I’m a huge Nebraska Cornhusker football fan, so I wanted to do something Husker-related with this first list. The Huskers were dominated by an inferior Washington team in the Holiday Bowl, so I decided to look back towards happier times. Many other websites and media members have selected all-century and all-decade teams for the Huskers. I’m nothing if not original, so this list takes a different angle: the top thirty Huskers of all-time based strictly on their professional careers.
Why 30? That’s the number of Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, one of three in Nebraska history. The numbers of fellow Heisman winners Eric Crouch (#7) and Johnny Rodgers (#20) weren’t high enough, plus neither of those two made the list anyway.* So we’ll call this the Mike Rozier Memorial List.
* And I don’t like tough decisions as you can tell by the lengthy honorable mention list. Who knows how long it would have taken me to pare my initial list down to twenty.
The position and years in bold are the years that each player played with the Husker varsity team. In reverse order, starting with honorable mentions and working down to #1:
Honorable Mentions (in Alphabetical Order)
Lloyd Cardwell (HB, DB 1934-36) – Detroit Lions (1937-1943). 205 rushes for 905 yards and 51 catches for 932 yards in seven-year career. Named to the 1938 All-Star Game after finishing sixth in the league in touchdowns and tenth in All-Purpose Yards.
Mike Croel (LB 1988-90) – Denver Broncos (1991-94), New York Giants (1995), Baltimore Ravens (1996), Seattle Seahawks (1998). 24 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 1 touchdown return in seven-year NFL career. The fourth pick of the 1991 NFL draft, Croel had 10 sacks in 13 games to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, but never again reached the heights of his rookie season.
Vince Ferragamo (QB 1975-76) – Los Angeles Rams (1977-80, 1982-84), Buffalo Bills (1985), Green Bay Packers (1986). Ferragamo was a backup for all but two years of his nine-year NFL career. His best season was his 1980 season in which he threw for 30 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions. Receives an honorable mention nod mostly on the strength of his performance in the 1979 playoffs in which he stepped in for former starter Pat Haden and led the 9-7 Rams all the way to the Super Bowl.
Andra Franklin (FB 1978-80) – Miami Dolphins (1981-84) – A fullback that only played four years in the NFL, Franklin gets honorable mention on the strength of his 1982 strike-shortened season in which he finished first in the NFL in rushing attempts, third in yards, and was named to the Pro Bowl and a Second Team All-Pro.
Willie Harper (LB 1970-72) – San Francisco 49ers (1973-83). A solid if unspectacular linebacker, Harper played in 134 games in a ten-year career. He started all 16 games for the 49ers in their 1981 Super Bowl championship season.
Harry Hopp (FB 1938-40) – Detroit Lions (1941-43), AAFC Miami Dolphins (1946), AAFC Buffalo Bills (1946), AAFC Los Angeles Dons (1947). Hopp’s career was cut short by WWII but he had three statistically great seasons as a do-it-all fullback, quarterback, tailback, and punter for the Lions and was named to the 1942 All-Star Game.
Tyrone Hughes (CB 1989-92) – New Orleans Saints (1993-96), Chicago Bears (1997), Dallas Cowboys (1998). Drafted as a cornerback, Hughes was used primarily as a kick returner in his six-year career. He was selected to the 1993 Pro Bowl as a returner and led the NFL in kick return yardage in 1994, 1995, and 1996. He also holds the NFL record for most kick return yardage in a game: 304 (2 TDs) against the Bears in 1994.
Monte Johnson (LB 1970-72) – Oakland Raiders (1973-79). A starting linebacker for most of his seven seasons in the NFL, Johnson was a key contributor for the Raiders on their 1976 Super Bowl-winning team.
Chris Kelsay (DE 1999-2002) – Buffalo Bills (2003-present). A solid defensive end, Kelsay has been a starter for Buffalo for the past six seasons. With a career 25.5 sacks, Kelsay is a favorite to make future editions of this list if he continues to produce.
Carl Nicks (G 2006-07) – New Orleans Saints (2008-present). In his rookie season, Nicks quickly established himself in the Saints’ starting lineup, where he has been a mainstay ever since. He started every game for the Super Bowl Champions in 2009 and was named to the 2010 Pro Bowl.
John Parrella (DT 1989-92) – Buffalo Bills (1993), San Diego Chargers (1994-2001), Oakland Raiders (2002-04). Another solid long-time professional player, Parrella had 26.5 sacks in 172 games over 12 seasons in the NFL.
Dominic Raiola (C 1998-2000) – Detroit Lions (2001-present). The longtime Lion center quickly established himself as a starter and started every game for the team between 2002 and 2007. Unfortunately for Raiola, the Lions haven’t had a single winning record since he arrived in 2001.
