Minnesota safety Harrison Smith has been to the Pro Bowl each of the last three Februarys and is coming off arguably his best season in 2017 when he didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage and broke up 17 passes.
Johnny Robinson played safety his final 10 and intercepted 57 passes, which ties him for 13th all-time. He led the AFL with 10 interceptions in 1966 and then led the NFL, again with 10, in the first season of the merged leagues in 1970.
Roman Gabriel played 16 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles and went to four Pro Bowls. He was the NFL MVP in 1969 with the Rams and won his only NFL passing title in 1973 in his first season with the Eagles.
In 1927, when NFL owners discussed banning black players, eight of the nine African-American players disappeared from pro football. Duke Slater was the lone exception — and he remained the league’s only African-American player from 1927-29.
Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi believed winning can become a habit. So can losing. So he played to win every time his Green Bay Packers took the field. During his nine seasons in Green Bay, Lombardi posted a 42-8 record during the exhibition season.
Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 100 yards in half of his 26 career NFL games and the Cowboys have won 10 of those games. The former Ohio State All-America benefits from running behind an offensive line that features three perennial Pro Bowlers.
London Fletcher would play in four consecutive Pro Bowls before his streak ended in 2013 despite a team-leading 111 tackles. He retired after that season, having started the final 215 games of his career.
A rookie has led the NFL in rushing each of the last two seasons, Kareem Hunt in 2017 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. As the second overall pick of the 2018 draft, Barkley becomes the highest drafted running back since Reggie Bush in 2006.
Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt played only five games for the Texans last season because of back and knee injuries and quarterback DeShaun Watson was steaming toward NFL Rookie of the Year honors before tearing up a knee in practice after only six starts.
The USFL failed in a lawsuit against the NFL and never got to a fall season in 1986. But the legacy of the Stars – and the USFL – lived on. Players like Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Anthony Carter, Bobby Hebert and Fusina’s Philadelphia teammates Kelvin Bryant, Sam Mills, Bart Oates and Irv Eatman all went on to have long and distinguished careers in the NFL.
Chuck Fusina won the USFL passing title that season over future Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Steve Young and past NFL stars Greg Landry, Brian Sipe and Doug Williams. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,837 yards with 31 touchdowns and only nine interceptions – a quantum leap from his first USFL season.
With the NFL suspension of Paul Hornung for the 1963 season because of gambling, Jerry Kramer assumed Green Bay’s placekicking chores and led the Packers in scoring with 91 points. Before the era of soccer-style kickers, Kramer approached the football straight on.
Carl Peterson had been the director of personnel for the 1980 Philadelphia Eagles that won the NFC championship and would play in the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Peterson had a couple future NFL general managers on his Philadelphia Stars personnel staff, Bill Kuharich and Terry Bradway.