The Most Famous

AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYERS from United States

Icon of occuation in country

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 2019 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 an American former professional football player, sports analyst and actor. He was a fullback 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), nicknamed "Joe Cool" and "the Comeback Kid", is a former American football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 16 seasons, primarily with the San Francisco 49ers. He also played for the Kansas City Chiefs. 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 elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, his first year of eligibility.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 the first 20 seasons of his career with the New England Patriots, playing in nine Super Bowls and winning six of them (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, and LIII), both of which are the most of any player in NFL history. He has won a record four Super Bowl MVP awards (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX, and LI) as well as three NFL MVP awards (2007, 2010, 2017). Because of his numerous records and accolades, many sports writers, commentators, and players consider Brady to be the greatest quarterback of all time.After playing college football for the University of Michigan, Brady was drafted 199th overall by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Due to his late selection, Brady is considered the biggest "steal" in the history of the NFL Draft. He went on to become the team's starting quarterback in his second season after an injury to Drew Bledsoe and played for the Patriots for 20 seasons, the NFL record for seasons as quarterback for one team. In 2020, Brady left New England and signed a two-year contract with the Buccaneers. Brady is one of only two quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in their first season as a starter. He is also the only quarterback to reach 200 regular-season wins. Brady has never had a losing season as a starting quarterback. He has led his team to more division titles (17) than any other quarterback in NFL history. With a postseason record of 30–11, he is first all-time in playoff wins and appearances for an NFL player, including an NFL-record eight consecutive AFC championship games between 2011 and 2018 (and 13 overall). Brady has also been selected to 14 Pro Bowls, which ties the NFL record for most selections. For regular season and postseason combined, Brady is first all-time in career passing yards and touchdown passes. He is one of only two players in NFL history to amass 70,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.Brady holds the record for all-time career touchdown passes, and career pass attempts. He is second in career passing yards, and ninth in career passer rating. He is first in postseason career completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, and is fifteenth in postseason career passer rating. He also tied the record for the longest touchdown pass at 99 yards to Wes Welker. He is the only quarterback in NFL history named to two all-decade teams, having been named first-team for both the 2000s and 2010s squads (the latter of which he was selected to unanimously). He was one of only 10 quarterbacks selected to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time team (and one of only four players active at the time they were selected), encompassing the entire 100-year history of the league at the time. For his alleged involvement in the Deflategate football-tampering scandal, Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. Brady and the Patriots won two of the next three Super Bowls, making him the record holder for most Super Bowl wins by a player, and the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, at 41.

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 Cleveland Browns. 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 to not 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 (; born May 31, 1943), nicknamed "Broadway Joe", is an American former professional football player who was a quarterback in the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) during the 1960s and 1970s. He played college football for the Alabama Crimson Tide under coach Paul "Bear" Bryant from 1962 to 1964. Namath was an AFL icon and played for that league's New York Jets for most of his professional football career. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Rams. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. He retired after playing 143 games over 13 years in the AFL and NFL, including playoffs. His teams had an overall record of 68 wins, 71 losses, and four ties, 64–64–4 in 132 starts, and 4–7 in relief. He completed 1,886 passes for 27,663 yards, threw 173 touchdowns, and had 220 interceptions, for a career passer rating of 65.5. He played for three division champions (the 1968 and 1969 AFL East Champion Jets and the 1977 NFC West Champion Rams), earned one league championship (1968 AFL Championship), and one Super Bowl victory (Super Bowl III). In 1999, he was ranked number 96 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the only player on the list to have spent a majority of his career with the Jets. In his 1975 autobiography, Bryant called Namath the most natural athlete he had ever coached.Namath is known for boldly guaranteeing a Jets' victory over Don Shula's NFL Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III (1969), then making good on his prediction with a 16–7 upset (the win remains the Jets' only Super Bowl appearance). Already a celebrity, he was now established not only as a sports icon but a pop culture icon. He subsequently parlayed his notoriety into success with endorsement deals and as a nightclub owner, talk show host, pioneering advertising spokesman, theater, motion picture, and television actor, and sports broadcaster. He remained a highly recognizable figure in the media and sports worlds half a century after his brashness cemented his identity in the public mind. In 2019, a survey conducted by the Associated Press of 60 football historians and media regularly covering the NFL voted Namath the league's greatest character, beating out former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.

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 a former American 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 seasons with the Denver Broncos. Manning played college football for the University of Tennessee, leading the Tennessee Volunteers to the 1997 SEC Championship Game in his senior season. He is the second son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and older brother of former NFL quarterback Eli Manning. Nicknamed "The Sheriff" due to his tendency to audible prior to the snap, Manning is one of the most recognizable and parodied players in the NFL. Teams led by Manning typically used the hurry-up offense in place of the standard huddle.Manning was selected by the Colts as the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. From 1998 to 2010, he improved the fortunes of the struggling Colts franchise and helped transform them into consistent playoff contenders. During his tenure as starting quarterback, Manning led the team to eight division championships, two AFC championships, and one Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XLI, the franchise's first in over three decades, and their first since relocating to Indianapolis. He was named Super Bowl MVP in the team's victory, making him the first Colts player to receive the honor. 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 team's starting quarterback from 2012 to 2015, he contributed to the Broncos clinching their division each year, led them to two more AFC championships, and concluded his career with a victory in Super Bowl 50. 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, winning one with each, Manning is the only starting quarterback to have multiple appearances and win the Super Bowl with more than one franchise.

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 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, along with Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Steve McNair, one of only four African-American quarterbacks to win the AP MVP award.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. Newton later signed with the Patriots to succeed the departing Tom Brady as their starting quarterback for 2020, making him the first Patriots' first-string quarterback since Brady after 18 seasons.

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

Go to all Rankings

Deceased American Football Players

Go to all Rankings

Newly Added American Football Players (2020)

Go to all Rankings

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.