By sharing some of the football trading cards I’ve collected, my goal is to put a spotlight on some defensive backs who may have become underrated or even forgotten by history.
Todd Lyght, CB, Los Angeles Rams (Pro Line Live 1993)
The 1999 St. Louis Rams, a.k.a. “The Greatest Show on Turf,” a.k.a. the Super Bowl XXXIV champions, will go down in football history for fielding one of the game’s most prolific offenses. They set records and led the league in seemingly every important offensive stat category. The talent included QB Kurt Warner, a two-time NFL MVP; RB Marshall Faulk, an MVP and Hall of Famer; WRs Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, who made 11 Pro Bowls between them; and OT Orlando Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowler who is likely headed for the Hall of Fame.
The 1999 Rams defense, naturally, has been historically overlooked. But it was an open-field tackle by LB Mike Jones on Tennessee Titans WR Kevin Dyson that clinched the Rams’ 23-16 victory in Super Bowl XXIV, and the defense that held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to just six points while the St. Louis offense struggled during an 11-6 victory in the NFC Championship Game.
That Rams D featured LB London Fletcher, DE Grant Wistrom and Pro Bowl DE Kevin Carter, who had 17 sacks in the ’99 regular season.
The only other Pro Bowler on that defense was cornerback Todd Lyght.
Drafted by the L.A. Rams with the No. 5 overall pick in 1991, Lyght played for the Rams for 10 seasons and started in 141 of the 147 games he appeared in during that stretch. Lyght was there when the franchise relocated from L.A. to St. Louis in 1995, and there for the franchise’s only championship. He played with Jim Everett and Warner, Jerome Bettis and Faulk, Henry Ellard and Bruce, Kevin Greene and Jackie Slater. His 31 interceptions with the Rams rank fourth in franchise history.
The 1999 season was the peak of Lyght’s career. He was named to the Pro Bowl and picked for the All-Pro second team after registering 65 tackles, six interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 2.5 sacks. The veteran leader of a starting secondary unit that included CB Dexter McCleon and safeties Billy Jenkins and Keith Lyle, Lyght made an impact in the Super Bowl win, blocking a field goal and helping keep QB Steve McNair to just 214 yards passing and no touchdowns.
Lyght played one more season with the Rams before signing with the Detroit Lions (Lyght went to high school in Michigan) to wrap up his career. He played two years for the Lions, starting in all but two games he appeared in, and retired following the 2002 season.
Lyght worked with some business and media ventures as a retiree before going into coaching in 2009. Since then he’s quickly moved up the ranks: Lyght started as an assistant DBs coach at powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, went to the University of Oregon as a defensive intern, spent a couple of years back in the NFL as an assistant DBs coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, then returned to the college game and his alma mater, where he is currently in his first season as the DBs coach at Notre Dame.
At the same school where he was a two-time All-American, as well as a national champion and a team captain, Lyght now oversees the secondary for a program that is vying for another national title. This week the Irish (9-1) are ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press and Coaches polls; their only loss a 24-22 decision to current No. 1 Clemson.
Notre Dame’s defense ranks 44th in the country in totals yards allowed per game (363), 36th in passing yards allowed (199.1) and 31st in points allowed (21.5).
Among Lyght’s pupils is senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who is projected as a third-round NFL pick by WalterFootball.com. The Irish also start junior corner Cole Luke, junior safety Max Redfield and senior safety Elijah Shumate.