Recently, Cover32’s Carl Pfeiffer was kind enough to go through all 32 NFL teams and assess who would be each teams Mount Rushmore. A huge task for anyone, but it has been a major trend in the sports world to do this and makes for fun arguments amongst us fanatics, so why not start a good debate?
The four chosen were as follows: Barry Sanders, Jason Hanson, Chris Speilman and Calvin Johnson. I think it’s a given that Sanders on the list, and for nearly everyone its easy to acknowledge that not only is Johnson the best player the Lions have ever had at wide receiver, but that he has the potential to be considered in the top five ever at the least. So, let’s just put those two aside, those no need to argue those.
I have always been and will always be a Jason Hanson fan. I don’t really think kickers belong in the hall of fame and considering that Jan Stenerud is the only pure placekicker inducted, the majority of the football world agrees with me. Considering some of the great players in Lions history such as Bobby Layne, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Joe Schmidt, Lem Barney and Doak Walker, there is no way Jason Hanson makes this list. The Lions don’t exactly have the rich history that a lot of other NFL teams have, but a kicker just isn’t going to cut it. It is like putting Mel Gray, who dominated and redefined the kick returner and punt returner positions on this pedestal. Both Hanson and Gray were fantastic, but not one of the best four Lions of all time.
Speilman on the other hand is very interesting to think about. Pfeiffer said he was the most underrated player of the 128 who made up his Rushmore’s. It really made me think back to his career and how truly great he was. Overshadowed by Sanders, Herman Moore and Jerry Ball in his heyday, either by greatness or in Moore and Ball’s cases, personality, Speilman was the glue for a formidable defense that helped the Lions reach the playoffs times in his eight year run with the team. He’s the teams all time leader in tackles(a stat that wasn’t tracked until 1973), a four time pro-bowler and holds the record for most tackles in a season for not only the Lions, but also the Buffalo Bills, who he really only played one season for before a neck injury and his wife’s battle with cancer ended Speilman’s career. Speilman was very, very good, if not great, but once again, I can’t include him in the top four Lions of all time.
Dick Lebeau had 62 career interceptions in 185 total games. If you eliminate his first and last seasons, he had 62 in 165 games. It is an unbelievable number, and when you consider that the Lions only once made the playoffs in Lebeau’s career in 1970(which also happened to be the year Lebeau had nine interceptions, his highest single season total), it is not like his team was playing with a lead. It was also much more of a running game era so his opportunities were far less frequent than they are in our current times. I think you have to consider Lebeau in this conversation. Once again, I think he falls short though, in part because of the man who lined up on the opposite side of the field from him.
The man who has to be included is the previously mentioned, Dick “Night Train” Lane. He was named the best cornerback of the first fifty years of professional football, still holds the record for most interceptions in one season(not done with the Lions though), an all-pro in four of his six seasons with Detroit, a hall of famer and completely dominant at his position. I can only imagine what teams would do now if matched up against Lebeau and Lane in this era. Certainly, players are bigger, faster and the offenses are more complex than they were in Lebeau and Lane’s time, but obviously none of it has gotten past Lebeau as he is probably better known as being the best defensive co-coordinator of all time (for the Pittsburgh Steelers), so there is no reason to think Lane wouldn’t have been as dominant as well. You could consider him the game’s first shut-down cornerback.
As for the fourth player on the mountain top, the man I’d choose to join Sanders, Johnson and Lane, it would be Joe Schmidt. The facts are simple, ten time pro-bowl selection, eight times a first team all-pro(and once more as a second team), four times Lions mvp(during their championship runs of the 1950s) and in 1957 he made almost half the teams tackles for the whole season. He was their captain, he was their leader, he was a champion (which no other player on this list can state) and later he was their coach. Schmidt is still considered one of the greatest linebackers of all time, the Lions retired his number 56(and we will ignore that he let the forgettable Pat Swilling wear it for a brief moment) and was inducted into the hall of fame in 1973.
So, that’s my Detroit Lions Mount Rushmore: Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Dick “Night Train” Lane and Joe Schmidt. Anyone else you’d consider?