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The List: Readers' most beloved football players
From the Page2 mailbag

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On Monday, Page 2 ran its list of the most beloved football players in history. We asked for your take, and you filled our mailbag with plenty of choices for your favorite NFL player of all-time.

Here's how the Page 2 staff ranked the most beloved football players in history:

1. Walter Payton
2. Doug Flutie
3. William Perry
4. Paul Hornung
5. Joe Namath
6. Emmitt Smith
7. Earl Campbell
8. Joe Greene
9. Brett Favre
10. Roger Staubach

Honorable mentions: Darrell Green, Brian Piccolo, Kurt Warner, Gale Sayers, Frank Gifford, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Alex Karras, Franco Harris, Art Donovan, Don Meredith, John Riggins, Tony Siragusa, Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb

After going through more than 1,300 letters, we've listed a rundown of the Top 10 vote-getters, along with some of the best letters about each player. Be sure to vote for your favorite in the poll at left as we crown the most beloved football player ever.

1. Walter Payton
(164 letters)

How can you not love one of the most talented and charismatic athletes ever? Off the field, he was the perfect image of what you want an athlete to be ... outgoing, but not brash, funloving but not out of line, upfront but not rude. "They call me Sweetness, and I like to dance. Running the ball is like making romance." Sweetness was second to none, on the field and in fans hearts.
Michael Seman
Hinsdale, Ill.

Walter Payton was in a class by himself. He would knock a defender flat on his back, and then help him back to his feet. He was notorious among teammates and officials for his good-natured practical jokes. After each touchdown, no dances or showing off -- he just flipped the ball to one of his linemen to let them spike it.

Walter Payton played the game hard and remained a true sportsman, I have never heard an opposing player, coach or fan say anything negative about Walter. In his last days, he gave us another reason to love him, showing us that he was truly a world-class human being.
Peter Kim

2. Joe Montana (120 letters)
Your oversight of Joe Montana on both the Top 10 list and honorable mention transcends the bounds of human decency. I'm not sure a community has ever deified an athlete as fervently as "Super Joe" was feted here in the Bay Area, or, for that matter, his home region of Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

Joe Montana
Joe Cool was deified by fans in the Bay Area.
Montana was so well-loved that fans tormented and slighted Steve Young for years, even after No. 8 was clearly one of the league's elite QBs, and Joe was a walking concussion or joint injury waiting to happen, more or less splitting time with crafty Rich Gannon on the Kansas City Chiefs.

On a more benevolent note, however, images of a scrambling Montana hitting a soaring Dwight Clark, threading the needle to John Taylor or heaving slant after slant to Jerry Rice will always stick out in the memories of millions of 49ers fans, reveling (or perhaps wallowing) in the nostalgia of 20 years of perennial Super Bowl contention.
Joe Eskenazi
Oakland, Calif.

How could you leave Joe Montana off your list? This guy had more "I'm going to Disney World!" commercials and Wheaties box appearances than any other football player in history, and he is easily one of the five most famous quarterbacks of all time.

Everyone loves this guy, even the weirdos who rooted for the Bengals back when "The Ickey Shuffle" was cool. ... Not that I was one of those or anything...
Nick West
Arlington, Va.

3. Brett Favre (80 letters)
He's a kid in the body of a man. He still plays for the love of the game. I know he has a $100 million contract. He earned it.

The greatest part of watching Brett Favre is remembering the days when he used to throw off of his back foot constantly. Those days make the current Favre even easier to root for. He has grown both on and off the field, but has never lost his passion for what he does.

Brett Favre
Packers quarterback Brett Favre still plays the game with a childlike enthusiasm.
Most athletes figure $100 million entitles them to a few days off. Take a look at the streak. Take a look at him running off of the field after his opening TD toss in Super Bowl XXXI. He looks like a little kid who doesn't know where to go or what to do, all he knows is that he's really excited. The best part is, that was only the second play of the game.
Ben Schmitt
Green Bay, Wisc.

Brett Favre is definitely the most beloved football player for millions of Packers fans and plenty of others. His pure joy and toughness on the field are reminiscent of backyard football, and you've got to love a guy who takes a hit and bounces back up smiling.

Off the field, Favre isn't perfect, but he's no thug, either. His flaws (including his battle with pain-killer addiction) make him much more real to the blue-collar fans in Green Bay. He's generous to fans and charities, and will spend the rest of his career loyal to Green Bay. ... Who does that today?
Jon Bemis
Lake Geneva, Wisc.

Favre, Favre, Favre ... The three-time MVP is a near deity around Green Bay, and how many millionaires do you know who mow their own lawn?
Samuel Carey
Minneapolis, Minn.

4. John Elway (78 letters)
John Elway, bar none. As a Denverite, I am, of course, biased on the issue. In Denver, every boy grows up to want to be Elway. Every athlete is compared to him. The guy hawks cars on the side, I mean, how much more evidence does one need?

