The 1990’s was a great decade for NFL football. The San Fransisco 49ers made way at the top of the football heap for the Dallas Cowboys and no one could beat the Buffalo Bills, except the NFC representative in the Super Bowl. For “Way Black When” I present the top 9 Black NFL players of the 1990’s. With apologies to the likes of Tim Brown, Shannon Sharpe, Aeneas Williams, Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin I could only pick 9 and here they are. Let the debate begin (NFL career in parentheses).
9. Junior Seau (1990-2009)
The heart and soul of the Chargers defense from 1990-2002, Seau was named to a Pro Bowl nine straight times during the 1990s. He helped lead the Chargers to an AFC championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XXIX. He also was named first-team All-Pro eight times in his career including seven seasons in the ‘90s. Seau signed with the New England Patriots in 2006 in hopes of getting the elusive Super Bowl ring, but had his best shot derailed when the Patriots perfect season was stopped in Super Bowl XLII by The New York Giants.
8. Rod Woodson (1987-2003)
Woodson led the NFL with 46 interceptions during the 1990s that included eight that he returned for touchdowns. He was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. Seven of his 11 career Pro Bowl nods came during the ‘90s. While best known in his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler, he won his only Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2000.
7. Derrick Thomas (1989-1999)
The late great anchor of the Kansas City Chiefs defense, no player in the NFL had more sacks in the 1990s than Derrick Thomas who totaled 116.5 sacks during the 10-season span. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection during the decade, he had his best season in 1990 when he had a league-high and club record 20 sacks. His seven sacks in one game against the Seahawks that year remains an NFL record.
6. Emmitt Smith (1990-2004)
Smith, the Cowboys No. 1 pick in 1990, narrowly missed the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie before earning his first of four rushing titles in the 1990s his second season. He added rushing crowns in 1992, 1993, and 1995 as he led the Cowboys to victories in Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX. He was named first-team All-Pro each year from 1992 to 1995 and was named the NFL’s MVP in 1993. In his final year with the Cowboys in 2002, Smith surpassed Walter Payton for the all-time rushing yards lead.
5. Reggie White (1985-2000)
This list would not be complete without the “Minister of Defense”. Although his career began in the mid-80’s, Reggie White had seven 10-plus sack seasons during the 1990s and amassed 111.5 sacks during the decade. He was named the NFL’s Defensive Most Valuable Player during his final season with Green Bay in 1998 when he recorded 16 sacks. In all, White was named to 13 Pro Bowls during his career with nine of those selections coming in the ‘90s.
4. Bruce Smith (1985-2003)
One of the most feared defensive ends to come around the right side of the field. Bruce Smith recorded 113.5 of his NFL record 200 sacks during the 1990s. No other defensive lineman had more sacks than Smith in the decade. He was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996 and was a huge part of why the Buffalo Bills earned four straight Super Bowl berths to start the decade.
3. Deion Sanders (1989-2005)
Before there was Darrelle Revis there was Deion Sanders. Sanders earned his “Primetime” nickname by effortlessly shutting down the opposing team’s best receiver on a weekly basis. Sanders picked off 39 of his 53 career interceptions during the decade and returned eight of them for scores. He had a career-high 7 picks in 1993; and then earned Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 after totaling 303 yards on six interceptions during his one season in San Francisco. His flashy persona arguably blazed the trail for guys like Ochocinco and T.O. and his high-step-hand-behind-the-helmet trot to the endzone is oft-imitated by today’s players. His “Neon” Deion kicks (you can’t front on the white and gold joints) earn him extra cool points.
2. Jerry Rice (1985-2004)
Like Reggie White and Bruce Smith, Jerry Rice began his career in the mid 80’s. Although Rice was winning Super Bowl titles in the 80’s he got better in the 90’s. Rice’s most memorable season of his 20-year career came in 1995 when he set the NFL record for receiving yardage in a season with 1,848 yards. In all, he had 860 catches during the ‘90s and led the NFL in receptions twice and receiving yardage four times during the decade. By the time he retired, Rice had accumulated a remarkable 1,549 career catches. Rice also broke the all-time touchdown record in 1994 (Randy Moss would eventually surpass him) scoring for the 127th career time ironically against the Oakland Raiders, the team he would eventually end his career with. Rice took his dominance into the 2000’s leading the aforementioned Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2001.
1. Barry Sanders (1989-1998)
Arguably the greatest running back ever (definitely that I’ve ever seen). Sanders was a video game on the football field, stopping on a dime and reversing field effortlessly, breaking many a defensive ankle in the process. Sanders turned five yard losses into the most exciting three yard gain in football. He became the first player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons in the NFL. He also became the first runner ever to record four straight 1,500-yards seasons when he accomplished the feat from 1994 to 1997. He was named the league’s co-MVP in 1997 after he rushed for 2,053 yards. Sanders could have easily become the all-time rushing leader, but he chose to walk away from a prolific career because the inept Detroit Lions refused to trade him to a contender. That takes guts and secures a number one spot on this list.
Who are your top 9 players of the 1990’s?