The Greatest Athletes to Wear Each Number: No. 99 to No. 00
You know a superstar athlete has become a legend when his name has become synonymous with his jersey number, and there’s a banner with that number on it hanging in the rafters of every stadium of every team he ever played for.
Ninety-nine? That’s Gretzky. Ten? Pele, of course. Forty-two? Jackie Robinson. Twenty-three? Jordan. Duh.
But not all numbers are associated with just one player. Some, like the number 32, are associated with multiple Hall of Famers from multiple sports. Then there are others, like the number 69, that just aren’t too popular for some reason.
Today, Total Pro Sports brings you a list of the greatest players to wear every number, from 00 to 99. And in addition to listing the player who wore it best, we’re also listing “honorable mentions”…just to make it easier for you to debate our picks.
So click away to find out who take the number 99 (like you don’t already know).
We start off with the first of only a handful of no-doubt-about-it selections. In fact, the only number that can rival #99 when it comes to being synonymous with one player is #23.
All you need to know about The Great One—besides the fact that his nickname is The Great One—is that he owns every single offensive record in hockey, and by a wide margin. Points, assists, goals, single-season, career—Gretzky is at the top of every list.
Honorable Mentions: Warren Sapp (NFL), Jason Taylor (NFL)
99. Wayne Gretzky
Julian Peterson has had a fine career as a linebacker for the 49ers, Seashawks, and Lions, having made 5 Pro Bowls while racking up 597 tackles and 46 sacks. However, his biggest competition at this number is college football player-turned-actor Tom Harmon, who's probably more notable for being the father NCIS star Mark Harmon than being an athlete.
Honorable Mention: Tom Harmon (NCAA Football)
98. Julian Peterson
Linebacker Cornelius Bennett was a key part of the Bills teams that made (and lost) four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993. He was AFC defensive player of the year twice and made 5 Pro Bowls by recording over a thousand tackles and 71.5 sacks in his career.
Honorable Mention: Simeon Rice (NFL), Jeremy Roenick (NHL)
97. Cornelius Bennett
Seattle defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 after an 11-year career in which he chosen for 8 Pro Bowls, an NFL defensive player of the year award, and the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team.
Honorable Mentions: Thomas Holmstrom (NHL)
96. Cortez Kennedy
Dent played defensive end for the Bears from 1983-93, then played seasons with San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. When his career was finished, he'd recorded a whopping 137.5 sacks, made 4 Pro Bowls, 5 All-Pro selections, won 2 Super Bowls, and was Super Bowl MVP with the Bears in 1986.
Honorable Mentions: Bubba Smith (NCAA Football), Gred Lloyd (NFL)
95. Richard Dent
Apparently Charles Haley was a Super Bowl good luck charm. This member of the NFL's 100 sacks club won 5 Super Bowl rings in 8 years—2 with San Francisco, 3 with Dallas.
Honorable Mention: Dana Stubblefield (NFL)
94. Charles Haley
Dougie Gilmour was just a little guy, but he played a complete game with lots of heart and intensity. He won the Cup with Calgary in 1988, and in 1993 (with the Leafs) he led the league in scoring while also winning the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward. When Gilmour’s Hall of Fame career was all said and done, he’d racked up 450 goals and 1,414 points in 1,474 games played.
Honorable Mention: Dwight Freeney (NFL)
93. Doug Gilmour
The late great “Minister of Defence,” one of the NFL’s great defensive players, was a 10x All-Pro 10, a 13x Pro Bowler, and a 2x defensive player of the year (10 years apart). Obviously, he also got himself a Super Bowl ring with the Packers in 1997.
Honorable Mention: Michael Strahan (NFL)
92. Reggie White
Federov was one of the best all-around forwards in the NHL in the mid-90s, not to mention one of the fastest players at any position. He was league MVP in 1993-94 (when he lit the lamp 56 times and recorded 120 points), and for his career he notched 483 goals. But he also won two Selke awards at the league’s top defensive forward, and of course two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.