Barrett Ruud (LB 2001-04) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2005-present). Ruud entered the Bucs’ starting lineup at the end of the 2006 season, where he has remained ever since. The leader of the Bucs’ young defense, Ruud is a near shoo-in to crack future editions of this list.
Dean Steinkuhler (OT 1981-83) – Houston Oilers (1984-91). The second pick of the 1984 NFL Draft, Steinkuhler never quite lived up to expectations but did have five solid seasons as a starter for the Oilers in the late 1980s.
Broderick Thomas (LB 1986-88) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1989-93), Detroit Lions (1994), Minnesota Vikings (1995), Dallas Cowboys (1996-98). Thomas showed early promise after the Bucs took him with the #6 pick in the 1989 draft and had a career-high 11 sacks and 174 tackles in the 1991 season. He finished with 47.5 sacks, 643 tackles, and 15 fumble recoveries in his nine-year career.
Zach Wiegert (G/T 1991-94) – St. Louis Rams (1995-98), Jacksonville Jaguars (1999-2002), Houston Texans (2003-06). Played three offensive line positions over 12 NFL seasons.
30. The Browns (Kris and Josh). Kris (PK 1995-98) – Pittsburgh Steelers (1999-2001), Houston Texans (2002-09), San Diego Chargers (2010). 256-331 (77.3%) FG, 355-362 (98.1%) XP. Josh (PK 1999-2002) – Seattle Seahawks (2003-07), St. Louis Rams (2008-present). As of Week 16 of 2010 season, 197-242 (81.4%) FG, 284-286 (99.3%) XP.
I wanted the #30 spot to be the token kicker on the list, but couldn’t decide which Brown to put on the list – Kris’s longer career or Josh’s shorter, but statistically better career. I cheated and put both on the list. This seems fair enough though, since their Husker careers came back-to-back and they were the first great Nebraska kickers. Both have gone on to solid careers as two of the more accurate kickers in the NFL.
#29. Ndamukong Suh (DT 2006-09) – Detroit Lions (2010-present). 66 tackles and 10 sacks in rookie campaign. Named as a starter to the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Yeah, I’m probably projecting ahead a little bit. So suh me! Zing! For an entire career, Suh might be a stretch in the #29 spot, but this pick is not completely out there – this year he became just the 26th Husker selected to the Pro Bowl and seems a shoo-in to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. If he is named to the All-Pro First Team (which again seems likely), he will become only the 21st former Husker to be honored.
When picking who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, I always tend to look at short-term greatness better than long term very-goodness. If the player has an argument for being the best player in the game, that’s a strong indication that he should be in the Hall of Fame. For this reason, because Suh has been so dominant in his one season in the NFL and has already entered the conversation on the best defensive tackle in the NFL, I have no problem putting him in this list already.
#28. Bub Weller (T 1920-22) – St. Louis All-Stars (1923), Milwaukee Badgers (1924), Chicago Cardinals (1925-27), Frankford Yellow Jackets (1928). Unanimous first-team All-Pro in 1923. Collyers Magazine First Team All-Pro in 1924 and Chicago Tribune second-team All-Pro in 1926.
At 6’4″, 222 lbs., Bub Weller was a dominant tackle well ahead of his time. In six years in the early NFL, Weller made two first-team All-Pro teams and one second-team. He won an NFL Championship with the 1925 Chicago Cardinals – still the only NFL championship for that organization. A starter for all six years in professional football, Weller retired at the ripe old age of 26 following the 1928 season.
#27. LaVerne Torczon (OL/DE 1953-56) – Buffalo Bills (1960-62), New York Titans/Jets (1962-65), Miami Dolphins (1966). 1960 All-AFL defensive end. Selected to 1961 AFL All-Star Game.
By far the coolest name on the list, LaVerne Torczon spent his entire seven-year career in the pre-merger AFL. Torczon was primarily an offensive lineman for the Huskers in the late 1950’s before shifting to the defensive side of the ball as a professional. A 25-year old rookie in 1960, Torczon was a dominant defensive end in the newly created AFL. He was named to the All-AFL team the following season. In 1961, he was selected to compete in the inaugural AFL All-Star Game.
Torczon was originally drafted in the 18th round of the 1957 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He never played in the NFL and was out of football for three years before resurfacing in the AFL. Torczon benefits from timing more than most on the list – he was able to dominate in his prime at a time in which the AFL was still a fledgling league. However, regardless of the quality of the league, one All-Pro team and one All-Star Game appearance is good enough for #27 on this list.
#26. Junior Miller (TE 1977-79) – Atlanta Falcons (1980-83), New Orleans Saints (1984). 122 catches for 1,409 yards and 14 touchdowns. Named to the Pro Bowl in 1980 and 1981.
