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.
This week I got an interesting group of numbers and had to spend quite a bit of time debating where I was going to go with my first two numbers of the day. I know there will be complaints about my #29 pick but it’s important to remember that some athletes had more than one jersey number and while they did not get in at one number, they may still make it in another. Without further ado, the greatest athletes to ever wear 11, 29, 60, & 79.
Centre, Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, & Vancouver Canucks (1978 – 2004)
6x Stanley Cup Champion, 15x All-Star, 2x Hart Memorial Trophy Winner, 2x Lester B. Pearson Award Winner, 1983-84 Conn Smythe Trophy Winner, Edmonton Oilers Team Captain, New York Rangers Team Captain, NHL Hall of Fame – 2007
While I did spend some time thinking about #11 my thoughts always came back to Mark Messier – one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Mark Messier was a 6x NHL Champion and a 15x All-Star. Over the course of his 26 year long career that started in the now-defunct WHA Messier scored 1,887 points (2nd most all-time behind Wayne Gretzky) and played 1,756 regular season games (2nd most all-time behind Gordie Howe). Messier is the only person in North American sports to have captained two separate teams to a championship in their respective sport (Oilers and Rangers). Not just one of the greatest hockey players of all time, many consider Messier among the best leaders (in any sport) of all-time for what he brought to the ice and his team. He was the type of player that made everyone around him better and it was obvious that he should get Table #11.
RUNNER-UP: ISIAH THOMAS, Detroit Pistons (1981 – 1994)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Sparky Anderson, Drew Bledsoe, Carl Hubbell, Elvin Hayes, Luis Aparicio, Yao Ming, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Leinart (College), Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Norm VanBrocklin, Barry Larkin, Jerry Lucas (College), Phil Simms, Edgar Martinez, Gilbert Perreault, Paul Waner, “Lefty” Gomez, & Bob McAdoo
TOO SOON TO TELL: Alex Smith, Jimmy Rollins, Anthony Gonzalez, C.J. Sapong, & Carlos Tevez
1st Baseman/2nd Baseman, Minnesota Twins & California Angels (1967-1985)
18x All-Star, 1977 AL MVP, 1967 AL Rookie of the Year, 1972 AL Batting Champion, 1977 Roberto Clemente Award, Hall of Fame – 1991
#29 was a toughie because there were so many ways I could’ve gone with this. I could’ve chosen one of the greatest goalies of all time, two of the best pitchers to ever throw in the major leagues, or one of the greatest running backs ever. Instead I chose a player who is one of the all-time great second basemen, a member of the 3,000 hit club and possibly the greatest player in the history of two different Major League franchises. I know that there will be a lot of debate with this choice (do yourself kindly to remember there are some athletes eligible for multiple jersey numbers) but in my mind Table #29 belongs to Rod Carew.
One of the biggest factors that leads to Rod Carew’s astounding career is his longevity and how long he played at a high level. His careers with the Twins and Angels were both so impressive that his #29 has been retired by both ball clubs. Carew burst on to the scene in 1967 wrapping up the Rookie of the Year award and 10 years later he was the AL MVP. Between his two different teams, he appeared in a staggering 18 MLB All-Star games. One of my favorite Rod Carew statistics is that in 1972 he batted .318 which was good enough to win him the batting title. Oddly enough, that was the only year of his career where he did not have a home run. To this day, Carew is the only player to win a batting title without having hit a homerun. Carew finished his career with over 3,000 hits, over 1,000 RBIs, and a .328 batting average and was only the 22nd player to be elected into the MLB Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He holds both the Twins’ and Angels’ records for on-base percentage, holds the Twins’ record for career batting average (and is 2nd in this category for the Angels’). What I find amazing about all of these things is that Carew’s career could’ve started 3-4 years earlier if not for a commitment to the Marine Corps and probably would have lasted 2-3 years longer if Major League owners had not conspired to force him into retirement in 1985 (not conspiracy theory – it’s been proven and a judge awarded Carew nearly $800,000 in 1995 as a result) and then his numbers may have just been ridiculous – can you say potential 4,000 hit club member? I gave a lot of thought into who deserved this table but for me, it kept coming back to Rod Carew.
RUNNER-UP: KEN DRYDEN, Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens (1970 – 1979)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Eric Dickerson, Satchel Paige, John Smoltz, & Paul Silas
TOO SOON TO TELL: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DeMarco Murray, Eric Berry, Roy Helu, LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Ryan Clowe, Michael Bush, & Andre Fleury
Quarterback, Cleveland Browns (1946-1955)
3x NFL Champion, 4x AAFC Champion, 5x Pro Bowl Selection, 9x All-Pro Selection, 1x Second Team All-Pro Selection, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 1950’s All-Decade Team, 3x NFL MVP, 1950 Pro Bowl MVP, 2x AAFC MVP, 1955 Hickok Belt Winner, Hall of Fame – 1965.
1946 National Basketball League Champion
While there are not many athletes across sports who wore the #60 this was no easy task. It came down to Otto Graham, who some NFL historians consider the greatest quarterback of all time, and Chuck Bednarik, the last true two-way player in the NFL. Both are great but I had to take Otto Graham. In the AAFC and later in the NFL, Otto Graham took the Browns to the title game in 10 straight seasons, he won 7 of those. He won every championship in the brief history of the AAFC and then when the Browns joined the NFL, they won it all in the very first season. His 86.6 QB Rating is among the best all-time. He finished his career (when football was a running game) with 23, 584 yards passing and 174 passing touchdowns. His 57-13-1 record as an NFL starter over 6 NFL seasons represents the highest winning percentage (.810) of any quarterback in NFL history. In addition to his Hall of Fame football career, he also briefly played for the Rochester Royals in the National Basketball League and helped them win the 1946 Championship. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Graham was the best athlete to ever don #60.
RUNNER-UP: CHUCK BEDNARIK, Linebacker/Center, Philadelphia Eagles (1949-1962)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Bill Willis, Walt Kirk, Scott Schoneweis, & Jose Theodore.
TOO SOON TO TELL: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jason Demers, & Kevin Poulin
Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys (1973 – 1983)
Super Bowl XII Champion, Super Bowl XII MVP, 4x Pro Bowler, 1x 1st Team All-Pro, 3x 2nd Team All-Pro, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL Defensive Player of the Year – 1977
Like #60, not a whole lot of athletes have worn #79 but it has been worn by some great NFL players. While Bob St. Claire and Roosevelt Brown deserve some consideration – I had to go with Harvey Martin who was perhaps, the best pass rusher of the 1970s. He was a very large factor in the first Super Bowl Win in Dallas Cowboys history which led to him being the co-MVP of that Super Bowl. As the cornerstone of the vaunted Doomsday Defense he had 114 sacks in his 11 season career. He led the Cowboys in sacks in 7 of those seasons. Table #79 has to go to Harvey Martin in my eyes.
RUNNER-UP: ROOSEVELT BROWN, Offensive Tackle, New York Giants (1953 – 1965)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Bob St. Claire
TOO SOON TO TELL: Andrei Markov
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+