Brutal Facts About The Most Memorable NFL Stars

March 17, 2020 | Andrea Papillon

Brutal Facts About The Most Memorable NFL Stars


NFL football is the king of sports, at least in the US. The league is an estimated $9 billion enterprise, and its impact is growing worldwide. This fascinating sport is marked by its brutality. Not only are football players adored by fans, but they're also scrutinized by the media and despised by opposing teams. Here are 50 gridiron facts about the greatest football players in NFL history.


1. Well-Received

Jerry Rice was a superstar NFL wide receiver (WR) for 20 seasons, and the only NFL player with 22,895 receiving yards. The 2010 NFL Hall of Fame inductee holds 36 NFL records. ESPN.com actually named Rice the greatest WR of all time.

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2. Playing Brick House

Rice’s dad was a brick mason, and the Rice boys worked every summer laying brick in blazing Mississippi heat. It was grueling work, but Rice still managed some play. He loved to “snatch [multiple] bricks from the air,” that his brother tossed to him. Rice firmly believes it made him a better football player.

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3. Wild Horses

As the Rolling Stones’ song goes, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” That phrase certainly applies to Rice! He’s said that there were wild horses roaming the fields around his hometown as a kid. He would “run them down for 45 minutes to an hour,” before the horse got tired. He credits this activity with making him an exceptional runner.

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4. Early Bird Gets the Goat

Former NFL quarterback Steve Young knows why Rice is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). After the San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl win in 1995, Young was shocked to see his teammate Rice working out hard at their empty practice facility, at a time when most other players would be relaxing. Young said, "You belittle [Rice’s] drive by saying he [just had] a great work ethic.”

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5. Brady Bunch

A lowly sixth-round draft pick, quarterback (QB) Tom Brady is either loved a bunch—or loathed more. The New England Patriots superstar has won six Super Bowls, some at the helm of otherwise lackluster teams. Brady won his most recent Super Bowl at age 41. As of the 2020 post-season, he’s mum on his career plans.

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6. Wind Beneath His Wings

Brady’s career was marked by controversy—a career lowlight was the ‘Deflategate’ scandal that resulted in his four-game suspension, two forfeited 2016 Patriots draft selections, and a $1 million team fine. Brady was alleged to order deflated footballs for an edge in the 2014 American Football Conference (AFC) championship game.

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7. Pump up the Jam

Brady appealed his four-game suspension by the NFL after the Deflategate scandal. A federal court overturned it, and Brady played out the 2015 season. But the federal court’s decision was overruled by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, and Brady’s suspension was reinstated during the 2016 NFL regular season.

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8. Who's the Fairest of Them All

At the height of Deflategate, reporters loved grilling Brady about it, repeatedly asking, “Can you answer right now, is Tom Brady a cheater?" He denied it, but Brady accepted his suspension, and he led the Patriots to another Super Bowl win in 2017. Brady was the game MVP, and many NFL insiders called it the greatest Super Bowl in history.

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9. Love Child, Meant to Be

Brady hooked up with actress Bridget Moynahan before being introduced to model Gisele Bundchen in 2006. Shortly after, Moynahan came to Brady with shocking news—she was pregnant with his baby. Bundchen revealed that Moynahan’s love child nearly broke her and Brady up. They stuck it out, and Brady proposed to Bundchen in 2009.

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10. Zero Lamaze Game

Moynahan gave birth to Brady’s son, John Edward Thomas Moynahan, in August 2007. Bundchen, who married and has two kids with Brady now, has since fully accepted John as her “bonus child.” Moynahan is a tad more acerbic, revealing "[Tom] was not in the [delivery] room. He certainly wasn't holding my hand while I pushed."

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11. Mr. and Mrs. Gisele Bundchen

I’m just joking—he didn’t take her name. But Brady freely exposed his romantic underbelly proposing to Bundchen on a private flight with roses and champagne. Their first wedding took place just ten days later at a small California church. The couple later held a second wedding on the beach in Costa Rica, where they own a vacation property.

