Top Ten Throwback Jerseys for Super Bowl XLV
The biggest party in professional sports has kicked off in Dallas as Super Bowl XLV descends (I’m not up on my ancient counting systems but I’m pretty sure “XLV” is Roman for “we’ve been doing this for a long-ass time”)… and this week, more than any other Super Bowl we’ve seen in recent memory, gives the fashion-minded NFL fan a chance to shine.
Nothing proves your loyalty to a team like the most expensive of NFL garb, the official throwback jersey. The rights to produce these high-end garments, jerseys designed and tailored to match the same traditional kits (that’s soccer talk for “jersey”) worn by iconic football figures regardless of era, belong to Mitchell & Ness and they have become the trophy possessions of any and all that value the history of the league and the aura that surrounds the game.
They serve as an instant note for all that come your way: I’m touting enough dough to put this extrememly-expensive rag on my back, so recognize.
If you troll the party scene in Dallas this week you can bet the celebrities in the place will be showing support for their team of choice via the Mitchell & Ness throwback… and this particular Super Bowl may offer the most illustrious collection of options we’ve seen since this facet of the NFL wardrobe became a staple of the affluent NFL closet.
The Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers are two of the most storied franchises in all of sports. They boast more representatives in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than any two Super Bowl teams that have met in the big game’s history, and as such the folks shopping for the perfect throwback choices for this week in Big D have more options than ever before.
In fact… we’d suggest, with 26 Hall-of-Fame members from the Packers and an additional 24 members from the Steelers, there is a definitive pecking order in the throwback choices you can make this week.
Here’s our top ten throwback jerseys of choice for this week in Dallas… five from each squad, complete with links to purchase ‘em if your heart desires.
Let’s start with the Packers (they may be the favorite in Vegas… my money is on the Steel Curtain, so I’m playing favorites. Sue me.)
Bart Starr, Quarterback
Before the arrival of #4, cell phones, and Jenn Sterger’s bountiful backside, Bart Starr was the benchmark for quarterback greatness on the Frozen Tundra. He played with the Packers from 1956 (the 17th-overall pick in the NFL Draft that season) to 1971, earning honors as the Most Valuable Player of the first TWO Super Bowls. The man was the definition of greatness, leading his team to five Super Bowl victories over seven years (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, and 1967)… the only quarterback EVER to lead a team to five Super Bowl wins. Starr was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 (and we won’t mention his troubled career as the coach of the Packers from 1975 to 1983, failing to earn a single winning season during that span… only a fan of the Chicago Bears would do that).
Only five Packers have had their numbers retired. Starr is one of them (and only two others are listed here).
Jerry Kramer, Right Guard/Fullback
Here’s the thing about Jerry Kramer… he’s not in the Hall of Fame. His number hasn’t been retired. He’s rarely pulled by those outside of Wisconsin as one of the best members of this team’s history.
They are wrong… the NFL Network listed Kramer as the best overall football player of all time NOT enshrined in the Hall. He collaborated with the great Dick Schaap (if you don’t know, go to the god damned library and look him up… you can thank me later) for the greatest book ever written on the Packers, Instant Replay. The hooked up again later in life to write Distant Replay, the second-best book in the history of the franchise. He was selected in the same draft as Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke (see below) with the linebacker going 36th overall and Kramer selected 39th. He played with the quarterback listed above, he took part in all of those Super Bowl wins, and he was one of the innovative forces in the history of the game as a player spending time on both offense and defense.
To be fair… that’s not really “innovative.” In fact, that’s old school. The folks that watch football today marvel when a player works on both sides of the ball. When the game was coming up it was a regular thing… thus the NFL of today is actually working back towards its orgins.
That’s old school. Kramer was old school, and any fan that appreciates the history of the Packers will recognize #64 as a jersey to respect… even if Mitchell & Ness hasn’t offered it up yet (fail).
Paul Hornung, Quarterback
Hornung is one of the most versatile and talented players the game has ever seen. Taken with the first overall pick of the 1957 NFL Draft, Hornung led the Packers to four Super Bowl wins during his career (though he was the only Packer who did not play a single snap in Super Bowl I in 1967). Accoring to the books in Green Bay, Hornung is the holder of many of the team’s passing records (despite two Hall of Famers that have lined up behind center for Green Bay since): most games with 30+ points (two), the most games with 25+ points (three), and the most games with 13 points in a season (seven games in 1960). Hornung is also credited as the oldest player ever to score five touchdowns in a single game, lighting up the Baltimore Colts when he was 29 years, 354 days of age… and he wasn’t even the top highlight of the day (Gale Sayers scored six rushing touchdowns later that day for the Chicago Bears against San Francisco).
Starr took the reins when his time was done (the Packers brought Hornung back for three seasons, 1964 through 1966, during the twilight of his career), and with that and the experience that was Brett Favre fresh in the memory of most Green Bay fans alive today, Hornung often gets pushed aside when we discuss top quarterbacks from the Frozen Tundra. That’s wrong. Hornung was one of the best the team has ever owned.
He also attched to gambling and race controversy… we don’t give a shit. Hornung was awesome and no one remembers that nonsense. It’s a great jersey from a great time worn by a great player.
Ray Nitschke, Linebacker
When you hear your old man talking about old-school football… when he rips on the girls that play football in the NFL today, when he spends all day bitching about the touchdown celebrations and the penalty flags and the paychecks… any time you hear an NFL fan over 40-years of age talking about the decline of the game, you can blame Ray Nitschke for creating that need to bitch… ’cause the players of today are rich, famous, and protected because of guys like this.
Nitschke was to the Packers as Dick Butkus was the Bears… the picture of fear, the symbol of violence and terror, the epitomy of toothless, relentless power and force… more offensive linemen lost more sleep praying for hours for the strength to keep up with these guys. Many refer to this era of the game as the Golden Years of the NFL and Nitschke was as influential as any player earning checks at that time.
There isn’t a football fan in the midwest – whether they cheer for Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or whoever – that doesn’t hold #66 from the Packers on high. He’s respected as one of the tenacious players the game has ever known and his story is one of legend.
He’s one of those five names retired and displayed in the Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field, he’s the inspiration for guys like Lawrence Taylor (and, as far as I know, he did it without coke), and he is established as one of the most prolific defenders in professional football history.
Reggie White, Defensive End
To be fair, White’s career may not have been as potent and illustrious as the men listed above. It would also be fair to note he spent many of his most productive seasons in Philadelphia and his history in Green Bay is not as storied as the men above.
With that said… Reggie White is respected and uniformily named as the best defensive player of his time. He was known as a man of principle, as a man of reverence, as a man of compassion and wisdom… and he was feared by every player touching the football in the NFL from 1993 to 1998. The Minister of Defense spent only five seasons out of 15 in the NFL with the Packers but it was his arrival that pushed the Brett Favre era to new heights. He spent time in the USFL. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 1983 as a senior at the University of Tennessee. He retired as the game’s all-time leader in sacks (198). He spent some time earning money in professional wrestling (his match with Steve McMichael, the former Chicago defender and the only opponent who ever had the honor of facing the Minister in the ring, is forever stored as one of my favorite childhood memories). He did it all… and he encouraged everyone around him to do the same.
In the end White is respected not only as one of the best players in Green Bay history but also as one of the best MEN the game has ever known. He died on December 26th in 2004 and the football world stood still… and every team he ever played for retired his number shortly after. EVERY team.
That’s how good, how influential, how loved Reggie White was… and that earns him respect as our top throwback option for the Green Bay set this week.
Now… the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Forgive me… but I have to take a quick left, for personal reasons…
Greg Lloyd, Linebacker
The truth: Greg Lloyd isn’t headed to the Hall of Fame. He’s not going to have his number retired. He won’t be found on the list of the NFL’s top all-time defenders. He doesn’t have a ring. He doesn’t have a statue. He pushed to make it to ten years in the league… and for most, he’s not on the same level as most of the names on this list.
For me and every other football fan that grew up watching football in the ’90s, Lloyd is the image of defensive terror. He was INSANE… and that’s not hyperbole. He was, in every way, shape and form, out of his mind. When he was in pads and on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers Greg Lloyd was a man possessed, as feared and respected as any linebacker cashing NFL checks during the awkward era that came between the cocaine and HGH.
For all I know, Lloyd was on both. And I couldn’t give a fuck less. When we played sandlot ball, we would fight over which one of us got to be Greg Lloyd. He was must-see TV before NBC ripped it off and gave it to the Ikea shoppers of the world.
Here… just watch…
And THAT is why Greg Lloyd makes our list as an honorable mention, and why Mitchell & Ness has him on the rack.
Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle
The man is a legend, in every sense of the word. My generation identified with Mean Joe long before the offensive powers of that time ever came to mind (Walter Payton being the obvious exception).
And it wasn’t just the commerical… Joe did more work in support of education for the youth of this country than any other NFL employee of his day. He was a star among stars in Pittsburgh, but he transcended his role as a defensive line terror by working the set of Seasame Street, by making regular cameo appearances on just about every popular prime-time show on the tube, by showing his mug on every lunchroom poster I saw as a kid, and by giving that little chubby-faced trust fund bastard his jersey and a big thumb’s up.
(If you can explain how this little fucker gets in the tunnel other than that, let me know… either he was a deviant criminal in the making or his dad was one of those rich bastards that sits on the field.)
Add that celebrity to his work on the gridiron - four Super Bowl rings, 10 Pro Bowl selections, 1970′s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, two time AP Defensive Player of the Year (and, in some circles, credited with inventing the “stunt 4-3″ defense… bad for his sack numbers, outstanding for his team) - and you have the stuff of legend in a town built on icons and heroes.
On what may be the most famous defense of all time, Mean Joe Greene was the star of the show.
Rod Woodson, Defensive Back
If you have kids (or if you’re the questionable uncle that gets drunk in front of the fam every holiday while your brother’s kids run apeshit all over the house), you’re young ones might recognize Woodson as one of the busiest face men for the NFL Network (he’s good btw, and you should be watching).
If you’re old school, you remember Woodson as Ronnie Lott’s Pittsburgh doppelganger. The man was one of the best playmaking backfielders the NFL has ever seen, selected with the 10th-overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft and quickly becoming the linebacker you couldn’t account for, the corner you didn’t see coming, and the defensive end that made the blindside an absolute nightmare. He was incredibly gifted as the force of reckoning for the Steelers throughout the early 1990s, making 11 Pro Bowls and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors (1993) along the way.
He was Troy Polamalu before Troy Polamalu… and with better health (at least that’s the way I remember it).
He never earned a ring in Pittsburgh (he accomplished that goal in Baltimore), but his play earned him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. If your formative NFL years came in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Rod Woodson, the undeniable source of hope for the Steelers during those years, is your throwback of choice.
Jack Ham, Linebacker
Ham may be the least-known player on our list. Every other Steeler we offer up for consideration carries that same convict-worthy demeanor… missing teeth, muscles like couch cushions, and a physical stature that would serve you well on an NFL defense or at Riker’s Island.
Ham looks like their little brother, but as we’ve learned time and again in this league, looks are often deceiving and can’t be trusted. Ham entered the league as the 34th pick of the second round in the 1971 NFL Draft, touting scouting reports that suggested the Penn State product would struggle to contribute to an NFL defense. Instead, Ham earned a job as a starting outside linebacker for the most vaunted defense in the game AS A ROOKIE, producing the first of eight consecutive Pro Bowl seasons.
When all was said and done, Ham earned honors as one of only eight NFL defenders ever to earn both 20 or more sacks with 20 or more interceptions during his career (25 sacks, 32 interceptions to be exact). In a book titled “The Best Linebackers of All-Time,” authored by Brad Oremland and published in February of 2010, a poll put to a rather large group of professional sports writers who have covered the NFL voted Ham as the best outside linebacker ever, beating none other than Lawrence Taylor.
During his playing days, coach Chuck Noll was quoted as saying Ham was the “fastest Steeler for the first ten yards, including wide receivers and running backs”… and that team had Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Frank Lewis on the roster.
For the casual fan the #59 may not carry much weight, but for the football fiends in the Steel City, it may represent the most undervalued player in franchise history.
Jack Lambert, Linebacker
Give the fans in the Steel City one vote and they will take that mug above as the symbol for their franchise. The image in infamous for football fans and it encompasses everything Jack Lambert stood for during his decade in the league.
In that time, Lambert built a reputation not only as the leader of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense, but also as one of the most dangerous defenders the game has ever known. Coming out of Kent State (selected with the 46th pick in the second round of the 1974 NFL Draft), Lambert has tabbed as a man too small to do work at the professional level. The Steelers ignored scouting reports suggesting his stature was an issue, noting his tenacity, his intelligence, and his heart.
Those traits were put on full display every time Lambert hit the field, using his passion and drive to stand out amongst a crew of defenders many rank as one of, if not the, best the league has ever known. That defense has three names on this list with the bulk of the crew boasting bronze busts in Canton (Lambert was inducted in 1990). Lambert may not have been the most talented defender for that crew, but he was the most feared… and you won’t find a fan in Pittsburgh – young or old - that wouldn’t list this throwback as one of the most desired on the rack.
And… for those of us living in Denver (like myself)… he was the first man ever to sack John Elway in the NFL. THAT is gold, Jerry. Gold.
Franco Harris, Running Back
The Immaculate Reception – the most famed and recognized highlight in the history of the National Football League. That was Franco Harris.
In truth, Harris enjoyed one of the most illustrious careers ever seen from an offensive commodity in Pittsburgh. In a town known for defense, Harris was the shining light for an offense working in the same vein: bruising, brutal, and battle tested. Harris was the leader for a team that earned four trips to the Super Bowl during his ten seasons in Pittsburgh, earning nine consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl along the way. In 1972, selected with the 13th-overall pick in that year’s NFL Draft, Harris earned honors as the Offensive Rookie of the Year and that springboard launched a prolific career still ranking among the best in league history. Its been over 20 years since Harris terrorized the league and he’s still ranked among the top ten all time in rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns (ranked 13th all time in career rushing yards).
However… that one moment in time still stands as one of the most memorable in all of sports, and it gives the football faithful in Pittsburgh a standing claim on the most recognized play in the history of playoff football.
That makes the Franco Harris throwback our most coveted and respected jersey for Super Bowl XLV… and it may be the best jersey choice for this or any other NFL playoff season. If you know football, you know #32 in black and yellow represents the single most prolific moment in professional football.
Everyone respects that.
So there ya’ go…
Thanks for stopping in.