Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Apples vs. Oranges? Sure. but Fullbacks vs. Guards?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Apples vs. Oranges? Sure. but Fullbacks vs. Guards?

Article excerpt

Finally, the calendar permits itself to be turned to September. It's the happiest time of the year because with aspen preparing to turn yellow and maples contemplating red, we now know it is the appropriate time to focus on football.

That sound you hear is not the roar of the crowd. It's our hearts singing.

And so on cue - before we get overwrought later on in the season - along comes a new book, "Football's Greatest Players." It's a slick and beautifully designed coffee-table candidate, done under the aegis of the innovative boss at The Sporting News, John Rawlings.

No problem with the book. The problem is this ranking of the Top 100 football players - or any ranking - is tragically flawed for four reasons:

There is no way to compare a quarterback to a defensive tackle, a receiver to a guard, a kicker to a linebacker.

The positions, and therefore the skills, are widely disparate. The marvelous Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown was named No. 1. Fine. But better than all the rest? Brown played just nine years and retired when he was 29 with all kinds of records. He now says, "Records are irrelevant." That's nonsense. Jim Brown without records is salt without pepper, just another player without portfolio.

But beyond this, there is no way to know if Brown was, in fact, better than quarterback Otto Graham, linebacker Dick Butkus, tackle Deacon Jones, on and on. Nobody can contend that Brown was better at what he did than extraordinary kicker Lou Groza was at what he did.

Clich lovers say you can't compare apples and oranges. Phooey. They're both fruits, they coexist nicely in any fruit bowl, and therefore are easily comparable. What you can't compare is a fullback and a cornerback.

Comparing players from different eras is impossible.

Joe Montana is the highest-ranked quarterback (No. 3) while Johnny Unitas is next (No. 5). Montana and Unitas were hauntingly similar. Neither had a celebrated arm, but both passed with touch, timing, and brains. Both were clever. Neither was a superior athlete. Both made their teams win. Both had long careers, capped by hanging on at least one year too many. …

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