How much America loves football — and the glorious fullback — in one stunning image

It was a frivolous tweet, the kind of thing many of us have sent late at night during these lean sports days.

I asked Twitter to name a random fullback from at least 10 years ago. I figured there might be a few dozen fun responses.

Instead I got this big a response — in about the first 12 hours:

People love fullbacks. Or miss sports. Or both. Either way, it's art. (@Eric_Edholm on Twitter)
People love fullbacks. Or miss sports. Or both. Either way, it's art. (@Eric_Edholm on Twitter)

Nearly 4,000 responses! On fullbacks?!

Look, you won’t find many bigger fullback fans than this guy right here. I grew up near Boston during the Mosi Tatupu era and thought the man walked on water. Rest in peace, Mosi.

At the same time, my Chicago-born family watched the Bears religiously during their heyday, and let me tell you, Matt Suhey was nothing short of sainthood in our church.

As I watched the Twitter numbers tick upward, I wondered: Is it the fullback people love? Or are we just so starved for some sporting interaction right now? After all, nostalgia is one form of healing.

The easy answer is both. But mining through the responses, it became clear that fullbacks — dying breed as they might be — hold a special place in football fans’ hearts.

They’re the bruisers, the dirty-work artists. The giants neck-roll wearers of yore. Square blocks of corundum. The guys John Madden used to gush about. The true football grinders. Every darned cliche you can summon.

Sure, there were plenty of responses for fullbacks that were far more than just “random” players. A lot of love for Lorenzo Neal, Tom Rathman, Daryl Johnson and the like. Those guys might be on the modern-day Mr. Rushmore of fullbacks.

But by about the fifth truly random name I came across, it became clear ... people still love these guys.

Here were a few to demonstrate just how deep peoples’ love goes:

Naufahu Tahi

He entered the NFL a few months shy of his 25th birthday and didn’t play his first game until he was almost 26. He touched the ball seven times in 10 games as a rookie in 2007. His main job was opening holes for Adrian Peterson during his absurd first four seasons.

Tahi played 56 career games, and near as I can tell never touched the ball more than four times in any of them. Four career touchdowns. His career-long rush is 6 yards, but he had a 32-yard catch in 2009 that I soon will be watching on a loop for 20 or 30 times straight.

I’d venture to guess that Tahi’s most crucial play ever was his fumble recovery against the Saints in the 2009 NFC title game in New Orleans. Jonathan Vilma knocked the ball loose, it bounced back 5 yards and Tahi went from blocking Scott Shanle downfield to somehow racing back to fall on it in one of the most thrilling games I ever attended. I still have no clue how Shanle didn’t recover it and score.

This is the type of play that shows why fans — and some coaches — just can’t quit fullbacks.

Cory Schlesinger

We’re going to forgive Dan for misspelling the name of his former teammate, as it’s a mouthful of unvoiced fricatives, alveolar consonants and velar stops.

Schlesinger was almost the prototypical fullback in that he came from Nebraska (one of the great FB factories ever), barely touched the ball early in his career (22 touches in his first 63 NFL games) and nearly as wide (247 pounds) as he was tall (6-foot).

When Barry Sanders abruptly retired before the 1999 season, the Lions had no run game and had to divvy up 365 carries among nine guys. Schlesinger was one of them, carrying the ball 43 times for a fullbackian 124 yards, earning All Madden that year for his extreme grit. How that team finished 8-8 — and were 8-4 at one point — is one of the great modern NFL mysteries.

And get this: In 2003, Schlesinger was voted by his Lions teammates as the Bobby Layne Offensive Most Valuable Player winner and as the Mike Utley Spirit Award winner. All in a season in which he ran the ball nine times, caught 34 passes and scored twice.

For his career on third- and fourth-and-short carries, Schlesinger ran the ball 26 times for 37 yards and one score. That’s beautiful. Cory, we salute you.

Brad Muster

This might be the most try-hard fullback name of all time. Brad comes from the Old English for “broad wood,” and Muster is defined as “to assemble [troops, a ship's crew, etc.], as for battle.” I mean ... come on.

Muster was essentially 1990s Suhey, and Chicago might be one of the few NFL cities where its teams’ fullbacks are more famous than its quarterbacks. I still watched a fair amount of Bears games in his era, and I remember one glorious day in 1991 where Muster filled in for an injured Neal Anderson and carried Chicago to victory.

Never mind that it was a Colts team that was 1-10. Muster running 15 times for 101 yards and a touchdown and catching six passes for 42 yards and another score was the most inspiring thing ever for slow, white kids such as myself the world around.

Muster also was, if memory serves, a beast on “Super Tecmo Bowl.” That earns bonus points.

2 Oct 1988: Running back Brad Muster of the Chicago Bears (right) gets tackled by a Buffalo Bills player during a game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won the game, 24-3.
2 Oct 1988: Running back Brad Muster of the Chicago Bears (right) gets tackled by a Buffalo Bills player during a game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won the game, 24-3.

Mike Sellers

A personal favorite, Sellers checked off almost every personal appreciation box.

Massive man (273 pounds) with unique skills? Check. Played at an obscure college (Walla Walla Community College)? Check. Listed at more than one position (tight end, receiver and fullback)? Big check. Spent time in the CFL? Oh yeah, check. Born overseas (Germany)? Achtung, baby!

In 2008, I covered the NFC East for Pro Football Weekly and made the case that Sellers — and not Clinton Portis — should have been named the Washington Redskins’ offensive MVP that season. It was a cutesy, contrarian view, but I wasn’t relenting. That dude was awesome that season.

Still is. I’m not alone in that view, apparently.

People remember Mike Sellers, fullback legend. That's a good thing. (@Eric Edholm on Twitter)
People remember Mike Sellers, fullback legend. That's a good thing. (@Eric Edholm on Twitter)

Leonard Weaver

Despite my NFC East roots, I’ll admit to not fully realizing that the Weaver Hive was so fervent. No fewer than 25 people responded to my tweet with Weaver’s name.

In a way, he was sort of the predecessor to Kyle Juszczyk role we know now — a player who does a little of this, a little of that and instantly endears himself to a fan base. There’s an appreciation for versatility.

In Seattle, Weaver replaced Mack Strong — one of the best fullback names imaginable — and then signed in Philadelphia as an uber-back of sorts. His finest hour was probably an 8-75-1 rushing game (that included a 41-yard TD romp) and two special-teams tackles in a blowout of the Giants in 2009.

Weaver had a tough playoff game that season, losing a fumble before halftime, but Eagles fans were admirably loyal to the man despite playing only one-plus season there. By the sound of it, men openly wept when Weaver suffered what ended up being a career-ending injury on his first touch of the 2010 season.

That’s devotion, folks. Even grizzled Eagles fans seem to embrace him.

What exactly does this fullback love mean?

We’re not sure. We left out the 40 or 50 other fullbacks listed in our mentions, not counting the good folks who ignored the “random” or “10 years ago” parts. Look, their hearts were in the right places.

We’ve been hearing the reports of the fullback’s demise for years now, even decades. Maybe there’s sentimentality for the position, or for the football of yore, where power and dominance in the run game reigned supreme. Or perhaps it’s an appreciate for football’s lesser-known warriors of a time gone by.

Whatever the case might be, this post is for you, lead blockers and lead-block appreciators. May there always be a place in the game for your services. We suspect this appreciation is more about the position than any current sports malaise we’re enduring these days.

Oh, and in the hour since we started writing, at least 600 more people responded. It’s becoming clear what’s at play here.

The fullback is dead! Long live the fullback!

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