If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. In this context, Bryan Frye’s team to defend the planet is busting ass.
Team to Defend the Planet: Rules – 1893
When Matt invited me to participate in this exercise, I gladly accepted and immediately started trying to game the system. I wanted a defensive line made of 2012, 2013, and 2014 J.J. Watt – Matt shot that down in a hurry. I then figured I’d want to take advantage of the aliens’ lack of creativity by allowing Bill Walsh to create the most intricate offense imaginable with some of the greatest talents in history serving as his chess pieces. Then I remembered that the team had a maximum of 90 days to digest the playbook and learn to work together. Complex West Coast Offense calls might not be the way to go.
At long last, it occurred to me: why not take advantage of their inflexible minds by forcing the combatants to play under 1893 rules? Effectively, this means playing with almost no rules at all. I imagine the aliens will scoff at this idea and claim three yards and a cloud of dust plays directly to their strengths and all but eliminates our creative advantage. The celestial assailants are far more intelligent than we; they’re also dead wrong. I’ll tell you why.
 It would be socially irresponsible of me not to point out that a great number of the world’s citizens might actually be better off under the supervision of our invaders. The alien code of fairness certainly would not permit them to treat us anywhere close to as bad as we treat each other. Today, nearly 30 million persons experience slavery, while generating over $32 billion in revenue for their captors. Even in America, a country we like to believe is enlightened, slavery still exists for about sixty thousand people – most of whom are women and girls. This exercise gives us an opportunity to protect life as we know it. Let’s do what we can in real life to make everyone’s existence one worth preserving.
Head Coach: Glenn “Pop” Warner
Pop Warner has a distinct advantage over most other great coaches in football history: he actually played in the era on which our game’s rules are based. However, that’s far from his only advantage. A brilliant and innovative football mind, Warner amassed a 319-106-32 record while coaching teams that were generally less talented than their opponents. Some of his schematic contributions to football include the invention of the three point stance, the screen pass and both the single- and double-wing formations.
In addition to his exceptional creativity, he was also known to play fast and loose with the rules. Bill Belichick is known for straddling the line between fair and unfair, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Warner. Perhaps his most famous invocation of the “anything not expressly forbidden is allowed” mantra came in 1903 when he led his Carlisle Indians to a near upset victory over the juggernaut Harvard Crimson. Warner modified one player’s uniform to contain a pouch with an elastic band, which was used to hide the ball during a kickoff return. Once the ball was hidden, the players put their leather helmets under their arms to feign possession. The confused Crimson left the actual ball carrier untouched for a touchdown. On other occasions, he would doctor his players’ jerseys with chest insignia or elbow pads that made it hard to tell which player actually had possession of the football.
Warner often got the better of much more talented teams, and he did so without the benefit of time in the film room. Instead, he used inspired and borderline illegal tactics to gain an edge. Given that the invaders admire our superior creativity, I believe they could not think to do such things. Given that they “ascribe to a certain code of conduct” that is most similar to fairness, I believe they would not think to do such things.
To complement his prodigious football mind, Warner was also a class act. The reason you may have played “Pop Warner football” as a kid is that his character convinced the league’s founders to rename it after him. You see, Warner was one of a dozen coaches invited to briefly lecture at a youth football clinic. However, after the temperature plummeted and torrential sleet and high winds made conditions unsafe for travel, Warner was the only one who showed up. Despite being scheduled for a brief speech, he fielded questions from enthusiastic youth for over two hours. This is the type of man I’d want leading others with the fate of the planet on the line.
Strength Coach: Alvin Roy
In 1893, no rule existed that prohibited the use of performance enhancing drugs. That being the case, who better to bring in as our strength coach than the man who introduced widespread steroid use to the NFL? Okay, he technically brought them to the AFL Chargers in 1963, but you know what I mean. Roy’s steroid program helped San Diego climb from a 4-10 team to an AFL champion in 1963 and perennial contender thereafter. Sure, it might not be ethical to use PEDs; and sure, our players might get big heads and acne. To the first objection, I say when faced with possible enslavement, we must eschew both honor and humanity if they hinder us. To the second objection, I say these are small sacrifices to make for the greater good.
