of those guys.”