An excellent blocker and solid receiver, the Falcons drafted Junior Miller with the seventh overall pick in the 1980 NFL draft. Miller had a fantastic rookie season: 46 receptions for 584 yards and 9 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl selection. He followed that up with 32 receptions for 398 yards and 3 touchdowns and another Pro Bowl appearance in his sophomore season.
Just like that, Miller’s career fizzled. He had only 44 receptions in the next three years and was out of the league after the 1984 season. Still, Miller is one of only 17 former Huskers to make multiple All-Star Games. Although his career lasted only five years, Miller still grabs a spot on the top professional Huskers of all-time on the heels of those two great seasons.
#25. Grant Wistrom (DE 1994-97) – St. Louis Rams (1998-2003), Seattle Seahawks (2004-06). 339 tackles and 53 sacks in nine-year NFL career. Super Bowl XXXIV champion with Rams in 1999 and NFC champion in 2001.
Wistrom was the sixth overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft – the second time in three years that the Rams drafted a Husker with the sixth pick. Fortunately for the Rams, this pick turned out a little better than the Lawrence Phillips fiasco. In the 1999 season – Wistrom’s first as a starter – he established himself as a solid defensive end opposite Pro Bowler Kevin Carter for the improved Rams defense. Wistrom had 33 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns for the 1999 Rams, who shocked the world by winning Super Bowl XXXIV.
Statistically, Wistrom peaked the following season with career-highs 11 sacks and 51 tackles. In 2001, he had 9 sacks and 47 tackles in 15 games as the Rams won the NFC Championship. Wistrom never again reached these statistical heights, but he had five more solid seasons and won another NFC Championship with the Seahawks in 2005.
#24. Tom Rathman (FB 1983-85) – San Francisco 49ers (1986-93), Los Angeles Raiders (1994). 544 career carries for 2020 yards and 320 receptions for 2,684 yards. 34 total touchdowns in nine seasons. Won Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989 with 49ers.
Probably the greatest fullback in Nebraska football history, Rathman is best known for blocking for fellow former Husker Roger Craig on the great 49er teams of the late 1980s. With Rathman blocking for Craig, the 49ers won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989. He accounted for 4,704 yards from scrimmage and 34 touchdowns from the fullback position, including an NFL-high for running backs 73 receptions and 616 yards in 1989. Rathman came up big for the 49ers in the 55-10 Super Bowl XXIV victory over the Broncos, rushing for 38 yards and two touchdowns and catching four passes for 43 yards.
#23. Jimmy Williams (LB 1979-81) – Detroit Lions (1982-90), Minnesota Vikings (1990-91), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1992-93). 152 games, 27.5 sacks, 13 interceptions, and 13 fumble recoveries.
The Detroit Lions drafted the Nebraska linebacker with the 15th pick of the 1982 NFL Draft. Never a great player, Williams nevertheless hung around the league for eleven seasons as a solid starter. He was a stalwart of the Lion defense as a starting linebacker for nine seasons before being traded to the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990 season. Williams retired four years later as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
#22. Mike Minter (S 1993-96) – Carolina Panthers (1997-2006). Full-time starter for entire career. 11 sacks, 17 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, 592 tackles, and four touchdowns in ten years with the Panthers. Won 2003 NFC Championship with Panthers.
One of the most popular Panthers of all-time, Minter became the team’s starter at safety in 1997 and remained there until his retirement in the 2007 offseason. Tough and versatile, Minter bounced back and forth between free safety and strong safety as the backbone of the Panther defense. He broke his foot in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII but stayed in the entire game in the Panthers’ narrow loss to the Patriots. When he retired, he held the Panthers team records for most games started, most consecutive starts, fumble recoveries, and TAINTs.
#21. Keith Bishop – (C 1976) – Denver Broncos (1980-89) – Two-time Pro Bowler at left guard position. Played in three Super Bowls (all losses) for Broncos.
Forgotten by many Husker fans, Bishop played one season at center for Nebraska in 1976 before transferring to Baylor University. A long-time starter for the Broncos, Bishop made the Pro Bowl in the 1986 and 1987 seasons as a left guard. Bishop played for the Broncos in three Super Bowls – following the 1986, 1987, and 1989 seasons – before retiring after the 1989 season.
Incidentally, Bishop found a new career in law enforcement after retiring from football and is currently one of the top police officers in the Drug Enforcement Administration.
#20. Kent McCloughan (WR/CB 1962-64) – Oakland Raiders (1965-70). Two-time All-AFL First Team and All-Star Game selection. 15 interceptions in 67 games over six-year career. AFL champion with Raiders in 1967 season.
Formerly used as a wide receiver with the Huskers, McCloughan spent his entire career with the Raiders – five seasons in the AFL and one in the post-merger NFL – as a cornerback. McCloughan immediately contributed in his 1965 rookie season, grabbing three interceptions. He intercepted four passes the following season and developed a reputation as a shutdown corner. He was a unanimous selection to the All-AFL First Team in both the 1966 and 1967 seasons. McCloughan was the best player in the AFL in 1967 according to Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value stat, which attempts to quantify the contributions of each player regardless of position.
