Any great sports debate begins with a difference of opinion. Athletes from the current generation are compared with those who played before them, and fans take sides on who is the best they've ever seen play. With that in mind, leading up to the start of another football season, the Times Free Press sports staff is releasing its lists of 13 for 2013.
The lists, appearing in the Tuesday and Friday editions each week, list alphabetically the top 13 area players at each position, and readers can cast their votes to rank those players.
So who are the area's best players at each position? You help us decide. Taking into account not only their prep careers but also college and any professional achievements, today we list the top 13 area offensive linemen.
John Boynton (Bledsoe County, Tennessee, NFL) -- A mountain of a man who is still revered throughout the Sequatchie Valley.
Bill Emendorfer (Cleveland, Tennessee) -- A three-year letterman for the Volunteers, he was All-SEC as a senior in 1972.
Ellis Gardner (McCallie, Georgia Tech, NFL) -- An all-conference player with the Yellow Jackets, he was drafted by Kansas City in 1983 and also played with Indianapolis.
Charley Hannah (Baylor, Alabama, NFL) -- Played on a Super Bowl champion team with the Oakland Raiders.
John Hannah (Baylor, Alabama, NFL) -- Hall of Famer is considered by many NFL historians as the greatest offensive lineman ever.
Bob Johnson (Bradley Central, Tennessee, NFL) -- The first player ever drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968.
Bill Mayo (Dalton, Tennessee) -- A rare four-year letterman in the trenches for the Vols, he was an All-American as a senior.
Jacques McClendon (Baylor, Tennessee, NFL) -- He was a Parade All-America player in high school, a four-year letterman at UT and taken in the fourth round by the Colts. He is currently with the Falcons.
Bill McManus (Dalton, Auburn) -- He was an anchor on the Catamounts' 1967 state championship team and was named to the all-state first team three times before playing collegiately at Auburn.
Dicky Phillips (Central, Georgia) -- A high school All-American for legendary coach E.B. "Red" Etter at Central.
Steven Roberts (Dalton, Georgia) -- He was a two-way star on Bill Chappell's final teams before a successful career at Georgia in which he earned All-SEC second-team honors in 1994 and made 41 career starts.
Stacy Searels (Trion, Auburn, NFL) -- The current Texas and former Georgia assistant coach followed a great prep career to star at Auburn, where he was a two-time All-SEC pick, earned All-America honors in 1987 and was named to the Auburn "Team of the '80s." A fourth-round pick of the Chargers, he played two NFL seasons.
Jeff Smith (Meigs County, Tennessee, NFL) -- He was a three-year starter blocking for Peyton Manning and later played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Throughout his football career, versatility and brute strength have separated Jacques McClendon from his sizable competition.
A three-year starter on both the offensive and defensive line at Baylor School, McClendon even caught passes as a tight end for a couple of games as a senior and was a U.S. Army All-American as well as a Parade magazine All-American. He played both tackle and guard at Tennessee and in 2008 was a starter on a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the nation, just one per 134 passes by Volunteers quarterbacks.
The 6-foot-3, 324-pound McClendon also set program records in the weight room at UT and was taken in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. After one season there, he played for two years with the Detroit Lions before being signed to the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad six games into last season.
After playing guard last season, McClendon began making the difficult transition to center during the Falcons' 2013 organized team activities.
"It's definitely a transition," McClendon said. "At first I just thought of myself as a guard who could snap it. By the end of OTAs I was feeling pretty confident with it. There's a lot of responsibility on you to make the right calls for the line at center. But if anything, it's made my football IQ even higher, and I think it will only add to my list of skills to bring to the team.
"All you can ask is to get an opportunity in this league, and I've got that. Once you get the opportunity, the rest is up to you, so I'm going to work as hard as I can to make the move to center."
As he enjoys the last few weeks with his family before returning to Atlanta to begin preseason camp, McClendon said he was surprised and honored when told he would be on the Times Free Press list of the 13 best offensive linemen in area history.
"I'm not even the best lineman who played at Baylor," McClendon joked, referring to Pro Hall of Famer John Hannah. "I mean, the greatest offensive lineman of all time played at Baylor, so just to be on a list with him is an incredible honor. Chattanooga is still home and still near and dear to me, so that means a lot.
"I've already been blessed to have the career I've had, and I know I'm blessed to be on a team where the sky's the limit," McClendon said, noting the Falcons' Super Bowl expectations. "You just feel like you're a part of a special team. It's one of the best situations I've been in.
"My wife and mom still live in Cleveland, so I'm close to home and in a place where we believe we can be really good. It's great to be a part of something like that."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.