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Gibbs
Gibbs isn’t the popular choice when people discuss offensive geniuses throughout football history, but he should be. He was able to take an aging John Riggins and turn him into a Hall of Famer. He was able to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. He was able to do these things because he was able to create and adapt better than almost anyone. He played a significant role in the development of the Air Coryell offense, and he is credited with inventing the trips formation. When Lawrence Taylor took the NFL by storm, Gibbs countered him with two- and three-tight end sets.
In addition to being a great strategist, Gibbs was also a great motivator and team builder. He was able to turn a line full of mostly late-round or undrafted men into one of the greatest offensive lines ever assembled. Evidence of Gibbs’ leadership is Washington’s performance during the 1982 and 1987 strike-shortened seasons. It is no coincidence that his men were the last ones left standing after two seasons of turmoil. Despite the distractions of such seasons, the soft-spoken Gibbs was able to focus his team on a larger goal. There is no goal in football larger than saving the world. With little time to prepare for the possibility of otherworldly overlords, I like my chances with Gibbs helping run my offense.
 Washington lines succeeded despite having to play Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, and Randy White twice apiece each season.
My understanding of the aliens is that their intellectual superiority and physical comparability is mitigated by their limited creativity. To combat this, I think the best plan is to field skill players who wowed us with the poetic beauty of their game rather than their brute force. Jim Brown was a dominant force at 6’2” 232 pounds in the 50s and 60s, but he was known more for his power than for his grace. His physical advantage was huge in his era, but it is much less pronounced against the aliens. The same can be said for Bronko Nagurski, Marion Motley, or Jim Taylor. They were Hans Zimmer. I want Mozart.
Back: Walter Payton
There are several reasons I want Sweetness on my team. First, although not most importantly, he has experience taking snaps from under center and from the shotgun. With the forward pass outlawed, I don’t need a skilled passer on my team, but I do need a skilled runner who isn’t going to fumble away possessions on a botched snap exchange.
Second, Payton was as talented a pure runner as any back in the history of the league. He didn’t have straight line breakaway speed, but his decisiveness enabled him to play much faster than his 4.5 forty time would suggest. He was also a creative runner who often utilized stutter steps or change-of-pace to confuse would-be tacklers. If a defender actually got close enough to make the tackle, the poor soul might get a taste of Payton’s legendary stiff arm.
Last, Walter was willing to swallow his pride and do the little things. He reached mythic status among teammates, who claimed he could have been the best quarterback, wide receiver, or linebacker on the team if he dedicated himself to the position. He wasn’t a large man, but he was a willing and punishing blocker. I know that Walter would have no problem handing the ball off to another back and then springing him loose with a solid block. I also know that when he does keep the ball, he’ll make sure defenders remember how much it hurts to tackle him. There is some concern about him fumbling once every 50.8 touches in his career, but in the playoffs his fumble rate drops to one every 102 touches.
 This versatility is important to me. Payton’s tackling prowess will come in handy on kickoffs.
Back: Barry Sanders
Sanders may be the most electrifying and elusive runner in history. He was famous for juking and embarrassing defenders, and he boasts perhaps the most awe-inspiring highlight reel of any running back. Although he was the focal point of his team’s offense and often faced defenses geared to stop him, he was still able to produce over 1,000 rushing yards every year of his career (including a remarkable five seasons over 1,500). He was criticized for dancing and losing yards rather than taking what the line gave him, but that is a risk I am willing to take. If the intergalactic defense somehow blows up our offensive line, I need a guy who can make something from nothing. I believe the benefits of fielding perhaps the most creative runner ever are greater far than are the detriments.
Barry wasn’t just about ankle-breaking jukes. He carried the ball with sound technique, which gave him great ball security. His one fumble every 86.2 touches is among the best of any great runner. With his low center of gravity, sinewy legs, and uncanny balance, he was a much more powerful runner than you probably remember. On the off chance that a defender actually gets a translucent hand on him, I trust Sanders to break free from the arms of our oppressors.
