Brandon Thorn picks the rules and the team to defend our planet and upon that foundation he builds the ultimate West Coast offense.
Note: Learn more about Thorn’s overall philosophy and the coaching staff for this project.
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Walsh
Walsh’s offensive philosophy begins and ends with quarterback play. With an emphasis on timing, accuracy, footwork, and decisiveness, the signal-caller carries tremendous responsibility for this team. Walsh demands perfection and there is no better candidate for this team than who is selected.
There will be a lot of split-back, uneven formations for the defense to figure out. We will execute the same strategies Walsh used to turn the league upside down in the late 1980s. Passing to set up the run, opening up big lanes for the running backs, gaining an early lead, and then pounding the ball down the opponent’s throat late in the game is our general strategy.
Walsh never had such tailored personnel that he will have with this squad. We aren’t going into this game just wanting to scrape by with a win but rather make a statement to this alien race and all others that football is best run by those who invented it.
I have included three wide receivers and two running backs due to our system primarily using either 21 (split-back) or 11 (one back, one tight end, three receivers) personnel sets.
Quarterback: Joe Montana
Time is of the essence with just 90 days to prepare our team for the ultimate battle. I need a quarterback familiar with the intricate system that Walsh employs and none ran it to perfection quite like Montana.
There are quarterbacks throughout history with far superior measurables and physical attributes, even quarterbacks I’d rather have long-term. However, there aren’t any candidates better suited for this role with this amount of responsibility.
Montana was viewed as too skinny with too weak of an arm to make a significant impact on the professional level when he was coming out of Notre Dame, yet Walsh saw past those pitfalls to what positive attributes he did possess: quick, efficient footwork, relentless work ethic, and precise accuracy.
The particular skill that separated Montana from the rest–the ability that resonated with me more than any other that earned him the nickname “Joe Cool”–was the rare ability to eliminate distractions in the high stakes situations that so often engulf others. Montana was as cool as the other side of the pillow while having a calming effect on those around him. They say a mark of greatness in an athlete is how well they can deal with pressure. Joe Cool personifies the “clutch gene.” His familiarity with Walsh’s system and demanding style is the icing on the cake for this pick while ensuring that this planet remains in human control.
Just missed the cut: Steve Young
Young, in my mind, is the most accurate quarterback of all-time considering the era he played in and the efficiency he demonstrated during his career. He ran the West Coast System brilliantly and even had greater volume of production with our top receiver than Montana did.
Montana got the edge due to his presence, cool under pressure, and big-game flair. There is something tangible yet unexplainable about Montana’s aura that I foresee being a huge crutch for us in a game of this magnitude.
Running Back 1: Marshall Faulk
If you were to build Bill Walsh the perfect back for his system I’d argue he’d be a clone of Faulk. With a sturdy 5-10, 211-pound frame, 4.2-4.3 speed (4.28 at the 1994 NFL Combine, 4.35 at his San Diego State pro day), elite wide receiver hands, cat-like agility, and tremendously high football IQ, he is the ideal back for this team. With his NFL-record, 1,048 receiving yards in a single season and most consecutive seasons in NFL-history with 2,000+ yards from scrimmage, you can make a case for Faulk being the greatest all-around tailback to ever play.
We need the ability for our tailback to identify holes quickly and have the speed to make a defense pay. We need a player out of the backfield who catches like a receiver with the shake-and-bake ability in the open field and most of all we need a back who won’t give the enemy the ball. Faulk has an excellent fumble rate of 1 per 100 rush attempts. His efficiency touching and possessing the football is a commodity that cannot be overvalued. Welcome to your dream system Marshall. Enjoy your perfect halfback, Bill.
Running Back 2: Walter Payton
Walter is the greatest all-around running back to ever play the game. He can block (run or pass), catch, punt, and even throw. He has the most TD passes of all-time by a non-QB with 8.
His durability and toughness are legendary. He has the most consecutive starts of all-time by a RB with 170. When Marshall needs a breather I want a player so relentless and versatile to come in that the simple fact of him being a “backup” shocks our opponent.
Payton’s work ethic in preparing for this game is another aspect that I want to permeate our environment. His rugged style will mesh perfectly for the specific role he will have with us; a mid-to-late game finisher.