As a member of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, McCloughan joined teammate Warren Powers as the first former Huskers to start in a Super Bowl. Injuries hampered McCloughan after his stellar 1967 season – he played in only 25 more games in three injury-plagued seasons before retiring after the 1970 season.
#19. Mike Rozier – (RB 1981-83) – Pittsburgh Maulers (USFL, 1984), Jacksonville Bulls (USFL, 1985), Houston Oilers (1985-90), Atlanta Falcons (1990-91). Second in USFL in rushing in 1985 season. Named to the AFC Pro Bowl team after 1987 and 1988 seasons. Rushed 1,159 times for 4,462 yards and 30 TDs and caught 90 passes for 715 yards and 1 TD in seven years in the NFL.
Although Rozier is remembered as something of a bust after never living up to the pro potential he showed in his 1983 Heisman season, he actually carved out a pretty solid career in professional football. Rozier shunned the NFL to sign with the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers for the 1984 football season. After struggling in his rookie season, he came into his own for the Jacksonville Bulls in the 1985 season, rushing for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns to finish second in the league behind Herschel Walker.
Following the USFL’s last season in 1985, he joined the Houston Oilers of the NFL, which had grabbed his rights with the second overall pick in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft. In his first season with the Oilers, he rushed for a team-high 462 yards and eight touchdowns despite starting only six games. Rozier would go on to have his best season in the strike-shortened 1987 season, rushing for 957 yards (4th in the NFL), grabbing his first Pro Bowl invite and a second-team All-Pro selection. He rushed for 1,002 yards the next season – his only 1,000-yard season – and was again selected to the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, nagging injuries plagued him the following seasons and he retired following the 1991 campaign with the Atlanta Falcons.
#18. Mike Rucker (DE 1995-98) – Carolina Panthers (1999-2007). 55.5 sacks and 335 tackles in nine years with the Panthers. 2003 Pro Bowl selection for the NFC Champion Panthers.
Like fellow Husker Mike Minter, Rucker spent his entire career with the Carolina Panthers. Rucker gets the nod over Minter in this list based on a more dominant prime – between 2001 and 2003, Rucker had 31 sacks and eight forced fumbles while playing on one of the best defensive lines in the league. In 2003, his only Pro Bowl season, Rucker was named NFL Defensive Player of the Month for September after registering five sacks and 21 tackles. He finished the season with a career-high 12 sacks and helped lead the Panthers to the NFC Championship. He was again named NFL Defensive Player of the Month in September 2004, but struggled the rest of the season after facing double teams brought on by being the only member of the Panthers’ injury-decimated front four to start all 16 games.
Rucker had two more solid seasons in 2005 and 2006 before tearing his ACL in a December 2006 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although he came back to start all 16 games of the 2007 season, he had a career-low three sacks and retired following the season.
#17. Mike Brown (DB 1996-99) – Chicago Bears (2000-08), Kansas City Chiefs (2009). First Team All-Pro in 2001 and Second Team All-Pro in 2005. NFC Pro Bowler in 2005. Played on 2006 NFC Champion Bear team. Finished with 20 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries, 7 touchdowns, 7 sacks, and 496 tackles over 116 career games.
The third consecutive Mike on this list, Mike Brown was a second round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2000 NFL Draft. Brown started immediately and didn’t miss a game over his first four seasons. In his rookie season, he finished behind only teammate Brian Urlacher for Defensive Rookie of the Year. In his sophomore 2001 campaign, Brown was named First Team All-Pro on the strength of three sacks, five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), and 51 tackles.
After two more statistically solid seasons, Brown missed most of the 2004 season with an Achilles injury. He returned in 2005 and was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team despite missing the last four games of the season with a calf injury. He returned in 2006 only to fracture his foot six games into the season. He once again returned in 2007 but tore knee ligaments when he was horse-collar tackled by Lorenzo Neal during an interception return. He made yet another comeback and completed two injury-free and productive seasons in 2008 and 2009. Although not officially retired, Brown did not play in the 2010 season.
Brown gets the nod as the best former Husker named Mike based on his first six seasons with the Bears. Brown reached heights achieved by few other Huskers in the early part of his career before his unfortunate string of injuries.
#16. Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE 1997-2000) – Arizona Cardinals (2001-04), Tennessee Titans (2005-2009), Detroit Lions (2010-present). 46.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, 281 tackles through his first nine seasons in the NFL. Three-time Pro Bowler.
