Training camp is starting up and we get closer to football season with every passing week. Today, let’s go over the All-NFC North starting lineup. This lineup is a collection of the best players that this historical division has fielded. Let’s jump into it!
Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers:
It was very hard to choose between two Packers greats in Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but in the end, I chose the former. When Favre came to Green Bay, the franchise had not won much in the past 25 years since Vince Lombardi’s departure. Over his 16-year stay in Titletown, Favre subsequently brought new energy and breathed new life into a historical franchise that had fallen off the map. Along the way, Favre took the franchise to four NFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI in 1997. He accomplished this while winning three league MVP awards and shattering Packers franchise records for passing yards, touchdowns, and many other notable passing stats. As mentioned earlier, the decision between Favre and Rodgers wasn’t easy, but I went with the guy who impacted the franchise more and a guy who many would consider the best QB in franchise history.
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions:
It was between Sanders and Walter Payton for this spot, but I went with the guy who was a walking highlight reel for his entire career. During his decade-long career in the Motor City, Sanders never ran for less than 1,100 yards in a season, became just the third running back to ever run for 2,000 yards in a season, and won an NFL MVP award. Sanders was one of the rare running backs that was really durable, only missing a total of seven games over his career. Had he not retired early due to the incompetency of the Lions franchise, Sanders would’ve likely been the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. We are talking about a player who AVERAGED more than 1,500 rushing yards PER SEASON. That’s how great Sanders was. It’s a shame he wasn’t on a better team.
Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings; Calvin Johnson, Lions; Cris Carter, Vikings:
Moss and Johnson were two easy choices for this list. When Moss broke into this league in 1998, his skill set was something the league had never seen before. You didn’t see 6-foot-4 receivers as fast, agile, and speedy as Randy Moss, as receivers his size were often possession receivers, not deep threats. In his rookie season, Moss set a rookie record with a league-leading 17 touchdown receptions and led the league in touchdown receptions a total of five times throughout his career.
Moss’ success set the stage for Johnson, who also possessed a skillset never before seen when he broke into the league in 2007 with the Lions. Johnson was 6-foot-5 and had a rare combination of speed, catching ability, and agility. Although his career was shortened due to the incompetency of the Lions franchise (just like Sanders), Johnson set multiple NFL records over his eight-year career. The most notable record he set was having 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, which still stands as the single-season receiving yards record. He is also one of a select few players to have multiple seasons of 1,600 yards receiving, and has the most 100-yard receiving games in a season with 11. There is a reason why Moss and Johnson are generally regarded as two of the greatest wide receivers ever.
Finally, we have Carter, who was never the flashiest receiver, but he did do one thing particularly well- catch touchdowns. An eight-time Pro Bowler, Carter led the league in touchdown receptions three times, as well as receiving yards and receptions one time each. Carter was also the face of the Vikings for a time as the team made the transition from Jerry Burns to Denny Green at head coach, and was a main catalyst in the 1990s success the Vikings had. Although these numbers have since been surpassed, Carter’s 1,101 receptions and 130 touchdown receptions were both second in league history when he retired.
Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears:
This position was one of the harder ones to figure out, so I chose the most notable NFC North tight end in Ditka, who is credited with making the tight end position more about receiving rather than just blocking. In his rookie season, Ditka caught 58 passes for 1,076 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. His 1,076 yards still stands as a NFL rookie record for receiving yards by a tight end, and his 12 touchdowns is a Bears rookie record. Ditka was a five-time All-Pro as a Bear and also won the 1961 Offensive Rookie of the Year award as a member of the Bears.
Ron Yary, Vikings; Forrest Gregg, Packers:
If they played in the NFL today, Yary and Gregg would be an all-time bookend tackle duo. During his 15-year career, 14 of which was as the Vikings left tackle, Yary played in 207 games and was an eight-time All-Pro. He was a key piece of the 1970s Vikings teams that went to four Super Bowls, primarily protecting quarterbacks Joe Kapp and Fran Tarkenton.
Fellow offensive tackle Gregg was also a premier NFC North offensive lineman, playing in 193 games for the Packers and protecting quarterback Bart Starr en route to five NFL Championships and two Super Bowl wins. Gregg was a key cog of the 1960s Packers teams that won five championships in seven years under coach Vince Lombardi. Gregg also played in a then-league record 188 straight games from 1956 until 1971, showing that he was what you would call an iron man.
Interior offensive linemen
Jerry Kramer, Packers; Mick Tinglehoff, Vikings; Randall McDaniel, Vikings:
Kramer and McDaniel are generally regarded as the best guards of their respective generations. A key contributor to the 1960s Packers dynasty, Kramer was a seven-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler during his 11-year career. He was also one of the main catalysts of the signature Vince Lombardi play, known as the Packer Sweep.
