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9 Sports Legends We Should Take Time To Appreciate Before They’re Gone

by: Esteban On  Wednesday, February 15, 2012

old sports legends over 80

This past Sunday, the sports world lost one of it’s most iconic figures in Joe Paterno. And while I usually don’t get too sad when people pass away at the ripe old age of 85—especially not when they’ve accomplished as much as JoePa—this time the news got me down a bit.

Why? Because of the way the guy went out, obviously. He didn’t get the farewell tour that some legends get when they announce their retirement in advance. And of course he didn’t even get to retire, but was instead fired by Penn State as a result of his mishandling of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. So JoePa never really got his one last moment in the sun. He was gone before the dust had even settled.

This got me thinking: who are some other sports legends that we don’t really think about all that often anymore, but who we would be truly sad to see go?

The following is what I came up with. My goal wasn’t to be morbid or anything by pointing out that, yeah, these dudes are pretty old. It was simply to remind everyone how awesome they were.

So without further ado, click on to see who comes in at #9.

9. Scotty Bowman

scotty bowman

Scotty Bowman won more games (1,224) and more Stanely Cups (9) than any coach in the history of the NHL. And although some observers have said that the teams with which he won were all really talented, so maybe it was just good luck, those people are morons. As the San Jose Sharks have demonstrated over and over again for the past decade or so, you need more than talent to win it all.

It doesn’t seem all that long since Scotty stopped coaching, and he’s still actively involved in hockey as Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Blackhawks. But I wanted to point out that the man is 78 years old. Hopefully he’ll be around for another 15 or 20 years, but no one lives forever. So let’s all remember how insanely great the guy was now, okay?

8. Stan Musial

stan musial

I guess you could say that Stan “The Man” Musial is my dark horse pick for this list. While he’s like the pope in St. Louis, and while baby boomer baseball fans all know Stan very well—after all, he hit .331 in his career with 3,630 hits and 475 home runs—he’s not as well known to younger generations as (already deceased) guys like Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams.

But here’s the real kicker: everything I’ve ever read about this legendary St. Louis Cardinal is amazing. People just rave about how classy the guy is, how he always took time to sign autographs, how he never ever got ejected from a game, how he welcomed the arrival of African American players, etc.

So with Stan sitting at 91 years old, I’d say it’s time for baseball fans outside St. Louis to start appreciating one of the remaining legends from the golden era of baseball.

7. John Madden

john madden

John Madden isn’t the most highly esteemed former NFL coach still alive. (Stay tuned for that guy.) However, no single person is more synonymous with NFL football than Madden. This is partly because of Madden’s successful coaching career, partly because of his successful broadcasting career, and of course partly because of his insanely popular video game franchise.

For the benefit of our younger readers who only know Madden as the namesake of football video games, all he did as a coach for the Oakland Raiders for 10 years was go 103-32-7 and win a Super Bowl. No big deal. And when you combine this success with his flamboyant broadcasting style, with the excessive use of the telestrator and the exclamatory “BOOMS,” and you have a genuine legend.

After a while, some of us probably got a little tired of Madden. But that’s only because we had too much of a good thing. The guy is 75 years old now, so let’s all remember how gold this guy is before it’s too late.

6. Dean Smith

dean smith

Dean Smith is not the greatest living college basketball coach. That honorary title probably belongs to Mike Krzyzewski. But since Coach K is only 64, there’s plenty of time to appreciate his genius…and we will. ESPN will make sure of that.

Dean Smith, however, is 80 years old, and until 2007 he was the winningest coach in college basketball history with 879 wins. He also led North Carolina to 2 National Championships and Final Fours.

On top of all that, the guy was always a class act. He took over as head coach at UNC in 1961, during the height of the Civil Rights movement. What did he do? He promoted desegregation by recruiting the school’s first African American scholarship player, and openly encouraging local businesses to treat everyone equally.

And there was no funny business in his program—no recruitment violations, no booster scandals, no fancy gifts. Instead, he graduated 96.6% of his players during his career. (By comparison, Bob “Thuggins” Huggins graduates about 30% of his players.)