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12. The Best Defense Is a Great Lawrence

Lawrence Taylor was a career linebacker, and he’s currently only one of two NFL defensive players ever to win league MVP. He won the Super Bowl twice, and he made the NFL’s honorary 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams.

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13. A Love-Hate for Superman

The New York Giants drafted Taylor first-round in 1981. The linebacker’s astounded teammates called him Superman, but Bill Parcells, the Giants’ defensive coach-turned-head coach was tougher. Taylor despised Parcells, although Parcells was privately overheard saying, "I like [Taylor]. [He’s] got a mean streak.”

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14. Game Changer

Former QB and NFL commentator Terry Bradshaw said that on the field, Taylor "dang-near killed me…[he] kept coming from my blind side and just ripped my ribs to pieces." In the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, author Michael Lewis said that Taylor’s power as an outside linebacker changed football forever.

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15. Going Hollywood

Michael Lewis’s book also focused on Michael Oher, an impoverished Mississippi street kid who eventually became a Baltimore Ravens right tackle. Oher was adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. Their story was adapted on film in The Blind Side, and Sandra Bullock won the Best Actress Oscar for playing Leigh Anne.

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16. Taylor-Made Troubles

On the field, Lawrence Taylor was a single-minded beast. Off the field, he faced horrible personal demons. His substance abuse resulted in multiple jail sentences after his retirement. From 1998-2009, Taylor got sober and worked as a sports commentator and actor. But then in 2011, it all unraveled again: Taylor pleaded guilty to misconduct, leading him to be registered as a sex offender.

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17. No Better Than Brown

There are no two ways about it: the Cleveland Browns stink. But at one time, with one running back, the Browns reigned supreme. They were the 1957-65 Browns, and the player was Jim Brown. Sadly for the Browns, he retired from the NFL in 1966 when he was just 30 years old.

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18. Syracuse Superman

Brown was born in Georgia, but he later moved to Manhasset, New York where his mom was a maid. If Brown encountered racism in mostly all-white Manhasset, he conquered it. His outstanding high school athleticism guaranteed his spot at Syracuse University, and Brown dominated in football, basketball, track, even lacrosse!

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19. From Pigskin to Peak-a-boo

After stunning the NFL community with his early retirement, Brown decided to conquer Hollywood. A successful working actor, Brown notched over 30 film credits. He even played an NFL coach in the beloved football movie Any Given Sunday—but before that, he became famous with a wider audience for a very risqué reason. In 1984, he was the subject of a Playgirl naked centerfold!

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20. Down on Brown

For a man so extraordinarily talented, Brown also showed a disturbing dark side. In 1968, Brown was accused of tossing his then-girlfriend from a second-floor balcony. In 1999, he smashed the window of his wife’s car, and Brown served six months in jail after refusing court-mandated counseling for that incident.

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21. Trying to Be Better

Brown did direct his fame towards bettering African American causes. He helped to establish the Negro Industrial Economic Union in the 60s. In the late 80s, Brown founded the Amer-I-Can program to assist gang youth in coming clean. For all his charity work, the Cleveland Browns honored him with a statue outside their stadium in 2016.

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22. Remember, Tomorrow Is Promised to No One…

That was NFL running back Walter Payton’s favorite quote. A Chicago Bears legend, Payton is the NFL all-time rushing leader. He heeded a former coach’s advice to “never die easy” on the field. Payton also said, “When you're good at something, you'll tell everyone. When you're great at something, they'll tell you."

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23. The Sweetest

Payton’s greatness was yin and yang: a monster on the field, he was an off-field softie who worked with the deaf. Payton’s teammates teasingly called him “Sweetness” for his soft-pitched voice, but “Sweetness” was also a badge of honor. One reporter said, “he runs so sweet…it gives me cavities just watching him.”

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24. Way to Go, Walter

When he retired in 1987, Payton began the Walter Payton Foundation. After being diagnosed with bile duct cancer, Payton spent his last days raising awareness about the disease. After Payton died in 1999, the NFL honored him by renaming its player humanitarian award the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

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25. American Idol

While Tom Brady contends to be the greatest QB in NFL history, it’s cool to know that his idol is Joe Montana, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Brady saw Montana play in person at the pivotal 1981 NFC Championship game in San Fran, and Brady says he’s always “humbled and honored” to be in Montana’s league.

