Eight Old School NFL Players Who Make Today's Athletes Look Like Pansies

September 11, 2009

Football is a hard-nosed sport, and people are bound to get injured now and then.  Of course, even in a sport of tough guys, for every Brett Favre playing through injuries and old age, you have some kicker who injures himself celebrating a chip shot field goal. Back in the day of course, when the men were men and so were the women, football players didn’t let little things like “broken bones” or “giant bloody lacerations” get in the way of going out on the gridiron and stomping ass.

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8. Ronnie Lott

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In the 1980s, there were few (if any) defensive backs as feared as San Francisco’s Ronnie Lott.  He not only garnered his tough guy reputation for his bone-crushing hits, but his apparent disdain for small appendages – even his own.  In the final game of the 1985 season, Lott was part of a tremendous collision that left his left pinky brutally shattered and mangled.

So obviously, the next week he just taped it up and played in the NFC Playoffs.  And after the season was over, he faced a decision: have surgery on his finger and miss a little playing time to start the next year, or just chop the sucker off.  Naturally, he chose option B and made the Pro Bowl with his newly deformed hand.  And here I am thinking about how hard it is to type with a paper cut.

7. Jim Otto

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If you’re reading this you’re probably too young to remember Jim Otto, but back in the day the offensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders was the kind of guy who wouldn’t let a whole lot stand in his way of stomping ass on Sunday.  He played in 217 games in his career, and being undersized for an offensive lineman, he took just about as much punishment as he doled out.

Otto had nearly 40 (yes, forty) surgeries during his career, 28 of which were on his knees alone.  Since his retirement, he had to have both of his knees replaced.  And in 2007, further proving to be one of the toughest SOBs ever to set foot on the football field, when faced with losing a leg or his life, he went with the leg.  In its place?  A prosthetic leg decorated with his old Oakland Raiders colors and jersey number.

6. Walt Garrison

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It was only fitting that Walt Garrison, a native of Denton, Texas, ended up playing for the Cowboys.  Why?  Well, because he was a bullriding, tobacco chewing, bona fide cowboy in every sense of the word.  In fact, his career was ended when he suffered a severe knee injury trying to bring a steer to the ground.  Let’s see Peyton Manning try that.

But it wasn’t just his off field toughness that qualifies him for this list.  Garrison regularly played through injury, including rushing for over 100 yards after having been carried off the field with broken ribs during a 1970 playoff game.  He also reportedly cut his thumb so severely that it was literally dangling off of his hand.  So, what did he do?  Taped it up and rushed for 100 yards the next day.  Think about that when your thumb gets sore from playing Madden this fall.

5. Jack Youngblood

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Jack Youngblood, who boasted not just the credentials but also the name of a true badass, played 14 years as one of the baddest defensive ends in the NFL.  On several occasions, he’s been called the John Wayne of Football (which is a little strange, since the Duke was an All-American at USC, but that’s neither here nor there).

But it’s not just being compared to John Wayne or having a cool name that made him a badass.  No, what truly qualifies him for that moniker is the fact that in the 1979 playoffs, Youngblood played three games on a fractured left fibula.  He was also apparently the only person who ever took the Pro Bowl seriously, too, as that same season with his leg still injured, he went and played in the All-Star game anyway.  Of course, it should be noted that was the first year the Pro Bowl was played in Hawaii, so apparently getting "leied" was worth a little extra pain.


4. Ernie Stautner

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Ernie Stautner, who was a Marine before enrolling to play football at Boston College, certainly continues the trend.  An undersized defensive lineman in the 1950s and early 1960s, Stautner only missed six games in a career that would get him enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But what makes him worthy of being on this list?  Well, in addition to having a reputation as one of the toughest, meanest, dirtiest players in the NFL (opponents accused him of taping up his forearms with foreign objects such as tennis balls with which to club the hell out of them), there’s a story about Stautner that is both cringeworthy and awe inspiring.  The story goes that Stautner came to the huddle with a compound fracture in his thumb, and he didn’t miss a play.  Instead, he taped up his hand into a huge ball, and proceeded to use it as a weapon against his opponents, beating them senseless with his severely injured hand.  It may not be as effective as a tennis ball, but apparently it got the job done all the same.

3. Lawrence Taylor

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Before his career as a felon and LaDainian Tomlinson stole his nickname, Lawrence Taylor was one of the greatest defensive players in the history of football.  A terror at linebacker for the New York Giants, the real LT is most famous for his devastating hits, including what might just be the most horrific injury in football history.

In 1985, LT absolutely obliterated Joe Theismann’s leg, ending the Washington quarterback’s career and sending him to a career as a football analyst.  It’s tough to decide which is worse: ending the guy’s football career or being responsible for jump starting his broadcasting one.  But he didn’t just cause injuries, he played through them, including one game where he recorded three sacks despite playing with a torn pectoral muscle and playing three games with a fractured tibia.

2. Rocky Bleier

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After his rookie season in 1968, Rocky Bleier was drafted into the US Army and served admirably in the Vietnam War.  That alone makes him tougher than just about anyone playing in the NFL these days, but it doesn’t end there.  In 1969, Bleier’s platoon was ambushed and a grenade went off near the Pittsburgh Steeler, sending shrapnel into his leg.  After receiving both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, doctors told him he’d never play football again.

So naturally, he was back at training camp the following year.  He was twice waived while trying to play through the pain and get back into football shape, but by 1974, he was back as a starter in Pittsburgh’s backfield.  In 1976, he rushed for over 1,000 yards, and over the course of his career he won four Super Bowl titles.  Not too bad for a guy whose career, by all accounts, should have been over in 1970.

1. Jim Marshall

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So far, we’ve had guys who have played on broken legs, used their mangled hands as weapons, been hit by grenades, and cut off parts of their body.  So what makes Jim Marshall the toughest sonovabitch in NFL history?  What makes him the kind of guy who would point and laugh when a player is listed as being “out with a toe” these days?

Well, we could start with the 282 consecutive games played, which is easy to do if you’re a punter (yeah, that’s you, Jeff Feagles) but not so easy when you’re a defensive end.  It’s not just that he was a member of the famed Purple People Eaters defense for the Vikings.  No, it’s the simple fact that he kept that streak of 282 games alive despite battling pneumonia, ulcers, ankle sprains, concussions and, oh yeah, a freaking shotgun wound to his side, suffered when, while cleaning his shotgun, it accidentally went off.  Unfortunately, Marshall is most famous for the longest safety in history, having returned a fumble 66 yards the wrong way and in celebration, throwing out the back of the endzone.

If I were you, I wouldn’t laugh.  I’m pretty sure that Jim Marshall is the Terminator.  And he’ll find you.

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