A fearsome pass rusher with the Huskers, Vanden Bosch was drafted in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cardinals. Vanden Bosch saw little playing time in four years with the Cardinals, starting only 20 total games after missing the 2003 season with a torn ACL and being buried on the depth chart in 2004. After the 2004 season, he signed with the Tennessee Titans where he became one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. In five years with the Titans, Vanden Bosch totaled 38.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2005, 2007, and 2009 seasons – one of only 12 former Huskers to make at least three Pro Bowls.
In 2010, Vanden Bosch signed a four-year deal with the Detroit Lions where he joined fellow former Husker Ndamukong Suh on one of the most feared defensive lines in the league. Vanden Bosch had four sacks in the Lions’ first 11 games before missing the final five games of the season with a neck injury.
#15. Ed Husmann (DE/DT 1950-52) – Chicago Cardinals (1953-59), Dallas Cowboys (1960), Houston Oilers (1961-65). Three-time selection to AFL All-Star Game. AFL First Team All-Pro in 1962 and Second Team All-Pro in 1961 and 1963. Won 1961 AFL Championship with Oilers.
A ninth round draft pick of the Chicago Cardinals in 1953, Husmann was a throwback to an earlier era. In his eleven year NFL/AFL career, Husmann played every position on both the offensive and defensive line except for center. A mediocre player for the Chicago Cardinals, Husmann was left unprotected in the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft. After a frustrating 0-11-1 season with the expansion Dallas Cowboys, Husmann joined AFL champions Houston Oilers for the 1961 season.
Like Torczon, Husmann took advantage of the fledgling league, where he became a dominant defender. As a defensive tackle, Husmann was selected to three consecutive All-Star games between 1961 and 1963 and was a First Team All-Pro in 1962 and a Second Team All-Pro in 1961 and 1963. After the 1965 season, Husmann joined the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos for one season before retiring in 1966.
#14. Ahman Green (RB 1995-97) – Seattle Seahawks (1998-99), Green Bay Packers (2000-06), Houston Texans (2007-08), Green Bay Packers (2009). Four-time Pro Bowler. Two-time First Team All-Conference (2001-03) and one-time Second Team All-Pro (2001). Rushed for 9,205 yards and had 2,883 yards receiving in 12 year career. Owns Green Bay Packer franchise record for career and single-season rushing yards.
An early entry into the 1998 NFL Draft, Green was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round. In two seasons with the Seahawks, fumble-prone Green was buried behind Ricky Watters on the depth chart and saw little action. He was traded to the Packers following the 1999 season where he quickly came into his own. In his first season with the Packers, he worked his way into the starting lineup by Week 6 and finished with 1,175 rushing and 10 touchdowns. Green would eventually go on to break the 1,000-yard mark six times for the Packers and made four consecutive Pro Bowls between 2001 and 2004.
In 2003, Green rushed for a Packers record 1,883 yards and accounted for 20 total touchdowns in the best statistical season of his career. Injuries begin to slow down Green after the 2005 season, and he missed significant time in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009 before no NFL team signed him for the 2010 season. In a cameo return to the Packers in 2009, Green rushed for 160 yards to break Jim Taylor’s Green Bay Packer record for rushing yards.
#13. Charley Brock (C/LB 1936-38) – Green Bay Packers (1939-47). Three-time All-Star Game selection and First Team All-Pro in 1945. Won NFL Championships in 1939 and 1944 with Packers. 20 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries as linebacker. Named to NFL All-Decade Team for the 1940s. Member of Packer Hall of Fame.
Brock was an old school jack-of-all-trades player for the Packers in the 1940s. Primarily a center and linebacker, Brock actually played two years as a halfback in 1941 and 1942, earning an All-Star Game nod in the latter year. He was selected to the All-Star Game in 1939 (his rookie season), 1940, and 1942. Brock had his most dominant season statistically in 1945, when he had 4 interceptions (2 returned for touchdown) and five fumble recoveries en route to a First Team All-Pro selection.
A key contributor on both sides of the ball, Brock was selected to the 1940s All-Decade Team as on offensive center. He was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1973.
#12. John Dutton (DE/DT 1971-73) – Baltimore Colts (1974-79), Dallas Cowboys (1980-87). Three-time Pro Bowl selection (1975-77). First Team All-Pro in 1976. Played in three NFC championship games for Cowboys.
A 6’7″, 266 pound behemoth, Dutton was selected by the Colts with the fifth pick in the 1974 NFL Draft. Playing as a defensive end, Dutton quickly became one of the most feared defenders in the league. Unofficially, Dutton registered 17 sacks in his 1975 sophomore season (the NFL didn’t start officially tracking sacks until 1982) and was named to the Pro Bowl and to the Second Team All-NFL Team. In 1976, he earned First Team All-Pro honors and was named to the second of three consecutive Pro Bowls.
