The NBA at 61

Who are the 61 greatest players in NBA history?

Why 61? Well, in celebration of the first 50 years of the National Basketball Association, the NBA named its 50 greatest players of the first 50 years prior to the 1996-97 season. Eleven seasons later, assuming that the one player per year ratio remains the gold standard, that brings us to 61 players for 61 years.

As with any best-of list, there was debate about several names left off the original list of 50. Today the debate is even more difficult. To make matters a little easier, I decided that the 50 players already on the list are safe. Their honor cannot be taken away from them. They’ll always be remembered among the greatest players ever.

So I set out on a quest to add 11 names to the list, making it the greatest 61 players in the 61 year history of the NBA. To make sure this list is not short-changing anyone, I considered current and recently retired players along with past greats who didn’t make the original list.

Active NBA players needed at least four full seasons of NBA experience in order to warrant consideration because that was what Shaquille O’Neal had as the youngest player named to the original top 50 list. That eliminated names like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Brandon Roy from contention, but the list of qualified candidates remained extensive.

I used for the majority of my research and to compile statistical data on the players. In order to find the most deserving candidates I looked primarily at Hall of Fame inductees and NBA All-Star game participants.
After developing an original pool of nearly 75 candidates, I narrowed that list down to 40 finalists comprised of 20 current players and 20 retired players spanning every generation of NBA basketball. The 40 finalists have combined for 248 all-star game appearances.

Categories that I took into consideration included but were not limited to: points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals per game; player efficiency rating, All-NBA team honors; All-Defensive team honors; All-Star game selections; MVP awards and championships won. (Click to download an Excel spreadsheet full of data on the 40 finalists).

Taking all of these factors into consideration, I found this to be an extremely challenging process. It was easy to add players to the list but almost impossible to decide which players to leave off. I went back and forth about the final spots for hours. Every time I thought I had the debate settled, I found a different player who stuck out and the process restarted.

Eventually I settled on a group I was comfortable with, but it wasn’t easy. With only 11 spots up for grabs, the list of names not on the list read’s like a basketball almanac. But in the end, 11 players stood above the rest as newly named members of the basketball’s most elite fraternity, the 61 greatest players in NBA history.

