The greatest player to grace the gridiron is…

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By Andrew Tolentino | Football Editor

This is one of, if not the most loaded of all loaded questions in all of sports.

Who is the greatest football player of all time? Is it Joe Montana? Or maybe Jim Brown? Could it actually be Tom Brady? Thankfully, we have another question to settle the contemporary debate.

Who is the greatest legend in the making?

In preparation for our upcoming issue of Beckett Football, we’re asking collectors to weigh in with their picks for the No. 1 player of all time and the No. 1 active (non-retired) gridiron great. Comment here with your choices for the best all-time legend and the best legend in the making.

Be sure to leave your name and where you’re from (city, state), as we’ll be printing some of your picks in the coming issue and perhaps in a top-secret-oops-I-just-let-the-cat-out-of-the-bag special 50 greatest football players publication.

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42 comments

  1. XstreamINsanity 3 November, 2011 at 08:17

    Not a huge football fan, but here’s my thoughts:

    Best All-Time Legend: Dan Marino
    Best Legend-in-the-making: Peyton Manning

    I like Tom Brady, I do, but if you ask me, Peyton’s career stats (not awards or rings) are better for me than Tom’s. Tom’s team has the money, has the coach, etc. Peyton seems to work with less and get it done. Here’s to hoping he comes back in great shape.

  2. Kevin 3 November, 2011 at 09:56

    Jerry Rice

    He has all facets: the rings, the records, he was hands down the best at his position and he was a true game changer. Teams had to change their plans simple to deal with number 80.

    Kevin
    Waynesboro Virginia

  3. Bryon Pratt 3 November, 2011 at 11:01

    Best Ever: Walter Payton
    Best Current: Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning Tied
    Best in the making: Ben Roethlisberger

  4. Justin 3 November, 2011 at 11:21

    RB- Barry Sanders
    WR- Jerry Rice
    QB- Peyton Manning

    But if I had to choose…. It would be Peyton. Just like XStream said, we are talking about a QB that has to do everything by himself. Brady and Montana are both system QB’s under the greatest coaches of all-time. Jerry Rice never took a vacation until he retired from football. When the season was over he would immediately start his offseason training. As far as Barry Sanders, he was stuck on the worse team for his entire career and retired early because of it. If we were to put Emmitt Smith on the Lions and Barry Sanders on the Cowboys would we even bring up Emmitt’s name in the running back conversation?

  5. Carolina Panthers 3 November, 2011 at 11:45

    Retired: Lawrence Taylor – HOF’er, 9 time NFL All Pro and made the All Decade Team not to mention 3 Defensive Player of the year awards.

    Active: Cam Newton – yes, he is a rookie, but to come out like he has and provide the artillery that he comes with.. AMAZING PLAYER!

    – Bobby Taylor- Bolivia, NC

  6. David Johnson 3 November, 2011 at 12:01

    Joe Montana & Jerry Rice are tied at #1 all time
    Tom Brady is tops for current players, thought Peyton Manning is a close 2nd.
    David Johnson
    Ocala, FL

  7. Charlie DiPietro 3 November, 2011 at 12:03

    Jim Brown is the greatest football player of all time. He had a one of a kind combination of speed, grace and power. When it was third and short, everyone knew Jim was getting the ball and it didn’t matter. He could actually carry a pile of defenders on his back for five yards. I have always been a Colts fan. I can remember having nightmares just before the Colts played Jim Brown’s Browns.

    Today, it has to be Peyton Manning. For all other teams, including Brady’s Pats, the biggest stars go down and their teams can still win. Looking at the Manningless Colts, tells you just how much he means to the team.

    Charlie DiPietro, Owner
    Sports Cards Plus
    San Antonio, Texas

  8. STEVE EMERICK 3 November, 2011 at 13:24

    Winning is everything and being the team leader earns the accolades!

    otto graham for Retired Player with Johnny Unitas a Very very Close 2nd!

    ben Rothlesberger for active player he is than brady and will surpass his Ring total!

