The Dependables 4: Linebackers
In case you missed it, we are going down the list of the most dependable football players in the history of the NFL that make up the legendary, mythical group of football players known only as the Dependables and this time it is “The Dependables 4: Linebackers” which will be dedicated to the toughest linebackers to stay on the field week in, week out in the NFL. Without further introduction, the first linebacker to make it on this list was born in my hometown Pensacola, FL and went to 11 Pro Bowl before retiring after the 2008 season.
Weak side Linebacker: Derrick Brooks
Derrick Brooks had the most consecutive starts for a linebacker in one position with 208, starting from 9/11/1996 till 12/28/2008. The number one song on 9/11/1996 was the “Macarena” by Los Del Rio when the streak began and when the streak ended the number one song on the charts was Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” which shows you how much music changed during his streak but not Brook’s productivity on the field. Derrick Brooks was fortunate enough to put a ring on it, by being a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII winning team and was a Buccaneer for his entire career.
Which Middle Linebacker on this list received high praise from legendary Alabama Head Coach Bear Bryant speaking of him “He was one of the finest football players the world has ever seen. If runners stayed between the sidelines, he tackled them. He never had a bad day, he was 100 percent every day in practice and in the games.” and played his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys in the 60’s and 70’s?
Middle Linebacker: Lee Roy Jordan
Lee Roy Jordan was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1963 6th overall and his streak for most consecutive starts began on 9/18/1966 and ended on 12/12/1976 with 154. The highest grossing film when the streak began in 1966 was “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and when the streak ended in 1976 it ended with the highest grossing film being “Rocky”. It’s fitting the streak would end with “Rocky” because Lee Roy Jordan was undersized as a middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys with Jordan being 6’1’’ and 215 pounds is small even today for a linebacker in the NFL. However what kept him on the field was his competiveness with Tom Landry saying of Jordan “He was a great competitor. He was not big for a middle linebacker, but because of his competiveness, he was able to play the game and play it well. His leadership was there and he demanded a lot out of people around him as he did himself.” which sums up why he was able to have so many starts in the NFL without injury. Dick Butkus didn’t even have that many consecutive starts at middle linebacker and he is considered to be one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
The next linebacker on this list described his persona on the field as “Dr.Doom” and played for the Houston Oilers his entire career. Can you guess the name of the next linebacker?
Right Outside Linebacker: Robert Brazile
Robert Brazile had an impressive 147 consecutive starts at the right outside linebacker position in the 3-4 defense from 9/21/1975 till 12/16/1984. Brazile is often thought of as the prototype for the 3-4 rushing linebacker, even before Lawrence Taylor with the New York Giants in the 80s. Brazile was a major contributor to the Houston Oilers success in the 70s under Bum Philips. Brazile also was selected to 7 Pro Bowls during his career with 5 All-Pro selections as well. With the 3-4 defense increasing in popularity over the last decade you would assume a right outside linebacker in the 3-4 would catch up to Brazile but it hasn’t happened yet.
Can you guess which linebacker on this list has the most consecutive starts as a linebacker in multiple positions in the NFL?
Strong side Linebacker: Bill Romanowski
Bill Romanowski played in 243 consecutive games as a starting linebacker from 9/4/1988 till 9/22/2003 playing for four different teams which included the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Romanowski also has the most consecutive starts for a strong side linebacker in NFL history with 140. Romanowski only acquired two Pro Bowls during his career, but he also was a member of four Super Bowl winning teams and is the only linebacker in NFL history to start in five Super Bowls. It’s amazing that Bill Romanowski had as many consecutive starts for any linebacker in history and is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Romanowski’s career became tarnished in 2003 when he admitted to receiving synthetic testosterone provided by BALCO. It also questions whether Romanowski should even be on this list, but he still holds the records and there is no guarantee he was doping his entire career.
The next linebacker on this list replaced Greg Lloyd of the Pittsburgh Steelers after Lloyd became injured and went on to surpass Lloyd in starts and sacks. Can you guess who it is?
Left Outside Linebacker: Jason Gildon
Jason Gildon replaced longtime Steeler Greg Lloyd, when Lloyd went down with a knee injury in 1996 and Gildon never looked back, posting a record 120 consecutive starts for a left outside linebacker in NFL history. The streak started in 11/3/1996 till 12/28/2003 and during that streak Gildon became the Steelers’ all-time career sack leader with 77 when he left Pittsburgh in 2003. Jason Gildon is still the all-time sack leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers but you can bet that James Harrison with 58 currently has the best shot to surpass him, but Harrison won’t be even close to surpass Gildon’s consecutive start record because of Harrison’s injury history.
The next linebacker on this list was also a Pittsburgh Steeler and was a member of the defense known as “Blitzberg” in the 90’s. Can you guess who this man is?
Left Inside Linebacker: Levon Kirkland
Levon Kirkland had over 107 consecutive starts as left inside linebacker with Pittsburgh from 11/27/1994 till 12/24/2000 and although Kirkland is not known for sacking quarterbacks, he was definitely known for being dependable every Sunday to start. Kirkland was selected to two Pro Bowls during his career in Pittsburgh before he was released in 2001 and joined the Seattle Seahawks. Kirkland was also NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year in 1997, but Kirkland will always be the most dependable left inside linebacker in NFL history and the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That is saying a lot about Levon Kirkland considering the linebackers Pittsburgh has had over the years.
The last linebacker on this list of the most dependable linebackers in the history of the NFL was selected to only one Pro Bowl and played for the Philadelphia Eagles his entire career in the late 70’s and 80’s. Can you guess who he is?
Right Inside Linebacker: Frank LeMaster
Frank LeMaster surprisingly has the most consecutive starts for a right inside linebacker in the history of the NFL with 87, starting from 9/18/1977 till 1/2/1983. LeMaster also was famously undersized, being only 6’1’’ and 195 pounds, but to be that size starting for as many games as he did is amazing. It’s also amazing that his record has stood the test of time over almost four decades so far without losing his title. However Frank LeMaster encompasses what the other linebackers on this list have the most, because almost all of the linebackers on this list were undersized for their respective positions and yet they started for as long as they did without injury. It is that mentality that no matter how much of a disadvantage I have, I’m going to overcome, is what drove these players to such Olympic heights. Maybe the current players sitting at home reading this post can borrow a little of that mentality because that is what it takes to last in this league and these linebackers are a testament to that mentality.
We covered Derrick Brooks, Lee Roy Jordan, Robert Brazile, Bill Romanowski, Jason Gildon, Levon Kirkland and Frank LeMaster so we can pack up for the rest of the season right? No, this list of the most dependable football players in the history of the game ain’t pulled into town yet because we still have the defensive backs to get to. So stay tuned for “The Dependables 5: Defensive Backs” and if you haven’t already read “The Dependables”, “The Dependables 2: Offensive Line” or “The Dependables 3: Defensive Line” then you need to check them out already.