  • Kobe Bryant
    With 10 all-star game appearances, 5 first-team All-NBA selections, 5 first-team All-Defensive selections and 3 NBA championships, there is no debate for Bryant’s inclusion among the top 61. Throw in the fact that he is still only 29 years old and it’s pretty clear that the real argument may be for Bryant as the best player ever by the time he retires. Currently playing on a Lakers team that many are picking to represent the West in the NBA Finals, Bryant may yet add another championship ring to a résumé that is already Hall of Fame material.
  • Tim Duncan
    If Bryant isn’t the most established NBA player today, it’s because of Tim Duncan. A 4-time NBA Champion, Duncan has the seventh highest player efficiency rating in NBA history. For those not aware of the new-age statistic, check out the story behind PER. As if his PER and 4 titles weren’t enough, Duncan has also been an all-star every year he’s been in the league, making the All-NBA first-team 9 times, the All-Defensive first-team 7 times and winning 2 league MVPs and 3 Finals MVPs along the way. Despite all of these accolades and accomplishments, Duncan is still underappreciated by the average fan because he doesn’t come with the glitz and glamour. He’s all business, and it seems to be working just fine. Just ask any Spurs fan.
  • Kevin Garnett
    Before reinvigorating his career this season in Boston, where he may win a second league MVP and perhaps his first NBA Championship, Kevin Garnett played himself into the Hall of Fame with the Minnesota Timberwolves. An 11-time all-star, Garnett is the T’Wolves franchise leader in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. And second place isn’t even close in any of the categories. If the numbers weren’t as great as they are, you could make a case for Garnett to get on this list based on passion alone. Few would argue that anyone plays as hard as he does for the full 82 games.
  • Allen Iverson
    The 32-year-old Iverson is currently 25th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and his career scoring average of 27.8 points per game trails only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain in NBA history. He was the NBA’s MVP in 2001 and is a 9-time all-star. Seven times he’s been named to the All-NBA team, including 3 first-team selections. But perhaps the most amazing fact of all is that Iverson has done all of this at 6’0” tall and 165 pounds. He’s the size of an ordinary man, but his ability to perform on the court is nothing short of extraordinary.
  • LeBron James
    He just turned 23 years old in December, but he’s already one of the greatest players in NBA history. In his first season he was rookie of the year. Each season since then, he has been an all-star. Now in his fifth season in the league, James is averaging more than 30 points per game. He averaged 31.4 in 2005-06. But while he wears number 23, his all-around game has people comparing him to Magic Johnson as much as Michael Jordan. He almost single-handedly willed the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference championship last year, and he’s the most feared matchup in the East again this year. His résumé is a work in progress, but no one has entered the league with as much hype—Sports Illustrated cover as a high school junior, for starters—and then lived up to it and exceeded it, as James has. With such great returns so early in his career, there’s no limit to his potential. But James’ name belongs among the game’s greats right now.
  • Dennis Johnson
    Playing the last 7 seasons of his career with the Boston Celtics, Dennis Johnson was overshadowed by the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, all of whom made the NBA’s 50 at 50 list. But Johnson was an NBA Finals MVP back in 1979 with the Seattle Supersonics. For his career he averaged 14 points and 5 assists per game. But he made his greatest impact on the other end of the court where he was 6 times named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first-team. Johnson enjoyed great individual and team success in his career as a 5-time all-star and 3-time NBA Champion, earning him a spot among the best ever to play the game.
  • Neil Johnston
    You’ve probably never heard of Neil Johnston. I hadn’t either, but the Philadelphia Warriors great is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and for good reason. His career average of 11.3 rebounds per game is 19th best in NBA history. Plus, he led the league in scoring three years in a row from 1953-55. He was named an all-star six times and named to the All-NBA first-team 4 times. He also played a key role on the Warriors’ 1956 championship team. Finally, while there was no such stat as PER back in the 50s, Johnston’s PER is 9th best in league history, directly ahead of Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If that’s not elite company, I don’t know what is.
  • Jason Kidd
    Arguably the best point guard of his era, Jason Kidd is still producing at a high level. He was named to his 9th all-star team this season. He is currently 5th on the NBA’s all-time assists list, and he’ll likely pass everyone other than John Stockton on that list within the next 2-3 years. He’s also 11th in steals in NBA history. Additionally, Kidd has made the All-NBA first-team 5 times and the All-Defensive first-team 4 times while leading the New Jersey Nets to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002-2003. Known as a teammate players want to play with because of his passing ability, Kidd has to be included in any discussion about great NBA point guards.
  • Gary Payton
    If Kidd was not the best point guard of his generation, Gary Payton was. Known as “The Glove” for his tenacious defense—he was named to the NBA All-Defensive first-team 9 times—Payton was also a gifted scorer, averaging 18.9 points per game for his career. Only six players have recorded more minutes made in their career than Payton, who ranks 3rd all-time in steals and 7th in assists. After falling just short of a championship in 1996 with Seattle, Payton returned to the Finals as a Laker in 2004 before finally winning a ring in 2006 with Miami. His ability to contribute to winning teams late in his career despite a decline in his physical ability helped put Payton on this list ahead of others offering stiff competition.
  • Dwyane Wade
    In the midst of Miami’s horrid 2007-08 campaign—they have a league worst 9-41 record at the all-star break—Wade was the last inclusion on this list, narrowly edging the other 29 finalists who did not make the cut. Yet despite having completed only four seasons and missing significant parts of this and last season, Wade’s performance has been so good and his potential is so great that I cannot see him failing to justify this selection among the greatest players of all-time. Consider this the Shaquille O’Neal exemption. What Wade has done, however, that even O’Neal hadn’t at this stage of this career is win an NBA Championship. Wade was even named Finals MVP. That honor coupled with 4 all-star appearances in five seasons suggests that Wade deserves this recognition despite his relative youth.
  • Dominique Wilkins
    The final name on the list, alphabetically, is one that many felt should have been included on the original list. Many also felt he should have been included on the original Dream Team roster (Christian Laettner? Really?). Wilkins was a 9-time all-star not to mention a 2-time slam dunk champion. He was voted to the All-NBA team 7 times, including once to the first-team and 4 times to the second-team. He averaged nearly 25 points per game for his career, and is 9th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He was known as “The Human Highlight Film” for his thunderous dunks, but his dunks should not overshadow the rest of his career as a big scorer in the NBA that rivaled Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in the late 80s.