    Honorable mention to Peyton Manning who is proving his worth by setting on sidelines this year! In 40+ years of watching football i have never seen a QB do the things he does at the line and for statistics!

  9. Chris H 3 November, 2011 at 13:44

    All time: Jerry Rice
    Current: Tom Brady
    Future(if looking for that): Aaron Rodgers

    Chris
    Northfield, NJ

  10. Matt U 3 November, 2011 at 14:32

    Barry Sanders has my vote. He played for a horrible team and yet somehow excelled every year of his career. If he wouldn’t have retired, he would probably still have the all time record for yards.

  11. steve miller 3 November, 2011 at 16:20

    Best ever: Joe Montana & his 4 Super Bowl rings

    Best in the Making: Aaron Rodgers!

    Steve Miller
    Goshen, IN

  12. Matt 3 November, 2011 at 17:29

    Best QB…tons of debate, best RB….tons of debate! Best WR, JERRY RICE…no debate. He has to be the greatest! Matt, Omaha

  13. Luis Lopez 3 November, 2011 at 18:23

    Best ever player – Emmitt Smith
    All-time NFL leading rusher, NFL MVP, Superbowl MVP, 3 Superbowl rings in 4 years, 1st in rushing touchdowns, played injured and was all heart! Never quit on his team! Simply the Greatest!
    Current – Peyton Manning
    Will be the greatest QB when his career is over.

  14. Terry Kwentus 3 November, 2011 at 18:34

    Best retired would be Walter Payton. He could run through you or around you. The best active player would have to be Peyton Manning. No one player means more to his team than Peyton.

  15. Trey Hickman 3 November, 2011 at 19:57

    All time: Jim Brown. He was a true behemoth among boys and, had he not gotten bitten by the acting bug and ditched ball-toting for Tinseltown, would have set rushing records that likely would never be broken.

    In the making: Peyton Manning. He is like a world-class surgeon under center and, by way of his physical tools, intelligence and unbridled work ethic, has mastered the quarterback position like no other signal-caller in history.

    Trey Hickman
    West Blocton, Alabama

  16. Mark W. 3 November, 2011 at 21:05

    Man you can go all different ways with this. I personally think you would have to go decade and or position.
    Personally, the best I ever saw play the game was none other than Barry Sanders. He was the Detroit Lions. He had nothing certainly no offensive line. And the guy I think is the future of the NFL Aaron Rodgers, god I hate him but he has got talent.
    Now for the real question best defense ever !!!! Ha! Back in the day watching Jack Tatum as a kid on tv.. Good god look at the video. Players refused to go over the middle because he would take your head off. He played with a cast on his arm every week.
    All this coming from a Dallas Cowboy’s fan….. Player to watch RB DeMarco Murray
    -Mark from Clark,NJ

  17. Cory Clarkson 4 November, 2011 at 04:00

    greatest player of all time is johnny unitas. when he retired, he owned the record book. put up unbelievable numbers in an era that was dominated by defense. throwing for over 40,000 yards in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s is like throwing for 80,000 yards in today’s offensive driven nfl. nobody had a bigger impact on the game than johnny u. 47 consecutive games with a td pass…are you kidding me? this record will never be broken. a model of consistency

    greatest player in the making is aaron rodgers. this guy is just getting started. this is only his 4th year as a starting qb, although he’s playing like a 10 year vet. he already has 1 championship and is sure to win plenty more. he’s already thrown 107 touchdown passes to only 35 interceptions. as of today, he’s the only quarterback in nfl history to have a career passer rating over 100. he’s at 101.9 and steve young is second all time with a rating of 96.8

