NFL: 1 Team, 1 Game – Life or Death

If you could pick a team of NFL players to play one game for all of your marbles, who would you pick? If you could run one offense which one would you pick and who would coach? What about for defense? I suppose this is merely a variation on the question of “Who’s Number 1?” In this variation of the question, I’m not talking about who had the best career or who has the best stats or even the player whose star shone brightest. I’m talking about just one game – just 60 minutes.

A bit more context first…I will assume that every player will be in their prime and performing at their optimal level. So, for one game, imagine everyone at their absolute best. I imagine this game will be played in typical fall weather – 50 to 60 degrees, moderate wind, no rain. (A nasty December game might change a few things for me – and for you.) All right, that’s it. Here’s my squad:

QB: Peyton Manning

RB (2): Earl Campbell and Marcus Allen

H-Back: Todd Christensen

WR 1: Jerry Rice

WR 2: Randy Moss

WR 3: Steve Smith

TE: Shannon Sharpe

TE 2: Kellen Winslow (the Original)

LT: Orlando Pace

LG: Alan Faneca

C: Dermontti Dawson

RG: Bruce Matthews

RT: Anthony Munoz

K: Adam Vinatieri


Offense – Joe Gibbs’ Motion, Multiple TE Offense (Pre-Al Saunders). I prefer this offense because it allows for an attacking passing game – and a power running game. Gibbs often featured three wide receiver sets and three tight end sets in the same game. It’s not easy to get the personnel to run this well, but when you have them, the results can’t be beat. Even though the “West Coast offense” is most frequently associated with the San Francisco 49ers and Bill Walsh, the roots are deeper and organically connected to Joe Gibbs.

Gibb’s offense emphasized the ability to attack deep, run with power and utilize motion to keep defenses off balance. With respect to “style of play,” I’ve always preferred teams who could throw deep and run with power. Speed kills – that’s always there…unless the weather is bad and the defense decides to sit back in coverage. Teams that run with power don’t care what the weather is – and they dictate terms to defenses, usually. I’d like my chances with this team – against most defenses, except the one I’d line up against them.


DE – Reggie White

DE – Charles Haley

DT – Vince Wilfork

RLB – Lawrence Taylor

ILB1 – Levon Kirkland

ILB2 – Ray Lewis

LLB – Derrick Brooks

RCB – Deion Sanders

LCB – Rod Woodson

Nickel – Darrell Green

FS – Troy Polamalu

SS – Ronnie Lott

P – Ray Guy


Well, that’s the defense. There are some serious legends of the game here. I believe in stuffing the run and making teams one dimensional. I also believe that if there is such a thing as a shut down corner, I’d like to have one – if not two. Perhaps as important as stopping the run with your front 7 is the ability to get pressure without blitzing. This team could get pressure against most teams without blitzing – and if they did, look out! Champ Bailey probably would have made this team if Ben Watson hadn’t tracked him down in the playoffs a few years back. Darrell Green and Woodson would have been waiting for Watson in the end zone with buttered popcorn and a frosty beverage.

In looking over this roster, I can’t imagine the defensive huddles. I can imagine the sheer terror this group would inspire. I decided to go with the 3-4 because so many of my favorite players have excelled in this particular formation. This team also has more than its fair share of nastiness. A friend calls it, “Grrrrh!!” From Lewis to Lloyd to Haley this team has it. It also has a nice balance of players with sterling on/off field reputations – White, Lott, Woodson, Polamalu, Green and Derrick Brooks. That’s enough character to save a city, if not a nation. If has resilience and fortitude. Look no further than Vince Wilfork. And, it has the best punter to ever lace up a pair of cleats.


I’d like the defensive coach to be Belichick – just because he came up with (to the best of my knowledge) that funky 1-5-5 defense. The Super Bowl rings are nice – but he clearly knows something most other folks don’t know. Since I don’t know what he knows that other folks don’t know, I’ll go with him. My next option would be Dick LeBeau – defensive coordinator Pittsburgh Steelers or Bud Carson, creator of the Zone Blitz.

That’s the squad.


  1. my 2 pennies:
    West Coast “O” tied to Gibbs?…. Well, yes, in a way T3. They’re all tied to Sid Gillman. Though I wasn’t even an idea yet, the San Diego Chargers with Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln, John Hadl, Lance Allworth – I’ve heard that this offense was a thing of beauty’ that if the Super Bowl was played in 1962 or 63, this team with guys like Ron Mix on the O line and Ernie Ladd on the D line could have beaten any team the NFL threw at it.

  2. No question…The WCO is tied to Gibbs, not as an originator, but as a disciple of Gilman – the link is actually all about Gilman and has a quote from Gibbs expressing his indebtedness to Gilman. I must have over edited – I left the link, but not the wording referring to Gilman – I was going to reference the Paul Brown side of this also – but that’s a conversation for another day.

  3. Mike Martz is another disciple who has some great things to say about Gilman’s San Diego teams. He watched them growing up and says they greatly influenced his development.

