Notre Dame Represented Well On NFL's All-Time Best Numbers List
In the NFL Network’s annual preseason countdown of the top 100 players in the league for 2019, as voted on by its players, Notre Dame was represented by three graduates: offensive right guard Zack Martin (59) and linebacker Jaylon Smith (61) of the Dallas Cowboys, and safety Harrison Smith (83) of the Minnesota Vikings.
Maybe a little overshadowed by the present was that in this same month USA Today had its own top 100 survey on the greatest NFL players ever to don jersey numbers from 00 (former Oakland Raiders center Jim Otto) to 99 (current Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt).
Six former Notre Dame players were represented:
5 — Paul Hornung (1957-62, 1964-66) — A prime figure at halfback and as a kicker on the Green Bay Packers dynasty built by Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.
16 — Joe Montana (1979-94) — Quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to a 4-0 mark in the Super Bowl during the 1980s, earning MVP honors in three of them.
36 — Jerome Bettis (1993-2005) — Ranked No. 7 in all-time NFL rushing yardage with 13,622.
67 — Bob Kuechenberg (1970-83) — Six-time Pro Bowl selection at guard while helping Miami Dolphins to four Super Bowl appearances, highlighted by the perfect 17-0 mark in 1972.
88 — Alan Page (1967-82) —The Associated Press' NFL MVP in 1971, a first by a defenseman, had a Notre Dame record nine Pro Bowl appearances.
97 — Bryant Young (1994-2007) — Instant impact as a rookie on a Super Bowl champion, and named to the All-1990s NFL Team.
Among the six, Kuechenberg and Young are the two not enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Two other Notre Dame graduates almost were selected for their respective numbers as well.
Receiving runner-up notice was No. 71 George Connor, behind nine-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Walter Jones. Still, Connor, who starred for his hometown Chicago Bears from 1948-55, revolutionized the linebacker position with his combination of size and speed that earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Also just missing the cut at No. 85 was the late Nick Buoniconti, whose Pro Football Hall of Fame career at linebacker spanned from 1962-76. He was the linchpin of the vaunted Miami “No-Name Defense” that won consecutive Super Bowls in 1972-73. Beating him out for best No. 85 was defensive lineman Jack Youngblood.
There were two other Notre Dame graduates who we were surprised did not even receive consideration for the top spot.
The first was nine-time Pro Bowl pick and Hall of Famer Tim Brown at No. 81. Brown joins Page with the most Pro Bowl selections by a Notre Dame graduate. Receiving the nod at No. 81 was seven-time Pro Bowl pick Dick “Night Train” Lane — while receiving honorable mention were Doug Atkins, Torry Holt and Terrell Owens.
The second was eight-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle selection George Kunz at No. 75. The choice there understandably was “Mean” Joe Greene, with Deacon Jones, Jonathan Ogden, Howie Long and Forrest Gregg also receiving notice.
Still, it should be noted that Kunz joined Montana with eight Pro Bowl appearances, tied for third among Irish alumni behind Page and Brown.