By: Brien Shea
As diehard Cards fans, the NFL draft always provides new teams to support. These players are our family and it is fun to see them carry the Louisville banner. With three first-rounders this year, the enthusiasm is at all-time high.
I don't like the Jets, but will root for Calvin Pryor. Not a huge fan of Buffalo, but they've added Preston Brown to Eric Wood. Don't care much for the Eagles, but they took a chance on Marcus Smith in Round One. So they'll get some love too.
And then, there's Minnesota. As a Packers fan who goes to a game at Lambeau Field every year, this is a tough one. Three times I've seen the Pack play the hated Vikings, who became even more despicable when Brett Favre turned his coat. It's not near UK hate - nothing is - but it runs deep.
However, Teddy Bridgewater is now there. And I find myself reading the Daily Norseman and going to the Vikings page on NFL .com every day. After less than two weeks, Vikings fans are falling deeply in love. We all knew it would happen. Teddy being Teddy, after all. I feel a bond forming. We now have something in common.
Many Cards fans believe that Teddy will be the biggest NFL star Louisville has produced since Johnny Unitas. But you never know. The draft is an inexact science and football is a brutal game. Maybe Preston Brown will emerge as the best pro. Perhaps, one of the 5 undrafted free agents will surprise us. Most of us will follow each player with great interest.
Over the years, Louisville football has delivered plenty of talent to the NFL. In researching which Louisville Cardinals had the best NFL careers, it was interesting to see the myriad of middle-to-low draft picks and undrafted free agents who had stellar careers. And, of course, there were several first-rounders who lived up to the promise.
Below is a list of the Cards family members - listed alphabetically - who went on to very good or great NFL careers. Let's hope the current crop of rookies has the longevity and success of players like Johnny U or Ted Washington (aka Mt. Washington).
David Akers, K, who was an undrafted free agent, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998. He has made six Pro Bowls and ranks in the top 20 in NFL history in Career FG made and career FG accuracy. He's a 6-time All-Pro and played in two Super Bowls (with Philadelphia and San Francisco). He made the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s and holds the NFL season record for points by a kicker (166) and FGs (44), set in the 2011 season with the 49ers. He currently kicks for Detroit.
Bruce Armstrong, OT, was picked in the 1st round in 1987, 23rd overall, by New England. He played 14 seasons, all with the Patriots, and started all 212 games he played. He was selected to six Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro twice. He played on one Super Bowl team for New England, 1996, when they lost to Green Bay. His number - 78 - is one of only seven that has been retired by the Patriots and he's a member of the team's Hall of Fame.
Deion Branch, WR, was drafted in the 2nd round in 2002 by New England. As he did in Louisville, Branch always came through when it mattered most, specifically in the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls. He won the MVP in the 2005 Super Bowl after snagging 11 catches for 133 yards. The previous year, he had 10 catches for 143 yards and a TD. Branch's 21 catches in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX are the most by any player in back-to-back Super Bowls. Currently a member of the Colts, Branch has 39 TDs in the NFL.
Ray Buchanan, CB, was a 3rd round pick in 1993 by Indianapolis. He had 47 career interceptions (ranked 39th all time) in 12 seasons and played in the Super Bowl with Atlanta. In 1994, he had 8 interceptions for the Colts, including three touchdown returns. He was named All-Pro twice.
Doug Buffone, LB, was a 4th round pick in 1966 by the Chicago Bears. He played 14 seasons in the NFL, all with the Bears. Buffone had more than 1,200 tackles, going over the 100-tackle mark in seven seasons. He was the Bears defensive captain for eight seasons. Buffone retired with 24 career interceptions to lead all Bears linebackers. His 18 sacks in 1968 is still a Bears record.
