While this countdown has been a collection of the biggest personalities in NFL history, not all of our entries have had also been among the finest players in history. Reggie White fits both categories. Known as the “Minister of Defense,” White was one of the most feared defensive ends to ever play the game. That wasn’t just a clever nickname, White’s passion for his faith led him to become an ordained minister and a passionate ambassador for his religion.
At 6’5″ and 300 pounds White was looking to continue his football career out of the University of Tennessee. But unlike most NFL legends, his career didn’t start on NFL Draft day. White was drafted by the Memphis Showboats of the USFL in 1984. Lured by the chance to play so close to his home in Tennessee White signed with the team before the NFL ever had their chance at him. But as the league folded in 1985 White was among many out of work football players who would finally make their way to the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles bought out White’s contract and brought him in several games into their 1985 campaign. While a standout in both Tennessee and Memphis, White wasted little time showing that the kid from the USFL was a great signing. White spent the beginning of his NFL career with the Eagles. With the Eagles, he never registered less than double-digit sacks in a season, including a career-high 21 sacks in 1987. Despite being a defensive player White quickly became one of the league’s marquee talents. His distinct raspy voice was one of the most recognizable in all of sports. Earning a reputation of not only being a great player, but a great person made White and his #92 Philadelphia icons.
When White became a free agent before the 1993 season many speculated that he would move on from the Eagles. While he still chose to wear green that season, it was the hue of the Green Bay Packers. While it was strange seeing him with a different team, White wasted little time winning over an entirely new fan base. In his first year he once again recorded double-digit sacks. That year he single-handedly saved a game with consecutive sacks to end a Broncos rally. White’s career pinnacle may be the three sacks in the second half of Super Bowl XXXI sealing the Packers’ win over the Patriots. That Super Bowl would be the only championship that While would win at any level of football.
However, it was his faith that also gave White the status of being one of the most interesting personalities in NFL history. His legend of being the Minister of Defense was put in full display in the 1995 season. After leaving a game against the Bengals with a serious hamstring injury, doctors feared that White’s season was done. White returned from his season-ending injury after just one week. Many considered it a miracle bestowed upon a man of great faith. Regardless, White was known for playing through many injuries. White retired from the Packers after the 1998 season only to return for one last year with the Carolina Panthers in 2000.
In White’s fifteen-year NFL his accomplishments were vast. White was the all-time sack leader when he retired with 198 sacks. Only Bruce Smith has since surpassed his mark. Although if you factor in his sacks with the Showboats, White’s 221.5 sacks are more than anyone in professional football history. White was a 13 time Pro Bowlers and won two Defensive Player of the Year awards. His number 92 has been retired by the Eagles, Packers and the Tennessee Volunteers.
Post-retirement White focused on his ministry. White became a powerful voice for the promotion of the Christian values that he lived his life by. He continued to grow as a minister, even taking to studying other religions as well. Sadly White’s time after football was short-lived as he unexpectedly passed away in late 2004 a week after turning 43. White died from complications of a heart condition combined with sleep apnea. His death sent shockwaves through the sports world due to White’s high popularity. In 2006, White was given the ultimate honor that can be bestowed on a football player. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in just his first year of eligibility. This is where the legend of a man who represented both faith and football to the highest degree can live forever.