John Elway
John Elway went out on top when he was selected MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII.
The fact is, John Elway is responsible for bringing the Avalanche and Rockies to a town. Oh, and those new digs the Bronc's are playing in now, directly related to Elway. Without him, the Denver sports landscape is bare and grim. But with him, it's bright and the sun never seems to set.
Scottsdale, Ariz.

If you weren't a die-hard Cheesehead, you wanted to see arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time win his first championship. Then, as an encore, he has the game of his career, guides the Broncos to back-to-back crowns, and he's named Super Bowl XXXIII MVP. Name a Hall-of-Famer who ended his career like that.
Nick Kettinger
St. Louis

5. Pele (Edson Arantes de Nascimento)
(73 letters)

The most beloved football player of all-time is, without a doubt, Pele (Brazil, Santos, N.Y. Cosmos), The King of Football. No other player in the world in the history of football ever came close to his popularity. Even now, 30 years after he retired, little kids in most remote parts of the globe still want to be "like Pele." Nobody else can even be mentioned in the same breath.
Taras Y. Bulba
Austin, Texas

Pele is the worlds most beloved football player. He took control of the beautiful game and dominated his sport like none before or since in any sport. Jordan had his Magic, Gretzky had his Lemieux, Montana had his Elway, but no one has ever come close to the sheer domination Pele displayed.
Scott O'Neil
Indiana, Penn.

6. Doug Flutie (45 letters)
Doug Flutie
Doug Flutie is the loveable little guy who everyone roots for.
I guess it is only fitting that the time he spent here was short, but nevertheless, not even the players who made it to four straight Super Bowls were as loved as Doug Flutie is -- not was -- by Buffalo fans. He alone saved the franchise when, in 1998, he came off the bench to not only spark a winning streak that led the Bills to the playoffs, but also sparked the sale of season tickets and luxury suites by 400 times the rate they were selling before Flutiemania (which was needed to extend the lease for the former Rich Stadium).

Flutie embodies everything Buffalo likes to think it is -- the little guy who will not back down, and in the end can come out on top -- and his tenure with the Bills will not soon be forgotten. It is only Flutie -- not Kelly, not Smith, Thomas, or Reed -- who the fans have allowed to become bigger than the team itself, and hence, the cry from even the most loyal of Bills fans this year seems to be different from any other year because of Flutie; rather than hoping the Bills go 16-0, this year it is, "I hope they go 15-1 ... and the loss is against Flutie and the Chargers."
Buffalo, N.Y.

7. Roger Staubach (44 letters)
I was a young child of Cowboy fanatics while he was playing. I remember vividly, even being so young, how beloved he was by my family and the community. He still is.

He gave, perhaps, the best years of his career to service to this country in the U.S.Navy, then led "America's Team" with class and a never-say-die attitude that made him "Captain Comeback."

He won (and lost) as a real sportsman and gentleman, something too rare today. His won-lost record as well as personal statistics rank with the best. Had he not given those years to our country, he would possibly be No. 1 in most categories.
Horton H. Tracy
Frostburg, Md

8. Dan Marino (42 letters)
Dan Marino
A lot of fans were disappointed when Dan Marino retired without a Super Bowl ring.
Hearts all over the country were left broken when Dan Marino called it quits, especially without a ring to adorn his record-breaking career. There is a reason Dolphins merchandise consistently ranks in the top five for all sports, and that is the popularity of Dandy Dan.

And on top of all the records, it was Dan who pulled off one of the greatest plays in team history ... faking a spike to stop time and then throwing a TD to Mark Ingram to beat the damn Jets. I think I loved Dan that day more than my own Pops. Now that says something sad about me, but a lot about the greatness and love for Daniel Constantine Marino.
Mike Shuman
North Miami Beach, Fla.

9. Barry Sanders (38 letters)
Where is Barry Sanders? Perhaps the most gifted and entertaining running back of all-time played the game with class and a quiet grace -- can you imagine any of these other ham n' eggers in the league today simply flipping the ball to the ref when they score? ("Act like you've been there before," said his dad.)

Sanders was overshadowed during his day by the far less-talented Emmitt Smith only because Smith played on a flashier team and had one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history blocking for him.

Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders electrified fans with his game-breaking runs.
His premature retirement simply adds to his mystique. Sure, he could've broken the rushing record. Sure, he could've earned tens of millions of more in cash. But, when his team wasn't showing him a commitment to winning, he decided that he'd had enough.

And, to the dismay of NFL fans everywhere (me, in particular), he seems at complete peace with his decision.
Greg DeMattos
Needham, Mass.

10. Darrell Green (35 letters)
He is an Iron Man. He is to the Redskins what Cal Ripken Jr. is to the Orioles. He has been with the 'Skins and only with the 'Skins for a bajillion years. Not to mention that he is still one of the best corners in the league and still one of the fastest players. How can you not love this guy?
Joe Novick
Charlottesville, Va.

Honorable Mention: Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, John Riggins, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Steve Largent, Art Donovan.

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