Along with everything else Payton brings to the table, he was a renown prankster who knew how to keep morale high and the mood light. With a team being built on discipline, toughness, and work ethic as its backbone, it will be critical to have a few players sprinkled in who can loosen things up when needed.
Wide Receiver 1: Jerry Rice
Bill Walsh. Joe Montana. Jerry Rice. You simply can’t prepare for a game to save the planet in 90 days and not have this trifecta.
Montana to Rice is a term that lives in football lore because they connected for 55 touchdowns in five complete seasons (And Montana missed 8 games in the 1986 season). Montana and Rice only had those five seasons together, which is why they didn’t connect for as many total touchdowns as Young did with Rice (85). But in the biggest moments the numbers are more revealing. In the playoffs, Montana and Rice connected for 12 touchdowns in 3 postseasons compared to Young and Rice’s 7 touchdowns in 4 postseasons.
This offensive system requires receivers to run brilliant, crisp routes to get open quickly and stretch the field horizontally. Rice’s route running was his best asset followed closely by his reliable hands. The aspect of his inclusion on the team that I am most excited about is pairing him with Walter Payton as teammates. Arguably the two greatest NFL work ethics on the same team will go a long way to ensure we aren’t outworked in any facet of the game.
Plus, can you picture practices with Rice and Payton setting the tone?
Wide Receiver 2: Sterling Sharpe
There are few career-ending injuries that stir up as much emotion as Sharpe’s in Green Bay. You can argue Bo Jackson’s being the more devastating one, but after much thinking I’d say it was Sharpe’s.
Sharpe was the more talented Sharpe brother. He dominated every level of play. He had his number retired while still playing in college at South Carolina University and made an immediate impact as a rookie in Green Bay, catching 55 passes for 791 yards. He built on that effort with a sophomore season of 90 catches for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns, breaking Don Hutson’s franchise records for receptions and yards in a season.
The first year Brett Favre threw to him (1992), Sharpe earned the wide receiver triple crown (catches, yards, and touchdowns) and broke the NFL’s single-season receptions record with 107. The season after, Sharpe broke his own reception record with 112, adding 18 touchdowns to the incredible effort. He was the first player ever to have back-to-back 100 catch seasons.
This tremendous run sadly ended in 1994 with a neck injury.
Sharpe dominated in his short time with an impeccable feel for the game. He set up defenders with ease, got open deep through the use of subtle, crafty moves, and outmatched defenders physically. Unlike Bo Jackson, Sharpe was solely focused on football. He would have likely had a better career even if both players stayed healthy. That’s a different argument for another day, Sharpe is on this team because he simply could do it all. He was a great teammate, humble, and relentless. He will be Rice’s running mate and our primary YAC provider.
Just missed the cut: Randy Moss
While Moss’ speed and deep ball ability was tempting for inclusion on this team, his tendency of becoming a bit of a diva on the field eliminated him from consideration. In a game with so much at stake and in a much more physical era, I had my doubts of Moss remaining mentally resilient. Arguably the most talented receiver of all-time is left out because he didn’t match up with our core values.
Slot WR: Tim Brown
For the slot role I wanted someone reliable both in terms of pass catching and getting open. Brown’s career was built on these traits along with many other rare qualities, including elusiveness. He is the record holder for several telling stats, including consecutive 75+ catch seasons (10), consecutive starts by a receiver (176), and he is the only player ever to retire as one of the NFL’s top-five leaders for both return and receiving yards.
All of the receivers on this squad need to be able to get open quickly and catch the ball consistently. They need to have some shake to them, craftiness, elusiveness, and toughness. Brown will not only serve as our primary slot weapon but he will be our punt returner as well.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez
The NFL’s most prolific tight end to ever play the game was a fairly easy choice for this team. To fit in with the short to intermediate pass game that we will employ, Gonzalez’s reliability, hands, and savvy route running were a no-brainer addition. From the 2000 season on, Gonzalez had 1,145 receptions and fumbled one time. He missed two games in his 17-year career.
Again, ball control, discipline, and reliability are less sexy traits that will win us this game. Why do I keep mentioning a player’s durability? Because durability is a mindset. It is a never say die, tough, rare, hard way to be. The United States Marine Corps have a saying, “Its hard being hard.” Well, its hard being a durable and long-lasting NFL player, too.