Back: LaDainian Tomlinson
Tomlinson was complete package at the halfback position. Although we won’t be passing (at least not legally), it’s worth mentioning that he was magnificent in the passing game, whether he was catching a hundred passes in a season or picking up a blitzing linebacker. He was also one of the best runners in NFL history. He played with the quickness, speed, and agility of a 200 pound back. Similar to Emmitt Smith, he also had the vision and body control to avoid taking big hits.
Tomlinson was no scat back; he also ran with power that matched his 220 pound frame. He wasn’t a bulldozer in the Earl Campbell mold, but rather a skilled runner who made great use of leverage and fantastic pad level to overpower opponents. He rivals Jonathan Stewart as the greatest stiff-arm specialist of recent vintage. To match his productivity, he was also a careful steward of the football. Including the playoffs, he fumbled once every 124 touches, which is easily the highest mark of any great rusher.
Back: Jack Shapiro
Jack Shapiro wasn’t a great football player. As a matter of fact, he probably wasn’t even a very good football player (at least not by NFL standards). He played in one or two games as a blocking back for the Staten Island Stapletons in 1929 before moving on with his life. The only thing that has kept him from completely fading into obscurity is the very reason I want him in my backfield: At 5’0” and 119 pounds, Soupy Shapiro is the smallest player on record in the NFL’s rich history.
In 1893, there was no rule against modifying uniforms or assisting runners. Consequently, crafty coaches (such as Pop Warner himself) were known to experiment with attaching sturdy leather straps to the pants of a small player and having two strapping lads launch the diminutive daredevil over the line of scrimmage. This was basically a guaranteed conversion in short yardage situations. Given that 1893 rules gave offenses three downs to go five yards for a first down, this tactic may enable us to move the chains every play. Because the rules don’t explicitly address this, I doubt the fremd fiends will possess the ingenuity to spit in the face of fair play the way only a human can.
 Historians believe Shapiro played just one game, but he claimed to have played in two and been on the roster for five.
 This worked when 190 pound men were doing the tossing; just wait till you see the mammoths filling the role for this team.
When I created my all-time 53 man roster, I chose legends like Cal Hubbard and Jim Parker – giants for their respective eras. Unfortunately, the 90 days the aliens are giving me to assemble my team doesn’t give me enough time to get Hubbard in the weight room to add about fifty more pounds of muscle. Even John Hannah and Anthony Munoz, arguably the two greatest offensive linemen ever to play, have a significant size disadvantage. Perhaps leverage and skill would allow the 265-pound Hannah or 280-pound Munoz to defeat the extraterrestrial version of Ndamukong Suh, but I’m not willing to make that leap of faith – not with the fate of the planet at stake. For this reason, all of my linemen are big, strong, and have a proven track record against other massive athletes.
Lineman: Jonathan Ogden
At 6’9” 340 pounds, Ogden is the most physically imposing member of our team. As the Ravens’ first-ever draft pick, he immediately made an impact, anchoring a line that helped produce consecutive 5,000 yard offensive seasons. While his ability to protect the blind side made his wallet fat, it’s his proficiency as a mauling run blocker that earns him the right to defend the planet. He paved the way for Jamal Lewis to run for over 2,000 yards in a season, including a then record 295 yards in a single game.
Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, known for overpowering opponents with his fierce bull rush, described playing against Ogden as disheartening. Strahan lamented that he would work as hard as he could, and Ogden would give him a look as if to say “Is that the best you can do?” Ogden’s Brobdingnagian frame obviously provided him with remarkable power, but it was his nimble feet and fluid movement that really enabled him to dominate defenders. The skills that allowed him to neutralize speed rushers in the passing game should help him counter any defenders hoping to set the edge against our rushing attack.
Lineman: Walter Jones
New York Giants center Mel Hein won the NFL MVP award in 1938. If Jones didn’t take home the trophy in 2005, it’s safe to say no other offensive lineman ever will. Mike Holmgren, who coached Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Brett Favre, said Jones was the best offensive player he ever coached. While Jones’ pass blocking is legendary, and his absurdly low nine career holding penalties are a testament to his skill, his ability to open holes for runners is what interests me. Teaming with Steve Hutchinson (who just missed the roster), Jones paved the way for Shaun Alexander to post a five year average of 1501 yards and 17 touchdowns. Prior to Hutch’s arrival, Big Walt helped an aging Ricky Watters three consecutive 1,200 yard rushing seasons. Jones had the strength and leverage to get a solid initial push, and he had the technique and tenacity to finish his blocks.
