This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
They Might Be Giants…
Actually one must be a real Giant to make our list of the top players in New York Giants history, considering the franchise has been around nearly 90 years.
The franchise had periods of success in its first 25-30 years, then won Eastern Conference Championships five times in a six year period between 1958-63, but lost the NFL title game each time.
The Giants then had a playoff drought lasting from 1964 through 1981 before building a foundation under Bill Parcells, ultimately leading to four Super Bowl Championships in a 25-year period.
Naming the best coach in Giants history would be a great argument, from Steve Owen in the early days to Jim Lee Howell to Parcells to Ray Handley to Tom Coughlin.
Wait! As the old segment on Sesame Street goes, one of those names does not belong with the others…
The argument for Giants best ever player is also very compelling. At least, getting to number two on the list is.
There will be a lot left on the cutting room floor with this countdown. And unfortunately Kerry Collins is tragically among those not making the cut.
40. Benny Friedman (QB 1929-31)
After seeing him play for the Detroit Wolverines in 1928, the Mara family decided to acquire the entire Detroit franchise, keeping Friedman and dismantling most of the team’s other spare parts.
Statistics were sketchy in the NFL’s early days. It was known that Benny led the league in rushing TDs, passing TDs, total scoring, and extra points in the 1928 season. The following year Friedman would throw for over 20 TDs with the rugby-like ball that was used at the time. It would not be until 1942 that another QB would throw for 20 TDs in a season.
Another of Friedman’s benchmark moments came in the 1930 season when the Giants played a friendly against a team of “Notre Dame All-Stars,” with Knute Rockne re-uniting the famed Four Horsemen for the contest. Benny threw for two touchdowns in an upset win that went far in making pro football accepted in the New York sporting landscape.
39. Al Blozis (OT 1942-44)
Professional sports is full of heroic stories of players who voluntarily sacrificed their careers, and sometimes much more, to serve in the United States military. In the early 1940s, Blozis was already considered one of the best lineman in the game. Blozis wanted to serve in World War II, but he exceeded the Army’s height/weight requirements.
Blozis finally convinced the Army to induct him in late-1943, but he was assigned a desk job. After more persuasion, Blozis was able to get an assignment on the front lines overseas. It was said he could throw a hand grenade 95 yards, an Army record at the time. Noticing that two of his men had not returned from patrol one night, Blozis sought out to find them and never returned.
Promising end Jack Lummus was another WWII casualty. He was posthumously given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the assault on Iwo Jima. Lummus knocked down two enemy targets during a charge and shouted out orders even after losing his legs stepping on a land mine.
In his era, many players were like Swiss Army Knives. Landry was a perfect example. He not only intercepted 31 passes in six years, but he also punted and was also a punt returner.
In his final playing season, Landry also served on the coaching staff. Landry would become the defensive coordinator for HC Jim Lee Howell. The offensive coordinator was someone named Lombardi. Pretty good staff.
Landry also served 30 missions as a bomber pilot during World War II.
37. Homer Jones (WR 1964-69)
Sometimes, you are what your name is. You wouldn’t expect someone named Homer to play offensive line, or linebacker, or even a receiver running seven yard slant patterns.
No, if your name is Homer, your job is to go deep. And Homer did just that, averaging over 22 yards per catch during his career. His TD receptions of 98 and 89 yards rank first and third on the Giants’ all-time list to this day.
36. Dick Lynch (CB 1958-66)
Led the league in interceptions twice in his career and scored seven times on defense in all. Lynch is even more remembered for his radio work over 40+ years.
Several years ago the Giants radio team could be heard uncensored during commercial breaks on the NFL Audio Pass package. During one occasion, a Sunday night game versus the Bears, Lynch exclaimed, “Rex Grossman really looks shitty out there…”
Always liked commentators who don’t beat around the bush.
35. Spider Lockhart (S 1965-75)
If you watch some tape of the 1986 Super Bowl Champion Giants, you may notice a patch. That is in tribute to Spider Lockhart, who lost a battle to cancer that year.
Lockhart picked off 41 passes in his career, along with recovering 16 fumbles. Spider is arguably the second most famous player to come out of North Texas University, second to someone who has the program’s handle named after him.
34. Roosevelt Grier (DT 1955-56, 1958-62)
At 6’5” 285 lbs, Grier was absolutely mammoth for his era. Grier would later move on to become part of the Los Angeles Rams’ Fearsome Foursome.
Post-football Grier got involved in music, acting, and the ministry. Rosey is also remembered for being part of the security detail for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He and Olympic star Rafer Johnson wrestled the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan after he fatally shot the presidential candidate in 1968.
33. Rodney Hampton (RB 1990-97)
Never a superstar back, but Hampton churned out the yards with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while getting double-digit TDs in three different campaigns. Rodney usually went late-first early-second round of fantasy drafts.