That frame of mind is what I want to take into this game starting with the head coach all the way down to the last roster spot. I want our players to be able to look past the alien’s frightening exterior and focus on execution so that we can remain on this beautiful planet for many years to come.
Just missed the cut: Shannon Sharpe
A converted wide receiver with the physique of a bodybuilder, all-time great trash talk, and the skills to back it up was hard to pass on. Sharpe’s affinity of being vocal and getting inside the opponent’s head was a weapon that I wanted on my squad but will look to fill in at another position group instead. Sure, the aliens may not know what he’s saying, but they also could become distracted by Sharpe’s gift of gab. What made this choice even more difficult was leaving off a guy who had the President of the United States on speed dial.
Left Tackle: Jonathan Ogden
Joe Cool is fearless in the pocket but with this front he will be as comfortable as any quarterback ever has been. Throw in the fact that our entire system is predicated on quick passes, this great of an offensive line is something of a golden parachute for the offense.
Ogden played in 176 of 177 career games, earned 9 All-Pro selections, and is generally considered a top-3 offensive tackle to ever play the game. At 6-9/345 pounds, his sheer size will give pause to the aliens as well as his nice guy exterior.
Don’t be fooled by the smiling face Ogden often has underneath his XXXL helmet.
“He’s a laugher,” joked former New York Giants DE Michael Strahan. ”You see him, you think to yourself this guy is not mean enough to handle the mean guys out there in the NFL. Jonathan would rip your limbs off, and he’d smile…and wave your arm in front of you.”
Ogden is not only a wall-in pass protector, he could bend his knees, get underneath defenders’ pads, and road grade when needed. This offensive line will not only be a collection of some of the greatest to ever do it talent-wise, their ferocity and image will contribute as part of their prestige.
Left Guard: Larry Allen
There isn’t an offensive lineman who exudes fear, power, or intimidation quite like the 6-3, 325-pound, 7-time All-Pro from Sonoma State University. In the above video you can see what a genetic freak Allen really was. Not only could he bench press 700 pounds, he was a nimble athlete with speed. His combination of raw power, strength, agility, and girth alongside Ogden will be the scariest left side of an offensive line ever assembled. Late in the game is when Allen’s value will really show itself in paving the way for Sweetness to close it out.
Center: Dermontti Dawson
”To me he was the best athlete to ever play that position. He was very powerful and explosive, just a rare combination of quickness, explosion, and he was a very dependable player. This guy hardly ever missed a game. He redefined the position.”
— Former Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher
“Dirt” as he was affectionately called for the way he wrangled defenders into the ground, was a spark plug in the middle of the black and gold offense for 12 seasons.
At just 6-2, 288 pounds, Dawson possessed outstanding leverage and power that he used to stun defenders and get underneath them for consistent movement. He was a lunch-pail type of player whose lack of ideal size didn’t matter in his career and surely wont matter with who he’s surrounded with on this team.
Right Guard: John Hannah
Hannah was voted No.20 on Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players after a brilliant 12-year NFL career that included 10 All-Pro selections and 183 games started out of 183 possible.
Having played under Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama, Hannah has experience playing in huge games, for iconic coaches, and the stage surely wont be too big for him here. Despite being on the short side he won with quickness, smarts, and technique. With the left side of our line primarily using size and strength to beat their man, Hannah will pair with Dawson to provide lethal double teams, pulls, as well as provide excellent pass protection.
Right Tackle: Walter Jones
While Larry Allen will serve as our enforcer on the left side of the line, Jones has the responsibility of pummeling the alien opponent into submission on the right side. Jones didn’t miss a game in his entire career and was a mainstay for the Seahawks through much success.
Alongside Hannah you will have two of the most technically sound lineman in history working together. While Jones is moving to the unfamiliar right side from his normal left, if anyone can adjust in 90 days its #71. Jones’ former head coach Mike Holmgren once said Jones was the greatest offensive player he’s ever coached. Based on the prestige of some of his past pupils (Montana, Favre, and Young) it was a remark I held in high regard.
Brandon Thorn is the NFL Draft Lead Writer at The Football Educator and a contributor at Draft Breakdown and CBS Sports. Thorn is also an Air Force veteran with 3 tours to his credit. He resides in Colorado Springs. Find the rest of the RSP Writers Project submissions here.