Last week, I launched "Rushmore Sunday" -- a weekly trip into NFL history to recognize the four greatest players who played for teams currently in the NFC East, position by position. First up were the quarterbacks, arguably the game's most important position. This week, let's take a look at the guys who are supposed to make life tough for the QBs: the cornerbacks.
The Rushmore rules are simple: pick the four players at each position most deserving of being part of the division pantheon. No more than four, no fewer than four. They don't necessarily have to be "the best" in the literal sense of the word, but they need to be and important part of the game's lore.
Without further ado, and in no particular order: The Rushmore of NFC East cornerbacks.
- Deion Sanders, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins -- The man with more nicknames than sense; with more speed than restraint; with more bravado than a Marine division. Sanders was a shut-down corner in the truest sense of the word -- at his peak he was so good that opposing QBs would not throw his way for any reason. Here's how good he was: During games, he would sometimes coach the opposing receiver about how to run his routes better, how to make his cuts tighter, how to do a better job freeing himself from bump-and-run coverage. Sanders would actually tell his opponent how to beat him, and still shut him down. Plus, he was a freaky good return man -- think Devin Hester quality. His stint with the Skins was forgettable, but he was the best in the game while in Dallas.
- Darrell Green, Washington Redskins -- Green played 20 seasons with the Redskins, a preposterously long career at a position that requires speed and agility. At age 42, before his final season in football, Green ran a 4.3 40-yard dash -- still the fastest man on his team and among the fastest in the league. At age 50 -- eight years after retirement -- he was timed running a sub-4.5 40. Many remember him running down Tony Dorsett from behind; one of my favorite Green plays was when he chased down Eric Dickerson in the playoffs. Like Sanders, Green was a shut-down corner. For perhaps 15 years, Washington's defensive gameplan was built around Green covering the opposition's top receiver one-on-one. Like Sanders, he was a scary return man, but his coaches didn't use him in that role because he was too valuable on defense.
- Mel Renfro, Dallas Cowboys -- Renfro actually started his career as a safety (where he was great), switching to corner when Dallas realized he would be even more valuable in primary coverage on receivers. He was a terrific return man, and he played in an era when top-shelf starters also returned kicks. In 1964, he led the league in punt and kickoff return yardage. Renfro made the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons.
- Champ Bailey, Washington Redskins -- I agonized over this fourth and final slot, weighing the careers of several players who could have been chiseled into the Rushmore of NFC East corners. Bailey played just five seasons in Washington, but gets the nod anyway because he was scary good. I didn't want to penalize him because Washington stupidly traded him PLUS a second round pick for Clinton Portis. While in Washington, Bailey made the Pro Bowl four times -- and then got even better in Denver. He was a classic shut-down cover man, who was also dangerous returning kicks and interceptions. While Portis was good in Washington, running backs are easily found and replaced. Eight years later, the Skins still haven't found an adequate replacement for Bailey.
These are the guys who were close to the pantheon, but not quite. While they don't get their likeness dynamited into the side of a cliff, they at least rate a high-quality commemorative plaque hung at a popular viewing area. The players:
- Emlen Tunnell, New York Giants -- 79 career interceptions; 9 Pro Bowls; 2 NFL Championships (before there was a Super Bowl)
- Eric Allen, Philadelphia Eagles
- Troy Vincent, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins
- Everson Walls, Dallas Cowboys
- Pat Fischer, Washington Redskins
- Jimmy Patton, New York Giants
- Joe Lavender, Washington Redskins
So that's it -- that's the list. Who did I miss? Who did I overrate? Who did I underrate? Post your list in the comments. And remember -- if you want to add someone to the Rushmore, you have to take someone off. There's only room for four.