Honorable Mention: Butch Goring (NHL), Dennis Rodman (NBA)
91. Sergei Federov
Smith was one of the better pass-rushers in the NFL in recent years. He played for the Chiefs, then the Broncos, with whom he earned two consecutive Super Bowl rings. When it was all said and done, the guy had recorded a solid 86.6 career sacks.
Honorable Mention: Julius Peppers (NFL)
90. Neil Smith
Mogilny was a prolific scorer who had one of the greatest goal-scoring seasons in NHL history, but Ditka redefined his position (tight end). Plus, he’s Ditka.
Honorable Mention: Alexander Mogilny (NHL)
89. Mike Ditka
At no. 88 we have our first real contest. We went with Tony Gonzalez here because of his 12 pro-bowl selections, and the records he set for most receptions and most yards by a tight end. Hell, Gonzalez is 11th all-time in receiving yards among all positions.
Honorable Mentions: Lynn Swann (NFL), Alan Page (NFL), Eric Lindross (NHL)
88. Tony Gonzalez
First Sidney Crosby became the youngest team captain in NHL history, then he became the youngest captain to hoist the cup over his head. The guy produces points at a pace only guys like Gretzky and Lemieux could exceed (especially given the defensive era the NHL is currently in), but plays a two-way game not even The Great One could boast.
So yeah, Sid is already the best #87 ever...not that there is a ton of competition.
Honorable Mention: Dwight Clark (NFL)
87. Sidney Crosby
With 2 Super Bowl rings, 4 Pro Bowl appearances, and over 12,000 receiving yards, the Steelers’ Hines Ward is the pick fro greatest player to wear the #86 on his back.
Honorable Mention: Buck Buchanan (AFL/NFL)
86. Hines Ward
Hall of Fame defensive end played 202 straight games for the Rams—including Super Bowl XIV, which he played even though he had a broken fibula. Sadly he never won a Super Bowl, but Youngblood played in the one, plus 5 NFC Championship Games, and 7 Pro Bowls. And he recorded 151.5 sacks during his legendary career.
Honorable Mention: Antonia Gates (NFL), Nick Buoniconti (NFL)
85. Jack Youngblood
When he retired, Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe was the all-time leader in receptions (815), yards (10,060), and TDs (62) by a tight end.
Honorable Mention: Randy Moss
84. Shannon Sharpe
6’7” linebacker Ted Hendricks played 215 straight games during his 15-season career with the Colts and Raiders, winning four Super Bowls along the way.
Honorable Mention: Andre Reed (NFL)
83. Ted Hendricks
Johnny Unitas’ favorite receiver, Berry led the league in receptions four times, made 6 Pro Bowls, and set an NFL title game record with 178 yards on 12 catches in 1958. He’s also in the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: John Stallworth (NFL)
82. Raymond Berry
I would have preferred to give the #81 to Torry Hold, who’s just a lot more likable than Terrell Owens. Unfortunately, Terrell is second in all-time receiving yards behind Jerry Rice, about 2,000 receiving yards ahead of 10th place Tory.
Honorable Mentions: Tory Holt (NFL), Tim Brown (NFL)
81. Terrell Owns
Jerry Rice was the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. He’s the obvious choice for the #80.
Honorable Mentions: Isaac Bruce (NFL), Kellen Winslow (NFL)
80. Jerry Rice
Rosey played offensive tackle for the New York Giants from 1953-1965. During that stretch, he made the Pro Bowl 9 times and helped the Giants win the NFL championship in 1956. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked him #57 on their list of the 100 greatest football players, and in 1975 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Harvey Martin
79. Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown
The no. 78 was a tough one. Two excellent Hall of Fame football players wore number 78—Bruce Smith and Anthony Munoz. Both were also 11-time Pro Bowlers. But Smith won the coin toss, since he is the all-time sack leader.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Munoz
78. Bruce Smith
If we were making sentimental choices here, the choice for number 77 would Ray Bourque. But since we’re trying to be fair and not discriminate against great athletes simply because we weren’t alive when they played, the choice has to be Red Grange. Red was named the greatest college football player of all time by ESPN back in 2008. Why? Because he once scored 4 touchdowns on 263 rushing yards for Illinois...in the first quarter.
