Rather than take a limited role off the bench for the Denver Broncos, 20-year veteran NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice has decided to retire. Some call him the greatest player the game has ever known. He's certainly one of the best, but I don't know if I'd call him the best ever. Football (besides being increasingly boring every year) is too specialized to just say "best player ever".
I prefer to break it down by position, or group of positions with similar skills required.
My all-time greats:
QB - Joe Montana. Dude didn't like to lose. Period.
RB/FB - Jim Brown. I know, this is Walter Payton country. But it's not Jim Brown's fault he was born when he was. He'd have still been a dominant player today...over 40 years after his prime.
WR/TE - Jerry Rice. Yep, he is the best at his position.
OL - Larry Little. Tough call, you get different answers from every football expert you talk to. But as much as I hated the Shula-led Dolphins, Larry Little was a machine. Never made a mistake, rarely got beat. Anthony Munoz is a close second here.
DL - Alan Page. First defensive player to ever win the MVP, and he deserved it. Once got an offsides call on first down against Detroit that he didn't agree with, then proceeded to make three straight sacks on three straight plays despite being double teamed on every play, leaving Greg Landry fearing for his life. The result was a Lion punt on 4th-and-a-three-wood.
LB - Bobby Bell. The popular choice is Lawrence Taylor. Around here, old timers talk about Dick Butkus or Ray Nitchske. Today's fans like Ray Lewis (a thug who probably shouldn't be allowed on the field, IMO) and Brian Urlacher. But I go with Bell because he was the first one who combined size AND speed, and he was the prototype which Taylor and Lewis came from. Bell never came off the field. He sometimes lined up at end for Hank Stram's late-60's Chiefs, and sometimes as a fifth defensive back. He was a monster.
DB - Ronnie Lott. The ultimate winner. Not the fastest (Deion Sanders), not the biggest (Paul Krause), not the strongest (Joey Browner), not the meanest (Jack Tatum), not the dirtiest cheap shot artist (Fencik and Plank, '85 Bears), but he was the best all-around. And a winner.
K/P - Ray Guy. Man, I hated that dude. Effortlessly sending punts 65-75 yards in the air, perfect spiral, big hang time. Kicked off for the Raiders for years, and routinely shot it through the end zone.
That's the list. Not my favorites, mind you, but the guys I think have been the best. Feel free to Fencik and Plank (I mean, pile on and take a cheap shot)!