By David Schoenfield
Page 2

As ESPN celebrates the past 25 years in sports, Page 2 celebrates those athletes who transcended their teams and sports, who amazed us with the greatest individual seasons over the past 25 years.

The concept? Simple. Which athlete had the best season? We spent hours checking the numbers, analyzing their value, adjusting for the context of their stats (for example, NBA games see fewer points scored now than in the 1980s while baseball games see more home runs and higher ERAs). We factored in playoff heroics as merited. We jigged and jimmied, knocked a few athletes off at the last minute and added more deserving candidates.

And we arrived at our list of the 100 greatest individual seasons of the past 100 years.

Enjoy -- and let the debate begin.

(Note: Sports considered include NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college football, college basketball, golf, tennis and NASCAR. One rule: no athlete could have more than three seasons on the list.)

Complete list: 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100

JERRY RICE, 1989, San Francisco 49ers
Jerry Rice

82 catches, 1,483 yards, 18.1 per catch, 17 TDs
The game's greatest receiver at the apex of his talents (of course, he was at that apex for about a decade). Broncos fans still wake up in cold sweats, dreaming of Rice's 148 yards and three TDs in the Super Bowl.

DOMINIK HASEK, 1998, Buffalo Sabres
2.09 GAA, 13 shutouts, NHL MVP, Olympic gold medal
Hasek was so good in '98 that he led the underdog Czech Republic to Olympic gold, defeating Russia 1-0 in the gold medal game.
MARSHALL FAULK, 2000, St. Louis Rams
1,359 rushing, 5.4 ypa, 830 receiving, 26 TDs, MVP
The ultimate two-way running/receiving threat, Faulk's 2000 campaign was more than gaudy stats -- he found the end zone 26 times and led the Rams into the playoffs.
DWIGHT GOODEN, 1985, New York Mets
24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276.2 IP, 198 H, 8 SHO, 268 K's, CY Young
The young Doc, just 20 years old, was a thing to watch, blowing the ball past hitters with his high heat and then making batters' knees buckle with that big curveball.
OREL HERSHISER, 1988, Los Angeles Dodgers
Orel Hershiser

23-8, 2.26 ERA, 267 IP, 208 H, 8 SHO, World Series MVP
First, he finished the season with a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings to pitch the Dodgers into the playoffs. In the postseason he started three games and saved another in the NLCS, allowed just two runs in two complete-game wins over the A's in the World Series, and then prepared the sandwiches for the postgame spread.

3 Grand Slams wins, won 16 of 17 tournaments, 86-1 record
Trivia question: Who beat Navratilova in 1983? Kathy Horvath, in the fourth round of the French Open. Navratilova won six consecutive Grand Slam events from '83-84, a time when was simply unbeatable.
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, 2000, Los Angeles Lakers
29.7 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 57.4 FG%, 3.8 apg, 3.0 bpg, MVP, Finals MVP
This is the Shaq we'll never see again: he was healthy (played 79 games) and driven to dominate (which he did). He won his only MVP award and in the Finals mauled the Pacers for an average of 38.0 points in a six-game victory.
HAKEEM OLAJUWON, 1994, Houston Rockets
Hakeem Olajuwon

27.3 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 3.7 bpg, 3.6 apg, MVP, Finals MVP
Am I saying Hakeem at his peak was better than Shaq at his peak? Yes. Olajuwon is the only all-time great center to win an NBA title without another Hall of Famer on the team. He was defensive player of the year in '94 and averaged 27 points in the Finals, despite the Knicks' smothering defense.

PEDRO MARTINEZ, 1999, Boston Red Sox
23-4, 2.07 ERA, 213.1 IP, 160 H, 37 BB, 313 K's, Cy Young
The American League ERA in 1999 was 5.07 ... Pedro was a mind-boggling three runs better than average.
TERRELL DAVIS, 1998, Denver Broncos
2,008 yards rushing, 5.1 ypa, 217 receiving, 23 TDs, MVP
As if 2,000 yards wasn't enough of a statement, Davis turned it up a gear in the playoffs, rushing for 199, 167 and 102 yards as the Broncos won the Super Bowl for the second straight year.
WAYNE GRETZKY, 1984, Edmonton Oilers
Wayne Gretzky

87 goals, 118 assists, 205 points, NHL MVP
The Oilers ended the Islanders' four-year reign as Stanley Cup champs in '84 and Gretzky led the NHL in goals and assists as he topped the magical 200-point barrier (he's the only player to do it and he did it four times). In the playoffs, he scored 35 points in 19 games.

SAMMY SOSA, 2001, Chicago Cubs
.328, 64 HR, 160 RBI, 146 runs, .437 OBP, .737 SLG
A remarkable season -- 425 total bases, the most in the majors since Stan Musial in 1948; the most RBI in the National League since Hack Wilson set the all-time record of 191 in 1930 -- and he finished second in the MVP to Barry Bonds.
MARK MCGWIRE, 1998, St. Louis Cardinals
.299, 70 HR, 147 RBI, 130 runs, .470 OBP, .752 SLG
Perhaps the most memorable season on the list. What's sometimes forgotten is that Sosa had momentarily passed McGwire for the home-run lead on the final weekend, and Big Mac responded with a homer on Friday, two on Saturday and two more on Sunday to finish with 70.
MICHAEL JORDAN, 1993, Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan

32.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.5 apg, 49.5 FG%, Finals MVP
Let's just say MJ felt a little shafted that Charles Barkley was voted the MVP in '93. When the Bulls met Barkley's Suns in the Finals, Jordan went for 31, 42, 44, 55, 41 and 33. A nice little average of 41 points per game, thank you.