Honorable Mention: Ray Bourque (NHL), Paul Coffey (NHL)
77. Red Grange
Lou “The Toe” Groza was the offensive lineman/kicker for the Cleveland Browns for 21 seasons (1946-59, 1961-67). He made 9 Pro Bowls and led the league in field goals 5 times, scoring 1,608 points. In 1974 he was selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mentions: Orlando Pace (NFL), Steve Hutchinson (NFL), Marion Motley (NFL)
76. Lou Groza
The number 75 gives us our closest call yet: Mean Joe Green vs. Deacon Jones. The former was a defensive monster for the Steelers, the latter a defensive monster for the Rams. Both are Hall of Famers. We chose Mean Joe Green as the “best,” however, by virtue of the fact that NFL.com ranked him the 13th best football player of all time, while Deacon Jones was just a measly 15th. (What a loser.)
Honorable Mention: Deacon Jones (NFL)
75. Mean Joe Green
No contest here: the Los Angeles Rams’ Merlin Olsen—in addition to having the greatest name in NFL history—is also one of the league’s all-time great defensive tackles.
Honorable Mention: Bob Lilly (NFL)
74. Merlin Olsen
Sports Illustrated called him the greatest offensive tackle of all time back in 1981. Since then, there’s only been one guy (Larry Allen, who also wore #73) who can challenge him to that title, but until he’s elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we’re sticking with John Hannah.
Honorable Mention: Larry Allen (NFL)
73. John Hannah
You always think of Fisk as a memer of the Red Sox, when he wore #27. But he actually spent more time (and was nearly as productive) with the White Sox, when he wore #72. Either way, he is one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
Honorable Mention: Dan Dierforf (NFL)
72. Carleton Fisk
Hard to believe a guy who’s only halfway through his career (at worst) could be the greatest #71 of all-time, but there’s just not a lot of competition. Of course, now that he’s healthy again this year, Malkin is reminding everyone how freaking good he is. In this age of reduced offense in the NHL, the guy is averaging 37 goals per 82 games.
Honorable Mention: Alex Karras (NFL)
71. Evgeni Malkin
Hall of Fame tackle Rayfield Wright was a mainstay on the Cowboys’ offensive line from 1967-1979, earning two All-Pro selections, six trips to the Pro Bowl, and two Super Bowl rings.
Honorable Mention: Sam Huff (NFL)
70. Rayfield Wright
You would think the #69 would be more popular, but there just isn’t a whole lot of competition here. So this spot goes to the respectable but not-quite-great Tim Krumrie. A hall of famer he is not, but he was a two-time Pro Bowler who helped the Bengals make the Super Bowl in 1988.
Honorable Mention: Mark Schlereth (NFL)
69. Tim Krumrie
Jagr chose the #68 in honor of the 1968 “Prague Spring” freedom movement. He was just a kid with the Penguins when they won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early 90s, but boy did he blossom. The Czech has gone on to score 648 goals prior to this season.
Honorable Mention: L. C. Greenwood (NFL)
68. Jaromir Jagr
From 1970 to 1984, you could find Bob Kuechenberg on the Miami Dolphins offensive line along with Jim Langer, Larry Little, and Dwight Stephenson. He made 6 Pro Bowls and of course earned two rings with the Dolphins. Not a bad little career, even if it wasn’t quite enough for the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Reggie McKenzie (NFL)
67. Bob Kuechenberg
The only player to score more points per game in his career than Mario Lemieux is the guy who inspired Lemieux’s choice of #66: Wayne Gretzky. (Surely you’ve noticed that 66 is just 99 upside down, right? That was no coincidence.)
