Friday, December 24
Itzcoatal played one mean game
By Jim Caple
Special to

 You know why our country's founding fathers accomplished so much? Simple. They didn't have fantasy leagues consuming all their precious time.

It was very easy, after all, for Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and struggle with all its complex language (All men? Some men? Inalienable? Unalienable?) when he didn't have to worry about whether a decent kicker would be available in the third round.

There were no pro sports in the old days and our ancestors were the better for it. With no box scores, no SportsCenter, no Monday Night Football and no 24-hour sports talk radio, Colonial males had, on average, an extra 8.69 hours a day to devote to political thought, philosophical debate and Socratic discussion.

And that doesn't even take into account the hours we lose to March Madness.

If the Continental Congress met today, it would do so in a luxury suite at Veterans Stadium. After watching Curt Schilling pitch a shutout, the group would repair to a sports bar to watch the final innings of some West Coast games. John Adams would say Nomar Garciaparra is the match of any shortstop, John Jay would counter with Derek Jeter, a drunk Benjamin Franklin would pick up the waitress and the next day the British would arrest everyone for treason and sentence them to watch a nil-nil match between Arsenal and Manchester United.

And I shudder to think where we would be had DirectTV been around during World War II.

Still, it doesn't seem fair that in all the millennium lists, pre-20th century athletes receive scant, if any recognition. Here then, are the 10 greatest sports figures of the previous centuries.

Jacob. As detailed in the Book of Genesis, Jacob wrestles God in an Old Testament Cage Match, promoting the wrestler's famous taunt, "Jacob 3:16 -- I just whupped your ass!"

Homer Samaranch, 761 B.C. The first, and still relatively unknown, International Olympics Committee president who began the ancient Olympic Games after receiving 10,000 gold coins, college tuition for his children and a comped hotel suite at the Athens Hilton from city bidders.

Pheidippides, 490 B.C. According to legend, Pheidippides ran 26 miles in world record time while running to relay news from the Battle of Marathon. His mark, alas, remained a personal best -- he died at the end of the run, prompting on-site analysts to coin the phrase, "There's no tomorrow."

Ben-Hur, 34 B.C. Won the chariot NASCAR title in the Circus Maximus 500, riding a vehicle plastered with logos from sponsors Augustus Buggy Whips, Caesar Reins and Goodyear Wood Wheels.

King Arthur, fourth century, A.D. Pulled off a huge upset to win Britain's first Strong Man competition by pulling a sword from a stone. Mordred later taints the feat by revealing that Merlin had given Arthur androstendione.

Leif Ericson, 1000. His eight-oar crew lost the Scandinavian Relays but set a distance record when it continued rowing all the way to Nova Scotia.

Robin Hood, 14th century. Set the standard in archery by repeatedly hitting the bullseye despite being chased and shot at by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Wandering minstrels celebrated the prowess of Robin and his colorful band of merry men with a No. 1 madrigal: "The Sherwood Forest Shuffle."

Itzcoatal, 1427. After the national title of the Aztec courtyard ballgame in which the losing competitor is beheaded, Itzcoatal coined the phrase "sudden death overtime."

George Washington, 1750. Given the highest possible rating for arm strength and accuracy at the colonial scouting combine after throwing a silver dollar across the Delaware River. Praising his leadership and calling him a field general, Mel Kiper Sr. shrewdly projected Washington as a blue chip first-rounder in Poor Richard's Almanac annual draft issue.

Abner Doubleday, 1869. Civil War general is credited with the invention of baseball, spurring the rise of professional sports, giving the country a wonderful national pastime and, unfortunately, prompting Ken Burns to film a tedious series on the sport's history.

Jim Caple is a regular contributor to