BARRY BONDS, 2002, San Francisco Giants
.370, 46 HR, 110 RBI, 198 walks, .582 OBP, .799 SLG, MVP
The best thing a hitter can do is not make an out. Bonds made an out less often than any hitter in major-league history. He set all-time records for on-base percentage (shattering Ted Williams' mark) and OPS (edging out himself and Babe Ruth). Postseason totals: 8 HR, 16 RBI, 27 walks. The Giants fell one victory short, but it wasn't Bonds' fault.
MAGIC JOHNSON, 1987, Los Angeles Lakers
23.9 ppg, 12.2 apg, 6.3 rpg, 52.2 FG%, MVP, Finals MVP
Pat Riley asked Magic to score more in '87 and he did, setting a career best in scoring average. More importantly, in the series that would determine the team of the '80s, the Lakers knocked off the Celtics, as Magic averaged 26 points and 13 assists, and hit his famous "baby skyhook" to win Game 4 at the buzzer.
BARRY SANDERS, 1988, Oklahoma State
Barry Sanders

2,850 rushing yards, 7.3 per carry, 44 TDs, Heisman
The numbers have to be fiction. Well, they are, sort of: the above numbers do include Sanders' 222-yard, five-TD performance in the Holiday Bowl. In the regular season, he totaled 3,249 yards of total offense. In one five-game stretch, he rushed for 320, 215, 312, 293 and 332 yards. And those are the facts.

DAN MARINO, 1984, Miami Dolphins
5,084 yards, 9.0 ypa, 48 TDs, 17 INT, 108.9 QB rating, MVP
Marino's record-setting season burst upon the NFL scene out of nowhere. He had played great as a rookie, but the Dolphins had always been a running team under Don Shula. But Marino's records for yards and TD passes still stand, 20 years later. Yes, Miami lost the Super Bowl -- and that's why Marino is only No. 8.
MICHAEL JORDAN, 1989, Chicago Bulls
32.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 8.0 apg, 2.9 spg, 53.8 FG%
Jordan didn't win the MVP this season, either? Well, the MVP voters were wrong. This was MJ at the peak of his athleticsm, doing everything on the court (easily setting career-highs in rebounds and assists). The Bulls hadn't yet matured into NBA champions (they lost in the East finals to Detroit), but don't blame Jordan: he averaged 34.8 points in 17 playoff games.
STEVE YOUNG, 1994, San Francisco 49ers
Steve Young

3,969 yards, 8.6 ypa, 35 TDs, 10 INT, 112.8 QB rating, MVP
The greatest QB season of all time? Give me Steve Young of 1994. He completed 70.3 percent of his passes, could run if he had to (293 yards, 7 TDs) and dominated the postseason (9 TDs, zero interceptions). He got the famous monkey off his back in the Super Bowl, winning MVP honors with six TD passes.

Steffi Graf

Won 4 Grand Slam events, Olympic gold, 72-3 record
The Grand Slam says it all. Evert, Navratilova, Seles, Hingis, Serena -- none of them have won all four Grand Slam tournaments. Graf did, and threw in an Olympic gold medal to top off her campaign.

WAYNE GRETZKY, 1985, Edmonton Oilers
73 goals, 135 assists, 208 points, MVP, playoff MVP
He's had more goals (92 in '82), more assists (163 in '86), and more points (212 in '86), but watching Gretzky and his Oilers teammates skate up and down the ice in the '85 Stanley Cup playoffs was the Great One at his most dominating. He tallied a remarkable 47 points in 18 playoff games, an NHL record, as the Oilers won the Cup.
MICHAEL JORDAN, 1991, Chicago Bulls
31.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, 53.9 FG%, MVP, Finals MVP
Which Jordan year was most dominating? Statistically, it was probably 1989. But by 1991 he had figured out that little extra something that led the Bulls to their first NBA title. In the playoffs, he knocked off the Ewing Knicks, Barkley Sixers, two-time champion Pistons and Magic Lakers. In the Finals, MJ was the consummate team player, averaging 31.2 points and 11.4 assists
9 tournament wins, three majors (U.S. Open, British, PGA)
I won't argue if you want to put this No. 1: he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots, the British Open by eight, and the PGA in a playoff over Bob May. Hmm. Maybe if he had won that Masters in 2000 instead of 2001.
BARRY BONDS, 2001, San Francisco Giants
Barry Bonds

.328, 73 HR, 137 RBI, 177 walks, .515 OBP, .863 SLG, MVP
Before you start screaming ... go ahead, let it out ... now, admit it -- it was a one-of-a-kind season, the best of the ESPN era. The home runs, of course, are a record; so is the slugging percentage (only three players have ever slugged .800, and the other two are named Babe Ruth). In looking for the best individual season of the past 25 years, it had to be not only dominating, but unique -- and no baseball player has ever matched what Bonds did in 2001.

David Schoenfield is a senior editor at