Anyway, Lemieux scored 1.883 points per game, the Great One scored 1.921. And in case you were wondering, Mike Bossy is 3rd in points per game, half a point behind Lemieux with 1.497.
Honorable Mention: Ray Nischke (NFL)
66. Mario Lemieux
Oilers defensive end Elvin Bethea never won the big game, but he’s an 8x Pro Bowler, a member of the 100 sack club, and a member of the hall of fame.
Honorable Mention: Gary Zimmerman (NFL)
65. Elvin Bethea
Kramer played on the offensive line, blocking for Bart Starr on those legendary 1960s Lombardi Packers teams that won NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls. He’s not in the hall of fame, but was a 5x All-Pro and a 3x Pro Bowler.
Honorable Mention: Randall McDaniel (NFL)
64. Jerry Kramer
Upshaw played guard for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s, winning 2 Super Bowls and being selected for 6 Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
Honorable Mention: Wilie Lanier (NFL)
63. Gene Upshaw
Hall of Fame center Jim Langer spent the majority of his career with the Miami Dolphins, winning 2 Super Bowls, being named All-Pro 6 straight years.
Honorable Mention: Guy McIntyre (NFL)
62. Jim Langer
George played linebacker for the Chicago Bears for 14 seasons. The never won an NFL championship, but he was an 8x first-team All-Pro selection, an 8x Pro Bowler, and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Josh Beckett (MLB), Rick Nash (NHL)
61. Bill George
Graham quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to 10 straight title games—4 when the Browns played in the All-America Football Conference, 6 when they played in the NFL. Of those 6 NFL title games, Otto Graham and the Browns won 3 (1950, 1954, and 1955). That’s a pretty good run, don’t you think?
Honorable Mention: Chuck Bednarik (NFL)
60. Otto Graham
Ham won 4 Super Bowls as a linebacker with the Steelers. Along with just about everyone from that Pittsburgh dynasty, Ham went to multiple Pro Bowls and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Seth Joyner
59. Jack Ham
Jack Ham’s teammate, Jack Lambert, was thought by many scouts to be too small to play linebacker in the NFL. Then he played 11 season with the Steelers, won 4 Super Bowls, made 9 Pro Bowl appearances, and was inducted into the hall of fame.
So that shows you what scouts know.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Papelbon (MLB)
58. Jack Lambert
Stephenson played center for the Miami Dolphins for 7 seasons, earning 5 Pro Bowl selections, a spot of the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team, and—most importantly—a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Francisco Rodriguez (MLB)
57. Dwight Stephenson
This hall of fame linebacker played his entire 13-year NFL career with the New York Giants, being named defensive player of the year 3 times, making 10 Pro Bowl appearances, and winning 2 Super Bowl. He’s currently 9th all-time with 132.5 career sacks.
Honorable Mention:Sergei Zubov (NHL)
56. Lawrence Taylor
If you wanted to win the Stanley Cup in the 1990s, then you needed Larry Murphy on your team. The Hall of Fame defenceman won the Cup four times in that decade—twice with the Penguins, twice Red Wings.
Good thing the Leafs fans practically chased him out of town (all the way to Detroit) with pitch forks and torches.
Honorable Mention: Junior Seau (NFL)
55. Larry Murphy
Known almost as much for his colorful nickname and unique facial hair as his baseball skills, Goose Gossage was nevertheless a spectacular relief pitcher. He made 9 all-star appearanced throughout his career, won one World Series (with the Yankees in 1978), and was finally inducted in the the Hall of Fame in 2008.
Honorable Mention: Randy White (NFL)
54. Goose Gossage
Always second fiddle in Los Angeles to Dodgers teammate Sandy Koufax, Hall of Fame pitcher Drysdale still managed to win a Cy Young in 1962 to go along with his 3 World Series championships, 9 all-star appearances, and 2.95 career ERA.
