Football coaches always preach to dominate all three phases of a game. However, fans really only seem to care about offense and defense. We never seem to remember just how important special team play is. It is probably because these guys are only out on the field for one fourth of the game, while the other guys are always out there. Special teamers just run down the field and make their tackle, or kick an extra point, or whatever. We see it as no big deal.
We forget how many games have been won because of good special team play. Think about how many games were won just last season by a field goal in the final seconds. Think of how many blow outs have started with a kick return. Drew Brees might not have a Super Bowl ring had the Saints not recovered an onside kick. When you start remembering all these things, you start to see why coaches are so big on being good on special teams.
This list breaks down the best special teamers of all time. In order to make the list, the player must have made most of his contributions to football on special teams. This means that guys like Gale Sayers or George Blanda will not be included. Though these players were very good at special teams, the reason we remember them is for their play at either their offensive or defensive position. To truly be one of the best special teams players of all time, the player must be committed to being great in the third phase of the game while still being terribly underappreciated.
10. Mark Moseley — Placekicker
Mark Moseley holds a very special place in NFL history. He is the only placekicker, or special teams player for that matter, to be award an MVP trophy. He played for four different teams during his 12-year career, but is mostly remembered for his time with the Washington Redskins. As a member of the Redskins, Moseley made three trips to the Pro Bowl. He was also a member of the team that won Super Bowl XVII. He is the Redskins’ all-time leading scorer. The reason that he is not higher on the list is that he was not as reliable as some of the other players on this list. However, how could the 1982 league MVP not be included?
9. Brian Mitchell — Return Specialist
Brian Mitchell is not one of the most recognizable names in NFL history. He has never been given the credit he rightfully deserves. During a 13-year career, he only appeared in one Pro Bowl. The thing about Mitchell is that he was extremely reliable. He is second to Jerry Rice in career all purpose yards. He also has the second most return touchdowns in NFL history. Mitchell is also one of only four players to have gained 2,000 all purpose yards in a season four times. One of those four is Marshall Faulk. When you are being mentioned with names like Faulk and Rice and you only made one Pro Bowl, you know you are underappreciated.
8. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson — Return Specialist
We can blame Billy “White Shoes” Johnson for all the unnecessary touchdown dances we see today. Johnson played wide receiver and returner for the Oilers, Falcons, and Redskins from 1974 to 1988. He made three Pro Bowls as a return specialist during that time. He was also the 1975 Pro Bowl MVP; however it is partially due to playing wide receiver and returning punts that he was awarded this honor. He is listed as the return specialist for the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team. Typically, this would mean he would have to be higher on the list, but that team was created in 1994. Since then there have been some really good return men.
7. Jan Stenerud — Placekicker
Jan Stenerud was the first special teams player to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is a member of the class of 1991 and is the only pure placekicker in the Hall. He was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1967 to 1979 and then the Green Bay Packers from 1980 to 1983. Stenerud ended his career with the Minnesota Vikings in 1984. He made the Pro Bowl four times throughout his career. He also was a huge contributor to the Chiefs’ win in Super Bowl IV, hitting three field goals during that game. Stenerud was the last player to retire that had actually been a member of the AFL prior to the merger. His jersey, number three, is retired by the Chiefs.
6. Larry Izzo — Special Teams Captain
Larry Izzo spent four years with the Miami Dolphins before becoming the special team captain of the New England Patriots from 2001 to 2008 and retiring with the New York Jets. During his time in New England, Izzo made three Pro Bowls, won four AFC Championship titles, and won three Super Bowls. He holds the record for most special team tackles of all time. He is now the special team coach of the New York Giants. Izzo gained a fourth Super Bowl ring and first as a coach with the Giants at Super Bowl XLVI.
5. Devin Hester — Return Specialist
Devin Hester may be the best return specialist of all time. Since 2006, Hester has made a living on special teams. Teams have tried putting him on defense and offense to find more ways to get him the ball, but at the end of the day he is always going to be remembered as a master returner. The three-time Pro Bowler holds the record for the most return touchdowns of all time. He is first in both catagories for punt and kick returns. Hester is a member of the NFL All Decade Team of the 2000s. Though the Hall of Fame voters have not shown a lot of love for guys on special teams, Hester is definitely going to have to make them think.
4. Adam Vinatieri — Kicker
If you were to write a book on the history of the NFL, you would not be able to get around mentioning Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri has played in five Super Bowls and been a member of six Super Bowl teams. He has four rings, three with the Patriots and one with the Colts and has actually kicked two Super Bowl winning field goals. He also kicked the field goal that won the Patriots the AFC Divisional game in 2001 in the snow. Vinatieri has earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch”. He holds the all-time record for most field goals in both Super Bowls and the playoffs. This is the type of kicker teams want. Obviously, Vinatieri does not choke under pressure.
3. Morten Andersen — Kicker
Morten Andersen holds the record for scoring the most points in NFL history. He played from 1982 to 2007 for five different teams. He is actually the all-time leading scorer for both the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. The 1998 NFC Champion went to seven Pro Bowls. He currently holds 13 different NFL records.
2. Steve Tasker — Gunner
Despite being only 180 pounds, Steve Tasker was one of the hardest hitters the game has ever seen. Tasker was a gunner for the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 1997. He was a very important part of the Bills’ four straight NFC Championship titles. He made the Pro Bowl seven times as a gunner. He was named the 1992 Pro Bowl MVP and is the only player to ever get the award solely due to his contributions to special teams. Steve Tasker is widely considered to be the best gunner to ever play the game. Some would say he is the best special teamer in NFL history. Despite all the reasons why he should be in the Hall of Fame, the voters still have not put him through.
1. Ray Guy — Punter
Ray Guy was the first punter to ever be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft. He spent his entire career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and made the Pro Bowl seven times from 1973 to 1986. Guy was a huge contributor to the Raiders’ three Super Bowl victories. He originally turned heads with his uncanny ability to kick the ball so high in the air that the other team would not be able to field it before the Raiders were already down field. It is said that the statistic hang time was actually added because people wanted to know how long Guy’s punts stayed in the air. Ray Guy is a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team. He is also the only pure punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was enshrined in 2014.