Greatest Athlete of All Time: Barry Sanders

By: Billy BeerSlugger

First of all let me say this debate is not about the most popular athlete ever, it’s the greatest athlete ever.  I’ve considered athletes that play individual and team sports.  Sports with balls and sports without balls.  Sports that have a finish line, goal, pin, basket, plate and net.  Sports that athletes throw, run, catch, shoot, tackle, swim, swing, spike, juke and pedal.  I’m trying to be as objective as possible and not discount any sport.  I’m not going to neglect an athlete just because they didn’t win “The Big One” because we are talking about athletic ability and especially in team sports, one person does not get you to the top of the mountain.

Merriam-Webster describes an athlete as: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina. I am going to throw speed in there as well.

To narrow down the field I am only considering athletes that have a combination of all of these traits: speed, strength, agility and stamina.  A bowler may be able to throw a strike but maybe can’t run a six minute mile, a world class weight lifter can put up 500lbs but maybe can’t run the 100m dash in under 14 seconds.  A golfer may be able to hit a ball 250yrds but can’t long jump 10ft. A cyclist may be able to climb the Wall in Manyunk but can’t change direction while running as fluently as basketball or football player.

Gone from consideration are athlete’s like Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong.  Nothing to diminish their accomplishments but they are not the caliber of well rounded athlete I’m considering. I’m looking for athlete’s that could play multiple sports if they wanted to and probably did.

I truly believe that the All Time Decathlon High Scorer, Roman Šebrle (Czech Republic) could be considered the greatest athlete of all time. Traditionally, the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” has been given to the man who wins the decathlon.  10 events which measure strength, speed, agility and endurance.  However, being that IAAF  changes their scoring system around every 20 years or so, some call the scoring system flawed and the fact that he’s not an American, I’m going to choose someone else.

So yes, my pick is Barry Sanders. Barry Sanders?  Yes Barry Sanders.  Why you ask, here’s why.

The man could change direction any which way and not only make the defender miss but make him look completely foolish.  He had legs like tree trunks, could stop on a dime and start up again like no one I’ve ever seen play the game of football.  Probably the most agile person I’ve ever seen run the ball.  Barry clocked in with a 4.37 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine and while that’s not the fastest time ever, it was his quickness that made him special.

Barry not only could make a man miss, he could straight up bounce off a tackler.  You would think he was stopped in the backfield and then all of a sudden Barry gets pushed 3 yards back, the defender that hit him is on the ground and Barry runs for 20 yards the other way.  Barry could bowl over people as well and wriggle out of tackles.  The man basically invented the spin move (the circle button on Madden).

I don’t think you will ever see a runner like Barry Sanders again.  Selected to the Pro Bowl every year of his career, 2 time offensive player of the year, Co-Mvp of the 1997 season.  15 career touchdown runs of 50 yards or more, most in NFL history. The man only missed 6 games in his entire 10 year career, that’s endurance for you, especially for a guy that supposed to get hit every time he touches the ball.

Barry retired in 1999, about 1,458 yards away from breaking Walter Payton’s all time career rushing for the NFL.  Not because Barry couldn’t play anymore, but because Barry was such a competitor and wanted to win so bad that he retired instead of spending another season with the last place Detroit Lions (some things don’t change).  Sanders could have easily played 3 or 4 more years.

To put it into perspective Payton needed 3 more years to get the 1,500 more yards and Emmit Smith played 5 more years to get 3,000 more yards than Barry.  No one else in the NFL Hall of Fame has a higher per carry average than Sanders (5ypc) except Jim Brown (5.2ypc).

He set 34 NCAA records during his 1988 Heisman Campaign, over 2,600 yards and 39 touchdowns.

During an NBA Slam Dunk contest, Sanders dunked, flat footed and he’s 5’9”.

I could go on and on about this guy, but one of the greatest things about him (in my eyes) is that he never spiked a football.  He never did a dance in the endzone.  For as good as he was he wasn’t a showboat. He brought his hardhat to work, did his job and went home.  There’s something to be said about that in an era when you got more press for your endzone antics then your play on the field sometimes.

Anyway, you don’t have to agree with me but the guy has everything an athlete needs, speed, power, endurance and probably one of the most agile human beings ever.

Greatest Athlete of All Time: Bo Jackson

Bo Knows Breaking Bats

By: Bones

Anybody’s opinion about the G.O.A.T. (athlete version) can be twisted any number of ways depending on what a person values in an athlete, and the debate about it will rarely be tame because of the glut of great choices, biases based on team/player loyalties, and the inevitable fact that you probably are 10-12 alcoholic bevvies deep before it gets brought up. So while I won’t quibble with anyone else’s choice, because lining up behind LeBron, Lance, Usain, Michael, or Tiger is a good place to be, I am gonna throw out my own pick for lots of reasons I’ll get into later in this piece right now- Bo MutherFucking Jackson.

First, lets establish that this debate has a ‘Men Only’ sign on the door. Meaning absolutely no disrespect, I’ll say a woman has no shot in this debate, and that should be obvious. That’s not to say that a woman can’t be better than a man at something sports related- obviously that’s true- but when you are talking the best of the best, it’s no contest. There are certain physical limitations that a woman can’t overcome- build, muscle mass, and height to name a couple. That’s why there are women’s records and women’s sports. Show me a sports record held by a woman, and I’ll show you one that guys don’t give a rats patoot about.