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26. A Catch-All

American football is brutal, with complex plays of throwing, bulldozing, and catch. But perhaps the greatest play in NFL history goes by “The Catch,” engineered by Montana to win the 1981 NFC Championship. Montana’s play-winning moment signaled the San Francisco 49ers emergence as an NFL dynasty throughout the 80s.

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27. Plays Together, Stays Together

There are many instances of NFL “football families”: brothers who’ve played with, or against, each other, or fathers playing first, followed a generation later by their sons. Perhaps the most famous is the Manning Family. Patriarch Archie Manning played QB first, followed by his quarterback sons Peyton and Eli.

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28. Not an Archie Comic

"Papa" Manning played 15 NFL seasons and two Pro Bowls. He retired in 1984. While Archie never reached the Super Bowl, his greatness bore fruit in his NFL-drafted spawn.

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29. Passing to Peyton

As a kid, middle-son Peyton Manning was the “cocky college QB with the slow-roasted Louisiana drawl.” He played 18 NFL seasons with a Hall of Fame-worthy passing record. He eventually won two Super Bowls, but Peyton’s QB skills aren’t wholly responsible for him getting drafted—he actually used a disturbing method to try and get into the NFL.

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30. Way to Suck up to the Boss

During the 1998 NFL draft, cocky, young Peyton Manning was too impatient to wait for the Indianapolis Colts to name him their new QB. Manning issued Colts GM Bill Polian this thinly-veiled threat: “If you draft me, I promise we’ll win a championship. If you don’t, I promise to come back and kick your [butt].”

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31. Funny or Die

Peyton Manning’s competitive side was notorious. He’s now acting in funny commercials like those for Nationwide Insurance—but when Manning hosted Saturday Night Live, his obsession with winning reared its ugly head. He blew the budget on overtime, saying, “I don’t care about your budget…We’re going to work until we get this right.”

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32. Shadow Puppetry

Quarterback Eli Manning grew up in older brother Peyton’s shadow. But Eli has a better Super Bowl MVP record—and higher career earnings. While Peyton’s stats generally outshine Eli’s, they’ve both won the Super Bowl twice. Eli is also a two-time Super Bowl MVP—while Peyton has one Super Bowl MVP notch on his belt.

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33. Let’s Order Some Chinese

Eli Manning threw some legendary passes, and his goofy humor is legendary too. Former teammates have revealed their fondest memories about the quarterback, with most saying that Eli always got a kick out of high-jacking every rookie’s unlocked cellphone—and changing the language to Chinese as a practical joke!

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34. Don’t Cross That Extra ‘T’

Former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmit Smith was called too short for the NFL, and reporters always misspelled his name—so Smith went by Emmitt. But don’t underestimate Smith or think that he’s a doormat—once, he was shopping for a $100,000 car. When the dealer made the mistake of showing the young player used cars, Smith’s reply was devastating.

He said, “No, I’ll go with the [Benz]. But I’m not gonna buy it from you.”

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35. Mr. Smith Goes to Hollywood

Many ex-NFL players have transitioned into acting, but Smith was the first ex-NFL player to win Dancing With the Stars, lacing up his samba shoes in its third season. Smith admitted that his favorite congratulatory phone call came from ex-NBA star Charles Barkley—but according to him, it was completely filled with expletives.

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36. White Scores a Lucky 13

Defensive lineman Reggie White was selected for the NFL Pro Bowl 13 consecutive times during his football career. After his unfortunate passing, believed to have been caused by a combination of respiratory disease, sleep apnea, and sarcoidosis, White was posthumously inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2006.

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37. The Minister of Defense

White became an ordained Baptist minister—hence his nickname, “Minister of Defense.” In 1992, White defended all NFL players of that era, becoming the most-recognized player in an NFL group suing the league for antitrust violations in its limited free agency system. White retired in 2000, passing away in 2004.