32. Mark Bavaro (TE 1985-1990)
It seemed like Bavaro had a much longer run in the league, but a degenerative knee had him heading out of New York by the end of the 1990 season. During the six years he was in New York, Bavaro became one of the most memorable faces in franchise history. In the Giants ’86 Championship season, Bavaro caught 66 passes for just over 1,000 yards.
Carrying half the San Francisco 49ers defense on his back during a Monday Night game was another signature moment.
31. Osi Umenyiora (DE 2003-present)
He recently became engaged to Ms. Universe, while Osi falls barely short of All-Universe levels as a player. Still, the London-born Umenyiora has 74 sacks in his last nine seasons in the league.
30. Joe Morris (RB 1982-88)
His shelf-life wasn’t that long, but he scored 36 TDs between 1985 and 1986, accounting for nearly 3,300 yards from scrimmage during that time. Standing at just 5’7”, Morris was another key part of the ’86 Super Bowl team, and he would throw in one more 1,000 yard rushing season before hanging them up.
29. Chris Snee (OG 2004-present)
Remember the snickers when he first got drafted? Tom Coughlin just selected him because he was an in-law, people said. Well, maybe that and he knew him enough from his Boston College days.
Snee is now nine years in and has four Pro Bowl appearances to his name. I’d say he was a pretty good draft choice, biased selection or not.
28. Kyle Rote Sr. (HB/WR 1951-61)
60+ years before Johnny Manziel, there was Kyle Rote.
Playing for SMU against mighty Notre Dame in the late 1940s, Rote threw for 146 yards, ran for 115 more, and scored three touchdowns in a 27-20 loss. Rote also recorded an 84-yard punt during his collegiate career and also dabbled with pro baseball for a while.
Rote became the first overall pick of the 1951 NFL Draft and was one of the cornerstones of the Giants success during the decade. Off the field Rote was one of the first leaders of what would eventually become the NFL Players Association.
Son Kyle Rote Jr. became a tremendous all-around athlete in his own right as one of the most successful American soccer stars of his time. Old schoolers may also remember him as a three-time winner of ABC’s Superstars competition during the 1970s.
27. Jesse Armstead (OLB 1993-2003)
An eighth-round draft pick in 1993, Armstead was a perennial Pro Bowl selection at the turn of the century, making appearances annually from 1997-2001.
26. Justin Tuck (DE 2005-present)
I have placed Tuck ahead of a couple of the other current Giants. This may be a little high, but Tuck remains a disruptive force. Forced five fumbles in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
25. Y.A. Tittle (QB 1961-64, HOF)
His career spanned 17 years, but Yelberton Abraham had plenty in the tank when stepping in as the Giants QB in the early-60s. His 1962-63 seasons were much like Brett Favre in 2009; he threw for a paranormal 69 TDs in those two seasons. Tittle got battered in the 1963 Championship Game versus the Bears. The following season would be like Favre circa 2010, as he was beaten into retirement as the team fell apart around him.
The photo of a bloodied Tittle from the 1964 season after a game in PIttsburgh remains one of the vintage pro football photographs of the era.
24. Alex Webster (HB 1955-64)
The Giants had a lot of backfield depth in their late-50s/early 60s run, and Webster was kind of in a Kevin Faulk role. His best years came in the early 1960s, when he rushed close to 200 times and caught 47 passes in one year.
Webster eventually became the Giants’ head coach, and the team went 9-5 under him in 1970, easily its best record from that era.
23. Ken Strong (FB/K 1933-35, 1939, 1944-47, HOF)
Another of the Swiss Army Knives from the earlier eras of the game. Strong was a punt returner in addition to being a fullback, and he also kicked field goals. In his last tour of duty with the Giants, Strong was exclusively a kicker.
In a 1933 game, Strong kicked the winning field goal three times, as the Giants were called off-sides on his first two attempts.
22. Steve Owen (OT 1926-31, 1933, HOF)
Not to be confused with Heisman running back Steve Owens, who also hailed from Oklahoma, Owen was a great player in his own right who made an even bigger impact on the franchise as the Head Coach from 1930-53.
The ‘Sneakers Game’ occurred on his watch, where he got one of his cohorts to find basketball shoes from the gym of a nearby college and had the supplies delivered by halftime of the NFL Championship game. The Giants would run roughshod over the Chicago Bears in icy conditions in the second half to win the title.
Later in his career, Owen instituted the ‘umbrella defense’ to stop opposing teams such as the Cleveland Browns who had become much more potent with the passing game.
21. Amani Toomer (WR 1996-2008)
Toomer never did as much as earn a single Pro Bowl berth in his career, but longevity and overall production gets him flirting with the top-20. Toomer recorded five consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, and he is still by far #1 on the franchise all-time list with nearly 9,500 receiving yards.
