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.
In our first course I took on the challenge of seating tables 7, 30, 59, and 88. This week I take on two pretty difficult tasks as I have to take on Table #10, a number that is sacred to soccer and #80, a number donned by some of the greatest wide receivers of all time. If you would like to read my previous Cafe 101 post please use the link above. So without further ado, let’s look at four more tables at the Cafe 101.
Forward, Brazil National Team, Santos, & New York Cosmos (1956-1977)
3x World Cup Champion, 2x Roca Cup Winner, 1958 FIFA Silver Boot, 1958 FIFA Silver Ball, 1970 FIFA Golden Ball, FIFA Player of the Century – 1999, UNICEF Football Player of the Century – 1999
I was told that when I went with #10 I was going to have to choose a soccer player. The #10 is sacred in the sport of soccer but the reason it’s so sacred is the only player to have 3 World Cup medals – Pele. While my favorite #10 is Fran Tarkenton and a lot of great athletes have worn this number, Table #10 is about “Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?” and in my opinion that is Pele. Aside from his championship pedigree, his 1281 goals in 1363 games is still a record for most all-time. In baseball we often talk about the 5-tool baseball player as that rare guy who can do “EVERYTHING”, well Pele was a 5-tool soccer star. He could dribble, he could pass, he could shoot, he could head, and he could score. Not only was he named the soccer player of the century; he was named by the Athlete of the Century by Reuters and the International Olympic Committee. While I thought for awhile about this table, when I think #10 I think Pele and I think most other sports fans do as well. He is so well-respected that multiple countries around the world have depicted him on their postage stamps. I’m no expert on the game of soccer and while some may consider Maradona, Zidane, or one day in the future Lionel Messi – I still believe Pele to be the greatest soccer player of all time.
RUNNER-UP: ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Midfielder, Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid, & French National Team (1988-2006)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Ron Santo, Phil Rizzuto, Mookie Blaylock (College), Andre Dawson, Michele Platini, Diego Maradona, Walt Frazier, Guy LaFleur, Wayne Rooney, Zico, Vince Young (College), Dennis Rodman, Maurice Cheeks, Fran Tarkenton, Michelle Akers, Tim Hardaway, Nancy Lieberman, Eli Manning, & Marti Vieria de Silva
TOO SOON TO TELL: DeSean Jackson, Adam Jones, Santonio Holmes, Vernon Wells, Matt Flynn, Landon Donovan & Lionel Messi
Starting Pitcher, Arizona Wildcats, USA National Team, & Chicago Bandits (1999-2010)
2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist, Most Outstanding Player – 2001 College World Series, 2001 National Player of the Year, 3x All-American, 2001 College World Series National Champion, 2x World Cup Champion, National Pro-Fastpitch Co-Pitcher of the Year – 2005
There are many great athletes who have worn the #27. Many immediately think of Carlton Fisk or Juan Marichal in baseball. They think of Scott Niedermayer in hockey and Eddie George or Steve Atwater in football. There are a lot of current stars in sports who don 27 but I feel like the greatest athlete to have worn 27 is Jennie Finch. I understand that my knowledge of the sport of softball is limited and she is from my generation but the more I talk to those who follow the sport, watch highlights, and read, I am convinced that Jennie Finch is the greatest all-around softball player in the history of the game. She’s always been a winner – she won one national championship in college, has two Olympic medals, and won two World Cups.
As a college pitcher she set an NCAA record with 60 straight wins shattering the previous mark of 50. Over a four year college career she won 119 games and struck out 1,028 batters including going 32-0 in her junior year. She had a 1.07 career ERA in college, and a 0.42 career ERA as a member of the USA National Team. Her pitch was 71 mph (the equivalent of a 98 mph pitch in baseball) and she threw it consistently. While I could not find an exact number of no-hitters and perfect games she pitched, I do still remember when she threw back-to-back-to-back no-hitters in the 2000 College World Series. On top of her pitching prowess she was also great hitter, batting over .300 each year of college and for the Chicago Bandits in 2005. She even put together a 14-game hitting streak her sophomore year of college. Yes, I feel pretty confident that Jennie deserves Table #27.
RUNNER-UP (TIE): CARLTON FISK, Catcher, Boston Red Sox & Chicago White Sox (1969, 1971 – 1993) & SCOTT NIEDERMAYER, Defenceman, New Jersey Devils & Anaheim Ducks (1991-2010)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Scott Niedermayer, Juan Marichal, “Catfish” Hunter, Jeremy Roenick, Vladimir Guerrero, Eddie George, Jack Twyman, Fred McGriff, & Steve Atwater
TOO SOON TO TELL: Ray Rice, Lagarette Blount, Placido Polanco, & Brandon Jacobs
Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers (1971-1982)
4x Super Bowl Champion, 8x Pro Bowler, 6x 1st Team All-Pro, 2x 2nd team All-Pro, NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Hall of Fame – 1988
I’ve had a number of my readers ask how I decide what four numbers I am going to do for each article. It’s simple really, I use a Random Number Generator to select one number between 00 and 23, 24 and 48, 49 and 74, and 75 and 99. When I was given these four numbers I didn’t realize that #59 would be so tough. I immediately thought of Jack Ham but then I was reminded of London Fletcher – a largely underrated linebacker who has better stats than the much-heralded Ray Lewis with more Super Bowl appearances meanwhile collecting more tackles than any other player between 2000 and 2009. But when I compared the two, I had to go with Jack Ham who is considered by many to be the greatest outside linebacker the NFL has ever seen.
During his career, Ham had 25 career sacks (unofficially), 32 interceptions, and 21 fumble recoveries. He was a leader of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense and was known for his speed and ferocious tackling ability. What he’s most remembered for though is being a highly intelligent football player who rarely missed an assignment or was out of place. Many players in his time often noted how “you couldn’t trick Jack [Ham]”. He is one of the greatest defensive players the NFL has ever seen and deserves Table #59.
RUNNER-UP: LONDON FLETCHER, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, & Washington Redskins (1998 – Present)
ON THE WAITING LIST: Seth Joyner, Alex Agase, Chad LaRose, & Todd Jones
TOO SOON TO TELL: John Axford, DeMeco Ryans, Aaron Curry, & Felix Hernandez
Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, & Seattle Seahawks (1985 – 2004)
3x Super Bowl Champion, 13x Pro-Bowl Selection, 12x All-Pro Selection, 2x AP Offensive Player of the Year, 3x NFC Offensive Player of the Year, NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team, NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team, Hall of Fame – 2010
There have been a number of great athletes who have worn #80 but this was without a doubt going to Jerry Rice, not only the greatest wide receiver of all-time but to many – he’s the greatest football player of all time. He holds the record for career receptions with 1,549 (445 ahead of Tony Gonzalez), as well as receiving yards with 22,895 and total non-passing touchdowns with 208. From 1985 – 1999 he had 1000 yards receiving each season and holds nearly every receiving record of significance. Jerry Rice is such an obvious choice for this number that there really isn’t much to say here.