Blount, Woodson among the NFL's best

As a part of the NFL's 100th season the league has been counting down the best all-time, from plays, to teams, and everything in between.

Now they have taken the next step, naming the Top 100 players in NFL history to the NFL 100 All-Time Team.And once again it's about the defense. Last week Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert were named to the All-Time Team.

More teammates are joining them as the NFL announced the top defensive backs in league history and Mel Blount and Rod Woodson were among those selected.

Mel Blount
Cornerback (1970-83)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1989

There aren't many players who cause the NFL to change the rules because of their play, but there also aren't many players like Mel Blount.

Blount, the Steelers third round draft pick in 1970 out of Southern University, came into the NFL with everything a coach would want…size, speed, quickness, mental and physical toughness and a work ethic that came from growing up working on a farm in Valdosta, Georgia.

"Growing up in the South, the youngest of 11 kids, growing up on a farm, my parents were farmers and that is how we made our living," said Blount recently while recalling his road to the Hall of Fame. "We worked the fields, went to school, and this little thing called a football we threw around. We started playing and the next thing you know I get a scholarship to Southern University and I get drafted in the National Football League and came to a great organization like the Steelers.

"When I came into the league I definitely wasn't ready for it. I was a young guy that had been sheltered growing up during segregation and all of a sudden you are cast into this spotlight and playing this game called pro football. It was a growing experience. You had to learn and learn fast. And to wind up in Canton, Ohio from that experience is unbelievable."

Blount didn't take too long to adjust as he worked his way into the starting lineup in the 1972 season, and shut down opposing receivers, not allowing a single touchdown all year. Blount could adjust to cover any type of receiver, but his specialty was the "bump-and-run," and receivers barely stood a chance. It was that ability that caused the NFL to implement the five-yard bump rule in 1977, a rule where the only time a receiver can be bumped by a defender is within five yards of the line of scrimmage. 

"When they changed the bump-and-run rule, we all had to adjust," said Blount. "If you're an athlete, a player, you make the adjustment. You know what the rules are. You play within the rules, and you let your ability take you to whatever it can take you to."

Blount arrived at training camp in 1975 with his head shaved, claiming it was to stay cool, but others convinced it was to give him a more menacing look on the field. It apparently worked as he had his best season and was named Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year, finishing the year with 11 interceptions. He finished his career with 57 interceptions and two touchdowns and 13 fumble recoveries with two touchdowns.

Blount was named All-Pro four times and played in five Pro Bowls. He was a key part of the Steelers success in the 1970s, starting and playing a key role in all four Super Bowls during that decade.

Blount still has a presence about him, looking like he could still play cornerback despite retiring more than 30 years ago, but laughs when people suggest it, knowing those days are behind him. They were special days, ones that he never imagined would one day land him in the Hall of Fame.

"I am grateful, honored and humbled to be in the Hall of Fame," said Blount. "You start to realize the older you get you are in a special place, a place where your name and legacy will live forever. It's surreal and special and I don't take that for granted. I realize I didn't get there by myself. All of the people who worked with us, making us better, you realize that God had his arms around you and watched over you because it's a game very few people get to play and even fewer get to the Hall of Fame.

"It's an indescribable moment when you are inducted into the Hall of Fame. It's special. You look back at all of the phases of your football career, high school, college, Pop Warner, pro career, and you say man, do I really deserve to be here? It's special. It's a hallowed event and hallowed ground. It's really special. There could never be a greater honor bestowed on a pro athlete, football player, than the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

Rod Woodson
Cornerback (1987-96)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 2009

There are not many first-ballot Hall of Fame selections. Often players have to wait for years for their day in the spotlight to arrive. But for Rod Woodson, it took just one year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame selection committee to deem him worthy of a Gold Jacket.

Woodson played 17 seasons in the NFL, 10 of them with the Steelers. He also played for the San Francisco 49ers (1997), Baltimore Ravens (1998-2001) and Oakland Raiders (2002-03).

"It's definitely an honor and a privilege to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said Woodson shortly before his induction in 2009. "I've looked at my life and thought about how long the National Football League has been around, really how long pro football has been going on, and to be inducted and be one of 200-some guys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I think it's amazing. I look at myself, this country boy from Indiana, and really it's hard for me to believe that I'm a Hall of Famer, to put myself in that category, it's definitely a privilege.

"The pinnacle of any professional football player's career is to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I'm definitely honored and humbled."

Woodson was the Steelers first-round draft pick in 1987, and finished his illustrious career with 71 interceptions that he returned a total of 1,483 yards, including 12 of them for touchdowns. Woodson finished his career with 4,894 kickoff return yards, 2,362 punt return yards and five touchdowns on returns – two punts, two kickoffs and one fumble. 

He was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times, selected as a cornerback, safety and a kick returner.

"He was something special as an athlete," said Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll, who drafted Woodson. "He had the great speed and the size."

Woodson earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for his performance in 1993 when he recorded eight interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, 28 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two sacks. Woodson, who had 38 interceptions with the Steelers, was named team MVP three times. 

He was one of only five active players named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994, and was also a member of the Steelers' 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

On the day he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Woodson praised his former Steelers coaches and teammates, and talked about how special it was to play for the black and gold and even thanked the fans for booing him.

"I just want to say thank you to the Rooney family, great, great family. Arguably one of the best or the best sporting franchise in all of sports because of the family. I want to say thank you for giving me 10 wonderful years there. 

"To the Steelers Nation thank you for accepting me, for cheering me on and after I left for booing me. I'm serious for booing me. Because you know, if you cheered me when I put on a Raiders uniform or a Ravens uniform, I think I would have lost a little respect for the Steelers Nation. So I'm glad you booed me, because you should."

Advertising