In Week Two of the annual “Best of Talk of Fame Network’’ shows, our Hall-of-Fame hosts visit with five of the best defensive players of all-time … and a sixth who might have been had misfortune not intervened.
You’ll hear from future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis on why he can’t watch football anymore, Jim Marshall on the agony of having lost the Super Bowl four times, Zach Orr on how losing his career at 24 was a blessing and former Oakland Raiders’ linebacker Phil Villapiano on the annual Christmas phone call he hates to receive.
They’re joined by the all-time leading playoff sack man, three-time Super Bowl winner Willie McGinest, as well as former Cowboys’ middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who recalls life with Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and the Doomsday Defense.
“When you sit there, and you watch the perfect hit,” Lewis says of watching pro football today, “and then you watch the referee throw a flag … then you watch them replay it three or four or five, six times, and you see he never touched his head? You can’t watch the game! I’m too passionate for that!
“You can’t take that part away from me. Don’t take the natural part of competition away from pure competitors. You can’t do that. You just can’t do that.’’
Orr came to the Ravens after being undrafted and seemingly unwanted. Two years later he was not only a starting linebacker in Baltimore but a young player so prolific he became second team All-Pro. And then it was over when he was diagnosed with a degenerative neck injury that could cripple him if he continued to play. To give up the game was difficult for someone so young and seemingly on his way, but Orr looked at his misfortune differently.
“God allowed me to play, not only high-school ball but college ball — and then made it to the highest level, the National Football League,’’ he tells the Talk of Fame Network. “I got a chance not only to play for three years but start for a year and to play in about 50 games and start in 15 of them. I lived the dream that a lot of people wish they could live, and I was able to do that even though it was cut short.
“I didn’t want it to end the way it did but when I look back on it and reflect on it I can’t complain at all. I got a chance to live one of my dreams out, and that’s something that nobody can take away from me.”
So did Marshall, a former Minnesota Viking defensive end many persons believe belongs in the Hall of Fame. Marshall would love to see that happen one day, with the Vikings pushing him for 2018, but he is not haunted by his absence. What haunts him is the absence of a Super Bowl ring.
“Four times – and that’s something that sits in my craw – four times we had an opportunity to win one of those games, and we didn’t,’’ Marshall said. “That’s what we look at and what anybody who looks at the Minnesota Viking teams looks at.
“We had some great teams, but to be really great you’ve got to win the big one. And, regardless of what the situation is, you have to rise to the occasion and make it happen. And we never did. And that kind of sits in my craw all the time.”
Villapiano was a Pro Bowl linebacker with the Raiders and a Super Bowl winner, beating one of Marshall’s teams. Yet when he gets his annual phone call on Dec. 23 from Hall-of-Fame running back Franco Harris it’s not to congratulate him. It’s to remind him of being on the wrong side of Harris’ “Immaculate Reception.’’
“He’ll call around 4:07 p.m. or 4:08 p.m. because the game ran late,’’ Villapiano said. “’What were you doing 30 or 40 years ago?’ He’s relentless with this phone call.’’
Villapiano has a plan though, one involving taking a flight to Pittsburgh.
“The last tackle I ever make I’m going to drive (a statue of Harris’ “Catch’’ on display at the Pittsburgh Airport) over the top and land on the dinosaur (sculpture) below it. I’m going to take him over the top!’’ Villapiano promised.
To hear those recollections and reflections and much more from some of the NFL’s greatest defensive players tune into SB Nation Radio Wednesday night from 8-10 pm or listen to the replay on Sunday morning. You can also download our podcast on iTunes and listen whenever you want or go to our website, talkoffamenetwork.com and hear the show and visit our archives filled with hundreds of the game’s greatest players talking football and much more.