Honorable Mention: Harry Carson (NFL), Mark Eaton (NBA)
53. Don Drysdale
Ray Lewis is another candidate for greatest linebacker in NFL history. The guy is a 13x Pro Bowler, a 2x defensive player of the year, and a Super Bowl MVP—one of only 2 linebackers to ever hold that distinction. If they could, they’d induct this guy into the Hall of Fame about 10 minutes after he retires.
Honorable Mention: CC Sabathia (MLB), Adam Foote (NHL)
52. Ray Lewis
The Bears’ Dick Butkus is still considered one of the greatest linebackers to ever play in the NFL. He was elected to the Pro Bowl 8 times and inducted into the football Hall of Fame in 1979. Still, Randy Johnson was a pretty close second for this number.
Honorable Mention: Randy Johnson (MLB), Ichiro Suzuki (MLB)
51. Dick Butkus
David Robinson is one of the best centers the NBA has ever known. He was a 10x all-star, MVP, defensive player of the year, and a 2x NBA champ.
Also, he has one of the great nicknames (The Admiral) in all of sports.
Honorable Mention: Mike Singletary (NFL)
50. David Robinson
Guidry played his whole career with the Yankees, winning 2 World Series (1977 and 1978) and one Cy Young Award while amassing a 170-91 record with a 3.29 career ERA and being named to 4 all-star teams.
Honorable Mention: Dennis Smith (NFL)
49. Ron Guidry
Five consecutive NASCAR championships (2006-2010) go a long way to cementing your place at the greatest #48 in sports.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Briere (NHL)
48. Jimmie Johnson
Mel Blount won 4 Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a 5x Pro Bowler, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and considered by many to be the best cornerback in the history of the NFL.
Honorable Mention: Tom Glavine (MLB)
47. Mel Blount
Hall of Famer Lee Smith’s 478 saves was a major league record for 13 years until it was broken by Treavor Hoffman in 2006.
Honorable Mention: Andy Pettitte (MLB)
46. Lee Smith
Pedro Martinez was ridiculously good in the late 1990s, but Bob Gibson was ridiculously good in the 1960s and was the most fearsome competitor in baseball. So he wins the battle for #45.
Honorable Mention: Pedro Martinez (MLB)
45. Bog Gibson
Henry Aaron is baseball’s non-steroid home run king (755), one of the only people to snatch a baseball record away from Babe Ruth. He’s also a real class act.
Honorable Mention: Chris Pronger (NHL), Reggie Jackson (MLB)
44. Hank Aaron
Richard Petty won 7 NASCAR championships, a record he shared with the late Dale Earnhardt. He stands alone, however, with his record seven Daytona 500 victories.
Honorable Mention: Dennis Eckersley (MLB)
43. Richard Petty
When a whole sport retires your number, that means you were pretty damn good.
Honorable Mention: Mariano Rivera (MLB), Ronnie Lott (NFL)
42. Jackie Robinson
Tom Seaver won 3 Cy Youngs and World Series while pitching for the New York Mets. For his career he was a 12x all-star with 311 wins and a 2.86 career ERA.
Honorable Mention: Dirk Nowitzki (NBA)
41. Tom Seaver
Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers was a 4x Pro Bowler, 2x NFL rushing champ, and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So with all due respect for Shawn Kemp and Henrik Zetterberg, #40 was pretty easy.
Honorable Mention: Shawn Kemp (NBA), Henrik Zetterberg (NHL)
40. Gale Sayers
I wanted to go with “The Dominator” here just because of his classic nickname, but I couldn't look past Campanella’s 8 all-star selections, 3 NL MVP awards, and the Wold Series Championship in 1953.
Honorable Mention: Dominik Hasek (NHL), Larry Csonka (NFL)
39. Roy Campanella
Bloody Sock. Three World Series rings. World Series MVP. The curse.
