State Your Case: Carl Banks

A pass intended for Seattle Seahawks' Paul Skannis (82) is about to be intercepted by Carl Banks, left, of the New York Giants during second quarter of Nov. 9, 1989 game at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Los Angeles Raiders tight end Todd Christensen (46) blocks New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (58) during a 14-9 Giants victory on September 21, 1986, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

(Photos courtesy of the New York Giants)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Carl Banks formed one half of the greatest outside linebacker combination of the NFL’s 3-4 defensive era. Maybe of any scheme of any era.

Banks teamed with Lawrence Taylor to dominate offenses and power the New York Giants to two Lombardi Trophies. Banks stuffed ball carriers in the run game and muscled tight ends in the passing game from his strongside linebacker spot. Taylor terrorized quarterbacks in the pocket from his weakside linebacker spot.

Both were named to the 1980s NFL all-decade team. But only half of this combination is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Taylor was a first ballot selection. Banks has been eligible now for 15 years but never even been discussed as a finalist.

There are only 12 outside linebackers in Canton — and not a single set of teammates. Pick one, and the quota is filled. But Banks and Taylor became the first set of linebacking bookends from the same team selected to an all-decade team. No pair has been named to an all-decade team since those Giants.

Banks was an exceptional player. Maybe he should become an exception in Canton as well.

“I loved this player,” said Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Parcells, who won his two Super Bowls with the Banks-Taylor linebacking tandem. “He was a rough-and-tumble guy with intelligence and an understanding of situational football. He was dominant versus tight ends, a powerful blitzer, a strongside run tone-setter and a relentless competitor. He was a very key player for us.”

Banks was a key player for Michigan State, too, when he was a senior in 1983. His head coach, George Perles, recognized his unique skill set for the strongside position. So Perles, a former defensive coordinator of Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain in the 1970s, invited Hall-of-Famer Jack Ham to campus that spring to work with Banks. Ham is regarded as one of the best strongside linebackers in NFL history.

“No one has ever done it better,” Banks said. “His footwork, hand placement and leverage was incredible for a guy 205 pounds. And he made it look so easy. He taught me the whole art of playing the strongside position.

“I haven’t been blocked since.”

Banks certainly wasn’t blocked as a senior at Michigan State. He became the school’s first All-America linebacker since George Webster in 1966, then went to the Giants on the third overall pick of the 1984 draft. He broke into the starting lineup in 1986 and was the leading tackler on a New York team that captured its first Lombardi Trophy. Banks made a career-high 120 tackles and added a team-high 14 more in the Super Bowl victory over Denver.

Banks followed that up with a team-leading 113 tackles in 1987, with a career-best nine sacks, earning the only Pro Bowl selection of his career. Banks would go on to have 100-tackle seasons with two other franchises as well, the Redskins and Browns. But there were no more Pro Bowls. Even when he forced seven fumbles in 1989, there was no Pro Bowl as a reward.

That’s the nature of the strongside linebacker position — you don’t build statistics. You play the run and engage tight ends as they attempt to run their routes — “a great disrupter of routes,” Parcells added. And Banks did his disrupting during a golden era of tight-end play, lining up against Hall-of-Famers Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow and Shannon Sharpe, plus receiving champions (Todd Christensen) and Pro Bowlers (Eric Green, Keith Jackson, Brent Jones, Steve Jordan and Jay Novacek).

So dominant were Banks and Taylor on the edge of the defense that everything was funneled inside to Harry Carson. To his credit, Carson made the tackles — enough tackles to get voted to nine Pro Bowls. And Taylor was amassing the sacks — enough sacks to get voted to 10 Pro Bowls.

“Without Carl, L.T. would not have had the same production,” said Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, who coordinated New York’s two Super Bowl defenses for Parcells. “Carl was the best at playing over a tight end and that allowed L.T. to play more on the open side. Wherever Banks aligned, it was harder to help on L.T.  This forced the offense to balance up more in their formations and protections, which gave L.T. more opportunities.”

