On Pro Bowl weekend, we review the greatest Notre Dame players to star in the NFL. Based strictly on their pro achievements, we selected this 40-man team. Yesterday, we had 21 on offense — including utility player Paul Hornung, who could fill in at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, safety, kicker and punter — and here’s the other 19 on defense and special teams to round out the team.
Defensive lineman Alan Page and receiver Tim Brown had the most Pro Bowl appearances by a Notre Dame alumnus with nine apiece.
Alan Page, Bryant Young and Bob Golic
In a 3-4 alignment, Golic would be our nose guard, with Page and Young as the ends.
What is particular astounding is Page finished his career with 215 consecutive starts after not starting the first three games of his rookie year in 1967. He was selected to nine straight Pro Bowls while recording 148.5 career sacks, and was named the league’s MVP in 1971, a first for a defender. Page and wide receiver Tim Brown have the most appearances by Irish alumni in the Pro Bowl.
Young was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year for the 1994 Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers and a four-time Pro Bowl pick during a fabulous 14-year career. Selected to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team, Young recorded 605 tackles and 89.5 sacks, while often facing double teams. Like Page, he also was remarkably durable — although he did have to come back from a severe knee injury one year — and started all 208 games he played.
Golic played 14 years at nose guard (1979-92) and made the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He made 160 career starts in the NFL.
Alternates: Leon Hart and Bob Toneff. A case could be made for both of these stars in the 1950s to be first team. Hart was All-Pro on offense and defense in his second season during his eight-year career with the Detroit Lions. He was most productive on offense, where he caught 174 passes and scored 26 touchdowns, and later lined up at fullback — but he was a force on defense as well. In fact, Hart, could also be positioned at wide receiver, if needed, on this All-Pro team.
Toneff played six years apiece for the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins and was a four-time Pro Bowl pick from 1952-64. In a 4-3 set, we would move him ahead of Golic.
Current New York Giants mainstay Justin Tuck has made the Pro Bowl twice and also was chosen as an alternate on two separate occasions. He starred in two Super Bowl victories by the Giants over the New England Patriots.
George Connor, Nick Buoniconti, Jim Lynch and Myron Pottios
Connor made All-Pro at three different positions on offense and defense, including linebacker. Although Connor was a lineman in college, his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame refers to him as “first of the big, fast linebackers” in the league’s history. Hornung referred to him as the greatest football player who graduated from Notre Dame.
Buoniconti (1962-76) was the ringleader of the Miami Dolphins’ vaunted “No Name” defenses, highlighted by the perfect 17-0 team in 1972. He was chosen first team on the All-Time AFL/AFC Team and could play both the run and pass (32 career interceptions) with equal aplomb. Buoniconti made the AFL All-Pro teams six times and was twice in the NFL Pro Bowl.
Lynch played in 142 consecutive games for the Kansas City Chiefs, helping them to the 1970 Super Bowl title. He was overshadowed by linebacker teammates Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Lynch also made it to the Pro Bowl by his second season of an 11-year career.
Pottios played 14 years in the league and was a Pro Bowl selection three times in the 1960s.
Alternate: Jim Martin. A 14-year pro, Martin started at left tackle and left guard before moving to linebacker and, later in his career, at kicker. He made the Pro Bowl in 1960 when he was 38 years old.
Dave Duerson, Dave Waymer, Todd Lyght and Dick Lynch
Duerson played in four straight Pro Bowls from 1985-88 and was a cog on one of the most fearsome defenses ever, the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Waymer’s 48 career interceptions in 13 years (1980-92) are the most by an Irish alumnus. He and Lyght both played 13 years in the league, and both made the Pro Bowl once.
Lyght made 132 consecutive starts, picked off 37 passes and made the Pro Bowl in 1999, the year his St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl.
Lynch, best remembered for his touchdown sweep on fourth down that ended Oklahoma’s NCAA-record 47-game winning streak in 1957, led the league in interceptions twice (nine apiece in 1961 and 1963) during a stellar career with the New York Giants. Like Lyght, he had 37 career interceptions in the NFL.
Alternates: John Lujack and Bobby Taylor. Lujack played only four years in the NFL, and made the Pro Bowl twice as a quarterback. But as a rookie with the Chicago Bears in 1948, he tied the franchise record with eight interceptions.
Taylor played 10 years from 1995-2004 and made the Pro Bowl in 2002 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He recorded 19 career interceptions in 109 starts.
He ranks fourth on the all-time NFL scoring chart with 2,062 points and made the Pro Bowl at age 44 in 2008 before retiring.
The game’s first million-dollar punter completed his 17th NFL season in 2009 while on injured reserve. He played in 241 games, was on Green Bay’s Super Bowl champs in 1996 and fell just short of 50,000 career yards punting.
A Pro Bowl pick in this capacity, Rossum has six career touchdowns off of returns (two more than Tim Brown), and another in the playoffs.