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38. The Juice

Nicknamed “The Juice” after his initials, O.J. Simpson’s talent, looks, and charisma made him a beloved running back with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. After football, he easily transitioned into a trusted broadcaster and spokesman, as well as a great comedic actor in films like The Naked Gun.

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39. It All Went Sour

The Juice’s legacy and popularity soured forever after his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were murdered. Simpson didn’t turn himself in, taking the LAPD on an internationally televised low-speed highway chase before being arrested. Simpson went to trial in 1994.

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40. If It Doesn’t Fit…

You must acquit. One of Simpson’s lawyers used that poetic logic in O.J.’s murder trial—and Simpson was acquitted in a televised verdict. However, in a stunning twist, he was later found guilty of both murders in civil court. Simpson’s troubles didn’t end there. In 2008, he was convicted in felony charges from an incident in Las Vegas.

Simpson served time until October 2017.

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41. Nicole Spoke From the Grave

After Nicole Brown Simpson died, a handwritten letter was found detailing Simpson’s cruelty during their marriage. According to Nicole, O.J. belittled her weight gains during pregnancy. He also, in her words, “beat the holy ****” out of her. Nicole’s documenting of Simpson’s cruelty brought the issue to national attention.

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42. His Final Request

David Russell Duerson played safety on two Super Bowl-winning teams. Unfortunately, he’s more widely known in death. He fatally shot himself in the chest in 2011, requesting that his brain be donated for research into CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to severe concussions that commonly happen in football.

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43. A Reason to Win

While college football player George Gipp never made the NFL field, he was a Notre Dame hero. Nicknamed “The Gipper,” he died suddenly at 25, shortly after a huge win over Northwestern. Devastated Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne told Gipp’s surviving teammates to “Win just one for the Gipper,” which later became a legendary quote.

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44. A Real Rocky

Vincent Francis Papale was a bartender, moonlighting as a substitute teacher in Philly. He never played college football—but that didn’t stop him from following his dreams. Papale tried out with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the “old” guy—he was 30 at the time—made it! He played three seasons in Philly and was nicknamed “Rocky” for his real-life underdog story.

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45. Meet Him in St. Louis

Kurt Warner had a bad NFL start. A lowly free agent QB with the Green Bay Packers, Warner got booted. He took a $5.50 an hour grocery clerk job in Iowa. Then, in 1997, Warner made it back to the NFL with the St. Louis Rams—who then, in 2000, went on to win what Sports Illustrated called one of the greatest Super Bowls ever.

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46. A Hero Until the End

NFL player Pat Tillman is known for his history on the field as well as his heartbreaking sacrifice off of it. Playing safety for the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman quit the NFL, enlisting in the military to serve his country after September 11, 2001. Deployed overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tillman was moved to Afghanistan and killed by friendly fire in 2004.

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47. No One Hit Wonder

Shaquem Griffin is described as an otherworldly athlete. Why is he so special? By traditional player standards, Griffith is disabled. He’s the first one-handed player to be drafted by the NFL. Even better? He’s wearing a Seattle Seahawks jersey alongside his twin brother, cornerback Shaquill.

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48. Born That Way

2017’s first-round quarterback draft pick Patrick Mahomes won Super Bowl LIV with the Kansas City Chiefs. It must be genetic, as his father Pat was a major league baseball pitcher. Growing up, Mahomes played peewee T-ball—he was so good, he got traded! By age 10, his average throwing distance went as far as 220 feet.

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49. Gridiron Gut Feel

Mahomes excelled at high school baseball, and he figured he was destined for a pro baseball career. However, his heart wasn't fully in it—Mahomes loved football, but he was concerned about career-ending injuries playing QB. His mom knew best, convincing him to stick with the gridiron, and Mahomes won the QB contest at his high school.

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50. Bee’s Knees

In October 2019, Mahomes’ injury fears were realized. His right kneecap was dislocated during a win over the Denver Broncos. Chiefs fans held a collective breath—but prayers were answered when the MRI results were clear. Later, Mahomes posted an inspirational message online that a higher power had his back that day.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35


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