32 NFL Personalities Who Lit Up The League Like A July 4th Firework
NFL players can take on the personality of those fiery displays with which we celebrate our Independence Day. Like a fireworks show, the players and coaches we remember most are the bright, flashy, loud, and (for better or worse) dangerous ones. So this July 4th, celebrate what makes America so great. Then, check out these 32 players who exploded onto the NFL scene like a firework. (Photo Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)
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Green Bay Packers -- QB Brett Favre
A known risk-taker, Favre was never hesitant to test a dangerous toss. Packers fans remember him more for his victory in Super Bowl XXXI and three league MVP awards than they do for his 286 interceptions thrown in green and gold. Favre generated his fair share of off-the-field fireworks, too, ranging from explicit photos sent via text message to rumors of un-retirement that continue to this day.
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Minnesota Vikings – WR Randy Moss
Moss’ fireworks show began the day he landed in Minnesota and lasted until the day he left (and then briefly returned for four games in 2010). His lengthy frame (6-5, 210 lbs.), combined with his freakish body control, made him a scoring dynamo. In addition to his 92 touchdowns as a Viking, Moss will always be remembered for "mooning" Packers fans at Lambeau Field during a playoff game in Jan. 2005.
AFP/Getty ImagesPAUL BUCK
Chicago Bears -- TE/coach Mike Ditka
A hard-nosed player who made five Pro Bowls as a Bears tight end in the early 1960s, Ditka returned to Chicago as the team’s head coach two decades later. He guided the franchise to its only Super Bowl victory during the 1985 season, forever solidifying his legacy in Chicago sports lore. He is still relevant to younger fans as a television commentator and as the subject of a classic Saturday Night Live skit.
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Detroit Lions -- RB Barry Sanders
The NFL has never seen a more electrifying runner than Sanders. The way he would change directions, leaving defenders lunging at air, was mind-bending and made for must-watch television -- even when the Lions were a subpar team. After 10 seasons, each one worthy of a Pro Bowl appearance, the fireworks show that was Sanders’ career came to an abrupt end just 1,500 yards shy of the all-time rushing record.
AFP/Getty ImagesMATT CAMPBELL
Pittsburgh Steelers -- LB James Harrison
The bulk of Harrison's headlines these days come from Instagram training videos featuring his ridiculous feats of strength, but that was not always the case. Harrison, a frequent target of the league for hits deemed to be illegal, was fined an estimated $120,000 during the 2010 season. The following year, he called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a "crook and a puppet" in a Men's Journal interview and also said that he hated Goodell and would never respect him.
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Baltimore Ravens -- LB Ray Lewis
Lewis was the guiding force for the team's record-setting defense during its run to Super Bowl XXXV and his fiery leadership carried the team as much as his dominant play. His pregame dance always brought the Baltimore crowd to its feet and Lewis retired as a champion after the team won its second Super Bowl over the 49ers after the 2012 season. Lewis' career came close to being derailed in 2000 when he was indicted for murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from the fatal stabbing of two men in Atlanta following a Super Bowl XXXIV party. Lewis negotiated a plea deal and was given probation for obstruction of justice while his two co-defendants were eventually acquitted.
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Cincinnati Bengals -- WR Chad Johnson
For the better part of a decade, Johnson was the AFC's version of Terrell Owens without all of the clubhouse cancer. Fans were more excited to see Johnson's touchdown celebrations than his actual touchdowns. He 'proposed' to a cheerleader, donned a 'Hall of Fame' jacket and even putted a football with a pylon. Johnson was so dedicated to his craft that he even legally changed his last name to represent his jersey number, going by Chad Ochocinco until 2012 when he changed it back to Johnson.
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Cleveland Browns -- QB Johnny Manziel
It's not often that a player who has done so little on the field gets so much attention off of it. Manziel's face was shown more on social media than it was on the sideline. The party boy was photographed boozing it up on an inflatable swan and rolling up a dollar bill in a Vegas bathroom before ever setting foot on an NFL field. When he finally did get his chance to start for the Browns, the former Heisman winner crashed and burned in his two starts. He then was fined on the last weekend of the regular season for showing up late for treatment on his injured hamstring, just days after he proclaimed that he would be getting his act together.