That’s all you need to know about Curt Schilling’s case for the #38.
Honorable Mention: Pavol Demitra (NHL)
38. Curt Schilling
There’s not a lot of competition for #37, but Dave Steib is a solid choice. He was a 7x all-star and the second-winningest pitcher of the 1980s behind Jack Morris.
Honorable Mention: Doak Walker (NFL)
37. Dave Steib
Phillies great Robin Roberts never won a Cy Young, but he was a 7x all-star and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Jerome Bettis (NFL)
36. Robin Roberts
Frank Thomas is the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation. And unlike every other power hitter from the 1990s, he has never been implicated in any of that steroid business. He hit all 521 of his home runs fair and square.
Honorable Mention: Phil Niekro (MLB), Kevin Durant (NBA)
35. Frank Thomas
The Sweetness is on the shortlist for “greatest NFL runningbacks of all time,” so you know he has to be the greatest to wear #34.
Honorable Mention: Nolan Ryan (MLB), Hakeem Olajuwon (NBA)
34. Walter Payton
No. 33 proves to be the most difficult number yet. So how did we choose between two of the greatest basketball players of all time? MVPs.
Jabbar won 6, Bird “only” 3. So there you go.
Honorable Mention: Larry Bird (NBA), Patrick Roy (NHL)
33. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
No. 32 is probably the number with the most hall of famers, but the choice of Magic was relatively easy. Kofax was one of the most dominant pitchers of all-time, and Jim Brown one of the NFL’s most electrifying running backs, but Magic revolutionized his position, won 3 MVPs, and 5 championships. It’s just no contest.
Honorable Mention: Sandy Koufax (MLB), Jim Brown (NFL), Shaquille O’Neal (NBA), Bill Walton (NBA), O.J. Simpson (NFL)
32. Magic Johnson
Maddux was one of the all-time great pitchers, but he didn’t do it with “stuff” (i.e. nasty pitches). Instead, it was location, location, location that got him 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards, 355 wins, and a 3.16 career ERA.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Miller (NBA), Curtis Joseph (NHL)
31. Greg Maddux
Baseball’s strikeout king also spend a number of season’s wearing #34. But he got more K’s wearing #30, so that’s where we placed him—to Martin Brodeur’s dismay.
Honorable Mention: Martin Brodeur (NHL)
30. Nolan Ryan
Satchel Paige didn’t get to play in MLB until well into the twilight of his career, thanks to racial segregation. That hasn’t stopped people from considering him the greatest pitcher who has ever lived.
Honorable Mention: Ken Dryden (NHL)
29. Satchel Paige
Faulk may be the greatest and most versatile all-purpose offensive player in NFL history, being the only player to ever amass 12,000 career yards rushing and 6,000 career yards receiving. He was one of if not the most important element of the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” teams from 1999-2002.
Honorable Mention: Bert Blyleven (MLB)
28. Marshall Faulk
Scott Niedermayer is one of the best puck-moving defencemen in NHL history, and was integral to three Stanley Cup winning championships (two with the Devils, one with the Ducks). He is also regarded in some circles as the smoothest skater in NHL history.
Honorable Mention: Juan Marichal (MLB), Jeremy Roenick (NHL)
27. Scott Niedermayer
Former NFL cornerback Rod Woodson is one of the NFL’s all-time great defensive players. He’s third in career interceptions and first in career interception return yardage. He’s also a 11x Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl Champ, and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Peter Stastny (NHL), Wade Boggs (MLB)
26. Rod Woodson
As everyone who ever says anything nice about Barry Bonds is obligated to point out: he would have been a hall of famer and and all-time great even if he hadn’t started taking PEDs around the turn of the century.
Honorable Mention: Dave Andreychuk (NHL)
25. Barry Bonds
Probably one of the top 3 baseball players of all time, and almost certainly one of the most exciting, Willie Mays and his 660 HRs, .302 career average, 12 gold gloves, and 24 all-star appearances have no real competition for #24.
