The Most Famous

AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYERS from United States

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This page contains a list of the greatest American American Football Players. The pantheon dataset contains 55 American Football Players, 52 of which were born in United States. This makes United States the birth place of the most number of American Football Players.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American American Football Players of all time. This list of famous American American Football Players is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American American Football Players.

Photo of O. J. Simpson

1. O. J. Simpson (1947 - )

With an HPI of 77.03, O. J. Simpson is the most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 45 different languages on wikipedia.

Orenthal James Simpson (born July 9, 1947), nicknamed "The Juice", is an American former football running back, broadcaster, actor, advertising spokesman, and convicted felon. Once a popular figure with the U.S. public, he is now best known for being tried for the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. Simpson was acquitted of the murders in criminal court, but was later found responsible for both deaths in a civil trial. Simpson attended the University of Southern California (USC), where he played football for the USC Trojans and won the Heisman Trophy in 1968. He played professionally as a running back in the National Football League (NFL) for 11 seasons, primarily with the Buffalo Bills from 1969 to 1977. He also played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1978 to 1979. In 1973, he became the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. He holds the record for the single season yards-per-game average, which stands at 143.1. He was the only player to ever rush for over 2,000 yards in the 14-game regular season NFL format. Simpson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. After retiring from football, he began new careers in acting and football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was arrested and charged with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. He was acquitted by a jury after a lengthy and internationally publicized trial. The families of the victims subsequently filed a civil suit against him. A civil court awarded a $33.5 million judgment against him in 1997 for the victims' wrongful deaths. In 2000, he moved to Florida and settled in Miami to avoid paying any more of the liability judgment, which as of 2021 he has mostly not paid. In 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, and charged with the felonies of armed robbery and kidnapping. In 2008, he was convicted and sentenced to 33 years' imprisonment, with a minimum of nine years without parole. He served his sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center near Lovelock, Nevada. Simpson was granted parole on July 20, 2017. He was eligible for release from prison on October 1, 2017, and was released on that date.

Photo of Jim Brown

2. Jim Brown (1936 - )

With an HPI of 63.13, Jim Brown is the 2nd most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.

James Nathaniel Brown (born February 17, 1936) is a former American football fullback, sports analyst and actor. He played for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League (NFL) from 1957 through 1965. Considered to be one of the greatest running backs of all time, as well as one of the greatest players in NFL history, Brown was a Pro Bowl invitee every season he was in the league, was recognized as the AP NFL Most Valuable Player three times, and won an NFL championship with the Browns in 1964. He led the league in rushing yards in eight out of his nine seasons, and by the time he retired, he had shattered most major rushing records. In 2002, he was named by The Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever.Brown earned unanimous All-America honors playing college football at Syracuse University, where he was an all-around player for the Syracuse Orangemen football team. He also excelled in basketball, track and field, and lacrosse. The football team later retired his number 44 jersey. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. In his professional career, Brown carried the ball 2,359 times for 12,312 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns, which were all records when he retired. He averaged 104.3 rushing yards per game, and is the only player in NFL history to average over 100 rushing yards per game for his career. His 5.2 yards per rush is second-best among running backs. Brown was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. He was named to the NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, comprising the best players in NFL history. Brown was honored at the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship as the greatest college football player of all time. His number 32 jersey is retired by the Browns. Shortly before the end of his football career, Brown became an actor, and had several leading roles throughout the 1970s.

Photo of Joe Montana

3. Joe Montana (1956 - )

With an HPI of 60.97, Joe Montana is the 3rd most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.

Joseph Clifford Montana Jr. (born June 11, 1956) is an American former professional football player who was a quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) for 16 seasons. Nicknamed "Joe Cool" and "the Comeback Kid", he spent most of his career with the San Francisco 49ers. After winning a national championship at Notre Dame, Montana started his NFL career in 1979 with San Francisco, where he played for the next 14 seasons. While a member of the 49ers, Montana started and won four Super Bowls and was the first player ever to have been named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player three times. He also holds Super Bowl career records for most passes without an interception (122 in four games) and the all-time highest passer rating of 127.8. In 1993, Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for his final two seasons, and he led that franchise to its first AFC Championship Game in January 1994. Montana was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.In 1989 and again in 1990, the Associated Press named Montana the NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), and Sports Illustrated magazine named Montana the 1990 "Sportsman of the Year". Four years earlier in 1986, Montana had also won the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Montana was elected to eight Pro Bowls as well as being voted 1st team All-Pro by the AP in 1987, 1989, and 1990. Montana had the highest passer rating in the National Football Conference (NFC) five times (1981, 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1989), and in both 1987 and 1989, Montana had the highest passer rating in the NFL.Among his career highlights, "The Catch" (the game-winning touchdown pass vs. Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship Game) and a Super Bowl-winning 92-yard drive against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII are staples of NFL highlight films. The 49ers retired the number Montana's #16 jersey after the conclusion of his playing career. In 1994, Montana earned a spot on the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team; he is also a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. In 1999, editors at The Sporting News ranked Montana third on their list of Football's 100 Greatest Players. Also in 1999, ESPN named Montana the 25th greatest athlete of the 20th century. In 2006, Sports Illustrated rated him the number-one clutch quarterback of all time.

