True superstars are few and far between in football

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Giants receiver Brandon Marshall recently dubbed new teammate Odell Beckham Jr. the “biggest superstar our game has ever seen in the history of football.” While there’s not much agreement on who deserves that title, most believe it’s not Beckham.

Superstardom can mean various things, and longevity of that status may not necessarily be one of the key ingredients.  Former Raiders running back Bo Jackson became a two-sport superstar for a brief but brilliants stretch, before a freak hip injury derailed his career. Former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow was indeed a true superstar, albeit for a matter of weeks.

Jets quarterback Joe Namath was arguably the original superstar, a crossover celebrity who brought football into the mainstream as effectively as anyone ever has. Following him, though eventually a pariah, was Bills running back O.J. Simpson, and others who have reached that status for portions of their careers were Bears running back Walter Payton, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, and even Bears defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry, who became a household name for a portion of 1985 based on his household-appliance alter ego, his size, and his periodic forays into the offensive backfield.

Other superstars included players like Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, carpetbagging cornerback Deion Sanders, Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whose excellence has been on display for 17 years — and who seems to be getting better as he gets closer to 40.

We welcome your comments on the subject. As if an invitation to provide feedback is ever required.

78 responses to “True superstars are few and far between in football

  1. The one – AND ONLY – true L.T., who changed the game..
    there has never been another like him!

    Playing under the lights of NY also helped!

  2. One of the keys to superstardom is name recognition among people that don’t follow the game.

    Other superstars (in no particular order):
    Lawrence Taylor
    Brett Favre
    Gale Sayers
    John Madden
    John Elway

    I want to think of more, but the more names you put forward, the cheaper the title becomes, so I guess I’ll leave it at that.

  3. the next TRUE Superstar will be Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
    He will start a few games late this season, and from there will lead the Chiefs to multiple Super Bowl titles, and a guaranteed 1st ballot HOFer.

  4. Iknowitall says:
    Jun 12, 2017 6:38 PM
    the next TRUE Superstar will be Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
    He will start a few games late this season, and from there will lead the Chiefs to multiple Super Bowl titles, and a guaranteed 1st ballot HOFer.
    I know you Chiefs fans are sold on this guy, but lets let him play a few games before you declare he is HOF worthy.

  5. gsosings says:
    Jun 12, 2017 6:36 PM
    The one – AND ONLY – true L.T., who changed the game..
    there has never been another like him!

    Playing under the lights of NY also helped!


    Apparently you never saw Dick Butkus play. He is the best LB’er to have ever played and it’s not even debatable.
    And I’m a Packers fan and he was a Bears player, so I hated him. But he was literally a one man wrecking crew.

  6. Derek Carr is on the cusp of superstardom.
    Lol at the Mahomes comments. Derek Carr is the reason the Chiefs drafted Mahomes.

  7. The term superstar needs to be defined, here. Joe Namath was the first glamour boy in pro football and his off the field image had as much to do with his image as his play on the field did.
    Namath’s whole reputation is based on predicting his Jets would beat the Colts in the Super Bowl, then going out and calling a great game to do it. But he wasn’t the reason the Jets won — RB’s Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer, and the Jets offensive line completely dominated the Colts defense and that’s why they won. Plus, Johnny Unitas was hurt and veteran Earl Morrall was at QB for the Colts, and Morrall was past his prime as well. Finally, late in the game, Unitas came in and delivered a TD, but it was too little too late.
    Namath is probably the most over-rated QB in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. His stats are not deserved of being in there, but winning the first Super Bowl for the AFL over the NFL cemented his election.

  8. Those not already mentioned include the following:
    Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Ray Nietzsche, Joe Greene (especially after the Coke commercial), Deacon Jones, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Randy White, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Aaron Rogers, J.J. Watt. I’m sure there are others.

  9. If you have to qualify the term superstar in order to justify applying it to someone then you shouldn’t be applying it. Based on how cavalierly Brandon Marshall used the word it is safe to say he shouldn’t be using it at all.

    It is interesting to note you call out Deion Sanders as a carpetbagger but apparently apply a different standard to Peyton Manning who would forever be disparaged in the ‘superstar’ conversation as only having won one Super Bowl if the he hadn’t ridden the Bronco’s defense magic carpet to his second ring. Apparently superstar isn’t the only word in that article whose definition could use some clarifying.

  10. Diva is the closest thing I can link to superstar in the NFL. When I think diva/superstar the first name that comes to mind is TO. Dude could ball, had the personality and a fairly long career. Even though he never won the title or anything really, he was always the talk of the league and in the spotlight.

  11. There’s no clear cut answer but my standard is when some lady at the supermarket knows who you are. Then ur a superstar. By that standard in my adult lifetime I would say only Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, and Tom Brady have reached that. Aaron Rodgers and Ray Lewis come close but they are still mostly known in the football world.

