With the 2019 ESPYS on their way, and many of today's sports icons set to share the stage, we asked dozens of players around the NFL to tell us who their sports heroes were growing up. Most gave fellow football players; many answered Michael Jordan (including one quarterback in Green Bay); but everybody had something to say.
"What's funny is that I didn't play football that much until my junior year of high school, but I always loved football. My original football hero was Mike Vick because I played quarterback. I forced myself to be left-handed because I idolized him so much, especially after 'Madden 2004' came out and he was on the cover. I started locking into his game and seeing the things he could do that other people couldn't. As far as my position, Randy Moss has always been my guy. ... People said he was confident, and I loved that he backed it up with his play."
Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
"Brett Favre was one of the big quarterbacks I looked up to growing up. Sitting on my couch with my dad and my brother, being able to watch him and how much fun he had playing the game ... and that kind of gunslinger mentality that everyone liked to see. ...He was playing the 49ers. It was fourth down. Fourteen seconds left. He's with the Vikings at this point. When he switched to the Vikings, I couldn't stand him. Don't know why. It just broke my heart that he left Green Bay and I didn't understand the full grasp of what was going on. But when he came to San Francisco and threw a 35-yard strike on a line to the back of the end zone to beat the 49ers with like 10 seconds left, it broke my heart because I was a 49er fan growing up."
"Football-wise, it was John Abraham. He was with the Falcons, a pass-rusher, and I grew up in Georgia. I remember I got a ball signed by him when I was a kid and that meant a lot to me. Football-wise, he was like my sports role model. But I was a big baseball fan growing up, a big Braves fan. I like Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, especially Andruw Jones because of the way he played in the outfield. He was always doing the diving catches. I always tried to do the diving catches in the backyard."
"Probably Deion Sanders. He brought a lot of passion and energy and excitement for me watching the game. You know he had a lot of fun, made a lot of big plays, that got everyone excited, and he always had the swagger and the charisma to go with it."
"My hero would be Patrick Peterson. When I was a teenager, I wanted to model my game after Peterson during his LSU days. He was so smooth, talented, a good role model. I wanted to be like him. I probably have a picture of him on my old Facebook page, still. I'm from Miami and Peterson always played so well against the Hurricanes. I never met him but I did meet his dad once at a practice, and I mentioned to him that I'm a big fan of his son. There's not a specific play or moment, but Miami played at LSU and I was in love with how he made the No. 7 legendary at LSU."
"Jerry Rice. I was always a receiver, and for some reason I grew up a Cowboys fan and a Niners fan -- the two major teams. And he was just always my favorite. I still have a locker in my parents' basement, one of the little NFL team lockers, with my name on it and No. 80 and everything."
Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay Packers
"I was trying to decide between two -- I'll go with this one because it's shaped my way I approach football and my childhood: Joe Montana. Being born in 1984, and then the late 1980s and the run and the Super Bowl that they won, and just how he carried himself on and off of the field. I remember he was my first NFL jersey I got as a kid, on Christmas Day. I don't think I took that thing off until it didn't fit anymore. The irony: I grew up in Texas in Cowboys country, and the whole family was Cowboys fans, so I don't think it was really favorable that ... Joe Montana was my guy."
"Had to been Bruce Smith and Warren Sapp. Bruce Smith, Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan -- they had a good combination with speed and power. Had a high IQ for the game, knowing where they needed to be. Despite how people viewed them and their character, they always kind of knew exactly what they needed to do to handle their jobs."
"Clinton Portis. That's the reason why I got [No. 26]. ... He didn't care what others thought of him. He was just him. I liked that a lot, the way he played the game. ... When Sean Taylor died, he came out and wore Sean's shirt and every time he scored he lifted his jersey up to show off Sean's shirt. That was all he wore. I thought that was very powerful."
"I grew up a Packers fan, so I loved Reggie White, he was that guy for me, but for sure Brett Favre, too, and even later Aaron Rodgers. ... The Packers were everything for us, they were huge in our house, my grandma is a Packers fan, all my family, so you remember watching something you love with the people around you. It's why [I'm] most excited for our game in Lambeau this season. Everybody I know can come to that game, my grandma can come to that game. I mean, I went to a couple high school award banquets there so to play there, I can't wait. ... There was this one time playing in Oakland, when after a play I was yelling, 'It was a hold,' about one of the offensive linemen, and [Rodgers] said back to me, 'No, it wasn't, he kept his hands inside' or something like and I was just thinking like, 'Hey, there's Aaron Rodgers and I'm yelling at him.' It's crazy."
