Who is Fort Wayne’s Favorite football player?
Who is Fort Wayne’s favorite football player? You get to decide by voting for one of these 10 candidates. We’ll announce the results next Monday.
Johnny Bright could do almost anything with a football, starting at Central High School. During three years at Drake, he rushed for 3,134 yards, threw for 2,769 yards, and averaged 12.9 yards per punt return and 24.1 on kickoff returns. He averaged 236 yards and scored 385 points in 25 career games. During his best season, as a junior, he rushed for 1,232 yards, threw for 1,168 and added another 371 in kick returns, scoring 18 touchdowns and throwing for 12 more. He was unstoppable, earning all-American honors as a junior and a senior and getting inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984. He was the first black player to be named the Canadian Football League’s Most Valuable Player and earned induction into the CFL Hall of Fame.
A Snider product, Dunbar ‘s numbers were as dizzying as his moves on a football field. Because his grades needed improvement, Dunbar went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before going to Indiana University. The Snider graduate Dunbar rushed for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors in 1990. During Dunbar ‘s senior season, he started off with 161 yards rushing at Notre Dame, then 147 against Kentucky followed by a 265-yard performance against Missouri. Dunbar led the nation with an IU-record 1,805 yards. He was named first-team All-America and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. A 1991 first-round pick by New Orleans, Dunbar rushed for 565 yards to finish second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year balloting. During his second pro training camp, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed the season. Dunbar signed with Jacksonville and rushed for 361 yards on 110 carries during the 1995 season.
It’s hard to imagine anyone having a better college career than the Bishop Dwenger product had at Notre Dame. He set Irish records for career receptions by a tight end (140) and reception yards by a tight end (1,840). He also caught 11 touchdowns and led Notre Dame to the 2013 national championship game as a senior against Alabama. During his senior season, 36 of Eifert’s 50 catches went for a first down or a touchdown as he averaged 13.7 yards per catch. He also won the Mackey Award in 2012 which is given annually to the nation’s top tight end. During his five-year NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals, Eifert has caught 127 passes for 1,537 yards and 20 touchdowns.
A high school all-American at Harding, Essex started every game as a freshman tight end at Northwestern, catching three passes for 24 yards an a touchdown. The next year moved to offensive tackle and then started 37 consecutive games for the Wildcats as a left tackle. As a senior, he helped lead an offense that rushed for 375 yards per game and allowed only 12 sacks. Northwestern finished 6-7 during his junior season and 6-6 during his senior year. Essex played eight years in the NFL with Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and won two Super Bowl rings.
When Fabini was a senior at Bishop Dwenger, he was a 6-7, 235-pound guard. He had the height but not the weight and strength to attract Big Ten teams. By the time he was a junior at Cincinnati, Fabini had added 50 pounds of muscle and had made himself into a prospect. As a senior, Fabini was a dominating player who helped the Bearcats go 8-4, including a 35-19 victory over Utah State in the Humanitarian Bowl. He started 44 consecutive games and became an all-USA Conference selection. Fabini was selected in the fourth round pick by the Jets in 1998 draft. He played 11 seasons in the NFL before retiring after the 2008 season.
The South Side product only played two years at Purdue or he might have challenged some of the Boilermakers’ career records. After playing in 13 and starting 12 games as a freshman and getting 66 tackles, Pollard came back as a sophomore to do even better. He started all 12 games and led the team with 96 tackles and blocked four kicks. There were also two forced fumbles, five pass breakups and an interception. Pollard had 10 or more tackles against Notre Dame, Michigan and Arizona State in the Sun Bowl to earn second-team all-Big Ten honors. Pollard played nine years in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans before leaving the field in 2014.
Sitko might be the finest offensive player who played during Notre Dame football’s finest era. The Central High School graduate rushed for 2,226 yards and 26 touchdowns from 1946 to 1949 as the Fighting Irish went 8-0-1, 9-0, 9-0-1 and 10-0 to win three national championships. Sitko was a first-team All-American in 1948 and 1949. As a senior, he rushed for 712 yards and nine touchdowns on 120 carries and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Sitko, who led Notre Dame in rushing all four years, measured only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds but averaged 6.1 yards per carry. After Notre Dame, Sitko played three seasons in the NFL with San Francisco and the Chicago Cardinals.
After an all-American high school career at Bishop Luers, Smith continued to improve at Notre Dame where he had one of the most dominating careers of the last 25 years. Smith won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker as a junior after he made 113 tackles. He also had 112 tackles as a sophomore when he was a second-team all-American, and had 67 tackles starting ever game as a freshman. Playing in only three seasons and 39 games with the Fighting Irish, Smith finished with 292 career tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks during his Notre Dame career. He’s coming up on his second season with the Dallas Cowboys.
A fullback and nose guard at Bishop Luers, Spencer played on the line at Purdue, and played a lot. As a freshman, he appeared in 10 games, and then had a breakout sophomore season with 11 starts, 33 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Injuries limited his production during Spencer’s junior season to 23 tackles, three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, but he rebounded as a senior to rank second nationally with 26.5 tackles for loss, 93 tackles and 10.5 sacks to earn the Boilermakers’ Most Valuable Player Award. He also played in the Senior Bowl. Spencer finished a solid seven-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.
The Snider grad earned all-America honors as a senior cornerback at Purdue, but he was also a three-time first team all-Big Ten selection. He intercepted 11 passes and returned three for touchdowns, totaled 320 solo tackles, 445 total tackles and also 1,535 kickoff return yards. Woodson was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015. During his 17-year NFL career, the Snider graduate played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders as a cornerback, safety and kick returner. He’s the only player in NFL history to be named to the Pro Bowl at three positions. In fact, he was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection. He also played in Super Bowls with three teams. In 1993, he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was named to the league’s 75th anniversary team, and was ranked as the 30th-best player of all-time by Pro Football Weekly. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.