9 Sports Stars Who Came Out Of Nowhere
Pro sports teams are always on the hunt for “the next big thing,” the guy who might put a team on his back and carry them to multiple championships. That’s why we make such a big deal about scouting and prospects and draft lotteries and draft picks. But of course, things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes the top prospect is a bust, and a team wastes its precious #1 draft pick. (Sorry, Greg Oden.) Then, other times, you get a superstar where you least expect it—from a backup’s backup, the end of your bench, the 13th round of the draft, or a grocery store in Iowa—and the sports world goes wild.
Today, in honor of a certain New York Knicks player who’s taken the world by storm the last two weeks (okay fine, it’s Jeremy Lin), we count down the top 9 pro athletes who came out of nowhere to become household names.
Who made the list? Let’s find out.
JS Giguère was actually drafted 13th overall back in 1995 (by the Hartford Whalers), but in the NHL that doesn’t mean people know you. Sure, sometimes the draft has guys like Crosby and Taveres and Stamkos, but more often than not there’s not a lot of hype.
In any case, NHL fans had never heard of this guy until, all of a sudden, he burst out of nowhere to lead the Anaheim Mighty Ducks past the Red Wings and all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003. He was so astounding in the net that he became the first player since Ron Hextall in 1987 to be named playoff MVP despite not winning the Cup.
9. Jean-Sébastien Giguère
One day Tony Romo is quarterback for the Eastern Illinois University Panthers, and the next he’s dating Jessica Simpson and throwing touchdown passes to Terrell Owens.
Okay, so it didn’t happen quite that fast, but no one saw it coming. Romo went undrafted out of college, was signed as an undrafted free-agent by the Cowboys in 2003, and spent two seasons as the backup’s backup before being promoted to the #2 slot behind Drew Bledsoe. So when Romo wrestled the starting job away from Bledsoe in 2006, few people knew who this guy was.
8. Tony Romo
Wallace’s story is similar to Tony Romo’s...except for the championship ring.
He went to a no-name school (Virginia Union University) and was not drafted out of college. Instead, the Washington Bullets/Wizards signed him as a free-agent in 1996. He didn’t really do that much from 1996 to 2000 with the Wizards and Magic. Then he got traded to Detroit as part of a sign-and-trade deal for Grant Hill, and all of a sudden he becomes a defensive genius, winning 4 defensive player of the year awards and leading the Pistons to the NBA finals twice, winning one in 2004.
7. Ben Wallace
In 2004, Wes Welker was an undrafted nobody who got cut from the Chargers after one game. In 2005 and 2006, he was a versatile special teams on the Dolphins guy who didn’t get much action. In 2007, he was the second-most important player on the undefeated New England Patriots after Tom Brady, racking up 112 receptions, 1,175 yards, and 8 touchdowns. So he went from nobody, to the heart and soul of a juggernaut football team in about 6 months. Oh, and now he’s engaged to hottie Anna Burns.
Nice going, Wes.
6. Wes Welker
Coming in at #5 is this year’s Wes Welker.
Cruz was undrafted out of UMass in 2010, but signed with the Giants. After just three games (due to injury) and 0 catches in 2010, he remained at #4 on the Giants’ WR depth chart. A couple of key injuries got him more playing time in 2011, and all of a sudden he’s leading the Giants to the playoffs with a team record 1,536 receiving yards, including 178 yards against the Cowboys in week 18. Then Cruz led the Giants to the Super Bowl with 142 yards against the 49ers, and now everyone in New York is doing his TD salsa dance.
5. Victor Cruz
It’s easy to forget, since Pujols has been the consensus “best player in baseball” ever since Barry Bonds retired and A-Rod stopped taking roids, but Albert Pujols was the 402nd pick of the 1999 MLB Draft. He was selected by the Cardinals out of Kansas City’s Maple Woods Community College in the 13th round. He played one season in the minors, then came to the major league club’s spring training camp in 2001, blew everyone away, and made the team.
On opening day 2001, nobody had any idea who the heck is this Pujols kid was. But by the end of his first season, in which he hit .329 with 37 home runs and 137 runs batted in, everyone knew.
4. Albert Pujols
You all know the story by now: unrecruited out of high school, undrafted out of Harvard, waived by the Warriors and the Rockets, barely a member of the Knicks. Next thing you know he’s scoring 28 points a game, the Knicks are back in contention, and the city of New York is clinically Lin-sane. Also, apparently he is Asian.
3. Jeremy Lin
Long before there was Linsanity in 2012, there was Fernandomania in 1981.
Fernando Valenzuela was a prospect in the Dodgers organization heading into the 1981 season. But when rookie pitcher Jerry Reuss suffered an injury only 24 hours before his scheduled start and the Dodgers first choice replacement wasn’t available, they called Fernando.
The rest was history. The portly 20-year-old Mexican went 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA through his first 8 starts, sending Los Angeles into a tizzy. Then he went on the lead he Dodgers to a World Series title while winning the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards.
2. Fernando Valenzuela
Kurt Warner’s rise to superstardom never got a cool name like “Linsanity” or “Fernandomania,” but it was still shocking.
Warner went undrafted out of Iowa State in 1994. He managed to get an invitation to the Packers’ training camp that summer, but didn’t make the team. At that point he got a job stocking shelves at a grocery store in Iowa, ready to give up on football. But he gave it one more shot, signing on to play with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. Some success there got him a shot in the NFL Europe, then a spot as the St. Louis Rams’ 3rd stringer in 1998.
When Trent Green suffered a season-ending injury during the 1999 pre-season, the Rams went with Warner as their QB. And all he did was throw for 4,353 yards and 41 TDs, win NFL MVP, the Super Bowl, and Super Bowl MVP.
So you’ve got your work cut out for you, Jeremy Lin.