Faces of the game: NFL icons

James C. Black
Yahoo! Sports

Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre was unquestionably one of the most popular NFL players of his era. His joy for the game, competitive spirit, tremendous talent and drive, and will to win made him a household name.

With his decision to retire last week, Yahoo! Sports was left to ponder: Who are the remaining icons in the NFL? Below are a handful of players Y! Sports' NFL crew deemed as having an iconic presence in the game.


Manning is a Super Bowl champion and two-time MVP.

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)


A case could easily be made that the Indianapolis Colts quarterback is the only current icon remaining in the NFL. While he might not be the only "important and enduring symbol" left in the league, he certainly seems to be regarded at a slightly higher level than any of the league's other superstars.

What makes No. 18 so special? Let's start with the name: Peyton. The great ones in any sport – Montana, Elway, Magic, Jordan, A-Rod, Gretzky, etc. – are normally identified by just one of their names or a moniker.

Then there's the pedigree. The son of Archie and brother of Eli came into the league as a wildly-celebrated rookie in 1998 and has seen his popularity continually rise. That tends to happen when your teams perennially win 10-plus games and make the playoffs.

Face time? Please! No one in the league is close to having his shiny whites on display more than Peyton right now. Whether it was Sony, Sprint or Oreo commercials, you couldn't watch an NFL game during the '07 season without being inundated with "Peyton the pitchman" during breaks.

Even from a historical standpoint, there's something cool about Peyton climbing the mountain with a franchise that was once led by all-time great Johnny Unitas. And on the subject of history, all those Dan Marino records that Favre broke on his way out the door? It's probably just a matter of time before Peyton surpasses Brett.

Ultimately though, when it comes to popularity and marketability, Peyton has the look (6-foot-5 pocket passer), skills (eight-time Pro Bowler) and a Super Bowl ring. That's a pretty nice combination.


Moss is the game's biggest deep threat.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


The New England Patriots wide receiver has ridden the roller coaster of revered and reviled in his 10-year career. Actually, that fine line of love and dislike for Moss goes back to his days in college, prompting 19 NFL teams to pass on him during the '98 draft – the Bengals did it twice – before the Minnesota Vikings selected him.

To say Moss has relished the "bad boy" image is to suggest that he actually cares what critics think. Based on his interaction (and the lack thereof during various junctures in his career) with the media, he doesn't. But in truth, that's some of the appeal with Moss. No matter the sport or walk of life, not everyone is so image conscious. Moss is his own man and makes no bones about it.

That said, Moss is one of the most dynamic talents in the game and is so good that people are willing to suggest the unthinkable – that he's more gifted than Jerry Rice. That's blasphemy to some folks, but there's no question that Moss has incredible skills and a tremendous following.


Owens may have finally found a home in Dallas.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


Some of what was written about Moss could easily apply to Owens. The Dallas Cowboys receiver has been the subject of controversy and scrutiny perhaps more than any player in the past five years not named Pacman Jones or Michael Vick. But like Moss, teams have continued to bid for his services when he's been available and he has still maintained a healthy fan base.

Whereas Moss has shied away from media attention, T.O. thrives on it. From his public feuding with quarterbacks and coaches to having a media horde show up at his New Jersey home after being sent home by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005, Owens can't shed the spotlight. Even when he tried to defend quarterback Tony Romo after a playoff defeat in January, Owens was berated for his emotional display which included a stream of tears.

The love/hate thing extends to the stands where Owens seems to thrive on fans' boos and chants, yelling in response: "I love it."

But ultimately, talent rules and T.O. is one of the best in the business. And while Moss can be characterized as being graceful and effortless with some of his great catches, Owens at his best is also a sight to see.


Brady has three Super Bowl rings and a league MVP.

(Harry How/Getty Images)


At this point, you have to wonder if the Patriots quarterback has a guitar in his locker because Brady is definitely the league's resident rock star. As if the highly-publicized relationships with actress Bridget Moynahan and supermodel Giselle Bundchen weren't enough, Brady spent time leading up to Super Bowl XLII this year ditching paparazzi because of an ankle injury. Every NFL player can't make those claims.

For the most part, Brady's face isn't splashed all over TV commercials and print ads like Manning but he's become one of the league's featured attractions nonetheless. Maybe it has something to do with all that winning. Five years into his career with three Super Bowl rings, observers were mentioning him in the same breath as Joe Montana. They were ready to nudge Brady ahead of the Hall of Famer if the Patriots pulled off perfection with a win over the Giants in January.

While all of the aforementioned players possess tremendous skill, Brady personifies a cool and leadership quality that's astonishing. He doesn't have John Elway's "The Drive" or Montana's moment against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, but Brady is the guy most coaches or fans want leading their team on that final drive with two minutes to go.


LT's off-field success matches his football feats.

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


"Superman without the cape" is a tremendous standard in which to be measured, but that's how former teammate Lorenzo Neal once described the San Diego Chargers tailback. And while the label could have easily been limited to what Tomlinson has meant on the field, Neal likely was speaking of Tomlinson's character and contributions to society.

Tomlinson spent the first five years of his career being relatively overlooked. However, folks couldn't help but take notice as he raced up the record books in '06. He finished the campaign with regular-season records, league MVP honors and perhaps most importantly, the Walter Payton award – sharing the honor with friend and former teammate Drew Brees as the NFL's Man of the Year.

In an incredibly brutal sport, Tomlinson is constantly recognized and praised for his gentle spirit and kind heart. And though his talent level makes him the best and most complete back in the game, there's so much more to the perennial Pro Bowler than touchdowns and record runs.