1. Bobby Bell
Bobby Bell was a huge win for the Kansas City Chiefs, even before he set foot on the field wearing the team’s red and gold. A superstar at the University of Minnesota, in their heyday no less, Bell was highly coveted by both the NFL and AFL. The NFL made things clear when the Minnesota Vikings selected him 16th overall in the 1963 NFL Draft.
The writing on the wall was obvious, so much so that the Chiefs didn’t even bother drafting Bell until the seventh round of the AFL’s own draft. However, Bell shocked the football world by choosing the upstart AFL over the entrenched NFL, and the rest is history.
Bell actually began his career with the Chiefs as a 4-3 defensive end, a key cog in Hank Stram’s “stack defense.” He excelled so thoroughly at all aspects from line play to dropping into coverage that, in 1965, Stram moved him full time to outside linebacker. This would begin a reign of consistent dominance at the position only rarely seen since.
Bell excelled so thoroughly because he was an incredible athlete, especially for the era in which he played. In particular, despite his sheer size of 6’4″ and 228 pounds, he was an absolute savant in the return game both on defense and ironically special teams. He was known for his ball hawking, intercepting 26 passes throughout his career and returning six for touchdowns. He also returned two fumbles for a touchdown and returned an onside kick 53 yards for a touchdown in 1969 against the Denver Broncos.
Bell eventually broke the NFL record for interception return yards for a linebacker’s career. He held that record from 1974 until Hall of Famer, and freak athlete himself, Derrick Brooks broke it to end his career in 2008. Bell is also currently tied with Derrick Brooks and Karlos Dansby for the most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a linebacker’s career.
Bell’s exploits on the gridiron would be rewarded handsomely with accolades like few players in NFL history. Starting in his second season, Bell was named to the equivalent of nine straight Pro Bowls. Even more impressive, Bell was named to the equivalent of today’s All Pro roster in seven straight seasons, including six straight with First Team honors.
As a two-time AFL Champion and one-time Super Bowl champion, and a member of the NFL 100 All-Time team along with 11 other linebackers, Bobby Bell is one of the most decorated players in team history. The Hall of Famer tops this list of all-time franchise linebackers because of the consistency of his greatness, his leadership on a cornerstone defense, and for doing it all during the team’s most successful period in history.