Mike Alstott is undoubtedly one of the most popular players in franchise history. Legions of Buccaneer fans loved him – still love him – for his never-say-die approach to advancing the football, his incredible tackle-breaking highlight-reel runs. It doesn’t hurt that Alstott arrived just at the beginning of the team’s renaissance and helped it grow inexorably into a Super Bowl champion.
But Alstott’s NFL legacy isn’t just a regional phenomenon. Just like John Lynch is celebrated as one of the hardest-hitting defenders of his generation; like Warren is considered a pioneer of sorts at the defensive tackle position, as evidenced by his Hall of Fame selection; like Ronde Barber is thought of, in what might actually be an understatement of his skills, as the ultimate Cover Two cornerback; Mike Alstott is the very definition of a power back.
Sports Illustrated definitely thinks of Alstott as fitting perfectly, and memorably, in that mold. As part of its “Power Week,” which also saw the magazine name the Glazer Family as one of the “50 Most Powerful People in Sports,” contributor Chris Burke identified the Top 25 Power Running Backs of All Time. Alstott comes in at #14.
The image that accompanies Alstott’s spot on the SI list shows a gang of Viking tacklers closing in on him. He’s preparing to stiff-arm one as another dives at his legs from behind and a third waits for him on the other side of the hole. Chances are, if Alstott went down somewhere near that spot, all three Viking defenders were necessary to make it happen. Tackling Mike Alstott one-on-one was not a highly-coveted NFL job from 1996-2003.
The big Buccaneer back – the Thunder to Warrick Dunn’s Lightning for five years – thrived on contact. In fact, thanks to his incredible balance, Alstott frequently used hits from a defender to help right himself after another opponent had caused him to stumble. That very effect was a big part of his unforgettable run against the Cleveland Browns in 2002, when nine members of the defense eventually hit him before he went down.
On the list, Alstott is nestled between #15 Eddie George and #13 Jim Nance. Like George, who ranks 24th in NFL history with 10,441 career rushing yards, many of the runners on the list were somewhat larger backs who had a powerful style of running and an ability to wear down the defense, like Jamal Lewis. Some were, or are, just willingly violent tailbacks, as happy to initiate contact as to receive it, like Walter Payton, Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. Others were rare jumbo tailbacks, such as Jerome Bettis, Earl Campbell or Christian Okoye.
By Burke’s estimation, Alstott represents the fullbacks who could also contribute significantly to the rushing attack and who were particularly useful when just a few completely necessary yards had to be gained. The perfect example: Alstott’s game-winning two-point conversion run against Washington in 2005, a play that fooled exactly nobody and still worked.
“Take your pick between Alstott, San Francisco’s Tom Rathman, Dallas’ Daryl Johnston and others as the prototypical short-yardage fullback,” writes Burke. “Alstott made a career crushing defenders near the line of scrimmage, and he still managed to chalk up more than 5,000 career yards.”
Mike Alstott, power back for the ages.