Nearly 2,000 words later, there’s your answer to the question about the 61 greatest players in NBA history. Add those 11 to the original list of 50 (see sidebar, top right, for the complete list). Who should be selected as number 62 next year? Who should be on this year’s list that was not included? Who snuck onto the list that should not have? Weigh in with your thoughts.

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I’m a Shaq Fan

As a diehard Lakers fan and a dedicated Shaquille O’Neal supporter, the recent trade sending O’Neal to the Phoenix Suns has me torn. To read the other side of my internal debate, read “I’m a Lakers Fan.”

Challengers beware. The Suns just turned up the heat out west.

Suns General Manager Steve Kerr knew exactly what he was doing when he gave up a four-time all-star and key member of the Suns’ run-and-gun offense, Shawn Marion, to bring Shaquille O’Neal to Phoenix. And just like that, Pau Gasol was only the second biggest acquisition in the Western Conference.

In three previous NBA stops O’Neal has led his team to the NBA Finals. He teamed with Penny Hardaway in Orlando, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and Dwyane Wade in Miami. Two-time MVP Steve Nash must be excited to welcome the Diesel to Phoenix.

Forget points per game or age. The only number that matters in this equation is four – the number of championship rings O’Neal has won.

Cast aside the questions of how O’Neal will fit in with Phoenix’s seven seconds or less mentality. This isn’t about offensive schemes. This is a character acquisition. He may be in the desert, but Shaq is Hollywood. He’s a larger than life personality. And, most importantly, he’s a winner. In fact, O’Neal has never played a season in the NBA on a losing team. Only in his rookie season did he not play on a playoff team—his Orlando Magic lost a tiebreaker with Indiana for the eighth seed in the East.

O’Neal brings star power to the Suns that even Steve Nash can’t come close to. They suddenly got the bump from supporting actor to lead role in the story of how the 2008 West was won.

And if Phoenix is to get over the hump, it’ll be the man who rapped on Shaq Diesel and acted in Kazaam that will make it happen. What figures to be the final installment in a surefire Hall of Fame career will take place in Phoenix, and the rest of the league has to be worried because they’re going to encounter a motivated Shaquille O’Neal.

Motivated to show Miami he still had Diesel left in the tank. Motivated to show the Lakers that their acquisition of Pau Gasol still isn’t enough to get them back to the level they were at when O’Neal was in purple and gold. Motivated to show everyone who said the Suns were crazy to make this deal that the doubters are the crazy ones.

O’Neal doesn’t want to bookend his career with close calls in Orlando and Phoenix. The Suns were close before making this trade. So this isn’t about coming close. They have to win it all, or the trade will be viewed as a bad move. O’Neal knows that and welcomes the challenge.

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I’m a Lakers Fan

As a diehard Lakers fan and a dedicated Shaquille O’Neal supporter, the recent trade sending O’Neal to the Phoenix Suns has me torn. To read the other side of my internal debate, read “I’m a Shaq Fan.”

Sorry Phoenix, but I know what it’s like to be on the wrong end of a Shaq trade. We made the mistake of giving him up then. You made the mistake of picking him up now.

