The 10 scariest players in the NFL come from past decades, mostly from a lack of rules and regulations back in the day. Players today would be able to raise their scary factor exponentially if they didn’t have to worry about the whole player safety thing. Where are these well-seasoned, scary former players today?

The Sportster created a fantastic list of the 10 scariest NFL players ever. We agree with their research, so we will go in their order from least to most scary while updating readers on where those NFL gents are now.

10 Scariest Players In The NFL

If you don’t agree with the order, let us (and The Sportster) know by commenting below. Make sure to tell us why! Catch my other articles on the NFL here while you’re at it.

10. James Harrison, Linebacker, Longest Time With The Pittsburgh Steelers, Played 2002-2017 In NFL.

James Harrison only retired a few years ago, so there’s not a lot that’s changed for him since. He was a semi-finalist for the Hall of Fame in 2024. If James is nominated, it won’t be with his approval. He doesn’t think he measures up. Good thing it’s not his call.


James Harrison looking intensely (Photo courtesy of beIN SPORTS).

Harrison is the father of two boys and works as a football analyst. He’s had a little scandal in his background (domestic violence and dog problems), but nothing since retirement. He most notably said Roger Goodell was a ‘crook’ and a ‘puppet.’ He hasn’t ever lied.

9. Jack Tatum, Safety, Longest Time With The Oakland Raiders, Played 1971-1980 In NFL.

Where is Jack Tatum now? In the ground. Since 2010. He passed away at just 61 years old.

Post-retirement, Tatum worked for the Raiders organization for a while. He branched out, working in real estate and owning a restaurant, and he wrote three best-selling books. In his spare time, he married and had three children.

Jack Tatum’s health began to catch up to him in the 2000s. In 2003, he had to have all of his toes on his left foot amputated due to a staph infection from his diabetes. Not long after, he had his entire foot and leg amputated to the knee.


Jack Tatum in his 50s (Ben Margot/AP Photo/File)

An arterial blockage caused him to lose his right leg. He was mostly wheelchair-bound for the last years of his life, although he did use a prosthetic limb on the right side occasionally.

Kidney failure kicked in at the end of Tatum’s life, and he was awaiting a kidney transplant when he passed away.

A lot of people have many opinions on ‘The Assassin.’ I don’t know Tatum’s character, but I do know that he didn’t mean to paralyze Darryl Stingley, and the call was not a dirty one. Players hurt other players unintentionally all the time. How he handled things afterwards? That’s up to personal interpretation to decide what that means about him. No one deserves what Jack went through at the end of his life.

8. Mike Singletary, Linebacker, Chicago Bears, Played 1981-1992 In NFL.

Mike Singletary is married to his wife, and they share seven kids. Occupationally, Singletary is an ordained minister, co-author, and motivational speaker. That’s not a huge surprise considering Mike’s father was a traveling preacher and the football player was one of 10 growing up.

Singletary speaks about the difficulties of the transition from athlete to layman. One of the hardest transitions there is, and one that is so under-discussed. He also motivates people often by hosting events through his non-profit, Changing Our Perspective.

It’s safe to say Singletary has made a career of not being scary or mean.

7. Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers, Played 1969-1981 In NFL.

Mean Joe Greene is still kicking at 77 years old.

After retiring in 1981, he tried his hand as a color analyst but gave that up pretty quickly. Coaching in the NFL was calling to Joe Greene. The tackle had a defensive eye, landing him the defensive line coach position for two different teams from 1987 to 1995. He was also an assistant coach for eight seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, from 1996 to 2003.

In 1987, Joe Greene was inducted into the HOF.

Greene lost his wife of 47 years, Agnes, in 2015 from breast cancer. He has since channeled his energy into being the father of three, “papa Joe’ to his seven grandchildren, and being an author. It doesn’t sound really mean or scary to me.

In his wife’s honor, Joe Greene started a scholarship program in Texas for children whose parents have battled cancer.

Joe Greene has since remarried. Spending life with his new wife, Charlotte. He probably doesn’t even remember a time in the past when he was single.

It’s truly amazing that Greene has survived to be 77. Joe has been the last member of the Steel Curtain front four since 2008. He also avoided dying before 60—something 12 of his 1970s Super Bowl team didn’t. It must be incredibly difficult to see so many of your loved ones pass away so young and so close together.

Things aren’t totally clear in terms of how Joe Greene is fairing. An odd New York Times article from 2013 speaks of a man who bought a warehouse and was allowed to have the things inside the unit after they had not paid rent for a year. Inside the warehouse, the gentlemen found tons of Greene’s football memorabilia stacked in storage.

