In this Friday edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we honor the big fella who anchored the Lions 3-4 defense in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
47. Jerry Ball
Nose Tackle / Defensive Tackle. 1987-92 Detroit; 1993 Cleveland Browns; 1994 Los Angeles Raiders; 1995-96 Oakland Raiders; 1997-99 Minnesota Vikings
At 6-foot-1, 312 pounds, Jerry Ball often times looked like a wrecking ball as he sliced through opposing offensive lines, or rumbled along the line of scrimmage looking for ball carriers. The Lions’ 1987 third-round draft choice out of Southern Methodist University had played fullback in high school. So while he grew in stature through his college years, he retained much of the athletic ability he possessed from his days on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
When Jerry came into the NFL, the 3-4 defensive alignment was in the middle of its most glorious era. Lion head Coach Darryl Rogers and his defensive coordinator Wayne Fontes were proponents of the defense. Together they pegged the rookie from Beaumont, Texas to man the 3-4’s all-important nose tackle position. Jerry was up to the challenge, winning the starting spot in his first season. By the end of 1989 season Ball had earned his first Pro Bowl trip, and along with youngsters Chris Spielman and Bennie Blades were set to help the Lions’ defense climb back to respectably by the early 1990’s.
It was during that early 90’s climb that Jerry Ball was widely considered the best nose tackle in the NFL. He earned All-Pro honors in 1990, and went to Pro Bowls after the 1989 and ‘90 seasons. He was also selected to the team after the 1991 season, but did not play in the game because of the season-ending knee injury he received in Week 13 against the New York Jets. The injury came as the result of a then-legal chop-block delivered by Jet fullback Brad Baxter. Jerry was traded to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round draft choice on April 23, 1993. He would play another seven years in the NFL with the Browns, Raiders, and Vikings before his retirement in 1999.