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New York Giants -- TE Jeremy Shockey
Giants fans can choose to remember Jeremy Shockey for the good or the bad moments, because he certainly provided a large enough sample size of both. He won over most fans with his Madden-esque truck stick during his first preseason, and everyone was sold after his “no helmet” first down against the Eagles. Off the field, Shockey provided an even bigger spark. He got himself into trouble for calling Bill Parcells a “homo”, and he once said that he wouldn’t tolerate playing with a gay teammate in college. This was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Shockey’s controversial words and actions. According to unconfirmed reports, Shockey initiated a shouting match with general manager Jerry Reese during an offseason practice, and that was the final straw.
For a while, Portis was the most electric personality that the Redskins media had, and to this day, no one has taken his place. Portis quickly earned a reputation for being a man of many faces in front of the media -- and I mean literally. He went costume to costume, and character to character. One of the best was “Choo-Choo”, the dance instructor hired to make Santana Moss and Mike Sellers even “more smooth.” You will find some of Clinton’s best characters here. Portis was electric on the field as well. Through his nine-year NFL career, he rushed for nearly 10,000 yards and 75 touchdowns while catching almost 250 passes for another 2,018 yards.
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Philadelphia Eagles -- QB Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb was one of the best quarterbacks in Eagles history, and he did it with the likes of Todd Pinkston and Reggie Brown as his wide receivers. You might not learn that if you talk to an Eagles fan. His all-time standing among the Eagles’ legends remains a spark for a heated debate. On draft day, when the Eagles selected him, he was flooded with boos from the fans. If he struggled during a home game, fans were not shy to let him hear about it. When McNabb, a 10-year veteran at the time, claimed to be unaware that an NFL game could end in a tie, nearly every fan of every team let him hear it.
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Dallas Cowboys -- WR Dez Bryant
Show him the money, show him the respect, and Dez Bryant will show you the “X” -- his trademark touchdown celebration. Bryant saw his draft stock take a Randy Moss-like fall due to off field concerns, but the Cowboys selected him anyway. They were rewarded with one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Through his first five seasons, Bryant already has 5,424 receiving yards and 56 touchdowns. If you get him the ball in space, he has the unique breakaway ability to take it to the house on any given play.
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New York Jets -- Coach Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan always made headlines both on and off the field during his tenure in New York. The fans and media gravitated towards Ryan’s loud, cocky attitude that included not being afraid of the New England Patriots. The Jets followed his lead by going to back-to-back AFC Championship games in his first two seasons as coach. Off the field, Rex generated headlines as he got a tattoo of his wife in a Mark Sanchez jersey, had the infamous video with his wife and an apparent foot fetish, dressed as his brother Rob during a press conference and posed as a reporter during training camp. No matter what Rex did, it caused people to talk about him and the Jets.
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New England Patriots -- TE Rob Gronkowski
Did you really expect anyone else? On the field, Gronk is coming off a season in which he caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has been a touchdown machine and has caught at least 10 touchdowns in four of his five seasons in the NFL. Don’t forget that Gronk does his famous “Gronk Spike” after every touchdown. Off the field, Gronkowski grabs all the headlines whether he is dancing at a club, crushing beers at the Patriots victory parade or deflating different objects with his Gronk spike. Whatever Gronkowski does, it always produces fireworks.
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Miami Dolphins -- RB Ricky Williams
The Dolphins acquired running back Ricky Williams from the New Orleans Saints for four draft picks in 2002. Williams posted the two best seasons of his career while in Miami as he rushed for 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2002 and 1,372 yards and nine touchdowns in 2003. On the field, his physical running style left defenders lying on their backs routinely as they failed to wrap him up. Off the field, Williams retired in 2004 due to a third failed drug test for abusing marijuana. He unretired in 2005 and played for the Dolphins for one more season before going to the CFL in 2006. He returned to the Dolphins in 2007 and played in Miami until 2010. Finally, Williams’ life story was told in an episode called “Run Ricky Run” on ESPN’s 30 for 30 television series.