Photo of Tom Brady

4. Tom Brady (1977 - )

With an HPI of 59.49, Tom Brady is the 4th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.

Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. (born August 3, 1977) is an American football quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League (NFL). He spent his first 20 seasons with the New England Patriots, where he was a central contributor to the franchise's dynasty from 2001 to 2019. Brady is widely considered to be the greatest quarterback of all time.After playing college football at Michigan, Brady was selected 199th overall by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, earning him a reputation as the NFL's biggest draft steal. He became the starting quarterback during his second season, which saw the Patriots win their first Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XXXVI. As the team's primary starter for 18 seasons, Brady led the Patriots to 17 division titles (including 11 consecutive from 2009 to 2019), 13 AFC Championship Games (including eight consecutive from 2011 to 2018), nine Super Bowl appearances, and six Super Bowl titles, all NFL records for a player and franchise. He joined the Buccaneers in 2020 and led them to win Super Bowl LV, extending his individual records to 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven victories.Brady holds many career quarterback records, including passing yards (91,653), completions (8,542), touchdown passes (664), and games started (344), in addition to the most Pro Bowl selections (14). Never having a losing season, he is the NFL leader in career quarterback wins (264), quarterback regular-season wins (230), quarterback playoff wins (34), and Super Bowl MVP awards (5), as well as the only Super Bowl MVP for two different teams. Brady's success has also been noted for longevity, with him being the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl in three different decades. At age 43 in Super Bowl LV, he is the oldest player to be named Super Bowl MVP and win a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback, along with being the oldest NFL MVP at age 40 in 2017. Brady is the only NFL quarterback named to two first-team all-decade teams (2000s and 2010s) and was unanimously named to the 100th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2019. From the media, Brady was the AP Male Athlete of the Year in 2007 and has won four ESPY Awards.

Photo of Ernie Davis

5. Ernie Davis (1939 - 1963)

With an HPI of 59.14, Ernie Davis is the 5th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Ernest Davis (December 14, 1939 – May 18, 1963) was an American football player, a halfback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1961 and was its first African-American recipient. Davis played college football for Syracuse University and was the first pick in the 1962 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Washington Redskins. Davis was diagnosed with leukemia that same year, and died shortly after at age 23 without ever playing in a professional game. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and was the subject of the 2008 film The Express: The Ernie Davis Story.

Photo of Dan Marino

6. Dan Marino (1961 - )

With an HPI of 56.89, Dan Marino is the 6th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.

Daniel Constantine Marino Jr. (born September 15, 1961) is a former American football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 17 seasons with the Miami Dolphins. After a successful college career at Pittsburgh and being named First-team All-American in 1981, Marino was the last quarterback taken in the first round of the quarterback class of 1983. Marino held or currently holds dozens of NFL records associated with the quarterback position, and despite never being on a Super Bowl-winning team, he is recognized among the greatest quarterbacks in American football history. Best remembered for his quick release and powerful arm, Marino helped the Dolphins become consistent postseason contenders, leading them to the playoffs ten times and one Super Bowl appearance in XIX, although a title victory ultimately eluded him during his career. Marino is considered by many to be one of the greatest players to never win a Super Bowl and has the most career victories of quarterbacks not to win a title at 155. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, eight-time first- or second-team All-Pro, and All-AFC six times, Marino was voted NFL Rookie of the Year by Sporting News. The following season in 1984, Marino was the NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), when he set single-season records of 5,084 passing yards, 48 touchdown passes, nine 300-yard passing games, and four 400-yard passing games. He was voted the 1994 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and the 1998 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. At the time of his retirement, Marino held more than 40 NFL single-season and career passing records (many of which have since been surpassed), including career passing attempts (8,358), completions (4,967), passing yards (61,361), and touchdown passes (420). Marino was the first quarterback in NFL history to reach 50,000 and 60,000 career passing yards respectfully, and also the first quarterback to reach 400 career touchdown passes. Marino was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 in his first year of eligibility, and is currently one of only three former Miami Dolphins to have his jersey number retired. In 2019, Marino was named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team as one of the 10 greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, as determined by a panel of coaches and media members.

