The way I see it, there were six players they could have named as No. 1 and no one could seriously object: Brown, Unitas, Payton, Montana, LT and Elway. They chose none of those. We're objecting.
The NFL Network completed its countdown of the NFL's 100 greatest players last night, as selected by a "blue-ribbon panel," and the only conclusion we can draw is that a panel is the worst way to decide anything.
Rice clearly won by virtue of playing at a position with so few standouts over the years (The QBs split the votes, with 19 of them on the Top 100). Don Hutson, at No. 9, last caught a pass 22 years before Rice was born. After that we have to go wayyy down the list to No. 36 to find another receiver, Raymond Berry. And then down to Randy Moss(!) at 65.
Of course there's a proximity bias here. The game was different way back when, and Rice's numbers are eye-popping, but he did it in a new era with two of the best quarterbacks ever. The fact that Don Hutson's numbers stack up so well even today put him much farther ahead of his contemporaries than Rice was compared to his. (That's also why you'll hear a lot of arguments for Jim Brown to be No. 1, and we'd be hard-pressed to disagree.)
I feel like the blue-ribbon panel did what a lot of us do: they trusted their eyes more than the history books. If we're going by personal impressions, then Barry Sanders was the greatest athlete who ever lived. Valid No. 1? Probably not. Just as valid as Jerry Rice.