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Buffalo Bills -- RB O.J. Simpson
You can’t get any more electrifying or explosive than the man who was nicknamed “Juice.” Simpson rushed for 11,236 yards and 61 touchdowns during his 11-year career. He led the league in rushing four times and rushing touchdowns twice. His running style was also captivating as he blended a punishing running style with dazzling speed. Unfortunately, Simpson also made headlines off the field for allegedly killing his ex-wfe Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1994. He was later found not guilty for the two murders in 1995. Simpson has repeatedly been in the news for other legal trouble as well.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- QB Jameis Winston
While Winston may be brand new to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he's one of the most talked about players in the NFL already. There was the crab leg incident as well as the other off-field drama, but it's more than just that when it comes to Winston. He's active on social media, he's known to joke around and have a good time and, most importantly, he's absolutely electric on the field. While we haven't seen him in the NFL yet, he burst onto the scene at Florida State as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Winston may be scrutinized heavily for his off-field drama, but he's also quickly becoming a fan favorite in Tampa Bay. Don't expect Winston to shy away from the spotlight anytime soon. (Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Carolina Panthers -- WR Steve Smith
Smith has been called a bully, he's gotten into altercations with teammates and he's publicly admitted to his dislike of both general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera. What else was he? The best wide receiver to ever play for the Carolina Panthers. Smith played 13 seasons with the team, topping 1,000 yards seven times and scoring a total of 67 touchdowns. Smith was the definition of Panther football before the team parted ways with him before the 2014 season. We've seen both the good and the bad from Smith, but he's the definition of a "firework" on and off the field. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)
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Atlanta Falcons -- QB Michael Vick
The type of athlete that Vick was can't be understated. Then, it all came apart at the seams. Vick pled guilty to running a dogfighting ring, which led to him spending 21 months in prison. He came back to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, where it looked like he may be able to get it back, but he never did. While Vick had a ton of work to do in order to repair his image, what he did off the field will likely never be forgotten. On that same note, what he did on the field with Atlanta is unlikely to be forgotten either. Vick had seasons where he rushed for 777 yards and eight touchdowns, 902 yards and three scores, 597 yards and six touchdowns and 1,039 yards and two touchdowns. His rocket arm and ridiculous speed took the NFL by storm and paved the way for running quarterbacks.(Photo Credit: Steve Schaefer/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty ImagesSTEVE SCHAEFER
New Orleans Saints -- WR Joe Horn
Most recently, Horn decided to call NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "The Devil." This came a full eight years after his NFL career had come to a close. Horn was also rumored to have slept with his teammate's wife at one point, so the off-field drama is definitely there for the 13-year NFL receiver. As for his on-field actions, we'll never forget the cell phone incident, but it's more about his production than anything. Horn is probably the best wide receiver to have ever played for the Saints, racking up a total of 603 receptions, 8,744 yards and 58 touchdowns. The most impressive part is that during his seven years with the Saints, he topped 1,265 yards in four seasons, while scoring at least seven touchdowns in five of the years. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Getty ImagesChris Graythen
Houston Texans -- DE J.J. Watt
Whether it’s hanging out with Arnold Schwarzenegger, acting as security for the Zac Brown band, or nailing ridiculous box jumps, J.J. Watt finds a way to grab people’s attention with his off-field activities. Oh, and he’s not bad at football either. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has spent four seasons terrorizing opposing quarterback’s, amassing 20.5 sacks two of the last three seasons. With his on-field prowess and off-field antics, Watt provides plenty of must-see moments.(Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Tennessee Titans -- DE Jevon Kearse
They didn’t call him “The Freak” for nothing. The No. 16 overall pick in 1999, Kearse took the NFL by storm, wracking up an NFL-leading 14.5 sacks and forcing six fumbles en route to winning Rookie of Year. The phenom helped the Titans to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV and was named a Pro Bowl starter. Kearse never match the totals of his rookie season, but when he was at his best, his status as one of the game’s most feared defenders was unquestioned. (Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
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Jacksonville Jaguars -- RB Maurice Jones-Drew
A star running back and fantasy football enthusiast, MJD ran for at least 1,300 yards three consecutive seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars, including an NFL-best 1,606 yards in 2011. Jones-Drew, who retired in 2015 after a nine-year career, was so invested in his fantasy lineup, he would reportedly get in-game updates from a Jaguars equipment manager as he was playing in games. That’s just awesome. (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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Indianapolis Colts -- QB Peyton Manning