You gave up Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for a behemoth, plodding big man. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a charismatic, public relations godsend behemoth, plodding big man, but he’s closer to 40 than 30 and his best playing days came two teams ago—with the Lakers.

The Lakers are the team that gained the most steam heading into the all-star break. In two trades, the Lakers were helped in four key ways.

1. The Lakers acquired Pau Gasol.
A 2006 all-star and the best player on a Memphis Grizzlies team that went to the playoffs three years in a row from 2004-06, Gasol gives the Lakers a short-term fill-in while Andrew Bynum recovers from a knee injury. More importantly, at 7-feet tall and 27 years old, Gasol is both a size and age appropriate complement for Kobe Bryant.

2. The Lakers got rid of Kwame Brown.
The former number one overall pick in Washington had fallen so far out of favor in L.A. that he was mercilessly booed at home this season. While he may be able to offer an NBA team a quality presence on the defensive end, it’s hard to envision him starting anywhere in the league given his struggles and inconsistency finishing around the basket on offense.

3. The Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal.
Phoenix is known for its seven-seconds-or-less offense. They have been the highest scoring team in the NBA for each of the past three seasons since acquiring point guard Steve Nash and are leading the NBA in scoring again this year. Their offense is predicated on fast break opportunities and quick shots. Neither of those categories fits into Shaquille O’Neal’s traditional repertoire. His methodical low-post game is essentially the anti-Phoenix offense.

4. The Suns got rid of Shawn Marion.
Say what you will about Marion being a discontent in Phoenix. The fact remains Lakers fans should be more excited to see him go than Suns fans should be to see Shaq’s arrival.

In four games against the Lakers this season, Marion has averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and 3 steals per game. The common denominator for all those numbers? They’re higher than his season averages.

Marion was always the toughest matchup for the Lakers. Mike D’Antoni seemed to think so too because he played Marion more than any Suns player—nearly 200 of the 240 minutes possible—in the Suns-Lakers playoff series last year. By comparison, NBA MVP Steve Nash played just under 180 minutes in the series. Marion averaged better than 18 points and 10 rebounds per game in helping the Suns to a 4-1 series victory.

O’Neal will slow down the league’s fastest, highest-scoring offense. He’ll clog the lane on defense, sure, but he’s also had difficulty staying out of foul trouble this season. He’ll be challenged by young big men such as Tyson Chandler of the Hornets and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers as well as more experienced players like Yao Ming and Tim Duncan. You could easily rank all four of those players ahead of Shaq in terms of best big man in the West. And don’t forget about Marcus Camby, Mehmet Okur, Brad Miller or Chris Kaman either.

O’Neal’s numbers show he’s not the dominant center he once was. His 14.2 points per game put him ninth among centers. And his 7.8 rebounds per game leave him at 21st among centers. But it’s watching Shaq miss layups, failing to get enough lift to throw down a dunk that has me convinced this trade will not have a happy ending for Suns fans.

With a win in either of their final two games before the all-star break, Phoenix will enter the all-star break with the most wins in the Western Conference. But they’ll come out of the break facing a grueling schedule that features the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons and Hornets before the end of the month. Don’t be surprised if the Suns are looking up at the Lakers in the standings by the time the calendar turns to March.

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Tyree is ‘That Guy’

New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree earned Super Bowl XLII That Guy honors with his clutch performance against the New England Patriots.

His three catches—he caught four during the entire regular season—included a five yard touchdown to give New York a 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter and a historic highlight reel 32-yard grab that kept the Giants’ game-winning drive alive.

My prediction for that guy (Donte’ Stallworth) also made three catches, which netted 34 yards for the Patriots. However, it was the little-known New York wideout who made the out-of-this-world catch and earned himself a Super Bowl ring.