Photo of Joe Namath

7. Joe Namath (1943 - )

With an HPI of 54.36, Joe Namath is the 7th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Joseph William Namath (; NAY-meth; born May 31, 1943) is a former American football quarterback who played in the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) for 13 seasons, primarily with the New York Jets. He played college football at Alabama, where he led the team to a national championship title, and was selected by the Jets first overall in the 1965 AFL Draft. During his five AFL seasons, he was a two-time MVP and twice led the league in passing yards while guiding the Jets to victory in one AFL championship and one Super Bowl. Both victories remain the Jets' only championships. Namath joined the NFL with the Jets in 1970 following the AFL–NFL merger, where he was the league's passing yards and touchdowns leader during the 1972 season. He played in New York for seven more seasons, with his final year spent as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Namath cemented his legacy in 1969 when he boldly guaranteed his heavy underdog Jets would win Super Bowl III before defeating the NFL's Baltimore Colts in one of the greatest sports upsets of all time. The Super Bowl victory was the first for an AFL franchise, helping dismiss notions that its teams were inferior to the NFL's and demonstrate they would enter the merger as equals. Namath received Super Bowl MVP honors in the game while becoming the first quarterback to win both a college national championship and a major professional championship. Nicknamed "Broadway Joe", Namath's on-field success and brash personality made him a media icon who attracted mainstream popularity outside of sports. Although his statistics and win–loss record are unimpressive from a contemporary standpoint, Namath remains one of the league's most iconic and popular figures. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

Photo of Michael Oher

8. Michael Oher (1986 - )

With an HPI of 54.25, Michael Oher is the 8th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Michael Jerome Oher (; né Williams Jr.; born May 28, 1986) is a former American football offensive tackle who played in the National Football League (NFL) for eight seasons, primarily with the Baltimore Ravens. He played college football for the University of Mississippi, where he earned unanimous All-American honors, and was selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He also played for the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers. Oher's life through his final year of high school and first year of college is one of the subjects of Michael Lewis' 2006 book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and was featured in the Academy Award-winning 2009 film The Blind Side.

Photo of Peyton Manning

9. Peyton Manning (1976 - )

With an HPI of 54.06, Peyton Manning is the 9th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Peyton Williams Manning (born March 24, 1976) is an American former professional football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 18 seasons. Considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he spent 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and four with the Denver Broncos. Manning is also one of the NFL's most recognizable players, earning the nickname "the Sheriff" due to his tendency to audible prior to the snap. The second son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and older brother of former NFL quarterback Eli Manning, he played college football at Tennessee, with whom he won the 1997 SEC Championship Game and earned MVP honors. Manning was selected first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Colts, where he served as their starting quarterback from 1998 to 2010. He helped transform the struggling Colts franchise into consistent playoff contenders, leading them to 11 playoff runs, eight division titles, three AFC Championship Games, two Super Bowl appearances, and one championship title in Super Bowl XLI, the franchise's first in over three decades and first since relocating to Indianapolis. Manning was also named Super Bowl MVP in the victory. After undergoing neck surgery that sidelined him for the 2011 season, Manning was released by the Colts and signed with the Broncos. Serving as the Broncos' starting quarterback from 2012 to 2015, he helped them clinch the AFC West each season and reach two Super Bowls. Manning's career ended with a victory in Super Bowl 50, making him the first starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl for more than one franchise. Manning holds many NFL records, including AP MVP awards (5), Pro Bowl appearances (14), 4,000-yard passing seasons (14), single-season passing yards (5,477 in 2013), and single-season passing touchdowns (55 in 2013). He is also tied with Sammy Baugh for the most first-team All-Pro selections for a quarterback (7), and is third in career passing yards (71,940) and passing touchdowns (539). Having helped lead both the Colts and Broncos to two Super Bowls each, Manning is the first and only starting quarterback to have multiple Super Bowl starts with more than one franchise. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017 and will be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.

Photo of Cam Newton

10. Cam Newton (1989 - )

With an HPI of 53.94, Cam Newton is the 10th most famous American American Football Player.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Cameron Jerrell Newton (born May 11, 1989) is an American football quarterback for the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL). He previously played nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers, who selected him first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Newton had college football stints at Florida and Blinn before joining Auburn, where he won the Bowl Champion Series National Championship and Heisman Trophy in 2010. Nicknamed "Super Cam", he is the NFL career leader in quarterback rushing touchdowns at 70. Newton made an impact in his first season where he set the rookie records for passing (4,051) and rushing yards (706) by a quarterback, winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in the process. The league's first rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season and the first to throw for 400 yards in his NFL debut, he also set the season record for quarterback rushing touchdowns at 14. Between 2013 and 2017, Newton led the Panthers to three division titles and four playoff appearances. His most successful season came in 2015 when he was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) and helped Carolina obtain a franchise-best 15–1 record en route to a Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl 50. He is one of four African-American quarterback to win NFL MVP and was the first to solely receive it.Following his MVP campaign, Newton struggled with injuries as the Panthers made the playoffs only once in their subsequent four seasons. After missing the majority of the 2019 season due to surgery, he was released by Carolina in 2020 and later signed with the Patriots to replace the departing Tom Brady.

Pantheon has 52 people classified as american football players born between 1903 and 1992. Of these 52, 47 (90.38%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living american football players include O. J. Simpson, Jim Brown, and Joe Montana. The most famous deceased american football players include Ernie Davis, Aaron Hernandez, and Walter Payton. As of October 2020, 7 new american football players have been added to Pantheon including Red Grange, Julian Edelman, and Marshawn Lynch.

Living American Football Players

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Deceased American Football Players

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Newly Added American Football Players (2020)

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Which American Football Players were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 5 most globally memorable American Football Players since 1700.