Lewis injury could end great career but is he the greatest MLB?

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Lewis injury could end great career but is he the greatest MLB?

The right-triceps tear that ended Ray Lewis season could also mark the end of a career that will place him in the highest level of inside linebackers, of players, period, in the history of football.

But how highest?

CSNChicago.com operatives have seen linebackers play since the very early 1960s and evaluated available film of others before that. From that a top-five list of the greats, with Lewis finishing, well, check out the list. And yes, two of the top three middle linebackers of all time played in Chicago.

A qualifier: Understand that the middle linebacker position really didn't come into true existence until Bill George stood up from his nose-guard position and started looking around. So the sample size for MLBs in particular is necessarily smaller than the overall pool of linebackers.

The runners-up: Chuck Bednariik (saw him play in my first-ever live football game; thanks, Dad), Bill George, Sam Huff, Ray Nitscke, Chuck Schmidt, Mike Singletary

5. Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh

No way to argue with the rings. A lot of hype but when you watched closely and often, this was the ignition key behind Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White. Singletarys eyes were a force but the edge goes to Lamberts teeth. Or lack of same.

4. Willie Lanier, Kansas City Chiefs

Lanier was a centerpiece in one of the great defenses of all time, a member of Chiefs team won the fourth Super Bowl. Lanier had the benefit of playing behind tackles Buck Buchanan and Curly Culp but he also intercepted 27 passes in a 10-year career.

He played at 6-1, 245 pounds, about the same size as Lewis. He was nothing less than one of the best football players on a championship team.

Lanier had the misfortune of playing in the time of Jack Lambert, who was piling up rings and getting more acclaim. He shouldnt have. Lanier was better.

3. Brian Urlacher

Urlacher stands as one of the more polarizing parts of any discussion of great linebackers. One national media outlet pegged him as the most overrated player in the NFL; others rated him the best in the game, evidenced by his selection as Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and fourth-place in 2006.

Consider this: In the defensive schemes of Dick Jauron and Greg Blache, based on front-four mastodons keeping offensive linemen controlled, Urlacher piled up 116 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions in 2001.

When Ted Washington was hurt most of 2002, Urlacher was exposed: 151 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks, seven passes broken up.

Along comes Lovie Smith and a scheme based on small, fast defensive linemen no bigger than Tommie Harris 290 for the most part. In 2005, Urlacher is Player of the Year with 121 tackles, six sacks, five passes broken up.

Where Urlacher loses style points is that he has never played with the Neanderthal gene. A lasting image of Urlacher is the laughing inside the helmet; he had some fun.

Urlacher in 2001 was running down Michael Vick (short distance). He was fast enough to spy Vick and Daunte Culpepper.

And as one longtime NFL personnel executive said in support of the ranking: If youre drafting, do you take Lanier or Urlacher? 54 was a freak.

He is also the third-greatest linebacker ever to play the game.

2 Dick Butkus
1. Ray Lewis

An incredibly close call between 51 and 52. I initially placed Butkus above Lewis, a tipping point being Butkus abilities in coverage. He played at close to Lewis 245 pounds but had a couple of inches on Lewis at 6-3.

Both defined not just the ferocity of their eras; anyone can scream and be nasty. They epitomized excellence at the game.

Its difficult to put Butkus in some sort of understandable context. In 1967 he had 18 sacks, according to one study of film from before sacks were an official stat. He had five interceptions his 1965 rookie year and had 22 for his career, tied for 11th all-time in franchise history.

But Lewis willed the 2000 Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl win with quarterback Trent Dilfer in the role of Bill Wade as caretaker. And Lewis has 31 career interceptions plus more than 40 career sacks.

And heres the thing: Lewis was in his 17th NFL season this year. Butkus had considerably less in front of him than Lewis (no Haloti Ngata, no Tony Siragusa, to name a couple) but he also was only able to get through nine seasons before the knee injuries finished him. Lewis didnt have to contend with the crack-back blocks of Butkus era but to be as good as Lewis iswas for all these years

Ray Lewis is simply the best linebacker the NFL has ever seen.

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

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Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

ATLANTA (AP) — Dustin Johnson had a reasonable lie in the rough and only a few pine tree branches blocking his path to the 17th green. Neither seemed like a problem until he played the wrong shot, clipped the tree and wound up with a double bogey Saturday in the Tour Championship.

It was an example of how one hole can change everything at East Lake.

And it's why the final round of the PGA Tour season suddenly has more scenarios than Johnson cares to consider.

Johnson recovered with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 18th for a 1-under 69, giving him a share of the lead with Kevin Chappell (68) going into the last round that will determine who wins the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

For the first time since 2009, there's a chance it might not be the same player.

"There's a lot of scenarios that could happen," Johnson said. "But yeah, I'm still going to go out and try to shoot as low a score as possible."

Johnson only has to win or finish second alone to claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Rory McIlroy, who has gone 28 holes without a bogey at East Lake, had three birdies over his last six holes for a 66 and was two shots behind. If he were to win the Tour Championship and Johnson finished in a two-way tie for second or worse, McIlroy would claim the FedEx Cup.

"It would just be great to try to win the Tour Championship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it," McIlroy said.

The winner of the Tour Championship has won the FedEx Cup every year since 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the tournament and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup.

Johnson led by as many as four shots when he ran off three straight birdies on the front nine, and he really didn't do much wrong to give up the size of that lead. He had a three-putt from 70 feet on No. 13, and missed the fairway by a few feet on the next hole, enough that his ball was buried so deep that even Johnson and his power couldn't advance more than about 135 yards.

It was the 17th hole that reshaped the tournament.

Johnson tried to played a fade from a flyer lie in the rough, and the ball came out high and hit a branch, leaving him in more rough about 60 yards short of the green. He put that in the bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and missed the putt to make double bogey.

Chappell rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for a three-shot swing on the hole and suddenly had the lead, only for Johnson to catch him with the final birdie.

They were at 8-under 202.

Chappell, a runner-up three times this season who has never won on the PGA Tour, has made only one bogey in 54 holes this week, a show of consistency, discipline and a few good breaks when he does miss the fairway.

His next chance at a breakthrough victory is to face golf's best player at the moment (Johnson), with McIlroy and Ryan Moore (66) two shots behind.

"I've always kind of been the underdog, so it's a role I'm comfortable in," Chappell said.

Moore went out in 31 until he was slowed by a pair of bogeys, though very much in the mix just two shots out of the lead. The mystery is whether anything he does on Sunday - even if that means a victory - is enough for Davis Love III to use his last captain's pick on Moore for the Ryder Cup.

"I came here this week to win a golf tournament, and I'm 100 percent focused on that," Moore said, adding that the Ryder Cup is "completely out of my control."

And that's how the last day is shaping up for everyone - post a score and see where it leads.

Johnson, for a moment, looked as though he might take all the drama out of the season-ender when he made a 15-foot par putt early in his round and then ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to go four shots clear.

The putter cooled off, however, and Chappell stayed in range.

Chappell chipped in on No. 12 to match birdies and stay three shots behind, and then he quickly closed the gap when Johnson made back-to-back bogeys, only to respond with a 4-iron over the water to a peninsula green on the par-3 15th to 15 feet for birdie.

The 17th hole changed everything.

"I thought about just trying to hit it in the front bunker, which I probably should have done - probably would have made 4 if I'd have done that," Johnson said. "But it is what it is. I came back and birdied the last hole, tied for the lead going into tomorrow. I like my position."

And he doesn't need a degree in math to figure out the easiest scenario - just win.

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