The warehouse owner called Joe and offered to send them to the former NFL player; he was, however, put out when Greene didn’t offer to pay for shipping. The former defensive tackle wasn’t thrilled either; he felt he was being asked to re-buy his own stuff. It’s not clear where things went, but it is thought-provoking.

Mentally, he still remembers his grandkids birthdays as of 2018, which is more than most NFL players from the 1970s can say. Joe Greene did have that pinched nerve half-way through his career in his neck and left shoulder, which made playing the game difficult. He also had nerve damage on the right hand side. Besides pain, he also had noticeable weakness in his arms.


Joe Greene in more recent years (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports).

The damage is said to have been permanent and is likely something he still deals with, although he doesn’t talk about it.

6. Jack Lambert, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers, Played 1974-1984 In NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers Jack Lambert (or Dracula in Cleats) is likely best known for his unique smile. The linebacker had his front teeth knocked out from a wayward shoulder, and he never bothered to wear his partial dentures on the field. It was definitely a scary look. Intimidation didn’t just come from his facial expressions, though; he was really mean on the green.

Out of all the things that could have brought Lambert down, it ended up being the recurring Turf Toe that did it.

We can count the number of appearances Jack Lambert has made post-retirement. Unlike a lot of other gents on this list, he stayed all the way away from the media. One of those times was when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.


Jack Lambert ‘Lamberting’ (George Gojkovich/Getty Images).

Lambert is married (probably) and does have four healthy children (as of 1999). Before the turn of the century, he also had an 85-acre hideout and hunting camp in Pennsylvania. The former NFL player dabbled in coaching youth sports and was a volunteer deputy game warden.

As of 2021, Jack Lambert has been selling off his memorabilia. Nothing ever good comes out of a player being in a position to sell their memorabilia. I can’t prove it 100%, but it’s a thing.

Lambert did say in his first interview in 30 years, last year, that he can still get up and work every day and hasn’t experienced any significant long-term health impacts.

In the interview, he was asked how 71 feels. In the most Jack Lambert answer ever, he replied, “I’ve never been this old before. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.”


Jack Lambert in all black in 2019 (The Final Word/X). He is shaking hands with the late Dick Groat.

5. Deacon Jones, Defensive End, Longest Time With The Los Angeles Rams, Played 1961-1974 In NFL.

David ‘Deacon’ Jones, also known as “The Secretary of Defense,” is no longer with us. He passed away in 2013 at age 74 from lung cancer and heart disease. The secretary was the second-to-last member of the LA Rams “fearsome foursome.” Rosey Grier, the final member, is still alive at 91.

The legacy of the man who invented the sack and perfected the head slap, Deacon Jones, strongly lives on.

Jones didn’t just stay in the limelight on the gridiron; he was on the big screen for every other reason possible too. Deacon had many roles in the acting world post-retirement, as well as broadcasting and singing rhythms and blues with the likes of Ray Charles.

Not one to relax, Jones also had an entrepreneurial side, working with many businesses over the years. The defensive end and his wife created and ran the “Deacon Jones Foundation,” which his wife Elizabeth continues to run.


Deacon Jones gearing up for a head slap (Photo courtesy of UPI).

The NFL took its toll. Jones died with bent, skewed fingers from his years of head-slapping. He had no desire to hide the scars associated with his career.

Because the NFL takes a former player’s health seriously, Deacon Jones was rolling in dough with his pension. Just kidding. In 2012, in the hospital, he told Eric Dickerson he received $250 a month in financial support. That’ll pay for one quarter of a day in a hospital after insurance.

Hall of Famer Lem Barney felt that concussions had contributed to Deacon’s demise. Jones was an incredibly private guy, but Barney had the pleasure of speaking with Deacon regularly throughout the years. The defensive end’s friend said he noticed a deterioration, particularly a new slowness of speech, in Deacon both in person and on the phone.

We’ll never fully know how Jones was doing at the end. He went home with all of his battle scars kept to himself.


Deacon Jones in later years (Photo courtesy of Small Thoughts In A Sports World).

4. Ray Lewis, Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens, Played 1996-2012 In NFL.

Ray Lewis, born Ray Jenkins, is a real character. A perfect example of how serious he is about football would be how incensed he got at the 2024 Pro Bowl flag football game. As the AFC’s defensive coordinator, Lewis took that role seriously.

Lewis was born to a 16-year-old mother and an absentee dad who spent at least some of his childhood incarcerated. Ray was the man of the house far before he should have had to be. The linebacker changed his last name when his dad got uninvolved, taking on the name of his mother’s boyfriend.