Next, lets establish that I don’t regard career statistics in any sport as a good measure of how great an athlete you are or were. The fact that Bo isn’t in the NFL or MLB HOF means nothing to me in that regard. I don’t rank Hank Aaron as one of the top athletes of all time just because he held the home run record. That fact alone, and this applies to any number of people with career type records like Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, or Dan Marino, among many others- does not qualify you in my book. Those kinds of achievements, although mostly held by world class athletes for sure, can be won through mental toughness, luck, lack of competition, or endurance. It’s kind of like saying that Danielle Steele is a better writer than Charles Dickens because she wrote more books than he did, or that Jamie Moyer is a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax was because he has got almost a hundred more wins. Quality over quantity people. Further, I think statistical achievements are devalued because they are obtainable by lesser talents- Kevin Millwood threw a no-hitter, and Dustin Pedroia won the AL MVP last year.

Third, I think a dominating physical presence from an early age is important. I don’t want to here about Mike Jordan getting cut from his basketball team in high school, or any such nonsense like a guy that flourished once he hit a certain level of competition, like Tom Brady. The G.O.A.T. didn’t get draft in the 3rd round- Joe Montana, I’m looking at you. I don’t want to hear about guys who ‘found the right coach/trainer’, or ‘found God’, or ‘found their mental focus’. The G.O.A.T. is a guy who has dominated at every level that people can remember- a child prodigy, a high school God, and a undeniable force in college and/or professional sports. He was born with it, and he didn’t need anyone to drag it out of him.

Next, the G.O.A.T should show a versatility beyond the reach of mere mortals. He doesn’t excel at a skill he practices obsessively- he excels immediately at whatever sport, game, or feat is thrown at him. Throw out any pitcher or goalie right away- they don’t even play all aspects of their respective sports. He can’t be a great power hitter who was/is unable to hit for average. He has got to be fast, quick, and strong all in the same package. He can’t be a quarterback who can’t run, or a WR who can’t go over the middle. He is not Randy Moss. He makes a joke of combine workouts- he is called one of the best draft prospects ever.

Finally, the G.O.A.T. must be the stuff of legends. You’ve heard about him, seen him on YouTube, and past teammates and friends swear he’s the best that ever lived. People tell tales of catching flys with bare hands, running down rabbits in an open field when they were 10 years old. Specifically, he breaks his bat over his knee in a major league game. He catches fly balls with his bare hand, and he runs literally up and down an outfield wall. He annilihates Brian Bosworth on MNF and ruins his career almost singlehandedly. he is unstoppable in video games, and the depth of his legend inspires Paul Bunyan like stories, stories that can’t possibly be true, but you wonder, and maybe even wish, that they might be.

So all that being said, lets review Bo Jackson’s athletic career in regards to the requirements that I set forth above.

He was the first athlete to be named to the All-Star game in two professional sports- Baseball and Football. Can you imagine someone doing that in the internet age? The man would be a sensation, a bazillionaire on the level of Tiger and LeBron. Adrian Peterson is great, but does he have to skip training camp because he is playing an All Star right field through September in the majors? I think not. Starting in high school, the guy was out of this world ridiculous. He rushed for 1,175 yards as a running back as a high school senior and hit twenty home runs in twenty-five games for the baseball team during his senior season. That’s not all folks: he was also a two-time state champion in the decathlon. Yes, you read that right. The Yankees drafted him out of high school but decided to go to Auburn, where he won the Heisman in 1985 while putting up a career average of 6.6 yards a carry. Fuck, man. 6.6. yards a carry. In his spare time he hit .401 for the baseball team and qualified for the US Olympic team in the 100 yard dash. Seriously, the dude was fast. He ran an insane 4.12 40 yard dash, still considered the fastest verifiable 40 time at an NFL Combine. He was drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, but chose to play baseball, where he did all sorts of crazy shit. He hit home runs in 4 consecutive at bats in 1990- the 4th in his first at bat off the DL. He won the All Star game MVP with a 450 foot bomb of a home run, and continually did things no one else cold even consider doing: throwing the ball to home plate on the fly to get a runner from the warning track flat footed, hitting a home run on a pitch where he was trying to call a time out. The list goes on and on…and that’s only baseball. He averaged 5.4 yards a carry in his NFL career (5.4!), and that coming off full baseball seasons. He ran for 221 yards on MNF 29 carries into his NFL career. We all know that he had the hip injury that pretty much ended his career(s), but even in injury he was amazing: In an interview on Untold, his Royals’ teammate George Brett, who attended the game where he was injured, said he asked the trainer what had happened to Bo. The trainer replied “Bo says he felt his hip come out of the socket, so he popped it back in, but that’s just impossible, no one’s that strong.” Sounds like the stuff of legends, if you ask me. So now he’s injured, and his career is pretty much over- but he actually had his hip replaced and still was able to come back to MLB and win the AL comeback player of the year award, hitting a home run in his first at bat back. Seriously. Just for kicks, he also dabbled in basketball after he got his new hip, playing for a semi-pro team. If you think the last paragraph sounds like the description of a legend, a myth, or a movie character, that is exactly my point. except it’s all true.

Let the bar be set. Bo Knows Sports.