  12. One reason we can’t agree on superstars is we all have different criteria. Some people look at numbers as their guidelines. Some watch the guys actually play. Most of us use our ears. We listen to what the “experts’ say. Take Joe Namath for instance. Namath was the greatest QB to ever play, prior to Joe Montana. But then he developed bad knees, and he was never the same. Can you imagine Steve Young if he couldn’t move? Anyway, most of us are too young to remember Joe, so we rely on stats or other people’s opinions. The people who saw Namath in college and early in his pro career know that there was never a QB like him. Take Archie Manning, Peyton’s dad. He was every bit as good as Steve Young, but he played on a horrible team. He would have been a superstar on the Dallas Cowboys.

  13. If I had to pick only one, it would be Tom Brady. If i got to pick two, it would be Tom Brady and Lawrence Taylor.

  14. Great players are TEAM players first. OBJ doesn’t qualify – period! If he wants my vote, how about doing something to benefit the team, putting up consistent stats, working with his QB instead of complaining, and not making it about himself in terms of money or his rights – and then maybe over a period of ten years we will all look back on OBJ’s career and think he was either very good or great. Until then don’t waste my time.

  15. When you get to the NFL the players in general are so good it’s hard for someone to be head and shoulders above the rest.

    There are a lot of great players but few superstars.

    Don’t forget the superstars in high school get College scholarships, the superstars in College make it to the NFL. So by the time they become members of the NFL the herd been thinned.

  16. You have to separate between being a superstar and being a media diva. And a true sporting superstar has to be more than a flash in the pan like Tebow – who would be better described as a fad. A sports superstar is someone who is a surefire massive crowd/viewing-figures puller, well beyond just your team’s followers. Right now, Brady might be the only one playing, though Peyton Manning was a recent obvious one too – and those two alongside Rice, Elway and Montana make my top 5 all time.

    But who else among current players – Gronk? Lynch? JJ Watt? Maybe – the trouble is, most of the others I can think of are definitely big stars, but you have to think World – the Super Bowl had 113M US viewers, but was also watched in 180 countries in 25 languages, and the NFL merchandises to that World far beyond your obsessive team interest in what, say, OBJ or Zeke might be doing on social media today. Just as not all NFL players can be “elite” without losing the meaning of the word, they can’t all be superstars either.

  17. Right now there is no debate, Tom Brady the GOAT. Back in the days of when I was young LT. People can debate this all day everyday. As of now TB12 holds the crown.
    Cue the cheating posts! We Patriots fans are so used to it, it’s hysterical.

  18. I would say someone who made the announcer said: “Devin Hester, you are rediculous”
    has a nick name such as “the Freak” Randy Moss as NFL Superstars.

  19. Gronk to me is a bigger superstar than OBJ. Sure he’s a meathead, but he’s the best of all time at his position and he can punch his own ticket when his career ends. He’ll probably wind up in movies and/or WWE.

    OBJ definitely up there, but on the field he hasn’t lived up to his potential. The talent is there, but he def needs an attitude afjustment, because it’s clearly limiting his potential.

  20. Mean Joe Green makes the list. His name was known to most people, whether they were football fans or not.

    Jim McMahon for a short time would make the list, but his top years were too short.

  21. Stop with the Namath nonsense. He was known for one prediction (granted, it was an important prediction) more than a lengthy, illustrious football career.

    As a previous poster noted, he was not the star of SB3, his line was. Boozer and Snell were terrific.

  22. Neon Deion. I knew about him when I was a kid and my family did not watch a lick of football.

  23. Hello? Brett Favre??? A superstar isn’t who the media appoints as a superstar but who is the actual draw.

    Check the numbers, no one drew the viewership and set the records that Brett Favre did, no one sold more jerseys than Favre, no one sold more game tickets, season tickets or skyboxes.

    and that doesn’t count the TV ratings for every Favre news story on local and national news shows, newspapers sold, and and entire stadiums being built because of his ability to re-vive a franchise’s popularity.

    love him or hate him, based on the numbers, Brett Favre is the biggest superstar in the history of the NFL. Period.

  24. Dies anyone remember a gane in 1887 or 1988 in which Steve Grogan ducked underneath a diving Lawrence Taylor, stood back up, and through an INT to a lunging Carl Banks? I have never seen ajything like it.

  25. One guy who WAS a legitimate superstar on and off the field for over 25 years is OJ Simpson.

    From the late 1960’s until 1994 he was the guy who had it all – talent, looks, popularity, TV and movie stardom, lucrative endorsement deals, along with tons of rushing records at every level.

    The double homicide (rightfully) cancels his inclusion in any current discussion.

  26. Been following the game for a long time. Seen many starts but, never witnessed a Super Star. Football is a team sport. It takes many to make one a Star. Football does not have enough players on a team to make one human a Superstar.

  27. Being a superstar requires 2 things.

    1 You have to be especially good.

    2 You have to have wide name recognition for being good among the public that are not fans.

    Tom Brady.
    Payton Manning.
    Joe Montana
    Dan Marino
    John Elway
    Johnny Unitas.
    Mean Joe Green.
    James Brown.