Banks’s value was obvious on the field but invisible on the stat sheet. He wasn’t the primary blitzer. That was Taylor’s job. Banks chased tight ends as Taylor was chasing quarterbacks. Banks wound up with almost as many passes defensed in his career (35) as he did sacks (40). PBUs don’t send a player to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl nor to Canton for that gold jacket.

So Carson and Taylor have their busts. They played stats positions. Banks did not. That kept him out of the Pro Bowl, and it’s keeping him out of Canton.

“It’s a very subjective viewpoint that gets skewed by the glamour aspects of it,” said Banks of the respective voting. “My numbers may not speak the volumes that some people have a threshold for. But ask people who played or coached against me. Ask the offensive linemen. Ask the tight ends. The Hall is about the dominance of a player. They are still teaching in New England off of my (game) tapes. I had a unique skill. I had a great career.”

A Hall-of-Fame skill, in fact. But it remains an unrecognized one.

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  1. Ray
    November 10, 2015

    Carl Banks was probably the most important player on the Giants Defense. Should get Hall OF FAME induction.

    • Rick Gosselin
      November 10, 2015

      Lack of stats and Pro Bowls work against him. But both Belichick and Parcells knew & appreciated his value. Banks passes the eye test for me as well.

  2. […] State Your Case: Carl Banks by Rick Gosselin for Talk of Fame Network […]

  3. Mike avolio
    November 10, 2015

    No question Banks should be in. Reliance on stats always bothers me, they can be spun inumerable ways.
    Ask the players who faced him and Banks gets voted in, like Curtis, Kramer, Brazile, Klecko and more.

    The HOF process is ridiculous and needs to be updated as the pool of qualified players grows each year.

  4. neil grossman
    November 11, 2015

    given Taylor, think of how much more involved Carl had to be; and how amazing and essential he was.

  5. Robert Fyfe
    November 12, 2015

    A truly amazing athlete as well as a great leader. Always a gentleman. A true NY Giant. Belongs in Canton, without a doubt.

  6. Robert Fyfe
    November 12, 2015

    Carl Banks was just as important as LT was to the 2 Super Bowl Teams he played on..he helped LT become the player he was because offenses had to account for him as well…without Banks the Giants defense wouldn’t have been what it was..hands down first ballot hall of famer..go big blue!!

  7. Andy Simon
    November 23, 2015

    If Phil Simms hadn’t had the best game of any QB in SB history, Banks would have been the MVP in the Giants first SB. The article states he had 14 tackles, but I remember that many of them were for losses. He was incredible that day…as well as throughout his career.
    You state that LT and CB were the best outside backers in the 3-4 era, but all four backers were amazing. Not only Harry Carson, but Gary Reasons too.

  8. Neal
    November 23, 2015

    I remember John Madden saying that if there was an MVP of the playoffs award, Banks deserved it in 1986. He was dominant all that post-season. Teams rarely even tried to run the ball to his side and until he injured his knee, tight-ends just did not catch the ball when he was covering them. He was also good enough that for at least a couple of his peak years it was a real debate about whether he or LT was the better player. He definitely deserves to be discussed as a HoF candidate.

  9. bachslunch
    March 19, 2016

    Carl Banks has very paltry postseason honors of 1/1/80s, and there are scads of OLBs of the 80s-90s with better numbers not in such as Greg Lloyd (3/5/none), Cornelius Bennett (3/5/90s), and Pat Swilling 2/5/none. No idea how Banks looks in film study, never mind whether he’s so accomplished that he deserves to vault over all these folks. There’s the added problem that OLBs are already well represented from the period — especially compared to MLBs/ILBs.

  10. Joseph Kratz
    April 25, 2016

    I met Mr. Banks when he checked into a hotel I was working at some years ago. He was such a gentleman. Not only a great football player but a great person. He definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I wish him well in all his endeavors.

  11. Arthur Banks
    December 17, 2016

    There’s no doubt Banks’ value. Without him, LT could not have been e player ge became. Put him in.

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