    Cory
    Delphos, OH

  18. Mike Roseberry 4 November, 2011 at 08:27

    A lot of worthy players have been mentioned, but I hadn’t seen Johnny Unitas mentioned until I got down to the very bottom…thanks, Cory Clarkson…plus, Johnny U. played in an era where the QBs called their own plays…I also like Walter Payton…you didn’t hit him to bring him down, he HIT YOU…receivers…Jerry Rice…defense…Ray Nitschie (sorry for the bad spelling), LT and Alan Page come to mind…as well as Rod Woodson…I don’t think you can ever come up with one player as the best of all time…

  19. Bobby 4 November, 2011 at 13:05

    Patrick willis , yes hes young but he is the best player to ever step on a football field next id say barry sanders or rice/young/montana/lott but we cant forget Gale sayers
    with that said ill ghave to still pick patrick willis he truely is the best player ever to step on a field of any sort

    NINERSNATION!

  20. Greg 4 November, 2011 at 14:41

    Best all time player is Joe Montana. Best in the making? It has to be Tom Brady. Best retired? Of course, Walter Payton.

  21. Michael 5 November, 2011 at 11:39

    All time greatest is a tough one but my pick goes to Barry Sanders.
    No. 1 active player is without a doubt Peyton Manning.

  22. Darrell Trent (HToutlaws) 5 November, 2011 at 19:39

    Barry Sanders is the best player of all time. No player did what he could with an average to below average team. The Detroit Lions were lucky to of made the playoffs so many times in the 90’s, and Barry Sanders was the main reason they got there.

  23. Shawn Arter 6 November, 2011 at 09:05

    The player of all time has to be Walter Payton. He was the best on the field but also gave a lot back to the community. Barry Sanders is a close second.

    I would have to say Peyton Manning is the best in the making. Easy to argue. The colts are winless without him on the field.

    Shawn Arter
    San Angelo, TX

  24. Andrew 6 November, 2011 at 09:09

    All great names but … the point of playing the game is not to throw the most TD’s, rush for the most yards, sack the most QB’s or even get the most MVP’s.. You play to win and no one won better than OTTO GRAHAM. in a 10 year career he led his team to the playoffs every single season winning 10 straight division titles and 7 championships. That stat alone put him on top of the pile. Who else went 10 years + and walked away with a career .851 winning %

    “If a quarterback is judged by how many times he leads his team to a title game, how could Otto Graham not be considered the greatest player of all time.” – Paul Brown

  25. Mark Fiscus 6 November, 2011 at 12:02

    Saying who is the best truly depends on the judging criteria. Football is a tough game and it takes a tough man to survive. If the criteria is based on toughness, longevity, winning and stats then it would be:

    Quarterback-Brett Favre
    Running back-Walter Payton
    Receiver-Jerry Rice

    If the criteria is integrity, making those around you better, winning and stats then it would be:

    Quarterback-Peyton Manning
    Running back-Walter Payton
    Receiver-Jerry Rice

    If the criteria is simply winning then it would be:

    Quarterback(tie)-Tom Brady, Joe Montana. Terry Bradshaw
    Running back-Emmitt Smith
    Receiver(tie)-Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice

    We can’t judge on hypothetical circumstances. Jim Brown retired too soon, so most of the records evaded him. Barry Sanders was a quitter. Quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit. Elway was a baby for refusing to be drafted by the Colts.

    Since Jerry Rice is always unanimous in these conversations, that would make him the greatest of all time.

    Peyton Manning has all of the essentials to make him the best active player.

    Mark Fiscus
    Nashville, TN

  26. chris perez 7 November, 2011 at 12:18

    i don’t think peyton manning or tom brady qualify for “greatest in the making” considering both of those guys are already established and will be first ballot hall of famers

    as for a guy who’s been in the nfl for less than 5 years, clay mathews

    the greatest of all time is johnny unitas

  27. Kenny 11 November, 2011 at 03:21

    Best football player ever? Ringold High Schools very own Joe Montana
    Best current legend? Peyton Manning.

    Kenny Cooks
    Anchorage, AK

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