White No. 5, Manning No. 12 on USA Today's Top 25 NFL Players

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning

Top 25 NFL Players of the USA Today Era (1982-2007)

July 24, 2007

No. 5: White administered rare level of play

To commemorate USA TODAY's 25th anniversary, a panel of USA TODAY's NFL reporters and editors has produced an anthology of the 25 best NFL players of the past 25 years.

Possibly the best defensive end ever, Reggie White left the NFL as the game's all-time sack leader and as one of the most influential players ever to play in the league. He arrives at No. 5 on USA TODAY's list.

White, a strong and disruptive pass rusher who was an ordained clergyman nicknamed the "Minister of Defense," recorded 198 sacks through a career spent with the Philadelphia Eagles (eight seasons), Green Bay Packers (six) and Carolina Panthers (one season in 2000 after retiring for the 1999 campaign). A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, he dominated his position and was named to a record 13 consecutive Pro Bowls.

His impact was just as great off the field. White was the key player in a lawsuit against the NFL that brought about the current form of free agency. Prior to the ruling, NFL players did not have access to the liberalized form of free agency that their counterparts in Major League Baseball enjoyed.

PlayerSacks Teams Seasons
Bruce Smith 200 Bills, Redskins 19
Reggie White 198 Eagles, Packers, Panthers 15
Kevin Greene 160 L.A. Rams, Steelers, Panthers, 49ers 15
Note: Sacks compiled since 1982

White then became the first big-name free agent to switch teams when he left the Eagles for the Packers in 1993 for a four-year, $17 million deal. White helped rejuvenate the Packers franchise and, with Brett Favre, led the team to a 35-21 defeat of New England in Super Bowl XXXI. He set a Super Bowl record with three sacks in that contest, Green Bay's first championship in 29 years.

"That's what changed the football fortunes of this franchise," Packers executive Bob Harlan said about White's arrival. "It was huge." Prior to White, the team had winning records in just five of the previous 23 seasons.

His impact on the field cannot be overlooked, however. White collected an NFL-record nine consecutive seasons with at least 10 sacks. In 1987, one of his best seasons, White recorded 21 sacks in just 12 games of a strike-shortened campaign.

The defensive end seemingly commanded an army of blockers as opposing teams desperately tried to keep him away from the quarterback. But the combination of White's speed and strength was too often more than opposing linemen could withstand.

White died of respiratory failure at age 43 on Dec. 26, 2004, about 13 months before he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Born: Dec. 19, 1961, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Died: Dec. 26, 2004
College: Tennessee
Drafted: Fourth overall by Philadelphia in 1984 supplemental draft
Teams: Philadelphia 1985-1992; Green Bay, 1993-1998; Carolina, 2000
Pro Bowls: 13
Defensive Player of the Year: 1987, 1998
Member: All-Decade Team 1980s and 1990s; NFL 75th anniversary team
Pro Football Hall of Fame: 2006

Sources: Pro Football Hall of Fame, USA TODAY research

No. 12: Peyton's place secure in NFL annals

Through nine seasons he hasn't missed a game, has won two NFL MVP awards, has carved a still-expanding niche in the NFL record book and earned a long-sought Super Bowl championship achievements that earned Peyton Manning the 12th spot on USA TODAY's list.

It doesn't just seem like the Colts quarterback breaks a new NFL record each season; he does. In the past several years Manning has become the record holder for single-season touchdown passes, single-season passer rating; has more passes, touchdowns, yards passing and a higher passer rating than any other player through his first nine campaigns; and has become the first player to win the NFL MVP, the Super Bowl MVP and the Pro Bowl MVP awards.

Selected NFL marks achived by Peyton Manning over the past five seasons:

2006 First QB to record more than 4,000 passing yards in seven seasons
2005 First QB to pass for at least 25 touchdowns in eight consecutive seasons
2004 Set single-season marks for most touchdown passes (49) and highest passer rating (121.1)
2003 First player to throw five touchdown passes in one game three times in one season (including playoffs)
2002 First QB to record more than 4,000 passing yards in four consecutive seasons

Manning, 31, is still in the prime of his career. He's never thrown for fewer than 3,739 yards in a season and has thrown for at least 26 TDs in each of his nine years. Over the past six seasons, he has guided the Colts on average to the league's fourth-rated offense while compiling a 66-30 regular-season record with five playoff trips and one Super Bowl title.

There's little sign that the Colts quarterback will stop producing at such a prolific clip. "There's not much a defense can show him he hasn't seen," Indianapolis president Bill Polian told USA TODAY about Manning in late 2006. "He still prepares with as much zeal and is as dedicated and prepared as ever."

Peyton Manning Nine, 1998-present
Dan Marino Five, 1984-1988
Brett Favre Five, 1994-1998

The Colts' defeat of the Bears in Super Bowl XLI this February elevated Manning onto an echelon of quarterbacks that had eluded him. Prior to winning the title, Manning had been dogged by criticism that despite being a great quarterback, he was not able to win the big game. (He had been 3-6 in the playoffs prior to last season.)

His coach, Tony Dungy, told USA TODAY that the Super Bowl victory should shine more light on Manning's impressive accomplishments. "I don't think there's anything you can say now other than this guy is a Hall of Fame player," said Dungy.

Born: March 24, 1976, in New Orleans, La.
College: Tennessee
Drafted: No. 1 overall by Indianapolis in 1998
Teams: Indianapolis, 1998-present
Pro Bowls: Seven
NFL MVP: 2003, 2004
Super Bowl MVP: XLI

Sources: Indianapolis Colts; USA TODAY research

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