So let’s all take some time to remember this coaching great, shall we?

5. Don Shula

don shula

Don Shula, 82, is arguably the greatest living NFL coach. Few names become legendary and revered in the world of pro football—Lombardi, Halas, Landry, Madden—and Shula is one of them.

As coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, Shula won more regular season games (328) than any other coach in history. As coach of the Dolphins, he won 5 AFC Championships and 2 Super Bowls. Oh, and there was that whole “perfect season” thing back in 1972—that was pretty cool I guess.

In his entire 36 year coaching career, coach Shula had only 2 losing seasons. Two. Which is ridiculous.

I’m sure when Shula passes away, people will debate where he stands in the pantheon of great NFL coaches. I say, why wait? Let’s remember how awesome he is now so he can enjoy it.

4. Gordie Howe

gordie howe

It’s hard to believe, but Mr. Hockey is 83 years old. And while there’s no reason to believe Gordie could possibly kick the bucket any time soon—we’re talking about a who guy played a full season for the Hartford Whalers and scored 15 goals when he was 51 years old—let’s not wait around to appreciate this sports icon.

Of course, to hockey fans, Gordie Howe is has hardly gone unappreciated. But I don’t think non-hockey fans have a good enough idea of why this guy is so amazing.

For starters, he played 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, winning 4 Stanley Cups, 6 MVP awards, and 6 Art Ross Trophies as the league’s top scorer.

After the 1970-71 season, Howe retired with a bum wrist. But 2 years later he was back playing pro hockey again in the upstart WHA. He played another 6 seasons there, and when the league folded and the Whalers were added to the NHL, Mr. Hockey made his triumphant return at the age of 51.

When it was all said and done, Howe scored 801 goals and 1,850 points in the NHL and another 174 goals and 508 points in the WHA. Only Wayne Gretzky has more goals, and only Wayne and Mark Messier have more points.

Oh, and did I mention that Gordie was a legendary fighter? There’s this thing called a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. It’s when you get a goal, an assist, and a fight.

3. Arnold Palmer

arnold palmer

Arnold Palmer is golf.

He was the modern game’s first superstar, it’s first household name. He helped transform the sport from some boring game that rich dudes played into the widely popular and highly televised international game that it is today.

And obviously, he was damn good. He won 1 U.S. Open, 2 British Opens, and 4 Masters Tournaments.

Was Palmer as good as Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods? No, probably not. But as the game’s first international superstar, he was just as important. So let’s give the 82-year-old the credit he deserves.

2. Vin Scully

vin scully

Vin Scully isn’t just the voice of the Dodgers. He’s the voice of baseball.

And while the 84-year-old has cut his workload back a bit in recent years, lucky fans in Southern California (or those willing to shell out big bucks for MLB’s Extra Innings) still get about 110 chances a year to hear him call a game.

What makes Scully so great? There’s no point trying to explain it. So just watch this clip:

1. Yogi Berra

yogi berra

Is there any baseball player more beloved by fans everywhere than Yogi Berra? Is there any player with more famous sayings?

Those were rhetorical questions, but I’ll tell you the answer anyway: no.

Yogi was probably the second best catcher in the history of baseball behind Johnny Bench. But that’s only in terms of pure ability. If we’re talking about longevity and accomplishments, there’s not question Yogi is tops.

He played for the Yankees for 18 seasons, and was an All-Star in every single one of them. For his career he batted .285 and cracked 358 home runs—which was almost unheard of for a catcher at the time. And of course, he won the World Series 10 times as a player, then another 3 times as a coach.

More famous than any of his accomplishments, however, is Yogi’s pleasant demeanor and ridiculously hilarious “Yogiisms.” For example:

“Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”

“It aint over till it’s over.”

“When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”

“You can observe a lot by watching.”

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”

There is no greater personality in sports than Yogi Berra. So let’s enjoy the 86-year-old Yankee legend while we still can.