Reggie White terrorized offenses throughout the 80s and 90s, as he became one of the most prolific defensive football players in NFL history. Before he struck fear into quarterbacks eyes, it is important to backtrack to understand the how man coined “the Minister of Defense” came to be.
White was born on December 19th, 1961 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After he received various offers from big time Division 1 schools, White chose to stay in his native state and went on to play at the University of Tennessee.
After he worked his way up to the starting lineup during his freshman year with the Volunteers, White began his sophomore season as the focal point of Tennessee’s defensive line. It was during his sophomore year when White became involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on campus. White expressed an interest in becoming an evangelist, and became an ordained Baptist minister over the course of his college career.
By the time he was preparing to leave school to pursue professional football endeavors, he had acquired the nickname “Minister of Defense”. When his college career was all said and done, White was a consensus All-American, SEC player of the Year, and held the school record with 15 sacks in one season (1983).
USL to NFL
After his college football career, White was chosen by the Memphis Showboats in the 1984 USFL Territorial Draft, and was once again given the opportunity to play football in the state where it all began. His time in the USL didn’t last long, as the league folded only two seasons into his professional career with the Showboats. In the 1984 Supplemental Draft, White was selected in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles.
During his time with Eagles, White became one of the best players in franchise history. Spending a total of eight seasons with the Eagles, White played in 121 games and picked up 124 sacks, becoming the Eagles’ all-time sack leader. He also set the Eagles’ regular-season record with 21 sacks in a single season, tied for fifth all time in a single season in NFL history.
He set an NFL regular-season record during 1987 by averaging the most sacks per game, with 1.75. Over the course of his tenure with the Eagles, White actually accumulated more sacks than the number of games he played. He was voted by ESPN Sportsnation as the greatest player in Eagles’ franchise history.
In 1993, White became a free agent and was signed by the Green Bay Packers on a four-year deal worth upwards of 17-million. During his six seasons with the Packers, White showed no signs of slowing down as he racked up 68.5 sacks, good for third in franchise history. He played a pivotal role in helping the Packers capture a Super Bowl, with a game-ending sack in Super Bowl XXXI. That victory was his only championship at any level. In 1998, White was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career.
White retired from the NFL at the end of the 2000 season with the Carolina Panthers. When it was all said and done, his resume spoke volumes. White finished his illustrious career as a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 13-time Pro Bowler, 13-time All-Pro, and is second place all-time among career sack leaders with 198 (behind Bruce Smith’s 200). He was also selected to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
On the morning of December 26, 2004, White tragically passed away due to cardiac and pulmonary sarcoidosis, which White had lived with for years. He was posthumously elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot on February 4, 2006. His widow, Sarah White, delivered her husband’s acceptance speech at the ceremony.