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CANTON, OHIO -- Thirty-one players who were active during the 2003 National Football League regular season ranked among the game's all-time best in four main statistical categories. Six of the players were new additions to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 that charts career leaders in passing, receiving, rushing, and scoring.
Each week during the NFL's 84th season, the Pro Football Hall of Fame updated the Top Twenty career leaders in passing, receiving, rushing and scoring. The statistical lists are published on the Hall of Fame's website where they attract considerable traffic. The 2003 NFL regular season marked the eighth consecutive year that the weekly updates were posted on Profootballhof.com.
In addition, six of the Top 20 all-time leaders in career combined net yards were active during the season including five who ranked in other Top 20 lists. Four coaches who roamed the sidelines in 2003 rank among the career leaders in coaching victories along with Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach who was hired as head coach of the Washington Redskins in January 2004.
The Hall of Fame’s Top Twenty rankings differ slightly from other similar lists in that statistics from the All-America Football Conference (1946-1949) are included. However, there are only three players who played in the AAFC who currently hold a Top Twenty ranking in any of the four main categories -- Otto Graham (passing), Joe "The Jet" Perry (rushing), and Lou "The Toe" roza (scoring).
Twelve active quarterbacks are ranked in the Hall of Fame's Top 20 including three passers – Steve McNair Daunte Culpepper, and Tom Brady – who joined the list in 2003. McNair, the NFL's co-MVP, entered the rankings in the first week of the season. The Tennessee Titans' quarterback recorded the finest season of his nine-year pro career as he led the NFL in passing by completing 250 of 400 passes for 3,215 yards, 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions to post a 100.4 rating. In doing so, he climbed to No. 16 all-time with a career rating of 84.076 points. The league's other co-MVP, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts also registered one of his best seasons as a pro. Manning threw for an NFL-best 4,267 yards as he completed 379 of 566 passes, fired 29 touchdowns and had 10 interceptions for a 99.0 passer rating to jump from 8th to 5th place on the all-time list. Culpepper, in just his fifth season with the Minnesota Vikings, cracked the Top 20 in the eighth week of the 2003 season. He led the NFC in passing with a 96.4 rating and finished the year ranked as the sixth best passer in NFL annals.
Brady reached the required 1500 career attempts to qualify for the Hall's Top 20 passers in Week 16. In four NFL seasons, Brady has completed 955 of 1,544 passes for 10,233 yards, 69 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions for a rating of 85.9 that places him 11th all time.
Other active quarterbacks in the Top 20 include: Kurt Warner (No. 1), Jeff Garcia (No. 4), Brett Favre (No. 7), Trent Green (No. 10), Mark Brunell (No. 12), Rich Gannon (No. 13), Brad Johnson (No. 15), and Brian Griese (No. 18).
Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts added 94 catches to his career total in 2003 to climb six spots – from No. 18 to No. 12 - among the NFL's all-time reception leaders. Harrison is one of eight active players who rank in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 receivers including two newcomers in 2003 – Keenan McCardell of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Isaac Bruce of the St. Louis Rams.
McCardell hauled in a team-leading 84 receptions for 1,174 yards and 8 TDs this past season to join the Top 20. In 12 NFL seasons, he has accumulated 724 receptions which puts him at No. 16 of all-time.
Bruce, in his 10th season, added 69 grabs to his career résumé and now ranks 20th all-time with 688 receptions for 10,461 yards.
Tight end Shannon Sharpe of the Denver Broncos registered 62 catches for 770 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2003 as he jumped two spots to No. 9 all-time.
Firmly entrenched atop the list of Top 20 receivers is Jerry Rice of the Oakland Raiders. Rice, in his 19th NFL season, led the Raiders in receiving during 2003 with 63 receptions for 869 yards and 2 TDs.
Three other active players – Rice's teammate Tim Brown (No. 3), New England Patriots running back Larrt Centers (No. 7) and Jimmy Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 17) – are ranked in the Top 20 receivers of all time.
Three running backs – Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Jets' Curtis Martin, and Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans – ran past Hall of Famers on the Top 20 all-time rushing chart during the 2003 NFL season.
Bettis, who climbed four spots during the season, surpassed the career rushing marks of three Hall of Fame running backs. He cruised by Franco Harris in Week 15, then Marcus Allen one week later and finally past the legendary Jim Brown in the final week of the regular season to claim his spot as the sixth ranked rusher in NFL history.
Martin advanced four positions among the career leaders. After moving ahead of Ricky Watters and Marshall Faulk, Martin surpassed Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and John Riggins to reach eleventh place among the rushing elite.
Despite missing five games early in the season, the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk rushed for 818 yards on 209 carries and scored 10 rushing touchdowns in 2003. His 10-year total now stands at 11,213 yards and 14th on the all-time rushing chart.
George moved past Hall of Famers Earl Campbell and Joe Perry on the Top 20 to move into 17th place among the career rushing leaders.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 includes one other active player. The game's all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith played the 2003 NFL season with the Arizona Cardinals. His 14-season rushing yardage now stands at 17,418 yards.
Gary Anderson, the game's all-time leading scorer, began the 2003 season out of football. He was signed by the Tennessee Titans before Week 2. He quickly found his groove and recorded the fourth highest season point total of his 22-year career. Anderson kicked 27 field goals and 42 PATs for 123 points. It marked the 14th time of his career he reached the 100-point plateau.
