The ability to protect the quarterback is paramount in the modern game, but it is a mistake to assume it wasn’t always important. While a Sandra Bullock voiceover may proclaim a sea change occurred in 1985, keeping legendary passers like Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr upright was just as important to the Colts and Packers title teams as clearing lanes for their versatile ball carriers. In reality, the infamous Joe Theismann injury only elevated the esteem and paycheck of the position. It seems the GridFe Hall of Fame voting committee holds tackles in relatively high regard, as we gave votes to 22 different tackles and ultimately enshrined 14 of them. That we only inducted 16 interior offensive linemen demonstrates the value we place on tackles relative to their linemates.1
Hall of Fame Offensive Tackles
Groza used to say he considered himself a lineman who just happened to have the ability to kick, and he spent a dozen years as Cleveland’s primary tackle. He played in an incredible 13 championship games in his 21 seasons, spanning both the Otto Graham and Jim Brown eras. Although Groza was among the finest tackles of his era, he earned the most notoriety as a kicker. Appropriately nicknamed The Toe because he is the most dominant kicker in history, relative to his peers, he became the all-time leading scorer in 1957 and held the title until George Blanda took it in 1971.
Lou Creekmur (1950-1959)
6 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 8 Pro Bowls; 3 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 2 GridFe Guardian Awards
Creekmur had a relatively short career, playing in just 116 regular season games, but he was simply dominant during his peak. He earned all pro honors in eight of his ten seasons. Creekmur began as a guard before moving to tackle, and he did both at an all star level. He had a toughness to match quarterback Bobby Layne‘s, and his tremendous power proved especially useful to the Lions when they used him as a defensive lineman in short yardage and goal line situations.
Rosey Brown (1953-1965)
New York Giants
8 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 9 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 5 Title Losses; 3 GridFe Guardian Awards
Roosevelt Brown was an athletic marvel, often noted for the sleek 29 inch waist on his 255 pound frame. He possessed uncanny raw power to move defensive linemen off their spots as a drive blocker. In an era when running the football still mattered, Brown was a devastating force who had the rare athleticism to pull around the edge and eliminate linebackers in space as a lead blocker on sweeps. He was no slouch in pass protection either, as he was able to use his nimble feet and balance to help shut down pass rushers and keep beloved passers Charlie Conerly and Y.A. Tittle clean in the pocket.
Forrest Gregg (1956-1971)
Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys
8 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 9 Pro Bowls; 5 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 1 GridFe World Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 4 GridFe Guardian Awards
Vince Lombardi presided over a team full of legends, but it was of his exalted tackle that he said: “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached.” Gregg was relatively small and unathletic for a football player, but he more than made up for his physical shortcomings by honing his craft and beating defenders with technique and preparation. He earned the nickname Iron Man for starting a then-record 188 consecutive games, and he did it at a high level even when playing out of position. In 1965, injuries along the line necessitated a move from RT to LG. Gregg responded by earning all pro honors there too. After retirement, he went into coaching and helped guide the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance.
Ron Mix (1960-1971)
San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders
9 First Team All Pros (AFL); 8 Pro Bowls (AFL); 1 Title Win; 4 Title Losses; 1 GridFe World Award (AFL); 5 GridFe Guardian Awards (AFL)
Mix picked up the nickname the Intellectual Assassin on account of his studious approach to the game and the fact that he pursued a degree in law during his playing career. He maintained a unique pass set that saw him feign a run block before dropping into protection, which often befuddled pass rushers. Mix also had an unusual habit on rushes of cut blocking in the trenches before quickly springing up to obscure defensive backs at the next level. This technique required a level of quickness you wouldn’t expect from a man of his stature.
Bob Brown (1964-1973)
Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams
7 First team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 6 Pro Bowls; 1 GridFe Guardian Award
Boomer Brown made an immediate impact in the league, becoming the rare offensive lineman to earn rookie of the year honors. While he was technically proficient, it wasn’t purity of technique that made him a nightmare for defenders. He was a hulking behemoth who happened to own one of the game’s nastiest mean streaks. Brown would smother oncoming pass rushers and maul outmatched defenders in the run game. Raiders coach John Madden referred to him as the most aggressive offensive lineman who ever played and intimated that he brought an attitude to the team that rubbed off on fellow linemen Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell.
Art Shell (1968-1982)
Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
4 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 8 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 2 GridFe Guardian Awards
Shell was an adept pass blocker, but it was the run game where he cemented his legacy. Quite simply, he is arguably the most destructive drive blocker ever to hold the position. He formed a dominant left side with fellow legend Gene Upshaw, which served as the preferred side for the Raiders to run their offense. His ability to neutralize Fred Dean led to the Chargers moving the pass rusher around the line – a move that is common today but was innovative at the time. Shell’s dominant performance against Jim Marshall in Super Bowl XI was a masterclass in line play. In addition to his fantastic play, he also became the first African American head coach in the NFL when famously progressive owner Al Davis hired him in 1989.