After a contract dispute with the Colts, he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for the 1979 season. The Cowboys moved Dutton to defensive tackle, where he had nine more productive seasons. As the anchor for the defensive line, Dutton led the Cowboys to the NFC Championship Game in 1980, 1981, and 1982, but the team came up short of the Super Bowl each time.
#11. Verne Lewellen (QB/RB/DB 1921-23) – Green Bay Packers (1924-32). Four time First Team All-Pro selection (1926-29). Second Team All-Pro (1925). Three-time NFL Champion with Packers (1929-31). 51 career touchdowns in nine seasons.
Another old school do-it-all player, Lewellen was a halfback and defensive back in nine seasons for the Green Bay Packers in the early NFL. After playing sparingly in his rookie 1924 season, Lewellen began to have an impact with the Packers in 1925, when he was named a Second-Team All-Pro. In 1926, Lewellen earned the first of four consecutive First-Team All-Pro nods and helped build Curly Lambeau’s Packers into a powerhouse in the early NFL. Lewellen accounted for eight touchdowns for the undefeated 1929 Packers, who won their first championship in franchise history. With Lewellen at tailback, the Packers would go on to win three consecutive NFL championships.
Lewellen was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.
#10. Ron McDole (DE/DT 1958-60) – St. Louis Cardinals (1961), Houston Oilers (1962), Buffalo Bills (1963-70), Washington Redskins (1971-78). Two-time AFL All-Star and one-time AFL All-Pro. Named to the all-time Second Team All-AFL. Won two AFL championships with Bills (1964, 1965) and one NFC championship with the Redskins (1972).
A long-time NFL defensive end, McDole played a staggering 18 seasons in the NFL. He is best known for his accomplishments as the defensive team captain for the great AFL Buffalo Bills defenses of the mid-1960s. He was selected to the AFL All-Star Game in 1965 and 1967 and named First Team AFL All-Pro in 1966. On the strength of their great defense, the Bills won the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championships, giving up a combined seven points in the two championship games. Because of his contributions to the Bills defense, McDole was named to the all-time All-AFL second team after the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
In 1971, at the age of 32, McDole left the Bills for the Washington Redskins, where he lasted eight more productive seasons – remaining a starter all the way through his final season in 1978. For a defensive lineman, McDole had great ball instincts – his 12 interceptions are still a professional record for a defensive end. McDole finished his career with 240 games played, currently good for #49 on the career games played list.
#9. Pat Fischer (CB 1958-60) – St. Louis Cardinals (1961-67), Washington Redskins (1968-77). Two-time First Team All-Pro (1964, 1969) and three-time Pro Bowler (1964, 1965, 1969). Played in 1972 Super Bowl with Washington Redskins. 56 career interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries, and five touchdowns.
Fischer is one of three players from the 1958-61 teams to crack the top ten on this list. Nebraska’s combined record for those four years: 14-25-1, no winning seasons. Sorta makes you appreciate Bob Devaney that much more.
A 17th round draft pick in 1961, Fischer made the Cardinals team as a kick returner as a rookie in 1961. He saw some action at cornerback in 1962 before he intercepted eight passes and recovered two fumbles in a breakout 1963 season. In 1964, he intercepted a career-high ten passes (two returned for touchdowns) and was named to both the All-NFL First Team and Pro Bowl. Fischer never again reached those statistical heights, but was a solid starter for the remainder of his 17-year career. He retired in 1977 with 56 total interceptions – good for 16th on the all-time list as of the end of the 2010 season.
#8. Irving Fryar (WR 1981-83) – New England Patriots (1984-92), Miami Dolphins (1993-95), Philadelphia Eagles (1996-98), Washington Redskins (1999-2000). Five-time Pro Bowler. First Team All-Pro in 1994 and Second Team All-Pro in 1985. 12,785 receiving yards and 85 touchdowns in 255 career games. Played in Super Bowl XX with Patriots.
Because Fryar was the #1 overall pick of the 1984 NFL Draft, he generally does not get the credit he deserves. Very good for a long time, but never great, Fryar finished with more than 70 catches only three times and more than 1,000 yards only five times in his career. Despite this, Fryar was a rock who lasted 17 seasons in the NFL, even playing in 112 consecutive games between the ages of 31 and 37. He racked up 851 career catches for 12,785 yards – both good for 13th all-time as of the end of the 2010 season.
Fryar was named to the All-NFL Second Team with the Patriots in 1985 and First Team with the Dolphins in 1994. He was selected to the Pro Bowl five times – as a Patriot in 1985, a Dolphin in 1993 and 1994 and an Eagle in 1996 and 1997. In 1997, at the age of 35, he had his best season statistically, grabbing 86 catches for 1,316 yards. Fryar finally retired following the 2000 season after playing in 255 games (#29 all-time) over 17 seasons.
