No matter what he says on "Monday Night Football," folks around here know Simeon Rice starred at Illinois long before he became the "Sackmasta" in Tampa Bay.
Earlier this week, Rice was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year and will make his third trip to Hawaii for the game. The folks at the Honolulu airport might want to hand his teammates a thesaurus instead of a lei.
"It''s cool, it''s cool," Rice told reporters in Tampa. "I definitely appreciate it. It''s something that you work hard for, in terms of individual effort, always standing out. I think it speaks volumes about what I''ve done in the preseason and in the offseason training. I think it''s a testament to all those things. But I want more – Super Bowls and things like that."
Rice might be the most outspoken of the nearly 250 Illinois alumni that have played in the NFL. We got to thinking where he and the others fit in. So here''s a look at our list, open to plenty of debate, of the all-time team of former Illini in the NFL.
Quarterback: Jeff George. The mercurial talent put his strong right arm to use for 12 seasons with six teams, passing for 27,602 yards, 154 TDs and 113 interceptions.
Running back: Bill Brown. Longtime Viking earned Pro Bowl honors four times and is still second in team history with 76 touchdowns and third in rushing and yards from scrimmage.
Running back: Howard Griffith. Nine-year fullback cleared the way for 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis. Also scored two TDs in Super Bowl XXXIII, earning his second ring with Denver.
Receiver: Johnny Mitchell. Pro Football Hall of Fame selection had more than 14,000 combined yards and 91 touchdowns in 11 years as a member of the Browns and Redskins. He was All-Pro twice, made the Pro Bowl four times and broke the color barrier in Washington, where he was named to the franchise''s 70th anniversary team.
Receiver: Rich Kreitling. First-round draft pick led Cleveland in receiving in 1962 and finished his career with 1,775 yards and 17 touchdowns in six seasons.
Tight end: Bob Trumpy. Broadcaster played in four Pro Bowls for the Cincinnati Bengals and racked up 4,600 yards and 35 touchdowns on 298 receptions, which ranks in the team''s top 10.
Offensive line: Doug Dieken. Durable tackle started a franchise-record 203 straight games in 14 years for Cleveland, earning Pro Bowl honors in 1980.
Offensive line: Jim Juriga. Five-year pro started at guard for Denver in Super Bowl XXIV before a back injury ended his career early in 1991.
Offensive line: Larry McCarren. Two-time Pro Bowl center started most of his 13 years with Green Bay, playing in 162 games for the Packers.
Offensive line: Brad Hopkins. Tennessee''s 11-year pro has been to one Pro Bowl and probably would have been to more were it not for playing a loaded left tackle position in the AFC.
Offensive line: Ernie McMillan. Four-time Pro Bowler starred at tackle for 14 years in St. Louis, protecting Jim Hart and teaming with notables such as Dan Dierdorf and Conrad Dobler.
Defensive line: Rice. Leads the league with 15 sacks and has 93 in his eight-year career.
Defensive line: Joe Rutgens. First-round pick in 1961 earned Pro Bowl honors twice while anchoring the line for nine years with the Washington Redskins.
Defensive line: George Halas. Bears founder played both ways at end from 1920 to ''29, making the all-star squad for the 1920s and once returning a Jim Thorpe fumble 98 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive line: Ed O''Bradovich. Bears end played in 124 games from 1962 to ''71 and helped set up plenty of tackles for our next honoree.
Linebacker: Dick Butkus. Hall of Famer is the measuring stick for middle linebackers. Butkus made All-NFL seven times and went to eight Pro Bowls in his nine years, is the Bears'' career leader with 25 fumble recoveries and picked off 22 passes.
Linebacker: Ray Nitschke. Hall of Famer arrived a year before Vince Lombardi and made history in Green Bay. Hard hitter was the MVP of 1962 title game, made All-Pro three times, was named to NFL''s 50th and 75th anniversary teams and won four championships in 15 years with the Packers. And he was in "The Longest Yard."
Linebacker: Scott Studwell. Vikings director of college scouting holds team records for tackles in game, season and career. Two-time Pro Bowl pick was named to Minnesota''s 25th and 40th anniversary teams after a stellar 14-year career.
Defensive back: J.C. Caroline. Ten-year pro made the Pro Bowl once while picking off 24 passes for the Bears.
Defensive back: Red Grange. You wouldn''t have pro football without Grange, and the Bears wouldn''t have won the 1933 title game without his last-second, game-saving tackle.
Defensive back: Henry Jones. Safety made one Pro Bowl, played in three Super Bowls, picked off 18 passes and scored five times in his 12-year career, spent mostly with the Buffalo Bills.
Defensive back: Abe Woodson. Five-time Pro Bowl pick with San Francisco and St. Louis had 19 career interceptions and led the league three times in kickoff return yardage during his nine-year career. Woodson ranks third in NFL history with a career average of 28.69 yards.
Kicker: Neil Rackers. Embattled one has 50 field goals in three years with Cincinnati and this season in Arizona.
Snapper: Adam Lingner. Thirteen-year center/guard snapped in all four Buffalo Super Bowls.
Returner: Preston Pearson. All-purpose back was one of 13 players to play in five Super Bowls – with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Dallas. Pearson, who had 9,505 total yards and 33 touchdowns, won two of those games.
Referee: Hugh Shorty Ray. Supervisor of officials from 1938 to ''52 made the Hall of Fame for streamlining rules to improve game tempo and player safety.
Brian Dietz covers the NFL for the News-Gazette. He can be reached at (217) 443-8945 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.