Ron Yary (1968-1982)
Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams
6 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 4 Title Losses; 3 GridFe Guardian Awards
Yary wasn’t the strongest, fastest, quickest, or most aggressive tackle, but he possessed one of the best combinations of power, athleticism, and toughness of anyone of his era. He was dedicated to his craft, putting in extra time to learn how to protect the occasionally frenetic Fran Tarkenton. Interestingly, Yary was selected with the pick the Vikings obtained by trading away Tarkenton, but a subsequent trade saw him blocking for the scrambler in Minnesota anyway. After missing the first three games of his sophomore season to military obligations, he played at a high level without missing a game till he broke his ankle in his thirteenth season.
Anthony Munoz (1980-1992)
11 First Team All Pros; 11 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Losses; 1 GridFe World Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 5 GridFe Guardian Awards
Munoz is arguably the greatest offensive lineman in history, and it’s fair to put him on the shortlist of greatest players the game has ever seen. Coming out of college, there were concerns about his injury history. He put those to bed by missing only three games in his storied career. Scouts bemoaned his unorthodox stance, but he silenced them with results, making eleven all pro teams and anchoring two Super Bowl offenses. He was incredibly athletic, graceful and efficient in motion, and has the footwork of a ballerina. Munoz used his rare physical skills to dominate the line of scrimmage as well as catch touchdown passes when called upon.3 He was powerful and intelligent, but his hallmark may have been his tireless work ethic and relentless commitment to conditioning. As one of the few offensive linemen who did extensive distance running and cardio training, Munoz was perfect for Sam Wyche‘s innovative uptempo offense.
Willie Roaf (1993-2005)
New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs
7 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 11 Pro Bowls; 2 GridFe Guardian Awards
Roaf is remarkable in that he was noted for his stellar line work despite playing on mediocre or bad offenses on forgettable teams for his first nine seasons in the league. He earned all rookie honors at right tackle before becoming a perennial Pro Bowler on the left side. After an injury ended his tenure in New Orleans, Roaf joined Will Shields and Brian Waters in Kansas City to form the nucleus of an offensive line that was the driving force behind one of the greatest sustained offenses in modern NFL history.4
Jonathan Ogden (1996-2007)
6 First Team All Pros; 3 Second Team All Pros; 11 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 1 GridFe World Award; 4 GridFe Guardian Awards
At 6’9″ and 340 pounds, Ogden is among the most imposing figures in the game’s history. He possessed tremendous power to match his frame, but he had the balance and quickness or a much smaller man. His movement was fluid, and his feet were nimble, allowing him to match speed rushers with the same aplomb that he matched power rushers. As the first-ever draft pick for the Ravens, Ogden helped lead the offense to consecutive 5000 yard seasons. He also paved the way for Jamal Lewis to break 2000 yards in a season, including a then-record 295 in a single game. Giants great Michael Strahan, known for his legendary bull rush, described playing the dominant Ogden as disheartening.
Walter Jones (1997-2008)
6 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 9 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Loss; 1 GridFe World Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 3 GridFe Guardian Awards
Big Walt may be the best all-around lineman since Anthony Munoz. He was a dominant force in the run game, and his pass protection was otherworldly. During his tenure in Seattle, Jones surrendered just 23 sacks and committed a scant nine holding penalties on 5703 passing blocking snaps, helping Matt Hasselbeck become an all star thrice over. He also cleared big holes for an aging Ricky Watters and helped turn Shaun Alexander into the second coming of Emmitt Smith.5 He was known for his finesse, but he more than enough tenacity to finish blocks. Mike Holmgren coached Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Brett Favre, but he called Jones the best player he ever coached.
Orlando Pace (1997-2009)
St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears
5 First Team All Pros; 7 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 1 Title Loss
Pace was a vital component the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf, as his proficiency in pass protection allowed the deep passing patterns and quarterback drops to develop. From 1999-2001, the GSOT scored more than 500 points each season and ranked at the top of the league in both points and yards. A force of nature at the collegiate level, Pace popularized the term “pancake” for his ability to put opposing linemen flat on their backs in a form resembling that of the breakfast staple.
Joe Thomas (2007-present)
8 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 10 Pro Bowls; 4 GridFe Guardian Awards
Myriad incredible players have held the tackle position in the NFL. Some had Herculean strength. Others had elite athleticism. Others still had exceptional grace and footwork. Joe Thomas certainly had enough of those to merit mention, but it is technique that has always been his calling card. Without exaggeration, Thomas is the most refined technician the position has ever seen. His footwork and hand placement were perfect, and his body positioning was nigh always correct. That he was recognized for his greatness despite playing on generally inept offensive squads is a testament to his prodigious skill. Thomas is among the great pass blockers in history, consistently saving oblivious passers from themselves.6
- Others receiving votes: Mike McCormack, Bob St. Clair, Rayfield Wright*, Jim Tyrer, Dan Dierdorf*, Jackie Slater*, Joe Jacoby, and Gary Zimmerman* ↩
- Again, there was no Pro Bowl for Groza’s first four seasons. ↩
- He caught four during his career. ↩
- From 2002-05, the Chiefs ranked 1, 1, 2, and 6 in points and 4, 2, 1 and 1 in yards. They were hampered by a defense that never ranked better than 16 in points allowed or 25 in yards allowed. ↩
- From 2001-05, Alexander averaged 1501 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. ↩
- He held defenders without a sack in 130 of his 167 career games. ↩