#7. Mick Tingelhoff (C 1959-61) – Minnesota Vikings (1962-78). Six-time Pro Bowler and seven-time NFL First Team All-Pro. Started 240 consecutive games between 1962 and 1978. Started in four Super Bowls. Elected to the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2001. Ranks #1 all-time among former Huskers in Pro Football Reference’s Career Approximate Value rating.
Tingelhoff is by far the least likely Husker on this list. As a Husker, Tingelhoff wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup until his 1961 senior season and went undrafted in all twenty rounds in the 1962 NFL Draft. Undeterred, Tingelhoff signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings and was named the starting center by the end of training camp of his rookie season. He went on to start 240 consecutive games (259 including playoffs) by the time he retired following the 1978 season. The 240 consecutive games ranks behind only Brett Favre and Jim Marshall among skill players and is still the highest by an offensive lineman.
For a time in the 1960s, Tingelhoff was undoubtedly the best center in the NFL. He was named to the All-NFL First Team by at least one organization every year between 1964 and 1970 (he was a unanimous selection in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969). He was selected to six consecutive Pro Bowls between 1964 and 1970 – tied for the second most for a former Husker. He started four Super Bowls for the Vikings, although they unsurprisingly lost all four games. He became the tenth player elected to the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2001 and his number #53 is one of only six retired by the Vikings. He has not been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but is generally considered one of the best offensive linemen not yet elected.
#6. Neil Smith (DE 1985-87) – Kansas City Chiefs (1988-96), Denver Broncos (1997-99), San Diego Chargers (2000). Six-time Pro Bowler. Selected to All-Pro First Team in 1993 and Second Team in 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1997. Won Super Bowl with Broncos in 1997 and 1998. 104.5 sacks and 30 forced fumbles in career. Named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s. Inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2006.
The second overall pick of the 1988 NFL Draft, Smith quickly became one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. He worked his way into the Chiefs’ starting lineup by the middle of his rookie season where he became a mainstay for the next nine seasons. In 1991, he was selected to the first of five consecutive Pro Bowls as a Chief. He earned his only First Team All-Pro in 1993 when he led the NFL with a career-high 15 sacks.
Smith signed with the Denver Broncos in the 1997 offseason and was again selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1997 season. He helped an improved Broncos defense to two consecutive Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998 before retiring after the 2000 season. Despite a shorter career, Smith gets the nod over Tingelhoff in part because of one more Pro Bowl appearance and two Super Bowl titles.
#5. Guy Chamberlin (E/HB 1914-16) – Chicago Staleys (1920-21), Canton Bulldogs (1922-23), Cleveland Bulldogs (1924), Frankford Yellow Jackets (1925-26), Chicago Cardinals (1927). Scored 17 touchdowns (6 defensive) in 8 seasons. Named to the All-APFA team in 1920 and the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1920s. Named by at least one publication to the All-NFL First Team in 1922, 1923, and 1924. As player-coach, won four NFL titles in five years. Won an additional championship as player for 1921 Chicago Staleys. Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
The first great player from Nebraska, Chamberlin got a late start on his professional football career after serving in World War I. After the war, he joined the Chicago Staleys of the NFL (then called the APFA) as a 26-year old end/receiver. He was more prolific on the defensive side of the ball, and was selected to the the All-APFA team in his 1920 rookie season. In 1921, he helped the Staleys win the APFA championship. In 1922, he joined the Canton Bulldogs as a player-coach. Playing on both sides of the ball while coaching at the same time, he led the Bulldogs to two consecutive undefeated championship seasons. In the 1922 campaign, he scored seven touchdowns – four offensive and three defensive. In 1924, the Bulldogs moved to Cleveland where Chamberlin again played and coached the team to the NFL championship. He then joined the Frankford Yellow Jackets for the 1925 and 1926 seasons, leading them to the 1926 NFL Championship. Chamberlin ended his career as a player with the Cardinals in 1927; he coached them in the 1928 season before retiring for good at the age of 34.
Although his career lasted only eight years, Chamberlin’s numbers are staggering: eight seasons as a player, four First Team All-NFL selections, and five NFL championships; six seasons as a coach, a 58-16-7 overall record, and four NFL championships. In 1965, Chamberlain became the second former Husker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
#4. Link Lyman (T 1919-21) – Canton Bulldogs (1922-23, 1925), Cleveland Bulldogs (1924), Frankford Yellow Jackets (1925), Chicago Bears (1926-34). Two-time All-NFL First Team unanimous selection (1930 and 1934). Named to an All-NFL team by other publications in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1928, 1931, and 1933. Won NFL Championships with Canton in 1922 and 1923, Cleveland in 1924, and the Bears in 1932 and 1933. A member of the Bears team that won the first ever NFL Championship Game in 1933 at Wrigley Field.
