|The top 25 athletes of the last 25 years|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
To get down to a list of the 25 greatest athletes of the last quarter-century you have to make some cuts. My editors gave me an official ESPN list of 35 nominees the other day, and asked me to lop off 10 and rank those left standing.
And so it is that we begin with a bloodletting ...
Gone from the list is Tim Duncan. Too early to say. Too many asterisks where it says NBA Champion.
To the gallows with Patrick Roy. I know it isn't right the way the goalie always gets the shaft. It isn't right, but it is tradition, and I'm not going to muck with tradition.
Cal Ripken's streak stops here. Open letter to my old friend Danny, who lives and breathes Baltimore: Forgive me.
Flo-Jo is a no-go, though she nearly made the cut on style points alone.
Marion Jones, fast as she is, feels too manufactured.
I can hear John McEnroe now: "You cannot be serious!"
Emmitt Smith, John Elway, and Dan Marino must go, but only because their NFL competition on this list is so stiff.
And the last clip on the cutting room floor is of Mike Tyson, because this ain't a list about what might or could have been, and it ain't a list of the 25 most notorious athletes of the generation, and it ain't even a list of the athletes I'm most afraid might stumble across this piece and take exception to being left out and come looking for my skinnypunkass with a face full of loathing and fists full of fury. If it were, Mike, you'd be numero uno. But it isn't, so take a seat.
All right, now that I've mowed down 10 living legends like Speed Racer working the rotary saws on a stand of pesky trees, let's get on with the show ... Here's my top 25 from the last 25 (and just for kicks I'll roll each one out in 25 words or less).
25. Mia Hamm
You measure a man by listing his vanquished foes -- Benitez, Duran, Hearns, Hagler -- well, that, and by how well he could windmill punch.
23. Serena Williams
22. Eric Heiden
21. Alex Rodriguez
20. Pete Sampras
19. Shaquille O'Neal
18. Rickey Henderson
If this were all about numbers or art, he'd be top-five. But it's about losses, too (which aren't his fault), and a weird departure (which is).
16. Dale Earnhardt
15. Joe Montana
14. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
13. Lawrence Taylor
12. Mario Lemieux
11. Larry Bird and 10. Magic Johnson
9. Martina Navratilova
In the words of Archie "Gunslinger" Coolie (Jerry's college coach), "He could catch a BB on a dead run at night."
7. Roger Clemens
6. Tiger Woods
5. Carl Lewis
4. Barry Bonds
3. Wayne Gretzky
2. Michael Jordan
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the genuine article.
That's it, that's all. These are my 25 and I'm sticking with 'em.
You got a problem with the list? Make your own.
You think I'm afraid of you? I don't sweat you. Bring it.
Except you, Mike. You I sweat. A lot. You got a problem with the list, I got a problem with the list. You got a problem with the list and (should you allow me to live) I'm taking a mulligan on the whole ill-fated enterprise right here and right now.
Yeah, let's see, it says here: No. 1, Iron Mike Tyson. No. 2, Mr. Mike Tyson, No. 3 ...
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.