Judge Jeff Robbins is waiting for someone to compile the list of Top 100 Mediocre DVD Critics.
"If you take him out the game, no disrespect to nobody else on the Colts, but you make them a very below-average ball club."—Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis showing respect to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players is a very entertaining program that is bogged down by arguably some of the least-essential "bonus content" in DVD history (and ultimately a poorer cousin single-disc distillation of the companion four-disc Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players). Those interested in a countdown of the greatest players in the NFL are advised to seek out the complete series, especially since the league's current labor situation may give fans lots of extra time to kill before the return of their favorite sport.
Facts of the Case
In 2010, the NFL Network assembled a panel of current and former NFL coaches, players, executives, and members of the sports media (oh, and Burt Reynolds) to decide just who are the greatest National Football League players, past and present, of all-time. Based on their votes, the players were ranked and then unveiled in a ten-part series (with each one-hour episode revealing ten players) that aired on the NFL Network from September to November 2010. Though the entire series is available in a separate four-disc set, Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players features only the final installment of the ten-part series.
I don't know whether to blame Casey Kasem and his "American Top 40," David Letterman and his nightly "Top Ten List," or God and his Ten Commandments, but boy, oh boy, do TV producers and newspaper and magazine editors love making lists of things. They love making lists of things and then counting them down from worst to first. Whether the list makes any sort of sense is far less important than just having the list of things from which the countdown, and the accompanying TV program or "special collector's issue," can then commence.
Take the NFL Network's list, introduced in the fall of 2010, of The NFL's 100 Greatest Players. Given that the NFL has changed so much in its 90 years, what with rule changes, safety improvements, coaching innovations, league expansion, schedule expansion, and how and what kind of statistics are kept, it seems on some level ridiculous to compare players from different eras of that long history. Add to that the very real changes in how players condition themselves, how the league has changed what supplements are legal and what supplements are illegal, and the relative lack of reviewable footage exists from the sport's nascent years, and accurately ranking the top 100 NFL players of all time seems to be an impossibility.
But then of course these lists aren't supposed to be scientific. At worst, they are supposed to be a fun, harmless way to spark debate among fans. At best, they can inspire younger fans to develop a better appreciation and understanding of what was around before they were alive or before they started paying attention. (Hey, it was a list in a 1987 issue of Rolling Stone that first got me into Talking Heads and Elvis Costello.)
On both levels, then, Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players succeeds (although by the very nature of its limited scope, not as well as the complete four-disc set). For example, after watching the top 10 counted down, I would love for someone to explain to me why Jerry Rice and not Joe Montana is the consensus number one player of all time. Yes, Rice caught the passes, but didn't Montana (and later Steve Young) have to get him the ball? Isn't Joe Montana the only player to ever win three Super Bowl MVP awards? Didn't Montana win two Super Bowls without Jerry Rice, whereas Rice only won one without Montana? Is there a football fan or pundit alive who would argue that the wide receiver position is more valuable or difficult to learn than the quarterback position?
Similarly, many might argue against the inclusion of current quarterback Peyton Manning inside the top 10, ahead of older players like Troy Aikman or Terry Bradshaw, each of whom have won more championships. But Ray Lewis, in his excellent commentary supporting Manning, makes the case that not only does Manning prepare and study more than perhaps any quarterback before him, but Manning also has the ability to take average players and make them standouts. Aikman and Bradshaw, on the other hand, benefited from having all-time greats at the wide receiver and running back positions (not to mention much better defenses, making scoring less necessary).
Though they obviously must be included, Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players works less well at spotlighting players from football's earliest days: It's not just the relative lack of footage that makes the segment on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Don Hutson (who played from 1935-1945) less interesting, it's the commentary from sportswriter Peter King. It simply isn't that compelling to hear a talking head rattle off tired football clichés (more on that later) about why a player like Hutson was great. It's infinitely more entertaining and insightful to hear personal stories from contemporaries of the featured players, like Ray Lewis talking about using Peyton Manning as a role model for his children or Packers head coach Mike Holmgren relaying how he got the devout Reggie White to sign with Green Bay by pretending that it was God's will.
Because the producers recognize that stats don't always tell the whole story, numbers are for the most part downplayed on Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players. But that doesn't mean that statistics aren't an important part of what launched a player onto this list. Vital information about each player, such as years played, teams played for, and career stats are, for the most part, nowhere to be found here. The producers could easily have included this information as a series of on-screen graphics or at the very least as an optional trivia track. Instead, if you want to know exactly what years Lawrence Taylor was active or exactly how many career touchdowns Jim Brown had before he retired at the ripe old age of 29, you need to look it up yourself. Not ideal.
As should be expected of a program that uses footage from across numerous decades, the audio and video quality of Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players varies somewhat, but not as significantly as you might think or fear. This is just another example of the total awesomeness that is NFL Films. No other sport comes close to being documented or archived nearly as well as the National Football League. In any event, every football fan should be more than pleased with the technical presentation herein.
What no one could be pleased with is the feeble bonus material included in Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players. Billed as "The Cutting Room Floor," the extras include no less than 30 interview excerpts varying in length from 34 seconds to 6:22, each featuring a different commentator on a different player included in the entire Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players series. What makes these segments insufferable to sit through is their stultifying sameness: For 90 long minutes, dreaded sports cliché after dreaded sports cliché is unimaginatively regurgitated, sometimes from commentators I was unfamiliar with about players that frankly I had never heard of. And none have the added visual support of highlights, the copious use of which is what makes the main program on the disc entertaining. The only one to break through the monotony of "The Cutting Room Floor"? None other than Burt Reynolds, who stands out because he actually tells stories about his inductee (Jim Brown, with whom he filmed a movie called 100 Rifles) instead of just talking about how fast he could run or how hard he could hit. The 30 segments can be played individually or all at once, but under no circumstances would anyone without a severe masochistic streak want to play them all together.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Watching Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players, one gets a solid sense of the hypocrisy that is running rampant in the NFL today. Just as the league is admiringly trying to cut down on the number of violent hits that players take or can legally make comes the release of this program, much of which devotes itself to the exploitation and celebration of vicious hits and collisions. It's clear that what made Dick Butkus one of the ten best players of all time would now get him fined on a regular basis. The NFL is correct to celebrate its past players, but if it insists on trying to clean up its game, it should not simultaneously be reveling in how dirty it used to be.
Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players is a terrific if somewhat brief overview of the 10 greatest players in NFL history. Though one could find many faults inherent in compiling a list of players who in many ways have little if anything in common, sparking debate is at least half of the point behind programs such as this. While most NFL fans interested in this subject matter will likely want to seek out the complete four-disc set of Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players, for someone looking for just the cream of the crop, the Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players does the job at a reasonable price point. Just stay away from the bonus content.
Whoever says Jerry Rice is a more crucial piece of NFL history than Joe
Montana is guilty of delusion. And whoever thought that Burt Reynolds could tell
better football stories than football players and football coaches is guilty of
being a genius. But Top 10: NFL's Greatest Players? Not guilty.
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