(Andy Russell photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Robert Brazile photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans)
Talk of Fame Network
Outside linebacker was not always known as a pass-rush position. It was once one among the most versatile positions on the football field because players there had to be able to stand in against the blocking of bigger offensive linemen in the run game and chase smaller, faster running backs on sweeps and downfield pass patterns.
But because they lacked that a single glamorous stat — specifically, sacks – many outside linebackers from that bygone era have been passed over for Hall-of-Fame acclaim.
That’s the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll this week – who’s the best outside linebacker not in the Hall of Fame? There are several worthy candidates, including all-decade performers Robert Brazile, Joe Fortunato and George Webster. Here’s your slate of candidates:
Maxie Baughan. Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Nobis, Larry Morris and Dave Robinson went to a combined 10 Pro Bowls in the 1960s. All were voted to the NFL’s all-decade team. Baughan went to nine Pro Bowls, all in the 1960s, yet was left off that all-decade team. Go figure. Baughan went to five Pro Bowls with the Philadelphia Eagles in the Eastern Conference and four more with the Los Angeles Rams of the Western Conference. He started as a rookie for the Eagles in 1960 and won his only NFL championship.
(Maxie Baughan 55 photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)
Robert Brazile. The only one of the six linebackers on the 1970s’ NFL all-decade team not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Brazile was the sixth overall pick of the 1975 draft by the Houston Oilers and went on to become the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He arrived at a time when Bum Phillips was converting the Oilers from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and became the early prototype for the NFL’s weakside-linebacker position. Brazile played 10 seasons and went to seven Pro Bowls.
Joe Fortunato. The only one of four linebackers on the 1950s’ NFL all-decade team not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In addition to being named one of the four best linebackers in the 1950s, Fortunate went to three Pro Bowls in the 1960s with the Chicago Bears. He went to the Pro Bowl five times and played on Chicago’s 1963 NFL champions. He recovered 22 fumbles and intercepted 16 passes for 38 career takeaways in his 12-year career.
Chuck Howley. The only player from a losing team named a Super Bowl MVP. Howley became the first defensive player and first non-quarterback named that MVP after intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble in a 16-13 loss by the Cowboys to the Baltimore Colts in 1971. Dallas returned to the Super Bowl the following season, and Howley contributed two more takeaways, a fumble and an interception, in a 24-3 victory over Miami. In a 15-year career he intercepted 25 passes for 399 yards with two touchdowns. Howley went to six Pro Bowls.
(Chuck Howley photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
Andy Russell. A member of one of the great defenses of all-time — Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain. Unfortunately for Russell, he played the bulk of his career before the Steelers became a great defense and before they started winning Super Bowls. Russell arrived in 1963 as a 16th-round draft pick but became a walk-in starter and earned a spot on the NFL all-rookie team. He then spent two years in the military before returning in 1966. He was named a captain in 1967 and held that honor until his retirement after the 1976 season. He went to seven Pro Bowls in his final eight seasons and won Super Bowls in 1974 and 1975 with the emergence of the Steel Curtain.
George Webster. Selected to the all-time all-AFL team. Webster once chased down Hall-of-Fame wide receiver and Olympic gold medalist Bob Hayes from behind. He was the fifth overall pick of the 1967 draft, made 15 tackles in his pro debut against the defending AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs and went on to become the AFL Rookie of the Year. Webster was voted to the AFL All-Star game in each of his first three seasons before suffering a knee injury in his fourth season in 1970. He was never the same player thereafter, playing six more seasons with three different teams and missing games because of injuries in all but one of those seasons.
(George Webster photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans)