Tom Landry as head coach, Tex Schramm as general manager and Gil Brandt slotted as the Dallas Cowboys’ Vice President of player personnel. That combination vaulted the Cowboys into stardom from 1960 to 1988 and terrorized Giants rosters for 29 years.
The results were 20 straight winning seasons, 13 division titles, five NFC Championships, two Super Bowl trophies plus an endless array of Pro Bowl players that have weaved-in and out of the roster for over two decades.
Brandt, now an analyst for NFL.com, recently published his list of the 45 best linebackers of all time. The list includes 28 Hall of Famers, 307 combined Pro Bowls and 42 NFL Championships/Super Bowls., and is dominated by New York Giants.
Carl Banks (No. 41)
The last linebacker to be taken in the first round by the Giants, Banks had a stellar career at Michigan State. He was the third player taken in the 1984 draft and one of two first round selections (OG William Roberts No. 27). It was new head coach Bill Parcells’ second season and his goal was to beef up the defense. This unit already had DT Jim Burt, DE Leonard Marshall, CB Perry Williams, FS Terry Kinard and LB’s Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and Gary Reasons in place. Banks simply became the next piece of the puzzle.
With Banks as a starter in 1986, the defense for the Giants was in full metal motion. Banks netted 6.5 sacks to go along with his 113 tackles. The club went 14-2, then demolished the San Francisco 49ers 49-3, blanked the Washington Redskins 17-0 and then defeated the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl 21. Another Super Bowl victory would come four years later for Banks. In the linebacker shadows of Carson and LT, Banks was only elected to a single Pro Bowl, is a Giants Ring of Honor recipient and was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
Harry Carson (No. 19)
Good things do indeed come out of the fourth round as evidenced with the selection of Carson in the 1976 draft. At South Carolina State, he was named conference Defensive Player of the Year his final two seasons with 117 tackles and 17 sacks his senior season. But playing at a smaller school with large stats ddn’t always get you noticed back then.
With the Giants Carson was teamed with LBs Brad Van Pelt, Brian Kelley and Taylor. He led the club in tackles five seasons. The team captain for 10 years, he only missed starting seven of 173 games, and two of those were in his rookie season. He also had 11 interceptions for his career. Carson was voted to nine Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He was part of the Giants Super Bowl 21 squad and is a member of the Giants Ring of Honor.
Sam Huff (No. 18)
Huff’s personal rivalry with running back workhorse Jim Brown was legendary. No team handled Brown better than the Giants and no player better than Huff. In the mid-1950s it was the defense who garnered the headlines and not the offense. Suddenly, the defense could have stars just like their offensive counterpart. In fact, the Nov. 11, 1956 game against the Chicago Cardinals, a 23-10 Giants home victory, in the fourth quarter a few hundred fans in the center field bleachers of Yankee Stadium began chanting, “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” This began this nationally known football chant that is commonplace today and turned the public’s perception that defense could indeed win championships.
Huff was drafted as an offensive guard in the third round of the 1956 draft. As a rookie, he decided to quit after two weeks of training camp and along with fellow rookie punter Don Chandler went to head coach Jim Lee Howell’s room to hand in their playbooks. Howell was out but Giants offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi welcomed them instead and then proceeded to chew out each player using his Irish temper.
At 235 pounds, Huff was actually on the light side for offensive line duty. The Giants had just installed the newly designed 4-3 defense devised by defensive coordinator Tom Landry. When starting middle linebacker Ray Beck got hurt in a pre-season game, he had noticed the scrappy Huff taking on bigger guys with a no-quit attitude. Landry asked Huff if he had ever thought about playing LB. Huff’s answer was that he could play wherever Landry needed him.
When Huff got up from his three-point stance into a standing position, the entire football world just opened up right in front of him. Blessed with exceptional peripheral vision and a nasty attitude, he became a tackling machine. He would go on to five Pro Bowls, named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, Giants Ring of Honor and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Lawrence Taylor (No. 1)
What can be said about a player who is considered better than Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Jack Ham? At the top of Brandt’s list is Lawrence Taylor. Taken as the second overall pick in the 1981 draft, after the New Orleans Saints took running back George Rogers the Giants rushed to the podium with LT’s name written in blood. An almost unstoppable edge rusher, LT brought new meaning to the importance of the left tackle position which protects the quarterback’s blind side.
LT was not only voted Defensive Rookie of the Year but also named NFL Defensive MVP. He was an integral part of the Giants reclaiming their defense-first roots that had been entrenched decades ago. With the “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” mantra in place, the Giants won two Super Bowls with LT at the helm. One of only two defensive players to win the NFL MVP award, he was named to the Pro Bowl his first nine seasons.
LT is not only known for being the greatest LB ever, but he is considered one of the greatest NFL players ever. He is probably the largest “freak” athlete to ever play in the NFL as evidenced with his running back speed and lineman strength. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times, NFC Defensive Player of the Year another two times, 10 total Pro Bowls, had 132.5 total official sacks, Giants Ring of Honor enshrined, Giants jersey number retired, named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
His 20.5 sacks in 1986 is still ranked seventh on the single-season list just behind former Giant DE Michael Strahan’s 22.5 in 2001. He had an additional 9.5 sacks in his rookie season that are not considered “official” because the NFL did not start counting sacks as an sanctioned stat until the 1982 season.
Throughout his career Taylor was considered a disruptive force and a player offense coordinators had to game-plan against. He was a first-ballot inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.