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Rushmore Sunday: The NFC East Running Backs

Rushmore Sunday: The NFC East Running Backs

A few weeks ago, 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. The second installment took a look at cornerbacks. Last week, I selected a Rushmore of talent evaluators. This week, we're going back to offense and talk about running backs.

The Rushmore rules are simple: pick the four who most deserve 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 an important part of the game's lore.

  • Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys -- Standing just 5-9 and not blessed with outstanding speed, Smith was one of the game's all-time great. His career spanned 15 seasons -- an eternity for a running back. He retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher (18,355 yards), and he was second all-time in touchdowns (his 175 scores trailed only Jerry Rice's 208 TDs). He's the only RB ever to win a Super Bowl, the NFL rushing title, and the Super Bowl MVP award in the same season -- Smith did it in 1993. He was a durable and elusive runner, who used his diminutive size and agility to consistently make positive plays. He was also a terrific receiver and pass blocker. He's one of five players to accumulate more than 10,000 career rushing yards and 400 receptions. He and Rice are the only non-kickers to score 1,000 points or more in a career. He was also one tough SOB, who played effectively through injuries that would have sidelined most RBs. After 13 seasons in Dallas, the Cowboys let him depart so they could embark on a rebuild. He finished his career with two forgettable years in Arizona, though it's worth noting that in his final season, he ran for 937 yards for a bad team and a putrid offensive line. He was 35 years old that season.
  • Tony Dorsett, Dallas Cowboys -- In 1977, the Cowboys traded up to the second overall pick in the draft and selected Tony Dorsett. He paid immediate dividends, rushing for 1,007 yards and 12 TDs, and winning Rookie of the Year honors. He became the first player to win the college national championship one year, and the Super Bowl in the following year. The Cowboys went back to the Super Bowl his second season, but lost to the Steelers 35-31. He's currently 8th on the league's all-time rushing list with 12,733 career yards. Like Smith, Dorsett was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • John Riggins, Washington Redskins -- When Joe Gibbs arrived in Washington, his initial plan was to create "Air Coryell" East. The started 0-5, and Gibbs changed the game plan to feature the running game and #44. The team went 8-3 to finish out the season, barely missed the playoffs, and won the Super Bowl the following season. Nicknamed "The Diesel" because he seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, the Skins closed out many wins with "The Riggo Drill" -- a brutal game of keep-away that involved handing the ball to Riggo and letting him grind out yards on long time-consuming, soul-crushing drives. His iconic play was that 43-yard TD run on 4th down against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl. He currently sits 16th on the all-time rushing list with more than 11,000 yards; and his 104 rushing TDs rank 6th behind only Emmit Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marcus Allen, Walter Payton and Jim Brown.
  • Ottis Anderson, New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals -- A burly and bruising runner, Anderson's most productive years were actually in St. Louis, which was in the NFC East at the time. In his first NFL game, Anderson ran for 193 yards, which may be the greatest first game in league history. He finished that season with 1,605 yards, but the Cardinals went just 5-11. He topped 1,000 yards five times in his first six seasons -- the only time he missed was in the strike-shortened season. Injuries began to take a toll on his production, but he continued to be effective in short yardage situations with the Giants. Late in his career, he became the feature back in Bill Parcell's ground attack, and at age 32 he went over 1,000 yards for the sixth time in his career. He capped that season by running for 102 yards and a touchdown and receiving the Super Bowl MVP.

Commemorative Plaques

These are the guys who were close to the pantheon, but not quite there. 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:

  • Stephen Davis, Washington Redskins
  • Larry Brown, Washington Redskins
  • Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
  • Terry Allen, Washington Redskins
  • Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles
  • Wilbert Montgomery, Philadelphia Eagles
  • Tiki Barber, New York Giants
  • Frank Gifford, New York Giants
  • Joe Morris, New York Giants
  • Walt Garrison, Dallas Cowboys
  • Calvin Hill, Dallas Cowboys
  • Robert Newhouse, Dallas Cowboys

So, that's the Rushmore List of NFC East running backs. Who should move from the "commemorative plaques" section and who should come down from the cliff? Post your list in the comments. Just remember, you get only four selections, so if you want to add someone, one of the guys I chose needs to come down. There's only room for four.

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