"Deion Sanders. I liked that he was all flashy and had confidence and swagger and stuff. I liked that. He was an athlete I looked up to growing up. ... A couple of my high school teammates went to school with his son at SMU, so I had a few chances to meet with him and talk to him. He gave me some pointers. ... One of the first few sentences I told him [was that] I looked up to him growing up."
"Terrell Suggs. ... To see another guy that came from the same area I did and I knew growing up. My brother and him are kind of friends. ... I have his college highlight tape, which is, to this day, one of the most insane highlight tapes ever. I used to watch it when I was in college; I used to watch it before games and stuff. I know all his plays from college. ... There was a time when I was in New York and he was in Baltimore, and I had a good game that game and we embraced each other after the game and he was like, 'I'm proud of you.' It was a cool moment for me, one of those moments when your idols become your rivals."
"I'm from Detroit. [Barry Sanders] was like the hometown hero. I was a running back when I was younger, so just remember trying to do what he did. I wore his number. He was like the guy. ... But I remember watching NFL Films and those highlights. I think he got the Cowboys one time, and I remember the move he put on Rod Woodson, too. Just juked him."
Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
"I grew up in Indy. When you think of Peyton Manning and you're from Indy, he's like a god. He was everyone's guy growing up. ... His first pro game when he was going against the Dolphins and Dan Marino was still playing, then the other one was at the AFC Championship when they beat the Patriots finally. Those two stand out."
"My sports hero growing up was my cousin Matt, Matt Ryan. ... It was one of those things where Matt was going into college right as I was like 7, 8, 9 years old, something like that. So I was right at the cusp of the age of getting into sports and following it hard so everything I did growing up I always wanted to be like Matt. I unfortunately was not able to play quarterback because I grew a little too big but I went to the same high school he did. ... He has done everything the right way and has paved the way for me to make it easy in all my transitions because he's been there and done that."
"Every focus I had from then on was to get to where he was at and hopefully one day surpass him. ... Come [Niners-Falcons on] Dec. 15, I've got to kick his ass. So that's the whole goal." McGlinchey on cousin Matt Ryan
"Marvin Harrison. I really looked up to him being from Indianapolis just because of the way he went about his business at the receiver position. He wasn't flashy but got his job done. ... There's only a couple people I've been starstruck to meet and he was one of them. I just started off reciting all his plays that I remember in my head, and he was like, 'Dang, you remember more than I do.' I was like, 'Yeah, I watched everything you did.'"
Steve McLendon, DT, New York Jets
"Reggie White and Muhammad Ali. The Minister of Defense, man. He'd hit you hard, help you up and bless you. I feel like they talked to me. I'm not no Pro Bowl guy; all I've been to is a Super Bowl once. It's not about the accolades or anything, but there's something they've spoken to me. They said, 'You want to be part of this class elite, but you want to sleep.' ... I have a sign in my closest and it says, 'I'm going to show you how great I am.' I've realized that Muhammad Ali and Reggie White both said, 'You want to be elite, but you want to sleep. You cannot sleep if you want to be elite.'"
"For football, Deion Sanders, and I would say for basketball Kobe Bryant -- his whole mentality and his ability to blossom into being one of the best players in the game. And then Sanders' ability to change the game and the impact that he made not only on the defensive side but on special teams and occasionally offense. It was always good to see those guys growing up, just watching them play."
Ty Montgomery, RB, New York Jets
"Jim Brown. That's how my mom raised me. She actually had me read a book on the story of his background. I know he went to Syracuse and played lacrosse. That was one of the reasons why my mom never let me run track. I always had to play multiple sports. A lot of kids go through high school just specializing in football and running track. My mom never let me do that. I actually played lacrosse in high school."
James O'Shaughnessy, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
"Growing up in Chicago, obviously a big Bears and Bulls fan. So once I got moved over to tight end [at Illinois State] I watched a lot of Greg Olsen. Obviously he's really talented and a good person in the community, so he was somebody I aspired to be like and play like. ... I was close to becoming a Panther during draft day [in 2015] -- at least that's what I was told, or whatnot -- but either way I was really excited because I might have gotten an opportunity to have this conversation with him. But I still watch him. He's still doing it at a high level."
David Sills V, WR, Buffalo Bills
"Mine was Peyton Manning. Growing up a quarterback, I tried to model my game based on him. The only football jersey I ever had with another player's name on it was Peyton's. My grandparents got it for me for Christmas. I was the kid that never wore jerseys. But I wore his."
