A gentleman from a northern school once said the most iconic players from each NFL team would mostly have played in the Big Ten. After careful consideration, a check of his theory rings untrue.
In fact, only two players from that conference earned the distinction of the most iconic player of a franchise.
Here is a list of the faces of the franchise for each AFC team and a couple of defunct teams.
NFL Most Iconic Player for Each Team in the AFC
New England Patriots
This was an easy choice. Could anyone disagree with Tom Brady (Michigan)? Prior to Brady’s arrival in New England, the choice for the New England Patriots would have been tight end Russ Francis or guard John Hannah.
New York Jets
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 70s had a lot of offensive firepower. Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth led the passing attack with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier at running back. But the heartbeat of that team was on the other side of the ball. The most iconic Steeler is linebacker Jack Lambert (Kent State).
Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason filled the air with footballs and Anthony Munoz is the greatest offensive lineman in Cincinnati Bengals history. But the pick here is linebacker Reggie Williams (Dartmouth). Not only did he play great for the Bengals, but he later served as the director of sports development for Disney.
The Houston Texans haven’t been around that long, but during his tenure J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) has become the iconic player of the franchise. The only other choice could have been wide receiver Andre Johnson, but Watt has had more success.
During the “Luv Ya Blue” days in Houston, Earl Campbell (Texas) was the Oilers. The franchise had other stars like Ken Burrough, Elvin Bethea, Robert Brazile and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, but no one came close to Campbell’s talent.
Mark Brunell was a great leader during his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the iconic choice is offensive tackle Tony Boselli (USC). He anchored the Jaguars offensive line for years and kept Brunell and others upright.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl IV behind Len Dawson, Otis Taylor, Mike Garrett, Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier. But Derrick Thomas (Alabama) once had seven sacks in one game and set other league sack records. He gets the honor.
Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers
Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers were and are great quarterbacks, Kellen Winslow was almost unstoppable, and Lance Alworth was a highlight reel at wide receiver. But the leader of the Chargers both on and off the field was Junior Seau (USC). He is clearly the face of the franchise.
In the words of Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, “This one’s for John.” John Elway (Stanford) not only was the leader of the franchise on the field, he is continuing his leadership as Denver’s general manager. Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Karl Mecklenburg and Dennis Smith all had great careers, but none were as long or as storied as Elway’s.
Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
This was the toughest choice in the AFC. The Raiders have had Ken Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Marcus Allen, Cliff Branch, Art Shell, Jack Tatum and Ray Guy. But the one player who held the team together was offensive lineman Gene Upshaw (Texas A&M). He is the most iconic Raider.
Alabama and USC each had two players make the list, while Brady was the only Big Ten player to make the cut.
So much for that northern gentleman’s theory.