20. Joe Morrison (HB/WR 1959-72)
Did I say the Giants were deep at halfback way back when?
Not to be confused with the earlier-ranked Joe Morris, ‘Old Dependable’ had a 14-year career with the Giants before embarking on a successful collegiate football coaching career with stops at the University of New Mexico and later the South Carolina Gamecocks.
19. George Martin (DE 1975-88)
Another longevity pick, Martin played his entire 14-year career with the Giants, missing only six non-strike games. Unofficially Martin recorded close to 100 sacks and scored seven times in his career, three on interceptions, twice on fumble returns once returning a blocked field goal, and one TD reception lined up as a tight end.
18. Jim Katcavage (DT 1956-68)
Another defensive stalwart who spent every snap of his career in blue, Katcavage’s career started with the team’s 1956-63 run. He had, unofficially, close to 100 sacks for his career.
17. Arnie Weinmeister (DT 1950-53, HOF)
Thanks to military service and playing a couple years in the AAFC, Arnie’s official NFL tenure was only four years, but he is still a Hall of Famer. Weinmeister was a physical freak for his position and his era, and perhaps the greatest Canadian-born player ever in the game.
16. Brad Van Pelt (OLB 1973-83)
A prequel of many great linebackers who would play for the Giants in later years, BVP suffered through the franchise’s lean years. During his time he played for five different coaches and the team played in four different stadiums as the Meadowlands complex was being built.
The franchise’s Player of the Decade for the 1970’s, Van Pelt was allowed to wear #10 as a linebacker through a loophole where he was listed as the team’s backup kicker. In a later stint with the Los Angeles Raiders, Van Pelt wore #91 (9 + 1).
Brad was also the father of former Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt.
15. Tuffy Leemans (HB 1936-43, HOF)
The league’s leading rusher as a rookie in 1936, Leemans excelled in running, passing, receiving, and was also known for his tackling skills on defense. While still on the roster, he was honored with a ‘Tuffy Leemans Day’ before the team’s season finale in 1941 … which turned out to be Pearl Harbor Day.
14. Jimmy Patton (S 1956-66)
Was part of the nucleus that appeared in all six of the Giants’ NFL title game appearances between 1956-63. Patton was named All-Pro five consecutive years and picked off 43 passes in a six-year period.
Standing just 5’10”, 175 lbs, Patton also once had the distinction of returning a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game.
There are a few QB’ I have to slot near the top of this list. If there was as much an audience in New York as there is today for the NFL Draft, Simms’ selection in 1979 would had been booed lustily simply because he was a small school product.
But in 15 years, Simms won over his critics. He never threw more than 22 touchdowns in a season, but it was never about the statistics for a Parcells quarterback. Phil’s signature game was Super Bowl 21, completing 22 of 25 passes for a 150+ QB rating and winning Most Valuable player.
12. Charlie Conerly (QB 1948-61, HOF)
A Marine veteran before becoming an All-American at the University of Mississippi, Conerly embarked on a 14-year career with the Giants and led the league in passing as late as the 1959 season, when he was named MVP. Charlie eventually parlayed his success on the field into endorsing Marlboro cigarettes.
Conerly remains one of the most beloved figures in franchise history – but is he the best Ole Miss quarterback to play in New York?
11. Eli Manning (QB 2004-present)
Or is it this guy?
As much as I hated his pre-draft stance to refuse to play for the San Diego Chargers as the number one overall pick, it turned out to be a well-played decision on his part.
Eli now owns two Super Bowl wins over the vaunted New England Patriots. Fellow class of ’04 QB Ben Roethlisberger also has two rings, while Philip Rivers in San Diego continues to sit at zero.
Give credit to seeing a bad organization when he sees one. His regular season quarterback rating may not be the greatest, but with his post-season work you can easily argue that Eli is ranked too low.
10. Frank Gifford (RB/WR 1952-60, 1962-64)
The Giffer was Tim Tebow from a half-century earlier. As a rusher and receiver Gifford scored 77 times in his career, and also threw 63 passes on gimmick plays, throwing for 14 touchdowns in the process.
Gifford was seriously injured by a hit from Philadelphia’s Chuck Bednarik in 1960, which was one of pro football’s most frightening moments of the time. As an unconscious Gifford was being carried out of Yankee Stadium, a random security guard suffered a fatal heart attack. Someone noticed the covered-up body of the usher in the bowels of the stadium, which led to a fast-spreading rumor that it was Gifford who had passed.
Although he suffered a severe concussion and sat out a year and a half as a result, Gifford did return for three more seasons before embarking on his broadcasting career.
9. Mel Hein (C/LB 1931-45, HOF)
Just think of Hein as the Lou Gehrig of football. In his era playing both offense and defense was commonplace, but Hein took it a step further, and he was known as the 60-minute man playing for 15 seasons.
It was said that Hein only called timeout for himself once in his career, so he could get a broken nose fixed on the sideline, he returned for the next play.
Hein was part of the inaugural class of the 1963 Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Had he not retired at the very peak of his career at age 31 to turn to broadcasting, and played 2-3 more years, Tiki may very well be #2 on this list. In his final three seasons, Barber accounted for over 6,600 yards from scrimmage and had two 200-yard rushing games.
Barber got a very lucrative contract from NBC, and he was considered a ‘can’t miss talent’ in the broadcasting industry. However, he did miss.
Many players get criticized for hanging in the game too long, but Tiki was a case of leaving too early.
7. Andy Robustelli (DE 1956-64, HOF)
Now getting into the real heavyweights.
A 19th round draft choice from Arnold College in Connecticut, the Los Angeles Rams gave him a bonus to pay for his air fare out west, and he played in LA five years before requesting a trade back east.
As a Giant, Robustelli made the Pro Bowl in each of his first six years with the team. Between him, Jim Katcavage, and Rosey Grier, the late 1950’s Giants had a very formidable D-line.
6. Harry Carson (ILB 1976-88, HOF)
The early phases in the rebuilding of the Giants organization began with the drafting of Carson in the fourth round of the 1976 Draft. In the decade between 1978 and 1987, Harry earned nine Pro Bowl appearances and it was fitting that he was part of a Super Bowl champion before the end of his career.
One of Carson’s best games was recording 25 tackles in a Monday night game in 1982.
5. Emlen Tunnell (S/PR/KR 1948-58)
Now getting into the players who cracked the NFL Network’s Top 100 list.
Tunnell was one of the NFL’s first African-American stars, who first played at the University of Iowa after serving in World War II.
Tunnell left the Iowa program following his junior season and hitchhiked out east, until he arrived unannounced at the Giants offices asking for a tryout. Coach Steve Owens’ first words were “I’ve never heard of you,” but he was impressed enough to see Emlen pounding the pavement to give him a look.
That turned out to be a good idea. Tunnell would play 11 seasons with the Giants, recording 74 interceptions during that time and scoring six times on returns.
Tunnell would spend his final three playing years re-uniting with Vince Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers, but he would later return to the Giants as the league’s first African-American assistant coach.
Tunnell’s career is even more amazing considering he nearly died after suffering a broken neck as a college freshman during a game in 1942. Today he most likely would had not even been cleared to play pro ball.
4. Sam Huff (MLB 1956-63, HOF)
Escaping the coal mines of West Virginia as a youth, Huff became one of the first of a number of iconic middle linebackers of his era. Many became more aware of the player after he was wired for sound in an exhibition game for a CBS special billed “The Violent World of Sam Huff.”. At the peak of his career Huff also made a Time magazine cover.
Huff could very much be considered for the number two slot except he was traded to the Washington Redskins late in his career. Pro Football Reference’s EloRater has Huff’s RPI checking in at a lofty #23.
3. Roosevelt Brown (OT 1953-65, HOF)
One of the best draft picks in NFL history.
Long before the existence of Mike Mayock to analyze picks, Rosey Brown was drafted out of Morgan State University in the 27th round of the 1953 NFL Draft. An eight-time all-NFL selection, Brown was credited much for the success of backs Alex Webster and Frank Gifford, as well as QB Charlie Conerly.
2. Michael Strahan (DE 1993-2007)
This was a tough choice for #2. After all, Strahan earned Pro Bowl recognition seven times, but he fell just short of earning first-ballot enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
Strahan played his entire 15-year career with the Giants, going out on top with a ring following Super Bowl 42. Strahan finished his career with 141.5 sacks, including the record-breaking 22.5 sacks in 2001 after Brett Favre laid down for him in the season finale.
So Strahan is our number two, but like everyone else on the list, a long, long way from number one.
1. Lawrence Taylor (OLB 1981-93, HOF)
On the NFL Network All-Time 100, Strahan checked in at #99, Mel Hein #96, Sam Huff #93, and Emlen Tunnell was #79.
It was during a game during his rookie season versus the Packers at Milwaukee County Stadium that I realized I was witnessing one of the most freakish athletes of all time.
The real debate may be who was the best athlete on the campus of the University of North Carolina in 1980 – LT, or a basketball player named Jordan. I may have to put my money on Taylor.
Another great argument is who the most intimidating player of the last 30 years is, LT or Ray Lewis? Again, I probably have to go with Taylor.
Sure, there were cocaine binges and other off-the-field issues, but not only is Lawrence on the top of this list, he is also a probable #1 seed for MSF’s Ultimate Franchise Player tournament.
The real question will be if any other NYG players will merit at-large consideration into the 64-player UFP field. The New York Giants nominee for Ultimate Franchise Player is….