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10 Retired NFL Legends We Wish Were Still Playing

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If Only These Retired NFL Players Could Still Play

Barry Sanders
Flickr Creative Commons

Everyone has their favorite players. Most of the time, it’s one who played for your favorites team, but sometimes you just admire an athlete from another team for one of a several reasons. Most of the time, it has to do with a specific style with which a certain player performs and/or conducts his or herself on and/or off the field. But regardless, you’re sad to see that player’s career come to an end.

Now among these athletes, there are a select few who were loved by mostly everyone. And even for those who didn’t love these players, they were respected just the same, which is arguably more important. And most of the time, these players are really good at what they do; we’re talking Hall of Fame status.

So that got me thinking about which NFL players were like this. I started naming off a few and before I knew it, I had 10 who I really wish were still playing. I never rooted for these players or their teams (save one), but I just liked the way these guys played the game and/or conducted themselves among the fans and media members. Considering they’re pretty popular worldwide, I bet you’ll agree that everyone wishes these 10 guys were still suiting up on Sundays.

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10. Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton
Flickr Creative Commons

Many quarterbacks have tried to recreate the success that Fran Tarkenton had as a scrambler, but none have matched it. From Randal Cunningham to Michael Vick and every swift-footed quarterback since, none have been able to scramble like Tarkenton, even though they think they have by running the ball.

What Tarkenton did wasn’t running — it was the true definition of scrambling in the backfield. He didn’t look to run like young passers these days who claim to be scramblers. If only he was still playing; he could show them how it’s done.

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9. Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

No one ever played with more passion and more drive than Ray Lewis. The incredible intensity level at which he played for so many years is thought by many to be physically impossible, yet he did it with seeming ease. That led everyone to respect him and admire his play, even if they couldn’t get over his murder trial. Right or wrong, everyone couldn't help but watch No. 52 on Sundays.

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8. John Elway

John Elway
Flickr Creative Commons

There are tons of examples that portray the unique way John Elway played the game. The main ones that come to mind are the fact he took two different eras of Broncos teams to five combined Super Bowls and his helicopter run/dive to ensure his team’s victory in Super Bowl XXXII.

Now as the Broncos’ VP of Football Operations, Elway is still a funny, likable guy who wants to win more than he wants to live. You never want to see a guy like that hang it up.

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7. Steve Largent

Steve Largent
Flickr Creative Commons

No player in NFL history — including Jerry Rice — had hands like Steve Largent. The Seahawks’ legendary receiver wasn’t the fastest player on the field and his team didn’t win Super Bowls, but he caught every ball thrown his way and never got the respect he deserved. The catches that Calvin Johnson makes today are the kind that Largent made throughout his entire career and it’s a shame he can’t do it anymore.

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6. Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders
Flickr Creative Commons

No one played with more flash and flare than Deion Sanders. Many players have tried, but none of them have matched Prime Time’s flamboyancy, but none have come close and even if they had, they couldn't back it up with their play on the field like he did. No matter what Deion said or did, he could always back it up and he wasn’t afraid to let everyone know about it before, during and after his incredible play on the field. He was either loved or hated by everyone — no one was indifferent toward him — but everyone enjoyed watching him play.

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5. Joe Montana

Joe Montana
Flickr Creative Commons

There’s one factor that made Joe Montana great and no one can deny it: He won.

Even if some moron tries to say he didn’t have a cannon arm, solid accuracy and the calmest poise in the pocket of any player ever, you can’t deny that Montana simply had that gene that makes players great. The things he accomplished — especially in the final moments of big game — makes him easy to miss as an NFL legend.

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4. Larry Csonka

Larry Csonka
Flickr Creative Commons

There was never an NFL player quite like Larry Csonka; he was a mild-mannered, hard-hitting player who should have been a linebacker. He laid the wood to defenders much like legendary linebackers hit opposing running backs, which made him like a wrecking ball in the backfield and everyone watched to see which hapless defender he would plow over next.

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3. Walter Payton

Walter Payton
Flickr Creative Commons

The man’s nickname was “Sweetness” for a reason — his grace was unrivaled and to this day, players only dream they can be as smooth as Walter Payton was. Even fans of the Bears’ NFC North rivals admired Payton and, whether or not they admit it, they enjoyed watching him play.

Payton’s service to the community led to an annual NFL award being named after him and it’s considered the most prestigious of all the league’s individual honors. It’s safe to say everyone wishes a guy like that could play forever.

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2. Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders
Flickr Creative Commons

Arguably the most unique player in NFL history, Barry Sanders was deeply religious and didn’t have the passion for football that most players do. That’s odd considering he was arguably the league’s all-time greatest running back, but that fact made it more enjoyable to watch him play. There was just something about a guy who was just out there having fun, who didn’t care about all the records he could have broken and whose elusiveness was off the charts. Hi mystique has been missed ever since he’s bizarre, early retirement.

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1. Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas
Flickr Creative Commons

The most legendary player in the history of the game of football is Johnny Unitas. He accomplished what Otto Graham and Y.A. Tittle started before him — make the forward pass a primary part of professional football. Aside from all the incredible plays he made and all the things he accomplished during his career, Unitas would be on this list for his performance in the 1958 NFL Championship Game if nothing else. As great as many contests have been since then, none will ever top that overtime gem and Unitas is the main reason why.