"Emmitt Smith. ... Luckily at my Pro Bowl last year, was able to meet him. I've met him before, crossing paths, but not really ever was able to tell him what I really felt about him and tell him that he was the reason why I played running back, why I wore No. 22, why I fell in love with the game. ... I just stopped him. It was around the bar and he had walked by, and I was like I'm not going to miss my chance just to tell him what I feel about him, cause, the players that played before us paved the way and I wouldn't be where I am at without them that played the game and ... gave a little kid from Rancho Cucamonga an opportunity to play the game."
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins
"My guy that I really looked up to was LaDainian Tomlinson. He was one of the first guys that I remember seeing that I paid attention to growing up that was a runner as well as a good receiver. That's what I wanted my game to be. ... He's my favorite running back of all time with Reggie Bush tied for first."
"I'm from Chicago so it should be Michael Jordan, but I really like Vince Carter. When I was about 8, I collected basketball cards, and I sent out 150 cards to athletes to try and get autographs. I thought it would be the coolest thing. And two people wrote me back -- Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter. ... I still have [the card and the letter]. It was kind of just like, he probably sent one to everyone, but he signed my card back and like two of 150 did that, so I always appreciated that."
Vinny Curry, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
"Grandmama [Larry Johnson]. I'm a Knicks fan. I love the Knicks. His tenacity. He was fun off the field. He had a lot of charisma to him. When you watch me play sports, I have a lot of charisma just like he had, and when it's time to be serious, it's time to be serious."
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
"Carmelo Anthony. What he did at Syracuse. It's so funny, because my dad was like, 'You want those new LeBron Jameses?' I'm like, 'I want that Carmelo Anthony jersey.' Just because I'm originally from Baltimore, he's from Baltimore. ... Somebody has always got something to say about him. I darn near almost got into 30 fights over that. ... When people were calling him a selfish player -- he can't do this, he can't do that. He's always taken the high road. That's like a bunch of stuff that I've learned. Just seeing that from one of my favorite players."
"He says I'm one of his favorite players as well. It's just super cool and how ironic, just growing up whether it's a rapper or a sports star, you being a fan of them and then next thing you know -- me being in a position that I am -- them being a fan of me." Gurley on Carmelo Anthony
Mark Ingram, RB, Baltimore Ravens
"Michael Jordan. He was an icon growing up. He's the best to ever do it. Those playoff games against Utah: The first year, he crossed Byron Russell to the left. The next year, he crossed him to the right. He hit buzzer-beaters."
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
"Michael Jordan. It's very simple -- because he was the best, and basketball was my first love, as far as sports go. ... The first time [we met] was at this round on a Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe, and it was he, me and Jerry Rice, and I was also a big Niners fan growing up. Jerry was grinding hard on his golf ball even though we were out of the tournament, but he was grinding away, so me and Mike just walked the fairways together, and he was fantastic. ... He's a really nice guy, I'm thankful he didn't bet me with me on the course, because he would've taken all my money [laughs]. I was a little nervous -- MJ plays the ball well and he has a great short game. I think in all the rounds we've played, I might've only beat him one time."
Solomon Thomas, DE, San Francisco 49ers
"I was a sports junkie growing up, so it's hard to pick but probably Shaquille O'Neal. I was a huge Shaq fan. He was a big kid and I was just silly growing up. He was my example of it's OK to be silly being a bigger person or bigger body. He was always just energetic, fun and dominant. He was just so dominant and always on Christmas you saw his specials where he bought all these kids toys or meals or buying people houses. That was really motivating for me to want to be able to give back some day. He was a role model."
"Kobe Bryant was my guy. Everybody loves Kobe. He has the mamba mentality. He's a dog, played through injuries, that's what I love about him. Clutch and just the ultimate ball player."
Vic Fangio, coach, Denver Broncos
"I guess the first one I had was Richie Allen, later known as Dick Allen, and Mike Schmidt of the Phillies. Just how they played, their talent, just those memories of summer. ... I haven't [had a chance to meet them], but since I've been coaching I've met Joe Namath, Dick Butkus, and now, John Elway [laughs], so I'm getting pretty good there.''
Jerald Hawkins, OT, Oakland Raiders
"My favorite sports hero was Ryan Howard. Baseball was my first love, dealing with my older brothers. Took interest 'cause I was always the biggest baseball player around and felt out of place at times until I saw him play."