The second great former Nebraska player, Lyman was recruited to join the Canton Bulldogs in 1922 by Chamberlin and eventually surpassed Chamberlin’s own accomplishments. Lyman was a tackle on both sides of the ball and is credited with inventing the “shift and slide” technique that defensive linemen still use to this day. Lyman was a tackle on the NFL powerhouse Bulldog team – his team didn’t lose a game for the first two seasons he was in the league. Lyman later joined the Chicago Bears, where the late great “Papa Bear” George Halas called him one of the toughest players he’d ever coached. He retired in 1934 at the age of 36 after an eleven-year career.
In 1964, Lyman became the first former Husker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lyman gets the slight edge over Chamberlin because of his slightly longer career and the fact that the Hall of Fame electors put Lyman in a year before Chamberlin.
#3. Roger Craig (RB 1980-82) – San Francisco 49ers (1983-90), Los Angeles Raiders (1991), Minnesota Vikings (1992-93). Named to four Pro Bowls and was the 1988 NFC and Offensive Player of the Year. Was a unanimous selection to 1988 All-NFL First Team and was named to various publications’ First Teams for 1985, 1987, and 1989. Won three Super Bowls (1984, 1988, and 1989) with San Francisco. Accounted for 13,100 yards from scrimmage (8,189 rushing and 4,911 receiving) and 73 touchdowns in eleven-year career. Named to NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team.
Roger Craig was never projected to be a great NFL running back and dropped all the way to the 49th overall pick of the 1983 NFL draft. Fortunately, he found the perfect situation as a running back for the great 49ers’ West Coast offense of the late 1980s. An ideal running back for Bill Walsh’s system, Craig became one of the first great pass-catching running backs, paving the way for future hybrid backs like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. In 1985, he earned his first Pro Bowl selection after becoming the first player ever to have 1,000-plus yards rushing and receiving in a single season.
Craig was later selected to three straight Pro Bowls between 1987 and 1989 and was the league’s Offensive MVP in 1988 after rushing for a career-high 1,502 yards and gaining a league-high 2,036 yards from scrimmage. He was a key contributor for the 1984, 1988, and 1989 Super Bowl champion 49ers. After his last Pro Bowl season in 1989, Craig had four more mediocre seasons before retiring following the 1993 season.
Despite stellar career numbers, Craig gets the #3 spot mostly because of his contributions to the game. As one of the first great pass-catching running backs, Craig was a key member of the 49ers West Coast offense in the 1980s that later influenced practically every offense in the NFL.
#2. Bob Brown (T 1961-63) – Philadelphia Eagles (1964-68), Los Angeles Rams (1969-70), Oakland Raiders (1971-73). Six-time Pro Bowler and five-time selection (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, and 1970) to All-NFL First Team. Named to the All-NFL Second Team in 1967, 1971, and 1972. 1964 Rookie of the Year and three-time Offensive Lineman of the Year. Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s. Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
The Philadelphia Eagles made Bob “The Boomer” Brown the second overall draft pick in the 1964 NFL Draft. Over a ten-year career, Brown was unquestionably the best offensive tackle in the league. Brown started every game in his first season en route to being named NFL Rookie of the Year. In each of the following eight years, Brown chalked up six Pro Bowl appearances, five All-NFL First Teams, and three All-NFL Second Teams. He was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s despite only playing six seasons in the decade.
Brown retired following the 1973 season after only ten seasons in the the NFL and became only the third former Husker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Although he played only ten years, Brown gets the #2 spot on this list because he dominated the league for an extended period of time like no other Husker before or since.
#1 Will Shields (1989-92) – Kansas City Chiefs (1993-2006). 12-time Pro Bowler. Three All-NFL First Team selections (1999, 2002, and 2003) and four Second Team selections (1997, 2004, 2005, and 2006). Started 223 consecutive games (231 including playoffs). Named to NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Walter Payton Man of the Year Award Winner in 2003.
The #1 spot on the list goes to future Hall of Famer Will Shields. A third-round draft pick in 1993, Shields was thrust into the starting lineup in the second game of his rookie season. He started every game for the Chiefs for the next 14 years until his retirement after the 2006 season. The 223 regular season game streak is the most by any offensive guard in NFL history.
Already a top offensive lineman and six-time Pro Bowler through the 2000 season, Shields became an all-time great in the high-powered Chiefs offenses of the early 2000s. Shields blocked for five 4,000-yard passers and five 4,000-yard rushers and was named to an All-NFL team each year between 2002 and 2006. Noted for his work in the community, Shields was named Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2003.
Shields was named to twelve consecutive Pro Bowls – double the total of any other former Husker. He will be eligible for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time in 2012; many expect he will be elected on the first ballot or shortly thereafter. In a close call, Shields gets the #1 spot on this list ahead of Brown because he was productive four years longer and will almost certainly be elected to the Hall of Fame quicker than any other former Husker.