There was that whole 2000 trial, but we’ll leave that skeleton (wearing a cream suit) in his closet since it’s a stabby situation.

Besides that one incident, Ray Lewis has been relatively low-key. Lewis has never been married, but he is a father to six children. He tragically lost his son, Ray III, in June of 2023 to an accidental overdose.


Ray Lewis as DC for the 2024 Pro Bowl (Photo courtesy of Sporting News).

Post-retirement, Ray has been busy. He’s made appearances on TV shows and as an NFL analyst with ESPN and Fox. Lewis is nothing if not philanthropic and has a foundation he co-owns named the Power 52 Foundation.

Ray Lewis is still young, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens health-wise. He did have to cancel a mountain climbing trip and an appearance on Dancing with the Stars due to a recurring foot injury during his career and after, which required surgery again in 2019. No one knows what else is going on in there.

3. Dick Lane, Cornerback, Longest Times With The Chicago Cardinals/Detroit Lions, Played 1952-1965 In NFL.

Dick Lane, also known as “Night Train Lane,” is a nickname we won’t be using since he was sensitive about the potential racial implications of the name (as noted here). He came in not long after the ban on African American players was lifted, so his experience was uniquely terrible in that way.

No one could ever call Lane weak in any sense of the word – he played in the 1962 Pro Bowl with appendicitis. He had his appendix taken out the following day.

Ol’ Dick helped bring along the rule that you can’t grab an opponent’s face mask after nearly taking an opponent out. He was also the creator of the “Night Train Necktie,” also known as the clothesline tackle. Dick Lane was to clothesline tackles what Deacon Jones was to head slaps.

Curious about why he chose this rather ferocious move? He is quoted as saying:

“My object is to stop the guy before he gains another inch. … If I hit them in the legs they may fall forward for a first down. … I grab them around the neck so I can go back to the bench and sit down.”

The cornerback loved marriage as much as he loved tackling. He tied the knot for the first time in 1951 and called it quits with his wife Geraldine in 1963. He remarried in 1963, with his second marriage ending in a death when his bride, singer Dinah Washington, passed roughly six months after saying I do due to overdosing on prescribed medication.


Dick Lane and Dinah Washington on their wedding day (Photo courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Alabama).

In his final attempt, he switched from singers to school teachers, marrying Ms. Mary Cowser in 1964. He had a son with Mary, another Dick Lane (Richard Ladimir Lane) specifically. They divorced in 1974. At that point, Dick Lane was done with the institution of marriage.

Lane has at least three sons with his three wives, but their names and mothers are unclear except for Ladimir.

Career-wise, Dick was the first African American to work in the Lions front office before he decided to coach at a few different HBCUs. After a short stint as a bodyguard for a comedian, he managed the Detroit Police’s Athletic League for 17 years until 1992.

An accumulation of mobility issues due to bum knees and diabetes had Dick Lane move into an assisted home in 2000.


Dick Lane and Richard Lane (Photo courtesy of KVUE).

Lane passed away in 2002 at 73 years old. Dick Lane’s life ended with a heart attack after a round of dominoes and while he was playing some of his favorite jazz. His family firmly believes he also had CTE due to his football career.

Why? For one, in his last years, he had to have fluid removed surrounding his brain. His son, Richard Lane, described his condition this way:

“He couldn’t bathe or clothe himself, and he had a hard time remembering his grandkids’ names. I had to take the car keys away from him. I remember getting a call in the middle of the night from the Austin police department that Dad was at a Denny’s with no idea of who he was or where he lived.”

He was born in the 1920s and is the oldest gentleman on this list. He died before CTE was even discovered, so there was no way to save samples for that type of research.


Dick Lane’s donated headstone (Photo courtesy of

Lane was broke, and when the family approached the NFL Alumni’s Dire Need Fund, they had nothing for him. He did get a $695-a-month pension, which is woefully inadequate and yet still so much higher than Deacon Jones. Dick Lane would die with no money and almost receive a pauper’s funeral. People rallied to fundraise for a proper funeral, but it was a close call for one of the greatest cornerbacks in the game.

2. Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker, New York Giants, Played 1981-1993 In NFL.

One of the biggest surprises about Lawrence Taylor is that he is still alive at age 65. The Giants front office said he wouldn’t make it past 30.

I wrote an article about him several years ago if you want to read about the dumpster fire that was young adulthood for LT. The New York Giants saw him drink 41 beers to celebrate being selected in the NFL draft, and they decided they were going to get a life insurance policy on him.

His predilection for Coke, putting the pedal to the metal, and a strawberry smoothie with penicillin as an STD preventive are both what nearly killed him and contributed to his success on the field.