Falling just short was Giants’ defensive end Justin Tuck, who recorded six tackles and two sacks. Tuck and the Giants defense held New England, the highest scoring team in NFL history, to a season-low 14 points.

Eli Manning may have won the MVP, but he couldn’t have done it without help from the likes of Tyree. Congratulations to David Tyree, the latest NFL player making Super Bowl viewers everywhere ask, “Who the hell is that guy?”

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An Apology, A Thank You

Dear Eli,

I have to begin with an apology. I’m sorry I doubted you. As the oldest of three brothers, it was just too natural for me to pick on you. When you struggled with turnover problems and first round playoff exits, I jumped on your case.

I refused to believe that you were a talented young quarterback learning the ropes. I thought you were just riding the Manning name. But it only took you four years to defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots and win a Super Bowl (not to mention the Super Bowl MVP). It took Peyton nine years to accomplish all of that.

Peyton may have all the individual numbers, but in the only category that really matters – championships – you’re now tied at one apiece and you’re five years younger than him.

I’m sorry that I called you the other Manning all these years. From now on, Eli it is. By joining Joe Montana as the only players to lead a come-from-behind game-winning touchdown drive in the final 3 minutes of a Super Bowl, you went from Eli to elite.

Is there room for improvement? Sure there is, but we’ll save that for another day. Some quarterbacks have been a part of Super Bowl winning teams (Trent Dilfer comes to mind), but you helped win the Super Bowl. There’s a difference, and I didn’t think you’d ever be a part of the latter group. But you proved me wrong, and for that I apologize.

I also want to thank you, though, Eli. As a Raiders fan, your Super Bowl victory gave me hope. SEC quarterback. Number one overall draft pick. Scrutinized for non-football related contract issues immediately after being drafted. Not an opening day starter. Lofty expectations.

That was you, Eli, but that also describes the tumultuous path of JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders’ QB of the future, who will be called upon to lead the silver and black next year. Eli, your manifestation from bumbling little brother into clutch playoff passer has given me high hopes for Russell, but it’s also a cautionary tale—don’t expect too much too soon.

So I’ll try my best to be patient with Russell. If he gets Oakland a Super Bowl in the next three years, I’d be ecstatic. And for giving me the hope to think it’s possible, the patience to wait it out and proof that anything can happen in the NFL, I thank you, Eli.

Of course, if Russell is a bust, I’m lobbying the Raiders to look into a free agent signing of Cooper Manning, who is now the official black sheep of the Manning clan.


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Kupchak Deserves Credit, No Kidding

When the Lakers were trying to deal for Jason Kidd last season, New Jersey was intent on landing either Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum. Most Lakers fans assumed any deal to land a big name would include one or the other, as they represented Los Angeles’ two greatest assets next to Kobe Bryant.

That’s what makes today’s acquisition of Pau Gasol such a steal for the Lakers. If Bynum is able to return healthy by April, the Lakers can head into the postseason with a starting five of Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Bryant and Derek Fisher. There’s no weak link to be found. Plus they have a deep, young bench.

What did the Lakers give up in the deal?

  • Kwame Brown. I understand why Memphis took him for his huge expiring contract, but let’s face it. He had to go. After he was booed at home against Phoenix, there was no chance Brown was going to be a vital piece of a Lakers championship team.

  • Javaris Crittenton. A lot of potential here, but definitely more expendable than Farmar, who has really shown flashes of becoming their point guard of the future.

  • Two first round draft picks. Never easy to part with first rounders, but the Lakers have to expect these will be picks in the upper 20s.

  • The rights to Aaron McKie and Marc Gasol, Pau’s brother.

I’ll admit it. I was clamoring for the Lakers to trade Bynum last season to acquire Kidd. And I was upset when they didn’t. But Bynum has had a breakout season, and now I’d much rather have Gasol than Kidd.

I like the combination of Fisher and Farmar at the point guard position. While neither is as talented all around as Kidd, both are better shooters than he is, which is important when teams are double-teaming Kobe.

