The National Football League has become the undisputed champion of pro sports. As we get ready for the opening kickoff, here’s a look at the hardest hitters, the biggest games and a few fearless predictions for the 2013 season.
RYAN CLARK (FS, Pittsburgh Steelers): Despite suffering from a sickle-cell trait, he’s become one of the most feared (and fined) defensive backs in the NFL. Clark might not be able to play in the Mile High City because of his condition, but there’s a high likelihood he’ll be laying someone out when he steps onto the field. The recipient of the 2008 Ed Block Courage Award, the former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ is known for two particularly brutal hits in 2011 on Rob Gronkowski and Ed Dickson, which resulted in fines in successive weeks.
JAMES HARRISON (LB, Cincinnati Bengals): Usually when a boss tries to make things safer in the workplace, it’s a good thing. Tell that to Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl winner and one very angry man. Nicknamed Deebo (from the movie Friday), the ex-Pittsburgh Steeler combines bone-jarring hits with a “fuck you” attitude. Harrison might “hate and will never respect” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but the Bengals will dig having his intimidating presence in their linebacking corps.
CLAY MATTHEWS III (LB, Green Bay Packers): This third-generation NFL standout has football in his blood and a ferocious intensity that’s uncorked every time an opponent has the ball. Last season, Matthews tested a Depend adult diaper under his uniform in a commercial (raising $75,000 for charity), but something tells us it’s wide receivers who shit themselves when they have to run across the middle. In 2009 the USC Trojan walk-on was the first Packers rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl since James Lofton in 1978, and he has been named to the NFC squad each year since.
BRANDON MERIWEATHER (SS, Washington Redskins): This two-time Pro Bowler is no stranger to trouble. As a collegian, Meriweather was part of the infamous Miami-Florida International brawl in 2006, during which he was seen stomping several FIU players. In the NFL, Meriweather has racked up a string of fines. Most notably, his 2010 helmet-to-helmet hit on Todd Heap not only cost him $50,000 but was also the impetus for the league to start levying fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet contact with defenseless receivers.
JASON PIERRE-PAUL (DE, New York Giants): Dubbed the “Haitian Sensation” and blessed with frightening athleticism, Pierre- Paul was picked 15th overall by the New York Giants in the 2010 draft. It didn’t take him long to become one of the NFL’s elite defensive ends. On December 11, 2011, against the archrival Dallas Cowboys, he became the first player in NFL history to record a sack, forced fumble and blocked field goal in the same game. Later that season he added a Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl ring.