Off the field, he would chew glass as a party trick, entertain six ladies of the night in a 24-hour period, and regularly spend a grand day between Coke and the ladies.

Pee tests weren’t a thing for the first half of Taylor’s career, and when he had one in 1987 and 1988, he failed them both, even with pee donors. One more dirty test meant he would get axed by the NFL, so he supposedly was sober for a time.

Post-retirement, Lawrence continued a record less desirable than his gridiron achievements. He got arrested twice for trying to buy Coke off cops; he had a DUI and an occasional hit-and-run here and there. He also got in trouble with Uncle Sam, and he got punished by the IRS for some tax shenanigans.

In 2017, LT began selling his memorabilia, which I mentioned before as a sign of nothing good. It was the year after his wife struck him in the back of the head with a hard object, which sent her to the slammer for domestic violence, so life wasn’t going that well.


LT during his WWE days (Photo courtesy of

Better though then when he became a registered… offender in 2011, although after sleeping with a 16-year-old girl who was being human trafficked by an abusive pimp. Those charges came back to bite him in 2021 when he was too busy sleeping in hotels trying to get away from his object-throwing wife and failed to register his address.

Since then, he’s been lying mostly low. He said in an interview about two months ago that he couldn’t play in the NFL today. Taylor predicted he would end up owing his team money because the fines would be higher than his pay.

Now a days you’ll find LT hanging out with his four kids, his partner (not one of his three ex-wives), his grandkids, or on the golf course. The sport isn’t as easy as it used to be – his entire body hurts every time he swings. He also suffers from debilitating headaches believed to be from concussions from his NFL career. No surprise there.

Belichick, the Giants DC while Lawrence played, said it best: “What makes LT so great, what makes him so aggressive, is his total disregard for his body.”


Lawrence Taylor in 2021 (John Lamparski/Getty Images).

And now he struggles to swing a golf club, so that’s cool—player safety and all that.

How do I remember LT best? He’s one of the few players I know who could show up to games late, come to practices with handcuffs (from a lady “cop”), and either miss or sleep through team practices. But when you see his highlights, you know the Giants were aware they would never find another like him.

1. Dick Butkus, Linebacker, Chicago Bears, Played 1965-1973 In NFL.

We lost Dick Butkus recently, and his loss was keenly felt by Bears fans, players, the Chicago franchise, and all NFL fans.

Deacon Jones had a quote (he’s a little higher on this list) about Dick Butkus that says it all:

“Dick was an animal. I called him a maniac. A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”

High praise from a similarly scary guy.

Much like Deacon Jones, Dick Butkus also enjoyed staying in front of the camera post-retirement. Butkus was an accomplished actor and color analyst. He also has a foundation, the Butkus Foundation, that still runs today.

Butkus was impacted strongly by a heart screening that he took randomly that showed he needed quintuple bypass surgery immediately in 2001. His close brush with death inspired him to create the Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness.


I would run off the field if I saw #51 lined up across from me (Photo courtesy of USA Today).

Although Butkus had a focus on health, he couldn’t overcome the long-term effects of football either. He lost strength in his hands, requiring the combined power of both to lift a coffee cup.

His lower half definitely got the worst of it. He had a knee replacement, an osteotomy (surgically shortened bone) that left one foot 1.5 inches shorter than the other, which affected his hips, back, neck, and whatever else. In 2002, Dick developed a drop foot due to spinal nerve damage, which meant he couldn’t lift the toe area of his feet up. Alex Smith managed to play football with a drop foot, but it heavily impacts a person’s ability to walk.

Dick Butkus survived for another 20 years after his bypass surgery, helping so many people along the way. It was Dick’s ticker that eventually stopped working in 2023; he passed away with a stroke on October 5, 2023. Underlying causes included atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart beat), atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol).

Butkus was survived by his wife Helen and his three children, Ricky, Matt, and Nikki.


Dick Butkus in full Chicago Bears garb (Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo).

Final Thoughts

Being a linebacker either makes you mean, or if you’re mean, you like being a linebacker. They are the most popular positions on this list.

Decade-wise, the ‘scariest’ or meanest players represented the most in the 1970s. No surprise there. It was truly the pinnacle of dangerous football in modern times. An argument can be made that the 1920s were equally or more scary.

The ‘scariest’ player either wants to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, or being a Pittsburgh Steelers makes you scary. The Chicago Bears are a close second.

Ultimately, our scary players fared better physically than a lot of other men who played in the NFL at the same time they did. Maybe that’s because they were the ones delivering the hits and not taking them. Lucky ducks!