Honorable Mention: Kobe Bryant (NBA)
24. Willie Mays
Thought about going with longtime Minnesota North Star Brian Bellows at no. 23 just to see the reaction it would get. In the end, I decided you just can’t mess with Jordan.
Honorable Mention: nobody
23. Michael Jordan
This is probably my most controversial pick, and it really was close.
Emmitt Smith was one of the greatest running backs of all time, but he’s only the all-time leading rusher because of his amazing longevity. Guys like Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton, and Jim Brown were all as dominant over a shorter period of time if not more so than Emmitt.
Mike Bossy, on the other hand, might have been the all-time leading goal scorer in the NHL if his career was not cut short at the age of 30 thanks to a bad back. He started his career with 9 straight 50-goal seasons. At that pace, he would have had to play only 4 more seasons (through age 34) to tie Gordie Howe on the career goals list. If he had played until 37 or 38, he probably would be above Gretsky’s 894.
So that’s why Mike Bossy gets the nod at no. 22.
Honorable Mention: Emmitt Smith
22. Mike Bossy
Even if Roberto Clemente’s stats weren’t up to par, we’d still give him #21 over Roger Clemens, simply because he was an amazing person and Clemens is such a jerk...reportedly. As it is, Clemente was a baseball legend, so he is the choice for #21 on ability alone.
Honorable Mention: Roger Clemens (MLB), Tim Duncan (NBA)
21. Roberto Clemente
If Sanders hadn’t been slowed down by injury, he would be atop the list of career NFL rushers instead of Emmitt Smith. Sanders was so amazing, in fact, that he beats out probably the best all-around third basemen in the history of baseball for the rights to #20.
Honorable Mention: Mike Schmidt (MLB)
20. Barry Sanders
Yzerman may be one of the NHL’s all-time great captains, but Johnny Unitas was the NFL’s first superstar quarterback. He was a three-time NFL MVP, two-time NFL champ, a Super Bowl champ, and he was the first QB to surpass 40,000 career yards.
So sorry, Steve, but we gotta go with Johnny.
Honorable Mention: Steve Yzerman (NHL)
19. Johnny Unitas
Peyton doesn’t have a lot of competition for #18. But even if he did, he’d probably still win.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Joiner (NFL)
18. Peyton Manning
Baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean was a member of the “Gashouse Gang” St. Louis Cardinals team that won the 1934 World Series. That year he was the NL MVP.
Honorable Mention: John Havlicek (NBA)
17. Dizzy Dean
Joe Montana is arguably the greatest QB in football history, so this one was pretty easy.
Honorable Mention: Brett Hull (NHL)
16. Joe Montana
Hall of Famer Bart Starr was phenomenal in leading the Packers to 5 NFL championships and the first two Super Bowl championships. Still, surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of competition at no. 15.
Honorable Mention: Thurman Munson (NHL)
15. Bart Starr
Baseball’s all-time hits king may be ineligible for the Hall of Fame thanks to his little gambling problem, but he is eligible to be declared the greatest player to wear the number 14. (Though he was given a pretty good run for his money.)
Honorable Mention: A.J. Foyt (auto racing), Oscar Robertson (NBA)
14. Pete Rose
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Wilt’s legendary 100 point game. The man dominated like none other in the history of the NBA by using his size to exploit the league’s style of play. There’s no question he’s the best to sport #13.
Honorable Mention: Dan Marino (NFL), Alex Rodriguez (MLB), Kurt Warner (NFL)
13. Wilt Chamberlain
Bradshaw won more Super Bowls, but there’s no doubt Brady is the better QB. Tom is 4th on the list of career passer ratings with a 96.4, while Bradshaw is 150th with a 70.9.
Honorable Mention: Terry Bradshaw (NFL)
12. Tom Brady
Messier: #2 behind Gretzky for in career points, and the only guy to captain two different teams to Stanely Cup victories. He’s a no-brainer for the number 11.
