A masterful ode to America’s game—and an unforgettable portrait of its greatest legends written by America’s best sportswriters.

It is a question that has bedeviled football fans for generations: Who’s the best? Of the more than 25,000 men who have suited up during the NFL’s century of existence, which ones stood head and shoulders above all others?

At The Athletic, home to the best newsroom in sports, this question would become a labor of love for dozens of the best football writers on the planet, including Mike Sando and Dan Pompei. Over the course of 100 riveting profiles based on many hundreds of interviews with players, coaches, broadcasters, and others, this is a penetrating look at the greatest players to ever don cleats and pads, as well as a view from the trenches of the harsh realities of a brutal game. 100 photographs throughout the text offer testament to both the glory and the physical toll of football.

Among them:

Walter Payton, who once played with a 104-degree fever—and broke the single game rushing record with 275 yards

Jim Otto, the legendary offensive lineman who paid the ultimate price, suffering 35 concussions and undergoing a total of 74 surgeries

Johnny Unitas, who began his career playing quarterback, safety, and punter in a semi-pro league for $6 a game

Brett Favre whose very first NFL pass was a pick-six, and Tom Brady, whose very first college pass was also a pick-six

Bronco Nagurski, who had a size 22 neck, and moonlighted as a professional wrestler—during football season

Grambling State, the tiny historically Black university that produced three of the greatest players of the 1960’s

The equipment manager who would order 4 different sizes of thigh pad: “Small, Medium, Large, and Earl Campbell"

Chuck Bednarik, who once tore his bicep muscle from the bone, fastened it back in place with athletic tape, and returned to the game—an exhibition game

Where are these legends as well as today's stars—Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Julio Jones, Aaron Donald, and others--ranked? You'll find out here, among players from 1920 to the present day, from the Patriots in the east to the 49ers in the west, featuring names like “Night Train,” “Iron Mike” “Bulldog,” and “Crazylegs,” The Football 100 shares stunning new stories you’ve never heard before, and resurrects the legacies of unfairly forgotten greats. Deeply reported, beautifully written, and sure to spark heated debate among football fans of all stripes, this book sets a new standard for writing about the game.

About the author(s)

The Athletic has built the world’s largest sports newsroom by focusing on deep reporting, expert analysis, and unmatched journalism to drive its storytelling. It recently became a part of The New York Times Company.


"Enlightening. ... An engaging book that NFL fans will love and argue over endlessly." — Kirkus Reviews

More History

More United States

More History

More Essays