Mitch Kupchak took a lot of heat for trading Shaquille O’Neal, and perhaps rightfully so since Miami went on to win the NBA title, but if his succession of moves—bringing in Odom as part of the Shaq deal, holding onto Bynum rather than acquiring Kidd, and now trading for Gasol—result in a championship for the Lakers, he deserves more just this heartfelt apology. Congratulations Mitch Kupchak on officially restoring the Lakers as a Western Conference power, or should I say Pau-er.

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Who’s This Year’s That Guy?

Larry Brown was that guy twelve years ago. Just ask Neil O’Donnell. Desmond Howard was that guy the following year, and it drove the New England Patriots’ kick coverage unit crazy. In 2003, Dexter Jackson was that guy, too, and Rich Gannon still has nightmares about him.

That guy seems to show up in every Super Bowl, masquerading in the jersey of a little known player on the winning team. In the most extreme cases—such as Brown, Howard and Jackson—that guy is so effective that he outshines star teammates like Troy Aikman, Brett Favre and Warren Sapp to earn the Super Bowl MVP.

More commonly, that guy simply plays superbly in the Super Bowl after being a minor role player all season. Short of winning the Super Bowl MVP trophy, that guy’s unexpected impact helps his team raise the Lombardi trophy year after year.

Rules to qualify as that guy in a Super Bowl

  1. Starting quarterbacks are automatically ruled out. That means no Tom Brady and no Eli Manning
  2. Pro Bowl selections are also overqualified. In addition to Brady, that rules out Randy Moss, Mike Vrabel, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork and Asante Samuel for New England. It also eliminates Osi Umenyiora, the lone Pro Bowl selection for the Giants.
  3. Fantasy football studs are ineligible. Some people pay more attention to fantasy football than the real games so there’s no way Plaxico Burress, Brandon Jacobs or Wes Welker is going undetected. Obviously Brady and Moss fall into this category as well.
  4. Veterans with a significant playoff history. Check off Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Richard Seymour and Adalius Thomas from New England, as well as Michael Strahan, Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters and Amani Toomer from New York.
  5. No repeats. If you were already named That Guy in a Super Bowl, you can never be him again. Mike Vrabel is the only one playing in Super Bowl XLII who has been that guy before for his six-tackle, two-sack, one-touchdown-reception performance against Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

New York Giants top five nominees for Super Bowl XLII’s That Guy

5. Steve Smith, WR
The Giants are hoping their Steve Smith can do what the Panthers’ Steve Smith did against the Patriots (4 catches, 80 yards, 1 TD) in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Patriots will likely be focusing their coverage on Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, leaving opportunities for the rookie wideout who has made nine receptions in three postseason games.

4. Antonio Pierce, MLB
The middle linebacker typically orchestrates the defense. Pierce will need to be active around the ball for the Giants to have any chance of slowing down the NFL’s all-time highest scoring offense.

3. Kevin Boss, TE
Boss has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Jeremy Shockey on the field and does not have the same disruptive personality as Shockey either.

2. James Butler, SS
At some point in the game, the Patriots will try to go deep on Randy Moss. If Butler can lay a clean hit on Moss and rattle his cage early, the Giants secondary will have a much better chance of containing New England’s vertical passing game.

1. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Bradshaw has been a revelation since week 16, complimenting Brandon Jacobs and making everyone forget about Tiki Barber. The Giants’ best defense in this game may be their running offense. If Bradshaw can use his speed and power to control the ball and the clock, the Giants can limit the opportunities for Brady and company to score.

New England Patriots top five nominees for Super Bowl XLII’s That Guy

5. Nick Kaczur, RT
Yes, it is possible for a lineman to receive that guy status, and perhaps, if I was more football savvy in my younger years, I would have watched for strong line play in the Super Bowl. Kaczur will draw the assignment of Michael Strahan, the Giants’ future Hall of Famer. Containing one of the all-time sack leaders in his quest for that elusive championship ring won’t be easy though.

