Last week I began a Top Ten list of the greatest multi-sport athletes of all time.
The list is comprised of individuals who may have played multiple professional sports and others who concentrated on one professional sport but could have easily played another and did so in college. For those of you who may have missed last week’s column, and shame on you if you did, numbers 10-6 went like this: 10: John Havlicek 9: Gene Conley 8: John Elway 7: Dave Winfield 6: Jackie Robinson Now, for the top five.
#5: Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Without question, the greatest female athlete of all time.
But she may also be the most versatile woman — or for that matter, anyone — of all time. Along with her athletic accomplishments she was a champion seamstress (I didn’t even know they had competitions), she played harmonica, sang and recorded several singles, and appeared, mostly as herself in several movies. But it was on the athletic field where she gained most of her fame. Babe was primarily known for her track and field success and for being the best woman golfer of her era even though she also played basketball, softball, and was a professional bowler for a short time. She won two gold medals and a silver in the 1932 Olympics and during her golfing career, she won 41 tournaments.
Even after undergoing surgery for the colon cancer that would eventually take her life at the tender age of 45, Babe came back on the golf tour and was named Female Athlete of the Year in 1954.
Playing against the men, Babe made the cut in every PGA event she entered with one exception. And she did it by qualifying, not by getting sponsor’s exemptions like Michele Wie does now. I vaguely remember seeing her play on TV when I was a youngster and I remember that she could putt exceptionally well. Not many like the “Babe.”
#4: Deion Sanders
“Prime Time” could do it all — just ask him.
A stellar high school athlete, Sanders enrolled at Florida State and played both baseball and football and also ran track.
He was a three-time All-American under Bobby Bowden intercepting 14 passes in his career and a good hitter, but a better base stealer, for the baseball team.
He was also a great kick returner leading the nation in punt returns in 1988. He won the Jim Thorpe Award (Best Amateur Athlete) in 1988.
He was the fifth selection in the first round by the Falcons and made 8 Pro Bowls during his playing years. He, of course, also played baseball for several teams.
The legend of Deion was solidified the day he played a game for the Falcons in the afternoon and that night, played in a World Series game for the Braves, the first man in history to do that. He is also one of only two men ever to score a touchdown in the NFL six different ways. You figure them out! Brash, but talented, Deion was something special.
#3: Bo Jackson
The only running back I would even begin to compare with Hershel Walker is Bo Jackson. And while Hershel may be okay in bobsledding and ultimate fighting, Bo knew baseball.
I always thought that Auburn never fully used Bo right his first few years there.
A little known fact is that Bo was wide open and could have easily scored if the ball had come his way on that famous fourth down “Sugar is falling from the sky” game against Georgia. I have that on good authority — Larry Munson who says so in his book. Bo’s hip injury curtailed what could have been a great NFL career.
There is no telling what records he could have set. And he was good enough to play in the baseball All-Star game in 1989.
One of the best all-around athletes of all time but there are two better.
#2: Jim Brown
I have detailed the exploits of Jim Brown in a previous column so I won’t say much more than Brown was a better lacrosse player than he was football. And we know how great he was in football.
Picked sixth (could there really have been five better than Jim Brown) by the Cleveland Browns after a great college career at Syracuse, Brown began setting records for rushing.
Most of them have now been broken but that is only because Brown decided to save his body and start an acting career after an all-toobrief eight-year career. But in those eight short years, Brown was the best there was.
Brown had also played baseball and ran track in high school but he has always said that his favorite competition was lacrosse.
He made All-American in lacrosse and football at Syracuse and is in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame as well as the NFL Hall of Fame.
Politically outspoken, Brown was also heard loud and clear on the athletic fields as well.
#1: Jim Thorpe
It is difficult for us today to judge the greatness of Jim Thorpe because none of us ever got the chance to see him compete except on poor quality movie film.
But my dad, who is now 97 did, back in 1933, so I’ll have to take his word for it and he said he was great.
Dad can’t remember what team Thorpe played for, but they were playing an exhibition baseball game in the afternoon at Ponce de Leon Park and a football game against a semi-pro team that night. Thorpe played in both.
Thorpe was a multiple gold medal winner in 1912 and, as mentioned, played professional baseball and football.
Jim Thorpe would have probably been able to play in any era and is, without a doubt, the greatest multiple athlete of all time.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.