    Theres more. But this list is kind of small. Not because their arent other great players. But rather because theres rather few players who become well known to non-fans outside of their local region.

  28. Marino was a true Super Star.

    Dude threw for 5,000 yards in a league that was still heavily run dependent. It took something like what? 30 years for someone else (Brees) to hit the 5,000 yard mark?

  29. It only seems like there are fewer superstars these days because EVERYONE is way better on average. It was much easier to stand out in the 50s and 60s. Now it’s a year round job that they’ve trained their entire lives for.

  30. In today’s NFL, Tom Brady is king. There’s no one else close, but you would have to put OBJ in that next tier. He’s got name recognition, is in several commercials, and keeps his name in the media as much as anyone. Ask any non football fan who Odell Beckham Jr. is and they’ll probably know. Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton are others that would be in his category.

  31. I’m assuming every thumbs down for the dude who posted Larry Fitzgerald came from Seahawks fans. Larry Legend is a class act. Nobody hates that guy. Except Seahawks fans apparently.

  32. richabbs says:
    Jun 12, 2017 7:05 PM
    Those not already mentioned include the following:
    Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Ray Nietzsche, Joe Greene (especially after the Coke commercial), Deacon Jones, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Randy White, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Aaron Rogers, J.J. Watt. I’m sure there are others.


    Great point on Mean Joe. At his peak he transcended the game. He should be near the top. From a pure name recognition perspective outside of football fans he could be the top defensive player over LT.

  33. Every era has it’s own Super Stars:

    Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Bronco Nagurski, Don Hutson, Sammy Baugh, Tony Canadeo, Marion Motley, Otto Graham, Paul Hornung, Johnny Unitas, Gale Sayers, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach, O. J., Walter Payton, Montana, Dickerson, Rice, Elway, Sanders, Smith, Favre, brady*, Moss……..

    *convicted cheater

  34. A superstar is one who is directly responsible for winning multiple super bowls OR is the best ever at his position. The Giants have had many. Harry Carson, LT, Phil Simms, Michael Strahan, many many more. OBJ wouldn’t even make the Giants top 20. He made one stupid catch and nothing else but talk.

    Bradshaw, Swann, Staubach, Favre, they were superstars. OBJ likely won’t be in the conversation in 10 years.

  35. “Namath is probably the most over-rated QB in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. His stats are not deserved of being in there, but winning the first Super Bowl for the AFL over the NFL cemented his election.”

    You can’t compare stats of QBs who played in the 60’s and 70’s with QBs that came later after the game had changed. Namath threw for over 4,000 yards when 1800-2400 was the norm. He played on some truly bad Jets teams after they won Super Bowl III over the Colts and was always playing from behind, hence the high rate of picks. He also got beat up due to a poor O-Line and having to play from behind. Namath was the Pro Football’s first Super Star and media darling and belongs in the HOF and he had the respect of all the defensive players that played against him because of his toughness.

  36. I disagree that there aren’t that many superstars in football there have always been super stars in the NFL.

    Right now just off the top my head is Brady, Rodgers, Brees, OBJ, and Watt. I know I

    In the past I would say Montana was a super star, Rice, Jim Brown, Payton, LT, Unitas, Staubach, Favre, Elway, Sanders (Barry and Deion), Manning, Mean Joe Greene, and if you go way back the Bronco Nurgurski’s of the early NFL.

  37. Wow, forgive me if I didn’t see it but little or no mention of Walter Payton?? Embarrassing! He was certainly my superstar growing up (I’m sure many others’ as well) and I believe there is a very honorable award given out each year in his name.

  38. Uh, Brett Favre? Basically ran every organization he was ever a part and built the largest army of fans with rose colored glasses this side of the Trump administration.

  39. I love lists like this its fun! Little late to the party.
    No particular order:
    Jim Brown
    Bo Jackson (ok one of my favs)
    Marino (See above)
    Mean Joe Greene
    Deon Sanders was amazing and a great personality don’t be a hater
    Giselle (haha jk) Brady
    Stabler the snake was cool (ok another Fav)

  40. This isn’t necessarily a discussion on who is/was the best player, it is more about who was the best known players. Being a great player or accomplishing a great feat are obviously requirements to being a superstar but my Grandma won’t know who won the game or which players play better but she will know who Tom Brady or Joe Namath are. People getting mad about Namath in the discussion are missing the point. Namath is a superstar, I was born in 1973 and he is one of the first players I can remember knowing about and I am not a Jets fan.

  41. Aaron Rodgers is right there. Not sure what it is about him that hold him back. He comes off as a aloof at times, but he’s appeared in many commecials and a few celebrity type appearances in comedy shows.

    One coach that should be on the list is Jon Gruden.

  42. Is there no love for Antonio Brown…awesome career stats with a few more years to go.

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