4. Heath Evans, FB
Evans could be the fourth fullback to earn that guy status. Howard Griffith did it with blocking, William Floyd did it with receiving and Tom Rathman did it running. Evans may contribute in any of those areas, and he’s proven to be especially valuable in short-yardage situations for New England.

3. Ty Warren, DE
Playing on a defensive line that includes Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, Warren is the unsung man. He had just four sacks all season, but added one against Jacksonville in the playoffs. If he can get any pressure on Eli Manning, the Giants will be in trouble.

2. Kevin Faulk, RB
Faulk has been in New England since his career began in 1999. Only Troy Brown (1993) and Tedy Bruschi (1996) have longer tenure with the Patriots. And while he’s never been a featured back in the Patriots offense—only topping 100 carries twice—he’s always been a valuable weapon out of the backfield. Indeed it was Faulk—not Moss or Welker—who led the team in receptions and receiving yards in the Patriots’ AFC Championship win over San Diego.

1. Ellis Hobbs, CB/KR
It’s unlikely that Eli Manning will challenge Asante Samuel, one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks, who figures to matchup primarily with Plaxico Burress. Whether Hobbs draws Burress or Amani Toomer, Manning is likely to look that way early and often. If Hobbs can stay on his man and record an interception, Manning could have a frustratingly bad Super Bowl experience.

The Pick for Super Bowl XLII’s That Guy
Donte’ Stallworth, WR, New England

The rationale
The New England Patriots disproved the notion all season long that you have to run the ball effectively to win games. They were throwing the ball 10-15 straight times to open games and no one could stop them. In recent weeks, as opponents have vowed not to get beaten by their high-powered passing attack, the Patriots have returned to a more conventional ground game, allowing Laurence Maroney to rack up big numbers.

I suspect that Belichick is anticipating the Giants preparing for the team that they’ve seen from week 17 onward. Thus, they’ll key on Maroney and the running game a bit too much. Yet, they also know they don’t want to get beat by Randy Moss, who set an NFL record for touchdown catches, or Wes Welker, who led the league in receptions. That makes Donte’ Stallworth a prime candidate for that guy.

Of course, if you ask him, he won’t even admit that he, Donte’, is ever on the field at all, let alone as that guy. He says it’s an alien named Nicco that takes over his body when he’s on the field. I swear I’m not making this up.
But all of that aside, Stallworth is a talented former first round pick of the Saints. He was fourth on the team in receptions behind Welker, Moss and Faulk and had two touchdowns in the playoffs last season as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Still, no one is talking about him heading into this game. That’s the setup for that guy to shine.

Matt’s Super Bowl XLII pick
New England 41, New York 33

Who’s the ultimate That Guy?

I was four years old when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII, but I’ve seen the highlight of John Taylor catching the game-winning touchdown enough to feel like I was there. Taylor’s touchdown grab was his only catch of the game—he had just 14 catches all season—and it made him that guy for Joe Montana and the 49ers.

The only vague memory I actually have from game was that my 3-D glasses did absolutely nothing during the “Be Bop Bamboozled in 3-D” halftime show. Nonetheless, it was the first Super Bowl I remember watching, and I haven’t missed one since.

In honor of watching my 20th Super Bowl this Sunday, I’m ranking That Guy from all 19 games I’ve had the privilege to watch in order to crown the ultimate that guy in Super Bowl history—or, at least since I’ve been watching it.

Here’s the complete list of 19 Super Bowl That Guys.

^An exception to rule number one. Hostetler was the starting quarterback of the Giants in the Super Bowl, but he was backup until Phil Simms went down with an injury late in the season. Hostetler had just two career starts and zero postseason passing attempts prior to this season.

*An exception to rule number two. Taylor was named to the Pro Bowl as a returner during the 1988 season, but he earned his that guy status as a receiver in the Super Bowl.

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