Honorable Mention: Isaiah Thomas (NBA)
11. Mark Messier
The #10 is dominated by soccer legends. While some say Maradona was the greatest to ever play the game, Pele was not only great—he was the game’s first global superstar.
Honorable Mention: Lionel Messi (La Liga), Diego Maradona (Argentina)
Arguably the greatest pure hitter in baseball history, and probably the second-best all-time behind the Babe, the splendid splinter barely beats out Mr. Hockey.
Honorable Mention: Gordie Howe (NHL)
9. Ted Williams
There were a lot of greats to wear the number 8, but Kobe Bryant wins out because, unlike the honorable mentions, he is hands down the most dominant player of his era.
Honorable Mention: Yogi Berra (MLB), Cal Ripken, Jr. (MLB), Steve Young (NFL), Troy Aikman (NFL), Joe Morgan (MLB)
8. Kobe Bryant
Mickey Mantle led the league in HRs 4 times, OBP 3 times, HRs 4 times, and won 3 MVPs and 7 World Series. Sorry, John Elway.
Honorable Mention: John Elway (NFL), Phil Esposito (NHL)
7. Mickey Mantle
Bill Russell was the central piece of the Celtics dynasty that 11 championships in 13 years. Stan Musial was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, but he didn’t lead no dynasty.
Honorable Mention: Stan Musial (MLB)
6. Bill Russell
Some will see this pick as sacrilege, but here’s the deal: DiMaggio’s 13-year OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for context like where they played and who they faced) is 155. So far, through 11 years, Albert Pujols’ OPS+ is 170. It’s time people start realizing Pujols is one of the greatest of all time.
Honorable Mention: Joe DiMaggio (MLB), Johnny Bench (MLB)
5. Albert Pujols
Bobby Orr redefined what an NHL defencemen could be: not only did he win 8 straight Norris trophies as the league’s best defender, but he is the only defencemen to ever win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer.
Honorable Mention: Lou Gehrig (MLB)
4. Bobby Orr
Babe Ruth: still the greatest baseball player of all time, no matter how you look at it.
Honorable Mention: Dale Earnhardt (NASCAR)
3. Babe Ruth
Not well-known today, Eddie Shore won 4 MVP awards (more than another other defenceman, and third all-time behind Gretzky and Howe) and was ranked #10 on The Hockey News’ list of the 10 greatest NHLers of all time.
Honorable Mention: Derek Jeter (MLB), Moses Malone (NBA)
2. Eddie Shore
This was a three-way toss-up between MLB shortstop Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith, NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk, and NFL QB Warren Moon. Smith is generally regarded as the greatest defensive short top of all time. Sawchuk is considered one of the greatest hockey netminders. Moon is the only player to be enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Ultimately I went with Smith for no. 1, simply because there seems to be slightly more consensus for his legacy than there is for Sawchuk’s or Moon's.
Or, put another way, if you ask the experts, "who is the best ______ of all time," there would be more debate over "NHL goalie" (Sawchuck? Plante? Brodeaur? Roy?) and "NFL quarterback" (Unitas? Montana? Brady? Young?) than there would be for "defensive shortstop."
Honorable Mention: Terry Sawchuk (NHL), Warren Moon (NHL)
1. Ozzie Smith
Gilbert Arenas won’t be in the NBA Hall of Fame when he’s done playing, but he will be remembered for being pretty good for a few years...and for wearing 0 his jersey as a way of reminding himself of what all his coaches thought he would amount to.
Honorable Mention: Al Oliver (MLB)
0. Gilbert Arenas
There aren’t too many guys who wore the double zero, but the most famous ones are both Hall of Famers. I went with Robert Parish here, simply because of his association with one of the most successful sports franchises of all time—the Boston Celtics.
Honorable Mention: Jim Otto (NFL)