A week ago I posted a contest on my Facebook page asking my followers and Steiner Sports’s followers who their favorite retired football player of all-time was.
The responses were absolutely fantastic.
What impressed me most was that the people who entered were just as into celebrating these athletes’ actions off the field as they were their actions on the field.
This illustrates something that all of us who love sports have always known: The best athletes don’t just play games; they serve as inspirations to thousands of people.
The following is only a selection of the most inspirational responses to the contest; there were plenty of other special ones. (It’s great when your readers can do your blogging for you!)
I did have to pick a winner, so among many amazing tied responses, I randomly selected Paul Bartosz, who like a few other fans celebrated former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders (see his comment in italics, below).
But really, all of these comments were fantastic. I hope you find them as inspirational as I do:
John Elway - no one personified that “never quit” attitude like him, even after 3 very poor showing in 3 Super Bowls, he never stopped playing his style of football, then finally with a complete team in which he did not have to carry the entire load, he and his teammates finally broke through and beat the Green Bay Packers to win Super Bowl XXXII, the following year he retired a two time champion, and arguably one of the best QB’s in the history of the game, not because of his stats but because of his heart and that never quit attitude.
- David Schapiro
Steve Gleason - I will never forget that blocked punt in the first game back at the Superdome after Katrina. Since then, I have really admired his positive attitude and spirit while being faced with ALS. Despite what must be incredibly hard for him to be going through, he maintains a positive mood and is using his story to raise awareness and funds to help others.
- Bryan Augustine
Curtis Martin - My favorite retired player is Curtis Martin. On the field, what can you say? He was unarguably one of the greatest running backs of all-time and posted some outstanding numbers while playing for the Jets of all teams! But off the field he was even better. His attitude that he was blessed to be playing, despite all the hardship he endured early in his life, is commendable. He always stopped to sign autographs after practice at Hofstra, (when the Jets used to practice), despite being swarmed every time, and his autograph itself is one of the most legible in football. He always carried himself with class, grace & humility, extremely rare nowadays. He truly was a special player.
- Larry Lutz
Sam Mills - He was an undersized linebacker, who was never expected to make it in the college, let alone the USFL or NFL! He proved everyone wrong and became a Pro Bowl caliber player. He joined The Carolina Panthers and slowly became the face of the franchise, not for only his skills and success, but because of his heart. As their leader on the field, he took the second year team to the NFC Championship game. He retired a couple years later to join the Panthers coaching staff. In 2003 he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and even though he was going through treatments and battling cancer, he gave the Panthers one of the most inspirational speeches in NFL history before they made their 2004 Super Bowl appearance. He told them to “Keep Pounding”! He sadly passed away in 2005, but the speech and impact he had on the team and the NFL has been felt long after. His number has been retired by the Panthers, his statue was built outside the Stadium and Keep Pounding is stitched into the Panthers jerseys, so every player from now on will never forget him. And his Keep Pounding foundation has been built to raise money for cancer research. Stats do not show someone’s impact on the game or someone’s heart, R.I.P #51 and Keep Pounding!
- Michael Mendes
Walter Payton - His creation of the Walter Payton Foundation for greater awareness of the need for organ donations brought national attention to the problem. After that, Chicago put organ donation requests into vehicle-registration mailings and thousands of people signed on to the program. He also organized a program to donate toys to underprivileged children across the Chicago area each Christmas. He inspired many people, including Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson. The NFL even named the Man of the Year award after him. He was the true definition of Sweetness off-the field, but a monster on it.
- Christopher Rodriguez
Barry Sanders - Even though Barry Sanders retired in his prime, I believe he had much more to give. He went to Oklahoma state. 10x Nfc pro bowler. 3rd overall pick in the 1989 draft. I can’t see any other football player being so humble. Never got in trouble. Never had a person had so much ambition . Truly one of the best players . Same reason why I love football. One of my favorite players of all time.
- Ray Melendez
Barry Sanders - My favorite retired NFL player of all time is Barry Sanders. No other man left the game with more mystery then Sanders, at what many thought was the prime of his career Sanders walked away into the sunset. Sanders could have been the greatest running back of all time, but he stayed true to himself at a time when others would have just played for the dollar signs in front of them. That is why Barry Sanders is my all-time favorite retired NFL player because he stayed true to himself and the game he loved.
- Daniel Soden
Barry Sanders - My favorite retired player of all time is Barry Sanders. The way he carried himself both on and off the field exemplify what pro sports should be about. He never had any contract holdouts, fights with teammates, and led by his actions since he was never the most outspoken player to ever step foot onto the gridiron. You never saw Barry doing any crazy dances after he scored, he simply went about his business, handed the ball to the ref and as Bear Bryant said, “acted like he’s been there before.” While he entered the NFL a Heisman Trophy winner, there were always doubters about how his size would hold up in the NFL and he proved to coaches, opponents, teammates, and fans that he was the best running back in NFL history, pound for pound.
- Paul Bartosz
Barry Sanders - It would have to be Barry Sanders. Not only a great player on the field but great for the state of Michigan. He is so humble and a very smart man. He has a wonderful family and never had any controversy. Many said he retired too soon, but in my eyes he is concussion free and enjoying life without the aches and pain. He is a prime example of how to play the game.
- Kenny McClellan
Barry Sanders - Amazing athlete. One of the best running backs of all time. Would have held all the records if he did not retire. REFUSED to play for anyone else other than the Lions. Class act! Thanksgiving as a kid…turkery pumpkin pie and barry sanders!
- Gary Kobelski
Roger Staubach - Class act then, class act now. Navy AND Heisman Trophy! Served his country for 5 years BEFORE coming into the NFL (imagine what his career would have been with 5 MORE years in the league)! Gave us the ‘Hail Mary’ pass. Played in the spotlight and was (still is) a role model. 2-time Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP, Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, Pro Football Hall of Fame. Known for giving up airline seats to wounded warriors. Successful businessman. Family man. Known as Captain Comeback, proving that it is never too late to win. Epitomizes success both on and off the field. Still spends hours with fans signing autographs. I met him in ‘06, he signed my Staubach jersey while I was wearing it. My all-time favorite player!
- Mike Barfield
Pat Tillman - There is only one answer to this question. A real hero who gave his life for every one of us.
- Glen Kay
Pat Tillman - RIP # 40. War hero Killed in Action fighting for our freedom. Can go on amd on numerous great players from the Packers. Who were called to War. God Bless USA
- Brian Risano
Reggie White - he brought the pain on the football field but was a delicate, unbelievable individual off the field. Being a real man meant more to him than anything. He just happened to be one of the best all time at his position.
- Joseph Michael
Steve Young - Not only was he a great quarterback, but he is also involved in a lot of different charity organizations. His Forever Young foundation has been helping children that are less fortunate for almost 20 years now. He helps children get more involved in school, helps them financially in any way they can, and gets them involved in sports which is especially important because it keeps them from getting involved in bad things.
- Eric Rubenstein
Everyone won’t relate to all of these stories, but I’m sure each fan will find something to relate to and live up to in at least one of them. That’s why I had to share all of these with you!
Thanks so much to everyone who shared their thoughts - whether or not I posted them here.
I love this stuff!
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