Another 22-year NFL veteran also reached the 100-point mark in 2003. Morten Andersen of the Kansas City Chiefs scored 106 points to bring his career total to 2,259 points.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 scorers had one addition to it during 2003. Jason Elam of the Denver Broncos cracked the Top 20 during the fifth week of the season. He finished his 11th NFL season as the 19th ranked scorer of all time after he scored 120 points (27 FGs, 39 PATs) for the Broncos in 2003.
Matt Stover of the Baltimore Ravens scored 134 points, the second highest season output of his career, to climb to No. 18 on the list.
Two other active players rank in the Top 20. John Carney of the New Orleans Saints scored 102 points in 2003 to advance four spots to No. 12. Steve Christie of the San Diego Chargers added 81 points in 2003 and now ranks No. 16 all-time.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Top 20 Potpourri
AAFC Numbers Included – The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Top Twenty lists differ slightly from other similar lists because the statistics from the All-America Football Conference (1946-1949) are included. Today, there are just three players who are ranked in the Top 20 of the four main statistical categories (passing, receiving, rushing and scoring) who played part of their careers in the AAFC. When the Hall’s Top 20 display and accompanying lists debuted at the conclusion of the 1968 season, there were nine players ranked among the career leaders who had connections to the defunct AAFC.
Otto Graham, the legendary quarterback of the Cleveland Browns who passed away in December, is currently ranked eighth all-time in passer rating. Without his four-year totals in the AAFC, he would not rank in the Top 20.
Lou “The Toe” Groza, a teammate of Graham in Cleveland, ranks seventh all-time in scoring with 1,608 points. Without his 259 points from the AAFC, Groza would be in 18th place.
Hall of Fame running back Joe Perry's total of 9,723 yards currently ranks him No. 18 all time among the Top 20 rushers. For the first time, he would no longer rank in the Top 20 if his 1,345 yards gained in the All-America Football Conference were not included in that total.
Brady joins the ranks – Tom Brady of the New England Patriots entered the Top 20 passers during Week 16 of the 2003 NFL season. His ascension to the Top 20 was one of the fastest ever.
Since 1973 when the Hall of Fame's Top 20 changed to rank quarterbacks based on the current passer rating system, only four other quarterbacks have entered the Top 20 as quickly as the two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. The Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning reached the Top 20 in his third season while Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Brett Favre each entered in their fourth NFL season.
A quarterback needs at least 1,500 career attempts to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 passers.
Pass Happy – The number of active quarterbacks who rank in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 increased by three during the 2003 season when Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, and Tom Brady joined the ranks.
Twelve of the Top 20 passers were active in the NFL at the end of the season. That number represents the most active quarterbacks ever ranked in the Top 20 passers. The previous high of 11 active passers occurred three times (1993, 1995 and 1996).
Dawson Dropped – Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson was knocked out the Top 20 in Week 16 of the 2003 season. When the Hall of Fame's Top 20 passers list changed in 1973 to rank all-time quarterbacks based on the passer rating, Dawson was the second ranked thrower of all time.
In his 19-year career, Dawson completed 2,136 of 3,741 passes for 28,711 yards, 239 touchdowns, and 183 interceptions for a passer rating of 82.56.
Lonesome – Shannon Sharpe is the lone tight end ranked in the Top 20. That's because Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome of the Cleveland Browns was bumped from the Top 20 receivers early in the 2003 season.
When Newsome retired following a 13-year career, he ranked as the fourth all-time receiver with 662 catches for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Nine straight – Curtis Martin of the New York Jets gained 1,308 yards on 323 carries in 2003 to become just the second player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first nine seasons. The only other player to accomplish the feat is 2004 Hall of Fame enshrinee Barry Sanders who reached the 1,000-yard plateau every season of his 10-year career.
Ageless – Only Hall of Famer George Blanda has played more seasons than Gary Anderson of the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs' Morten Andersen. The kicking duo who rank first and second on the all-time scoring charts each played in their 22nd NFL season in 2003.
Age apparently didn't slow them down. Both Anderson and Andersen scored more than 100 points for their teams in 2003.
Move over for the Bus – Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers eclipsed the 12,000-yard mark in 2003 and kept going. By season's end the 11-year pro had climbed four spots on the Top 20 rushers list. Along the way, he passed three Hall of Fame running backs – Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, and Jim Brown. Bettis now ranks sixth all-time with 12,353 career rushing yards.
Bettis entered the Top 20 rushers during the 14th week of the 1999 NFL season and climbed to 17th place by end of that season. He jumped to 14th place in 2000, 12th place in 2001, and finished the 2002 season in 10th place all-time.
Best of Today – There have never been more active players ranked in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Top 20 since the lists debuted following the 1968 season. Thirty-one players who were active during the NFL's 2003 regular season were ranked among the Top 20 career leaders in passer rating, receptions, rushing yards, and points. Only one other time (1993) has the Top 20 had as many active players among its rankings.
Nineteen NFL teams are represented by one of their players in the Top 20 during the 2003 season. Three teams led the way with three players ranked in the Top 20:
- Oakland Raiders (Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown)
- St. Louis Rams (Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, and Marshall Faulk)
- Tennessee Titans (Steve McNair, Eddie George, and Gary Anderson)
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