McDaniel, on the other hand, started every Vikings game from 1988 to 1999, which included him starting a league-record 11 straight Pro Bowls. Often finding himself playing all over the Vikings interior offensive line, McDaniel is generally regarded as one of the most versatile offensive linemen in NFL history. It was very hard to find a center for this list, so I went with the most notable one in Tinglehoff, who is regarded as the best center of his era. Playing for the Vikings from 1962 to 1978, Tinglehoff was a seven-time All-Pro selection and played an integral role on the 1970s Vikings teams that went to four Super Bowls. He is also the only offensive lineman in Vikings history to have his number retired by the team.
Reggie White, Packers; Alan Page, Vikings; Richard Dent, Bears:
White, Page, and Dent are generally regarded as three of the best defensive lineman of all-time. Although White spent a majority of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, his impact on the Packers franchise cannot be understated. The first major free agency signing when such a thing was introduced in 1993, White racked up 68.5 sacks in his six-season Packer tenure to become, at the time, the franchise’s all-time sacks leader. He also helped the team win Super Bowl XXXI, recording a game record three sacks in the game, and was voted as the Defensive Player of the Year in 1998. While a Packer, White also made the Pro Bowl every year he was with the team and was a four-time All-Pro. Now let’s talk about Page, who is actually the first defensive player to win league MVP and to date is the only defensive lineman to do so.
A key member of the famous Purple People Eaters defense, Page recorded 108.5 sacks as a Viking, while also becoming a nine-time All-Pro and winning the aforementioned MVP award during his time in Minnesota. As a member of both the Vikings and rival Bears (whom he played for from 1978-1981), Page played in 218 consecutive games and recorded a total of 148.5 sacks, 22 fumble recoveries, scored three defensive touchdowns, and had a then-NFL record three safeties. Page is someone that I don’t feel like gets enough recognition as one of the best defensive lineman ever.
Finally, we have Dent, who is seen as the best defensive lineman in Bears history. He is the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 124.5, and was a key member of the famed 1985 Bears defense. Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 265 pounds, Dent thrived off beating opposing offensive linemen using his speed. His performance in Super Bowl XX, which saw him record 1.5 sacks on Patriots quarterback Tony Eason and force two fumbles, earned him the game’s MVP award.
Chris Doleman, Vikings; Brian Urlacher, Bears:
The late Doleman primarily played defensive end in this career, but actually began his career as an outside linebacker. I didn’t want to leave Doleman off of the lineup, so I put him at linebacker. Playing for the Vikings from 1985-1993, followed up by a second stint in 1999, Doleman turned out to become one of the most dominant edge rushers in Vikings history, recording 96.5 sacks in the purple and gold while also setting a then-franchise record for sacks in a season with 21 in 1989. Doleman was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro with the Vikings, and helped the team usher in a new era of 1990s success.
Urlacher, meanwhile, spent a majority of his career as an inside linebacker but actually, like Doleman, began his career as an outside linebacker. I didn’t want to leave Urlacher off this list, so I put him at this position due to the dominance of the two inside linebackers that will be featured in this lineup. During his 12-year career, all of which was spent with the Bears, Urlacher became one of the most decorated linebackers in league history, recording nearly 1,400 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 15 fumble recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns. Urlacher was voted the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, while also making eight Pro Bowls and becoming a five-time All-Pro. Urlacher also played a key role on the 2006 Bears offense that led the team to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
Dick Butkus, Bears; Ray Nitschke, Packers:
Though they played on rival teams, Butkus and Nitschke are considered by many to be the gold standard for today’s inside linebackers and were considered the two greatest linebackers of their generation. Butkus, a native of Chicago who played college and pro football in his home state, spent an eight-year career with the Bears setting numerous NFL records and becoming one of the best players at his position. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year made seven Pro Bowls and was a seven-time All-Pro. Butkus established himself as one of the first true ball-hawking linebackers, recording 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries during his career, while also scoring one touchdown off an end-zone fumble recovery. Nitschke, a fellow Illinois native who also grew up a Bears fan, became the defensive heart and soul of the 1960s Packers teams that won five titles in seven years during his 14-year career.
Like Butkus, Nitschke was a ball hawk who intercepted 25 passes throughout his career and scored two defensive touchdowns. He also unofficially recorded six tackles and a sack in the first Super Bowl. Given that both players played in the 1960s and early 1970s, tackles were not officially recorded during this era, so the only credible stats both Nitschke and Butkus have is their interceptions and fumble recoveries. Despite this, however, Butkus is credited with 1,020 career tackles.
Both players were also lauded for their toughness. Butkus was described by fellow opponents as one of the most intimidating players to ever walk on a football field, with Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones stating that “every time he hit you, he wanted to put you in the hospital.” Nitschke, similarly, was praised for his toughness. In 1960, a 1,000 pound coach tower fell on him, and coach Lombardi once told the team to get back to work because it had fallen on Nitschke and that he “would be fine.”
