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The Heavenly 100

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San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice celebrates after setting the all-time touchdown record during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Raiders at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Monday Sept. 5, 1994. Rice's touchdown was his 127th andbroke Jim Brown's mark. Photo: AP / Chad Surmick, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

May 22, 1989 was my dad’s 62nd birthday (we miss you dad). It was also the day the great sportswriter, Rick Reilly published his list of the greatest athlete for each number. He called it The Heavenly Hundred (Reilly, 1989).

I still have that one page article, it is one of only two articles I have saved in my over 50 years as an SI reader; the other was Pure Heart, a story about Secretariat’s death written by Bill Nack.

With all credit for the idea to the great Mr. Reilly, here is my Heavenly 100, with a slight change in the rules. My list only includes athletes that I have actually seen play live, either in person or on TV.

00 – Jim Otto, great Raider center

1 – Gordon Banks, Goalie, Fort Lauderdale Strikers – won MVP in the NASL with one eye

2 – Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont – the greatest performance by the greatest athlete of all time

3 – Secretariat in the 1973 Preakness – second best performance ever

4 – Bobby Orr, the greatest defenseman in NHL history

5 – Brooks Robinson, my boyhood idol

6 – Bill Russell, the greatest basketball player of all time (11 Championships is more than 6)

7 – Mickey Mantle, they wrote songs about him

8 – Yogi Berra, 10 World Championships

9 – Gordie Howe, hockey legend who played in his 50s

10 – Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the reason all great footballers wear #10

11 – Elvin Hayes, the BIG E, actually beat UCLA in college

12 – Tom Brady, just watch the 2nd half of last year’s Super Bowl

13 – Wilt Chamberlain, scored 100 points in a game and averaged over 50 for a season

14 – Pete Rose, the all-time hit king

15 – Bart Starr, MVP of the first two Super Bowls

16 – Joe Montana, 4 time Super Bowl champ

17 – John Havlicek, 8 – 0 in NBA Finals, of course #6 may have helped a little

18 – Peyton Manning, 14 Pro Bowls, 5 MVPs, 2 Super Bowl titles

19 – Johnny Unitas, won the “Greatest Game Ever Played”

20 – Frank Robinson, first to win MVP in both leagues

21 – Roberto Clemente, take away all 3,000 hits and he still makes the list as a human being

22 – Elgin Baylor, great player, horrible GM

23 – Pete Maravich at LSU, only played 3 years, no 3 pointers, and still the top scorer of all time

24 – Willie Mays, the greatest living player

25 – Barry Bonds, single season and all-time home run king (never tested positive, so shut up)

26 – Rod Woodson, only active player on the list when the NFL picked its 75th anniversary team

27 – Juan Marichal, could get in on the leg kick alone

28 – Marshall Faulk, the engine of the “Greatest Show on Turf”

29 – Rod Carew, seven time batting champion

30 – Nolan Ryan, as an Angel, seven no hitters

31 – Greg Maddux, first to win four consecutive Cy Young awards.

32 – Sandy Koufax, easily the greatest pitcher ever

33 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lew Alcindor a close second

34 – Walter Payton, “sweetness”

35 – Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter ever

36 – Meadowlark Lemon, the greatest Globetrotter of them all

37 – Lester Hayes, good thing stickum was legal then

38 – George Rogers, greatest South Carolina player ever

39 – Larry Csonka, heart and soul of the only team to go 17 and 0

40 – Gayle Sayers, just Google him and watch – nobody did highlights better

41 – Tom Seaver, 2nd highest HOF percentage ever

42 – Mariano Rivera, greatest closer ever

43 – Richard Petty, still the King

44 – Jim Brown (wore it at Syracuse), may be the greatest ever in two sports

45 – Bob Gibson, 1.12 ERA in 1968, is that really possible?

46 – Lee Smith, 478 saves

47 – Tom Glavine, 1/3 of MadduxGlavineandSmoltz, became one word to Braves fans

48 – Jimmie Johnson, the second seven time NASCAR Champion on my list, soon to be EIGHT

49 – Ron Guidry, once went 25 – 3 in a season, that is sick

50 – Rebecca Lobo, started the great UConn dynasty

51 – Ichiro, more hits than Pete Rose, who cares where he got them

52 – Ray Lewis, won a Super Bowl without an offense

53 – Don Drysdale, imagine a double header against him and Koufax – “must have the flu”

54 – Randy White, the great Cowboy D lineman

55 – Orel Hershiser, had video game numbers in 1988

56 – Lawrence Taylor, changed the game

57 – Dwight Stephenson, great Dolphins center

58 – Jack Lambert, next to

59 – Jack Ham, the great Steel Curtain Linebackers

60 – Chuck Bednarik, the last full time two-way player

61 – Curley Culp, great KC Chief and NCAA wrestling champ

62 – Jim Langer, center for the 17 – 0 Dolphins

63 – Gene Upshaw, great Raider guard

64 – Jerry Kramer, threw the block that won the Ice Bowl

65 – Gary Zimmerman, HOF offensive lineman for the Vikings

66 – Mario Lemieux, idolized 99 so just turned it over to become 66

67 – Reggie McKenzie, led the way for OJ’s 2,000-yard season

68 – L C. Greenwood, part of the “Steel Curtain”

69 – Mark Schlereth, three time Super Bowl champ

70 – Jim Marshall, he only ran the wrong way once

71 – Alex Karras, he punched out a horse

72 – Carlton Fisk, wore this when his 27 wasn’t available

73 – John Hannah, once called by SI, “The Best Offensive Lineman of All Time.” Enough said.

74 – Merlin Olsen, one of the original “Fearsome Foursome”

75 – Mean Joe Greene, won four Super Bowls and had the greatest Super Bowl commercial ever

76 – Orlando Pace, one of the greatest offensive tackles

77 – Ray Bourque, another great Bruin defenseman

78 – Anthony Munoz, the dominant tackle of a generation

79 – Harvey Martin, co-MVP of a Super Bowl

80 – Jerry Rice, the GOAT

81 – Tim Brown, Heisman winner and Super Bowl champ

82 – Raymond Berry, Johnny U’s favorite target

83 – Ted Hendricks, the prototypical Raider, “out there” but great

84 – Randy Moss, if Brady only had him for his whole career

85 – Nick Buoniconti, leader of the “No Name Defense” that went 17 – 0

86 – Buck Buchanan, the first player ever drafted by the AFL

87 – Sidney Crosby, three Stanley Cups and counting

88 – Dale Jarrett, my favorite race car driver (it is my list)

89 – Gino Marchetti, played on one of the greatest college teams nobody ever heard of

90 – Neil Smith, great Chief and Bronco D Lineman

91 – Sergei Federov, greatest Russian to play in the NHL

92 – Reggie White, the “Minister of Defense”

93 – Doug Gilmour, high scoring defenseman

94 – Charles Haley, five time Super Bowl champ

95 – Bubba Smith, wore it at Michigan State

96 – Cortez Kennedy, great Hurricane and Seahawk

97 – Cornelius Bennett, hopefully I won’t lose my Auburn card

98 – Tony Siragusa, by far the weakest one on my list; will take suggestions

99 – Wayne Gretzky, the “Great One” says it all

There it is, I agree with the great Mr. Reilly on 34 of 100. Of course greats on his list like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are no-brainers if I don’t exclude players I never saw play. Thanks to Mr. Reilly for the great article and the inspiration.

By Dr. Stephen Butler

Stephen L. Butler, Ed.D., is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at sbutler@ussa.edu

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