From Kobe to Aikman, NFL players reveal childhood heroes

The Dallas Cowboys' triplets -- Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman -- were heroes to more than a few of today's NFL stars. Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images

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We asked NFL players who their sports hero was growing up. Some were inspired by football players, but others picked hoops stars. Here's a look at who today's athletes admired when they were kids:


Packers receiver Davante Adams

"Randy Moss. He's the best receiver to do it, from an athletic standpoint, and God blessed him to be superior. You could just tell from his speed and the way he went and got the ball, everything was effortless in the way he played. I felt like his path was similar to mine in sports. I feel like I've got a lot of God-given abilities plus the work that I've put in."

"I met him at the Hall of Fame Game. ... I said, 'You're the guy, you've always been. ... You're the guy I watched the most and want to fill those type of shoes.'"

Los Angeles Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin

Randy Moss. "The term 'You got Mossed,' that kind of stuck with me growing up, knowing that when I was in the end zone and I did go up and get a jump ball, it was like, 'I Mossed you.' ... Moss was probably the greatest receiver I ever seen with my eyes."

Jaguars safety Barry Church

"I was a big [Troy] Polamalu guy as far as football is concerned. I'm from Pittsburgh, so the way he played the game, the way he ran around just like a crazy man with his hair on fire, it inspired me to play the game the way he does."

Rams punter Johnny Hekker

"I loved Peyton Manning. I was a tall, gangly pocket quarterback when I was playing little league football, wearing No. 18, so I loved him. He was a winner and it always seemed like he was doing the right thing. Studied the game, and people just always told me to pay attention to what he was doing because he did it right.

"I shook his hand once, I think preseason my second year. We were playing in Denver and I got to shake his hand then. I was pretty excited."

Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks

"Jerome Bettis was my guy. I freaked out when I had a chance to meet him. I met him one time in New Orleans. I've just always been a fan of his and the road he took, being cast as a fullback and getting his spot back as a running back. Jerome was this unstoppable force and that's always what I envisioned myself as. He was just one of those guys that you always felt did it the right way.

"I don't want to bring up my favorite Jerome Bettis play of all time ... it was the time he ran over Brian Urlacher for a touchdown on a snowy day in Pittsburgh in 2005. I'll never forget that it was Bettis and Urlacher in the hole and Bettis barreled through him on the goal line. I'll never forget that play."

Saints running back Mark Ingram

"My dad [receiver Mark Ingram]. I remember my dad and the Super Bowl catch [for the Giants against the Bills in 1991] -- he broke all those tackles for a first down in the Super Bowl. I was like 1 or 2 maybe, but I've seen the play so many times that it's a memory."

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones

"Ray Lewis because he was such a dog. [I remember] watching his 'Mic'd Up' when he said, 'You can't stop me. I'm a machine, jerk.'"

Redskins pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan

"If I had to say one it would be Peyton Manning. Growing up in Indiana, my grandpa had season tickets to the Colts. Peyton made football a big thing in Indiana.

"We got so used to winning when I was a Colts fan. Year in, year out it was expected. They won like 12 division titles in a row. Now that I'm in the NFL I realize how that's really hard to frickin' do."

49ers tight end George Kittle

"For me, I grew up following Iowa football and the first six years of my life, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and I went to every single Badgers home game. So growing up, Ron Dayne, he was my first 'Oh my gosh, he's the best thing to ever happen.' ... I grew up wearing Ron Dayne jerseys. I had his home and away Wisconsin jerseys, his away and home New York Giants jerseys, that was my guy.

"My favorite thing was at Wisconsin games, he would get the ball and if he had a big run, the whole stadium would just yell, 'Rooooooooooon Dayyyyyyne' and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever."

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry

"Man, you think of Jerry Rice, you think of one of the greatest players ever to play the game. To have an opportunity to meet him [Rice coached him at the Pro Bowl], talk to him, just to shake his hand alone was enough for me. But I had the opportunity to just talk to him a little bit, just try to pick his brain."

Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee

"Jerome Bettis. I loved how he ran the football. Loved how he worked. Growing up in Pittsburgh, that was a guy I looked up to.

"I'd line up in goal line in Madden in the mid-2000s and I would run goal line and I would run with [Bettis] the whole game. There's like a glitch in the game that he would get three or four runs in a row and he would get a first down. My brother would be so mad."

Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett

"It might sound cliché to some people, but I would really have to say my dad [Kevin Lockett, who played in the NFL]. ... He told me I've surpassed him in everything in football. He's just played longer than me. He played seven years. But the thing about it is, he's living through me."

Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller

"When I was really young, probably it was Emmitt Smith. They were Cowboys and when you grow up around Dallas, in Texas, Cowboys are going to be your heroes. They were mine. Because football, especially then, was everything to me.

"[I remember] just that I never wanted to miss anything, watching them on game day and never wanting to miss a play, any moment they were playing. And then I'd watch the interviews after and just see how they handled themselves, after wins and losses. ... You can be the most competitive player in the National Football League and want to win every game, win every play and still carry yourself like that. That's what I wanted to do."

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph

"For me, as a kid growing up in the '90s, obviously the Cowboys and the Triplets were as big as it gets. Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith. I remember my first plastic-helmet, shoulder-pad jersey set was Troy Aikman's and I'd put it on and play against my dad in the living room as a 4-year-old. As I got older and you watch [Michael] Jordan, Tiger Woods, the guys that were so dominant in sports, those were the guys that I idolized as a kid."

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford

"I grew up in a great era to watch quarterbacks. Obviously a Dallas kid, I really, really liked [Troy] Aikman, liked [John] Elway, liked [Brett] Favre, liked all of those guys. They were true professionals, man. They got it done in all kind of different ways and obviously had a bunch of success not only individually but as a team as well."

Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard

"Lawrence Taylor. I used to play 'Tecmo Super Bowl' a lot. I used to always play with him. Just his demeanor, the way he approached the game. The way he was out there, no matter who is front of me, I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kick your butt. Your QB, or whoever has the ball, is going to feel that pain.

"He was a different type of leader though. One of my favorite things was when [Bill] Parcells was yelling at him and he said, 'Who the f--- you talking to?' I just liked his approach to the game. No matter what he had a good time. He enjoyed it. You can see it rubbed off on his teammates."


Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt

"Larry Bird, Michael Jordan. It was definitely a basketball player. Growing up, I watched more basketball, more soccer. I didn't have football idols."

Texans cornerback Aaron Colvin

"My sports hero growing up was Allen Iverson. He was him 100 percent of the time and he didn't care what anybody said about him, but at the end of the day, Allen Iverson showed up for games to make plays and ball out."

Colts tight end Jack Doyle

"As a young kid and being from right here in Indy, it was Reggie Miller, being a '90s baby and the heydays of that. Then as Indiana transitioned more into a football state, it was more Colts players. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney. Guys that I get to see today, which make it the coolest thing ever. Getting to work with Reggie Wayne [volunteer assistant WRs coach] and that kind of thing is a dream come true."

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz

"Kobe Bryant. I was born in Southern California so the Lakers were obviously on TV often. ... If you were in California, Kobe was kind of your guy. That perspective, just the way he acted and the way he demanded of his teammates and the way he approached the game really had an impact on me."

Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans

"Dwyane Wade. My first time seeing him, I think I was in my mother's room, it was his rookie year and he was in the playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets. My AAU team used to be the Hornets, so I used to always try to watch the Hornets but I didn't really know much -- I was like in fourth or fifth grade. And then I [saw] D-Wade cross over Baron Davis and make the game winner. I just fell in love with his game ever since. I like the way he carried himself off the field, played with swag, always played with heart -- just an electrifying player."

Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward

"One of my sports heroes, other than my dad, was Shaquille O'Neal. I loved how dominant he was and how he enjoyed the game. He wanted to win but also have fun as well. One of my favorite memories was the Kobe alley-oop to Shaq against the Trail Blazers. Such a pressure situation but then you see that dunk and you just see the excitement on his face after he dunked it."

Jets linebacker Darron Lee

"LeBron James. Right from the first day he stepped into the league. ... I've watched every Finals he's ever been in, every game he's ever been in. I haven't watched every playoff game, but every Finals game he's ever been in, especially being down 3-1 against the Warriors. That was just amazing. No one had ever done that before. That solidified him as being the GOAT, in my opinion.

"Our national championship [game at Ohio State]. He was on the sideline. I talked to him. ... I was, like, geeked."

Jets defensive end Leonard Williams

"Kobe Bryant. ... He won five rings. I mean, he has the stats to show for it. I just love the Black Mamba mentality. He just plays with a lot of grit and works hard.

"How he ended his career, his last game, went out with 60 points. ... Another [memory] was when he tore his Achilles. He didn't even show it on his face. He went back up there to shoot his free throws. He just plays really tough."