 In 1954, Sporting News named tackle Lou Groza its MVP, but this isn’t generally viewed as the “official” award (which went to Joe Perry).
Lineman: Logan Mankins
Mankins isn’t the greatest guard of all time. He isn’t even the greatest Patriots guard of all time. That honor belongs to John Hannah. However, Mankins does possess many of the same qualities that made Hannah great. Like Hannah, he’s mean, nasty, and aggressive as a run blocker. Relative to their eras, they are similarly gifted athletes, but that’s the thing: Hannah doesn’t get to bring his era with him. Mankins gives the same grit with an extra 40 pounds of muscle.
Viewed by some as just a cog in the New England offensive machine, Mankins has been overlooked by All Pro voters. However, his consistent excellence (especially as a run blocker) has made him possibly the best offensive lineman of the last decade.
Center: Nick Mangold
In my opinion, Mangold is the best center of the last decade, and it isn’t even close. From the moment he stepped onto the field, he was a reliable pass protector and a tough run blocker. If I can get his pre-injury physical prime and his post injury veteran savvy (I can – it’s in the rules), I’ll have the only man in the world I’d trust to snap the ball to Walter Payton with the planet on the line.
Sure, Mel Hein, Jim Otto, Mike Webster, and Dwight Stephenson were probably more dominant in their eras. They also maxed out at 255 pounds. A guy like Marcel Dareus could probably throw them aside on his way to the backfield. Yes, Dermontti Dawson was a stud and almost Mangold’s size, but he doesn’t have the same track record of neutralizing 325 pound nose tackles with regularity. Go back and watch Mangold on Hard Knocks. His pancake on the monstrous Kris Jenkins was a thing to behold.
Lineman: Larry Allen
When you’re called the strongest man in the NFL, you have a lot to live up to. Allen did. He was one of the most intimidating figures in modern history, a bully who steamrolled defenders and manhandled fellow behemoths such as Shaun Rogers. Allen was a first team All Pro selection at three positions, which is the kind of versatility I want on my seven-man line. He was not only the strongest man in the league, but also an underrated athlete, capable of chasing down linebackers after interceptions.
He helped Emmitt Smith and Frank Gore achieve career seasons, twelve years apart from one another. In his early years, he got it done through brute force and sheer tyranny of will. As an elder statesman, he compensated for his diminished physical skill with the wisdom of experience. Lucky for mankind, we get both Allens in one.
Lineman: Erik Williams
Before a car crash derailed his career, Williams was on his way to a first ballot Hall of Fame induction. He was bigger, stronger, and meaner than anyone else on the field. His aggression set the tone for the rest of the Great Wall, and I want his contagious fury to spread throughout the offensive line. He may be best remembered for frustrating and shutting down Reggie White, but it isn’t his pass protection I’m interested in. Big E was a mauler when paving the way for Emmitt Smith. At 6’6” 325, he is even big by today’s standards. I’ll need every bit of that mass helping ram the ball down those translucent alien throats.
Lineman: Joe Staley
Unlike the rest of our offensive linemen, Staley isn’t likely to go down as an all-time great. After all, he’s just okay as a pass blocker, and he doesn’t possess the requisite Allen/Ogden strength for post-career apotheosis. However, his combination of athletic ability, balance, and leverage makes him possibly the best run blocking tackle in the modern NFL. Rather than mauling defensive linemen, Staley uses sound technique to control opponents at the hip and drive them out of the play.
To add to his run blocking prowess against other linemen, Staley is also a gifted athlete capable of picking up flowing linebackers at the second level. He ran a 4.70 forty, and he posted a sub 22 second 200 meter run in high school. His speed earned him a scholarship at tight end, and his receiving skills have come in handy a few times as a pro. We may put them to good use if we decide to break the rules.
Oh, and Staley has also proven to be an aggressive protector. If he’ll pick a fight with Clay Matthews for a late hit on his quarterback, imagine what he’ll do to a space invader to save the planet from perpetual servitude.