Pitch man. TV show host. Super-Bowl winning quarterback. Peyton Manning can do it all. Arguably the best quarterback of the last 20 years and one of the greatest to ever play the position, Manning has taken his team to three Super Bowls, winning one. A five-time MVP, Manning is a player who makes those around him better and is still getting it done at 39, having led the Broncos to playoffs once again last season. And whether it’s commercials or hosting Saturday Night Live, Manning has made himself into a versatile entertainer, whose influence extends beyond football. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Getty ImagesStreeter Lecka
Seattle Seahawks -- RB Marshawn Lynch
Marshawn Lynch is one of the few players in the NFL that can make a huge statement on and off the field. Lynch is known for running opponents over on the field and making waves off the field by saying absolutely nothing. He is one of the most explosive backs in the NFL, as he can break any run for a touchdown simply by running through the other team. You never know what you are going to get from Lynch on a daily basis, but you know it is always going to be exciting. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
Arizona Cardinals -- DT Darnell Dockett
You can always count on defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for some type of excitement, whether it is on the field or off the field. Dockett is not one to hold his tongue, once criticizing Bears QB Jay Cutler for not playing hurt: "If I'm on Chicago team Jay Cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!" Dockett is a beast on the field constantly making big plays and getting everyone fired up on the Cardinals defense. Dockett is the guy quarterbacks hate to see coming at them. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
San Francisco 49ers -- WR Terrell Owens
Many people forget that Terrell Owens started his career on the 49ers and was one of the most outgoing, talented players in the game. Owens was known for his flashy celebrations in San Francisco. He once took a sharpie out from his sock after scoring a touchdown and signed the ball. One of his most famous celebrations was running to the star at the 50-yard line in Cowboys stadium. Owens backed up his antics by producing on the field. He made one of the biggest catches in 49ers history against the Packers in a playoff game. (Photo Credit: Monica M. Davey/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty ImagesMONICA M. DAVEY
St. Louis Rams -- WR Torry Holt
Torry Holt is one of the most underrated receivers in the history of the NFL, but one of the most exciting and flashiest to ever play the game. Holt was part of the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ and constantly put up huge numbers while completing some monster plays. You don’t get the nickname ‘Big Game’ for no reason. Holt was one of those players that if he got a step on you he was gone. He got so big during his days in St. Louis that he got to appear in Nelly’s Air Force Ones Music Video. (Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
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Denver Broncos -- TE Shannon Sharpe
Shannon Sharpe wasn't just an all-time tight end talent. He was part preacher, part smack-talker, and always entertaining. The man once picked up a sideline phone during a rout in New England and pretended to call the president. Why? Because the Broncos were killing the Patriots. For 14 years, Sharpe showcased skills along with his wit. He was a trailblazer for tight ends to come -- a player who could stretch defenses as well as he could block. In that sense, he was ahead of his time on and off the field. Just imagine Sharpe's silver tongue in today's soundbyte-driven social media era. (Photo Credit: Don Emmert/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty ImagesDON EMMERT
Kansas City Chiefs -- KR Dante Hall
This offseason, the NFL tinkered with its rules to make special teams plays more exhiliarating. They should look into cloning 32 Dante Halls and handing them out among the NFL teams, then. For a few glorious seasons, Hall was indeed a human joystick when it came to return skills. He set an NFL record in 2003 with a return touchdown in four consecutive games. Then, he causually added another touchdown in the playoffs for five special teams scores. They called this man the "X-Factor" for a reason. (Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Oakland Raiders -- RB Marcus Allen
Marcus Allen was like the loud firework that gets a gasp from the crowd. Just look at his dazzling run in Super Bowl XVIII against the Redskins -- it started out as a net loss, turned into a juke-and-miss show, and ended up becoming one of the sport's most breathtaking moments. Allen was always good for some exlplosive moments with owner Al Davis, too. He famously told Al Michaels that his owner was "out to get him" in a taped interview on Monday Night Football. Imagine how that'd play out today. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
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San Diego Chargers -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson
History will remember the Chargers all-time running back as a quiet star. That's not exactly true -- LaDainian Tomlinson had his fair share of explosive moments. When the Patriots ended Tomlinson's MVP season in 2006, he called out Bill Belichick for letting his players dance on the Chargers' midfield logo. He took heat for sitting out of a playoff game two years later with an MCL sprain. And he criticized Norv Turner's offensive gameplanning in 2010 -- at his farewell news conference when the Chargers released him. Juxtapose that persona with L.T.'s all-star career (remember how exciting it was when he ran a RB option pass?) and you have an all-time memorable player. (Photo Credit Rob Tringali/Getty Images)