by Joseph W. Gex II

On Thursday, March 19th ESPN released a ranking of the top 150 football players in the 150 years of the college game. Mississippi and the area had connections to the prestigious list.

Last week, it was noted that the late Col. Felix A. “Doc” Blanchard, Jr., was ranked #13 in the list of the top 150 players. However, Mississippi has connections to six players in the list of the top 150 players including Blanchard.

Blanchard is a 1942 graduate of Saint Stanislaus. After graduation, he went on to become a consensus three-time first team All-American at Army and won the the 1945 Heisman Trophy. He also became the only person in athletic history to win the Maxwell and Sullivan Awards, along with the Heisman, in the same year.

His Army teams never lost a game in the three seasons that Blanchard played for West Point. He was also a national indoor and outdoor champion in track and field throwing the shotput.

After graduation, he remained a pilot with the United States Air Force and did not pursue professional football. He was subsequently enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959 and passed away in 2009. He donated all three trophies to SSC in 1989.

Ranking one spot ahead of Blanchard is Hugh Green of Natchez. He played at North High School in Natchez before signing with the University of Pittsburgh where he played for Biloxi native Jackie Sherrill from 1977-80.

At Pitt, Green was a 6’2” 225-lb one-man wrecking machine at linebacker. Sherrill stated that he had one speed – full speed.

Green was a three-time consensus first team All-American and won the Maxwell Award as the country’s best player, the Lombardi Asard as the best lineman, and the Walter Camp Award as the most outstanding player. He was second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to winner George Rogers. It is the highest finish ever by a full-time defensive player. He was also named the Sporting News national Player of the Year.

In college, Green tallied 49 sacks and 441 tackles helping lead the Panthers to a 39-8-1 record in his four years where he started every game except one. He was drafted #7 overall in the 1981 NFL Draft and played for the Buccaneers from 1981-85 and the Miami Dolphins from 1985-91.

Walter Payton, also known as ‘Sweetness’, was a running back from Columbia who never received much notoriety as the SEC was not fully integrated at that time. He eventually signed with Jackson State University and played for the Tigers from 1971-74. He joins the list ranked #16 by ESPN.

At JSU, Payton rushed for 3,563 yards, 66 touchdowns and had a 6.1 yards per carry average. He was so dominant a player that Time Magazine named him to their All-American team in 1974 despite playing at the Division I-AA level. He was a two-time Black College Player of the Year and the award is now named in his honor.

After JSU, Payton was drafted #4 overall by the Chicago Bears and played 13 seasons in Chicago. He was a member of the Super Bowl XX champions and became the NFL rushing leader with 16,726 yards. He was the NFL Man of the Year in 1977 and that award is now called the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Jerry Rice, perhaps the greatest wide receiver in the history of the game, checks in at #32 on the list. Rice is a native of Crawford and was simply electrifying catching the ball.  Archie Cooley, Rice’s college coach at Mississippi Valley State, stated, “Rice had the kind of hands that could catch a BB in the dark.”

Rice developed his hands catching bricks for his father as a young boy.  He caught 301 passes for 4,693 yards and 50 touchdowns in his career at MVSU from 1981-84. He finished ninth in the Heisman balloting despite playing at the FCS level where he still holds several records.  He was an All-American before being drafted #16 overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1985 NFL Draft. He played with the 49ers from 1985-2000, Oakland Raiders 2001-04, and Seattle Seahawks 2004.

Rice was a three-time Super Bowl Champion (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX) and was Super Bowl XXIII MVP. He holds NFL records for career receptions (1,549), career receiving yards (22.895), career TD receptions (197), total touchdowns (208), and career all-purpose yards (23,546). He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Archie Manning, the measuring stick for all great football players in Mississippi, checks in at #50 on the list.

Manning, the red-head from Drew, was a standout on the football field and the diamond. He signed with Ole Miss after high school and the greatest folk hero in Mississippi was born.

Manning burst onto the college scene in Oxford beating Alabama 10-8 in 1968. In 1969, he set a SEC single game total yards record that stood for more than 30 years with 540 in a 33-32 loss to the Crimson Tide. He was an All-American in football and in baseball for the Rebels. Manning finished third in the Heisman balloting his senior season.

After Ole Miss, he was an All-American and drafted #2 overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 1971 NFL Draft. He played for the Saints from 1971-82, Houston Oilers 1982-83, and Minnesota Vikings 1983-84.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and is the father of All-American and Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

His #18 jersey was retired at Ole Miss and it is the speed limit on the college campus, as well. He may not have won the Heisman but he became the greatest of folk heroes in Mississippi sports lore with songs and sons named for him. In fact, this writer’s oldest son’s nickname is ‘Manning’ in honor of the hero.

Finally, checking in at #110 is Steve McNair of Mount Olive. McNair played for Class 2A juggernaut Mt. Olive before signing to play for Alcorn State University where he played from 1991-94.

McNair set the FCS record for passing yards (14,496) along with 119 touchdowns and rushed for 2,327 yards at ASU.

McNair won the Payton Award as the top player in Division I-AA and was third in the Heisman voting his senior year. But, the most impressive stat may be the fact that he led Alcorn State on 11 fourth quarter drives for wins.

After college, McNair was drafted #3 overall by the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans in the 1995 NFL Draft. He played with the Titans from 1995-2005 and Baltimore 2006-07. He was the NFL MVP in 2003.

The Titans retired his #9 jersey and he passed away in 2009.