Mark Clayton, WR, was picked in Round 8 of the 1983 draft by Miami. Clayton was named All-Pro in three of his 11 seasons and made the Pro Bowl five times. He had 84 touchdowns in his career, tied for 15th all-time for a receiver. He paired with Mark Duper to form the Marks Brothers, the prolific tandem who served as top targets for Dan Marino. He holds Miami team records for career pass receptions and TDs. He played in the 1985 Super Bowl after scoring a single-season NFL record of 18 TDs in 1984 (still 3rd all-time).
Elvis Dumervil, DE, was picked in the 4th round of the 2006 draft by Denver. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times, including the 2009 season when he led league with 17 sacks and was named 1st-team All Pro. He was also was 3rd in voting for the Defensive Player of the Year. Dumervil, who has 73 career sacks and 18 forced fumbles, now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
Carwell Gardner, FB, was drafted in the 2nd round in 1990 by the Buffalo Bills. He played eight seasons in the NFL. While his career stats are modest, his contributions to Buffalo's run of four straight Super Bowls cannot be understated. Buffalo's coach Marv Levy said he was "the perfect backfield companion to Thurman Thomas...Carwell was a devastating blocker, as big and as aggressive as any linebacker who might get in his way."
Ernest Givens, WR, was picked in the 2nd round in 1986 by the Houston Oilers. He played 10 seasons in Houston and was named to the Pro Bowl twice (1990 and 92). He earned All-Pro honors in 1990, when he caught 72 passes and nine TDs. He finished his career with 49 TD receptions.
Ernie Green, RB/FB, was drafted in the 14th round in 1962 by Green Bay and traded to Cleveland. He was the lead back for NFL legend Jim Brown in 1963 and helped him set a then-NFL record 1863 yards. He also gained 526 yards himself that season. In 1964, the combination of Brown and Green led the Browns to the NFL title. After Brown's retirement in 1966, Green moved to FB and teamed with another Hall of Famer, Leroy Kelly. He was All-Pro the next two years before a knee injury cut his career short.
Tom Jackson, LB, was picked in Round 4 of the 1973 draft by the Denver Broncos. He went on to play 14 seasons in Denver, including Super Bowl seasons of 1977 and 1986. He was the undisputed locker room leader and was named All-Pro 4 times. He also had 20 interceptions in his career. In 1987, he joined ESPN and has been a fixture ever since alongside Chris Berman on NFL Primetime and NFL Countdown. He has won seven sports Emmy awards and is famous for calling out Cards NFL players during highlights on the shows..."from Louisville."
Joe Jacoby, OG/OT, was an undrafted free agent who played 13 seasons and was a member of the famous "Hogs" offensive line in the 1980s. He won three Super Bowls with the Redskins, was a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro selection. Jacoby was named to the NFL 1980s all-decade team and was long a favorite of John Madden for his talent and scrappy demeanor. Jacoby was inducted into the Redskins Ring of Fame.
Joe Johnson, DE, was picked 13th overall in the 1st round of the 1994 draft by the New Orleans Saints. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and the 2000 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He was named to the New Orleans All-Time 45th Anniversary team and helped the team win it's first-ever playoff game in 2000. He finished with 52.5 sacks in his career, including a high of 12 in 2000.
Lenny Lyles, DB/RB, was picked in the first round, 11th overall, in 1958 by the Baltimore Colts. The Colts, led by Johnny Unitas, won the NFL title after his rookie season, during which returned two kickoffs for TDs. Over his 12-year career, he had 16 interceptions and was named to one Pro Bowl. Lyles had 5 interceptions in 1968 when the Colts won the NFL title (they lost the Super Bowl to the AFL's New York Jets that season). In local notes, Lyles broke the color barrier for scholarship athletes at U of L and was a prominent leader of the Louisville community until his death in 2011.
Horace Jones, DE, was picked in the 12th round in 1971 by the Oakland Raiders. He started 59 games in 5 seasons when the Raiders were a perennial power and had a ferocious defense. The Raiders advanced to the AFC title game 3 straight years while Jones anchored the right side, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champ each year. Jones was part of a heralded Raiders draft class that is credited for the greatest run in franchise history.