Herb Adderley, Packers; Charles Woodson, Packers:
Adderley initially began his career as a running back, but the presence of future Hall of Fame backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor made Adderley switch to the defensive backfield. In his first game at cornerback, a Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions, Adderley recorded a key interception that set up the game winning touchdown. Playing cornerback full-time in Green Bay from 1962 to 1969, Adderley recorded 39 interceptions as a Packer and was another key piece on the Packers teams that won five titles in the decade. Adderley also scored the first pick-six in Super Bowl history when, in Super Bowl II, he intercepted Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown.
Now let’s talk about Woodson. I know that he spent the majority of his career with the Raiders, but when I look around the NFC North and see the all-time accomplishments by a cornerback, nobody sticks out more than Woodson. Spending seven seasons as a Packer from 2006-2012, Woodson became a four-time All-Pro selection who helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV, led the NFL in interceptions twice, and won the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. It should also be noted that Woodson has a franchise-record nine interceptions that he returned for touchdowns, and from 2006-2011, Woodson had a six-season streak of having at least one interception that he returned for a touchdown. The latter stat is an NFL record. Woodson may not be everyone’s first choice when it comes to this type of list, but what he accomplished in Green Bay should stick out.
Paul Krause, Vikings; LeRoy Butler, Packers:
Krause doesn’t need much explaining here. The NFL’s all-time leader in interceptions has 81 career picks to his name, picking off a whopping 45 different quarterbacks along the way. A Viking from 1968 to 1979, Krause was a five-time All-Pro who used his baseball-style center-fielding skills to become a key member of the 1970s Vikings teams. Krause scored six defensive touchdowns in his career, three each off interceptions and fumble recoveries, and was also a noted iron man who only missed two games due to injury in his career. He was the original great safety for the Vikings who wore number 22.
Krause’s successor, Harrison Smith, was considered for this list but was passed over for a Hall of Famer in Butler, who established himself as one of the premier safeties of the decade as a member of the Packers. Spending his entire 11-year career in the green and gold, Butler became a Super Bowl champion and a four-time All-Pro who recorded 20.5 sacks, 38 interceptions, and forced 13 fumbles. Butler was also the first defensive back in league history to record 20 career sacks and 20 career interceptions. He is also the player credited with popularizing the Lambeau Leap touchdown celebration, when he leaped into the Lambeau Field stands after recovering a fumble for a touchdown in 1993.
Jason Hanson, Lions:
This was an easy choice. Spending a 20-year career with the Lions, he holds NFL records for both the most seasons played with one team with 21 as well as the most games played with one team with 327. Making 82.4% of his field goals and 98.8% of his extra points, Hanson is the fourth all-time leading scorer in NFL history with 2,150 points, which is the most points scored with one team in league history. Hanson is also one of two players in league history to have scored at least 200 points against each of his divisional rivals. Easy choice here.
Yale Lary, Lions:
Many of you don’t know who this guy is, and that’s probably because he played in the 1950s. A Lion from 1952-1953 and then again from 1956-1964, Lary is a three-time NFL champion (all with the Lions) and is also a nine-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro. Punting 503 times for 22,279 yards, Lary averaged 42.4 yards per punt in his career. He is in the Hall of Fame, but not as a pure punter. He is rather enshrined for his work as a defensive back.
Kick and Punt Returner
Devin Hester, Bears:
Like Hanson, Hester is an easy choice here. People best know Hester for being the only man in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but he also holds several Bears records. He has the most career return touchdowns in Bears history with 18 (13 punt return scores and 5 kick return scores), the most return touchdowns in a season with 6 (4 punt, 2 kick), and twice had two return touchdowns in the same game. Does anyone remember the Bears’ legendary 2006 Monday Night comeback against the Arizona Cardinals? That happened because Hester returned a punt 83 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The electrifying Hester made playing special teams cool again with how electric he was with the ball in his hands, and I’m not sure that we will ever see a returner as electric as him again.
Vince Lombardi, Packers:
This is an easy one. Five titles in seven years. Lombardi never had a losing season as an NFL head coach, winning nearly 74% of his games with a record of 96-34-6, and won 90% of his playoff games with a 9-1 postseason record. The legendary coach saved a franchise that was on the verge of moving to Milwaukee, bringing it newfound success, and building a dynasty that won five titles in a mere seven years. Lombardi not only breathed new life into the Packers, but his subsequent success saved the franchise and kept them in Green Bay.
What Lombardi did in 1959, his debut season as head coach, led to the Packers selling out every game of their 1960 season, and creating one of the longest sell-out streaks in league history as every Packers home game has been sold out since that year. Although Bill Belichick is widely regarded by many as the greatest coach in league history, Lombardi is my GOAT coach and this is why.