  4. Interesting list, T3. Is your list restricted to players from a certain era (late 70s) forward?

    Here’s mine:

    QB: John Elway
    TB: Jim Brown
    FB: Larry Czonka
    WR: Jerry Rice
    WR: Art Monk
    TE: Kellen Winslow, Sr.
    LT: Anthony Munoz
    LG: Russ Grimm
    C: Mike Webster
    RG: Larry Allen
    RT: Dan Dierdorf
    K: Morten Andersen

    DE: Deacon Jones
    DT: Mean Joe Greene
    DT: Reggie White
    DE: Alan Page
    OLB: Lawrence Taylor
    MLB: Jack Lambert
    OLB: Jack Ham
    CB: Deion Sanders
    FS: Nolan Cromwell
    SS: Ronnie Lott
    CB: Mike Haynes
    P: Ray Guy

    Marshall Faulk
    Darrell Green
    Randy White
    James Lofton

    Head coach: Bill Walsh
    Offensive coordinator: Joe Gibbs
    Defensive coordinator: Buddy Ryan

    I had to read your comments about Gibbs and the West Coast Offense several times before I could wrap my head around it all. You’re correct that Gibbs’ variation on the vertical passing attack designed by Sid Gilliam is the original West Coast Offense AKA ‘Air Coryell’. What we today call the West Coast Offense as implemented by another Gillman protege – Bill Walsh — is actually a ball-control, horizontal passing scheme.

  5. Thanks…I love your list. It has a few names I thought long and hard about. I definitely wrestled with Mike Haynes over Rod Woodson. II don’t think Woodson was better and I saw plenty of Haynes’ games in New England and the Raiders. That was my creeping Steeler bias – but I didn’t apply it to the Steel Curtain – was trying to spread the love.

    I had Deacon Jones on my original list too – even Buck Buchanan.

    I probably should clean up the Gilman – Gibbs mess. I don’t actually like the horizontal passing game. The version run by the 49ers was much more lethal – perhaps because of its novelty at the time; perhaps because of Rice and Taylor’s capacity to turn slants into long runs; or Montana/Young…whatever the case – it worked much better than what we are forced to suffer through today.

    I love the Dierdorf selection. Excellent tackle. I moved Munoz over because I had to have Pace on the team. I think he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen – and he can absolutely fly. I don’t know what his 40 times were at OSU, but the man has some serious wheels.

    Csonka was before my time. I barely remember those Dolphins teams – and my clearest recollections were actually of Mercury Morris and Paul Warfield.

    Marshall Faulk, for me, was the 90’s version of Marcus Allen. Faulk was faster, but I believe Allen was a better all around player. Both were unstoppable near the goal line. Both could catch anything. I’ll take Marcus for his pass protection and run blocking – just in case. I thought about Marshall, though. Damn!

    I’m surprised you don’t have another couple of tight ends on your team.

    I wasn’t feeling Monk or Lofton. I was always more of a Wes Chandler or John Jefferson guy. You’ve got me thinking though.

  6. It’s a nice idea and one I’ve been working on for the last six months. I’m choosing to build an actual 53-man roster, complete with backups, who the special teamers are, etc. and that’s proving to be rather difficult. I also have a much bigger soft spot for some old-school players on my team with the understanding their 2008 play weight would be much different. Even your O-line with Munoz at RT would require he weigh more than 280 lbs. in a power running system (you should pick Jon Ogden there and move Munoz to LT, Ogden is a beast).

    The other difficulty I’m having, like you, is deciding to have a roster capable of running the 3-4 defense while still keeping all-time greats (I really don’t put Wilfork in that list yet). All-time historic 2-gap defenders are hard to find in the history books (I would suggest googling Curly Culp as an option for NT).

    Overall, it was well put together and a fun conversation. Maybe I’ll post my all-time 53 man roster when I’m finished (although that could take years probably).

  7. Thanks. That’s thoughtful. I think the easiest way to get around the player weight thing is to compute league-wide averages for each position (by year) and then use the multiplier to make the weights current.

    So, by way of example, Curly Culp played at 265. Wilfork plays around 340. Huge difference. If the average weight for a defensive lineman during Culp’s elite years was 250, he’d have his weight adjusted to a percentage above today’s average playing weight. Let’s say, for the sake of argument without using real numbers, that the average is 315. Culp’s adjusted weight would be 328 (or something like that). In that way, we can at least imagine guys across eras playing on the same field.

    Given that, I’ll leave Munoz right where he is. It came down to the fact that I like Pace more than Ogden. Blame it on Dwight Freeney.

    I’d love to see that 53 man. I know I was premature in putting big Vince on the list, but I didn’t want the list to consist solely of “made men.” Someone on the rise deserved a spot. Similarly Steve Smith doesn’t have the numbers to merit inclusion – but I’d take him again and again and again.

    Thanks again. Great stuff.

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