Sam Madison, CB, was selected by Miami in Round 2. He played 12 NFL seasons, nine with Miami and three with the New York Giants. He had 38 interceptions in his career, 31 with Miami, and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Giants after the 2007 season. He was named All-Pro three years in a row (1999-2001) and was a four-time Pro Bowler.
Frank Minnifield, CB, briefly played in the USFL before signing as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 1984. He was known for his physical play and was named to the Pro Bowl four straight years (1986-89).He was voted to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team for a career that included 20 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. He is also partially responsible for naming the famous Dawg Pound cheering section of Cleveland Stadium.
Roman Oben, OL, was drafted in the 3rd round by the New York Giants in 1996 and played 12 seasons in the NFL. He was the starting left tackle for Tampa Bay during their Super Bowl season of 2002. He started 130 of 143 games in the NFL. He also was a prominent member of the NFL Players Association, helping ensure future medical coverage for all NFL players.
Kerry Rhodes, S, was picked in the 4th round by the New York Jets in 2005. He has 23 interceptions in his career and was named All-Pro in 2006. In his first season as a pro, he had 108 tackles (85 solo). In the 2010-11 season with Arizona, he had 90 tackles, 1 sack, 12 deflections, 4 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries as he was named MVP for the Cardinals.
Johnny Unitas, QB, was drafted in the 9th round in 1955 by Pittsburgh, but released after the Steelers coach said he wasn't smart enough to play QB in the NFL. After sitting out a year, he joined the Baltimore Colts and soon became a legend. After setting a then-NFL record for rookies with a 55.6% completion percentage in 1956, he became one of the NFL's most prolific passers. In 1957, he led the NFL in passing yards and TDs. In 1958 he led the Colts to the NFL title, driving his team to victory in the first overtime game in NFL history, a 23-17 win called in "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
He played 18 seasons in the NFL, winning the MVP in 1959, 1964 and 1967. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and 5-time first-team All-Pro. A 3-time NFL champion, he was also played for Colts' 1970 Super Bowl Champion. Louisville's only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he is also on the NFL's 50th and 75th anniversary teams and the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team. He held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass for 52 years until Drew Brees broke it in 2012. In an era when the forward pass took a back seat to the running game, Unitas pioneered the two-minute drill.
Johnny U is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time.
Ted Washington, DT, was a 1st round pick, 25th overall, in 1991 by the 49ers. He played 17 seasons in the NFL and was named All-Pro three times. A 6-5 giant who weighed up to 375 pounds, Washington plugged the middle like few in his era. Amazingly, given his position as nose tackle, he had a streak of 119 consecutive games played. His best season was in 1997 with the Buffalo Bills when he had 123 tackles and four sacks. Finally, after years of near misses, he won the 2004 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. His nicknames in the pros are classics - Mt. Washington and Washington Monument.
Otis Wilson, LB, was a 1st round pick, 19th overall, in 1980 by the Chicago Bears. He is renowned as "Mama's Boy" Otis in the famous Super Shuffle video during the Chicago Bears' run to the Super Bowl title. During that 1985 season, Wilson was named to the Pro Bowl after logging 10.sacks. He finished his 9-season career with 36 sacks, 10 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries and two TD returns. He was a two-time All-Pro and one of the most feared outside rushers of his era.
Dwayne Woodruff, DB, was a 6th round pick of the Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979. He played his entire 11-year career with the Steelers, winning a Super Bowl in 1980. He had 37 career interceptions, including three TD returns, and returned two fumbles for TDs. His name adorns the Woodruff Academic Center at U of L.
Eric Wood, C/G, was picked in the 1st round, 28th overall, by the Buffalo Bills in 2009. He has started all 58 games he has played and is considered one of the game's top centers. He started his first game for Buffalo at right guard. While his career is still young and he had two seasons cut short by injury, he is well respected throughout the league.