Imagine there’s a sports heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
Where sports’ greatest legends
Depart to when they die.
Imagine all the athletes, of past and present day.
Now imagine a Cafe;
It’s not that hard to do.
There’s only 101 tables;
It’s open to a select few.
Imagine all the athletes, hoping to get a seat.
You may say I’m a dreamer;
But I’m not the only one.
Deciding the greatest athletes by number;
Who get to enter the Cafe 101.
When I started on my quest to determine the greatest athlete to ever represent each jersey number from 00 to 99, I looked across the world of sports and knew some numbers would be challenging (every number 35 and under), some would be extremely difficult – 1, 7, 10, 12, 21, 32, 33, etc. but when I looked at the field of numbers there was 1 number I thought would be the most difficult of all, and it’s probably not one you would expect – #4. I saw #4 and I immediately thought of Brett Favre, Lou Gehrig, and Bobby Orr. It wasn’t the greatness that was going to make this difficult, well at least not just the greatness, it was that this is personal. I’ve long been a fan of Lou Gehrig and he is one of my favorite baseball players (definitely my favorite Yankee) of all-time. As a Vikings fan, I am a big Brett Favre fan and of course I live and work in Massachusetts so the influence of Orr is overwhelming. Of course last week my Random Number Generator determined I would write about 4 this week and so I spent the last few days thinking long and hard on one question –
Favre Orr Gehrig?
Without further ado, this was my decision:
First Baseman, New York Yankees (1923-1939)
6x World Series Champion, 7x All-Star, 2x AL MVP, Yankees Team Captain (1935-1939), Major League Baseball All-Century Team, Hall of Fame – 1939
In a great battle between Iron Men (Favre and Gehrig) and one of the greatest hockey players of all time (Orr), I had to take Lou Gehrig. For the longest time I thought I would take Brett Favre, one of the greatest Quarterbacks of all time, but then I began to realize that Gehrig is probably the greatest first basemen of all time and not just that, I think he is one of the top 5 baseball players of all time. About 10 months ago I wrote that, “If I could build an all-time team around one player – no doubt in my mind that that player would be the Iron Horse” and I don’t plan to detract from that now. He started and played in 2,130 straight games (a record until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995), he has 23 career grand slams, scored the winning run in 8 World Series games, has the most extra base hits of a first baseman, had a .765 slugging percentage in 1927, and was so good that the Hall of Fame waived the waiting period rule so they could vote him in a few months after he retired. Had Gehrig not come down with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), he would have likely finished his career with around 3,700 hits and 650 homeruns. In my mind, Lou Gehrig, not Babe Ruth, is the greatest Yankee of all-time.
More than that, he was a great all around person and his famed “Luckiest Man” speech, in my opinion, is the single most moving moment in the history of sport.
RUNNER-UP (TIE): BRETT FAVRE, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, & Minnesota Vikings (1991 – 2010) & BOBBY ORR, Chicago Blackhawks & Boston Bruins (1966-1978)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Mel Ott, Paul Molitor, Adam Viniatieri, Jean Beliveau, Chauncey Billups, Duke Snider, & Teresa Edwards
TOO SOON TO TELL: Taylor Hall, Brandon Phillips, Vincent Lecavalier, Antawn Jamison, & Kevin Kolb
NASCAR Driver (1959 – 1992)
7x NASCAR Champion, NASCAR Rookie of the Year – 1959, 7x Daytona 500 winner, NASCAR Hall of Fame – 2010 (Inaugural Class)
There’s a reason that Richard Petty is known simply as “The King”. He is without a doubt one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all-time and his 7 NASCAR titles are a record (tied with Dale Earnhardt). He is also the only driver to have won the Daytona 500 7 times. His 127 poles and 700 top 10 finishes in 1,185 races are also unbelievable feats. Even sports fans like myself that really do not follow NASCAR are aware of the accomplishments of Richard Petty and have heard of the Richard Petty School of Driving. This was a pretty simple decision for me to give Table #43 to Petty.
RUNNER-UP: DENNIS ECKERSLEY, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A’s, & St. Louis Cardinals (1975-1998)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Jack Sikma & Troy Polamalu
TOO SOON TO TELL: R.A Dickey, Darren Sproles, & Nazem Kadri
Linebacker/Defensive End, Kansas City Chiefs (1989 – 1999)
9x Pro-Bowl Selection, 3x 1st Team All-Pro, 3x 2nd Team All-Pro, 7x 1st Team All-AFC, 1x 2nd Team All-AFC, NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year – 1989, UPI AFL-AFC Rookie of the Year – 1989, Dick Butkus Award (1988), All-American (1988), NFL Hall of Fame – 2009
58 was one of the easiest decisions I had to make. You could make an argument for Jack Lambert here but Derrick Thomas is one of the greatest pass-rushers of all time. I’m amazed to this day how long it took him to get in the Hall of Fame because the guy was an absolute beast. He hold Chiefs franchise records with 41 career forced fumbles, 8 forced fumbles in a season, 19 fumble recoveries, 126.5 career sacks, 20 sacks in a season, and 3 career safeties. Additionally the guy holds the NFL record for most sacks in a game with 7. That mark broke the previous record of 6 in a game, which had also been set by Thomas. John Elway always said he could’ve played a few more years in a warmer climate like Miami. I think Elway could’ve played a few more years if he didn’t have to face Derrick Thomas twice a year. As a collegiate player, he set an NCAA record with 27 sacks in a single season while at Alabama. His 52 career sacks at Alabama were also an NCAA record at the time. It’s unbelievable to think of what Thomas could’ve accomplished if his career and life had not been cut short due to paralysis. No doubt in my mind that Table #58 belongs to Derrick Thomas.
RUNNER-UP: JACK LAMBERT, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-1984)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Johnathan Papelbohn & Carl Banks
TOO SOON TO TELL: Von Miller, Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, & Kris Letang
Defensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs (1963-1975)
Super Bowl IV Champion, 2x AFL Champion, 6x AFL All-Star, 2x Pro Bowl Selection, 6x All-AFL, 1x 2nd Team All-Pro, AFL All-Time Second Team, NFL Hall of Fame – 1990, College Football Hall of Fame – 1996
On back to back numbers we have famous Kansas City Chiefs defenders getting themselves a table at thea Cafe 101. Buck Buchanan was an absolute monster from the time he played at Grambling under the legendary Eddie Robinson to the time he was the first draft pick in AFL history and had an amazing career with the Chiefs. He was also the first black player to be drafted #1 overall in professional football history. His defense and ability to penetrate the Minnesota Vikings’ vaunted offensive line helped the Chiefs hold the Vikings to only 67 yards giving the Chiefs their only Super Bowl win and one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in history. At 6’7″ 287 lbs, Buchanan was a force to be reckoned with. Despite his size he was very quick and could run a 4.9 40 which allowed him to make tackles from sideline to sideline. He started 166 straight games and is one of the greatest players in the proud history of the Kansas City Chiefs.
RUNNER-UP: HINES WARD, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers (1998 – Present)
ON THE WAITING LIST: James Lofton & Todd Heap
TOO SOON TO TELL: David Nelson, Fred Davis, & Daniel Fells
Agree? Disagree? Tweet @can_of_corn with hashtag #Cafe101 to tell us your picks!
Will your favorite athletes be able to get a table at the Cafe 101? Keep reading to find out! If you have any questions, comments, or snide remarks please comment below or tweet them to @can_of_corn! Courtesy of Devan Dignan+