The Most Popular Players in Every Single Major Sport

Zack PumerantzAnalyst IIIFebruary 15, 2012

The Most Popular Players in Every Single Major Sport

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    Talent, determination and passion...the main ingredients of an athletic champion.

    But popularity, well, that's a whole different animal. It takes charisma, fearlessness and perhaps an eccentric haircut.

    Whether they were beloved for their statistical production or admired for their unorthodox, yet refreshing styles, the most popular athletes in history left a lasting impression on the world of sports.

    Let's take a look at the five most popular players in each major sport's history.

    You'll want to sit next to these guys at the cafeteria.

5. Summer Olympics, We Start With...Jim Thorpe

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    Yes, he played professional baseball, basketball and (as you know) football, but it was Jim Thorpe's Olympic achievements that made him popular.

    Voted the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century, Thorpe won Olympic gold medals for the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon.

    He was a god-like talent in his era.

4. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

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    Arguably the best all-around female athlete ever to compete in the Olympic Games, Jackie Joyner-Kersee revolutionized the way women were perceived in athletics.

    She was voted Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated for Women and continues to impact her field of play as a member of the Board of Directors for USA Track & Field.

    The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation is one of her many philanthropic efforts, and has earned her respect around the world of sports.

3. Jesse Owens

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    He may have been unknown before the start of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, but after winning four gold medals, people began to notice Jesse Owens.

    The Games were set to feature Adolf Hitler's pack of Aryan athletes, all hoping to show the world an unstoppable Germany.

    But Owens gave the world something different, something inspirational.

    The Jesse Owens Award, given to the year's best track and field athlete, is naturally named after him.

    What a story he wrote while changing history forever.

2. Michael Phelps

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    He's won 16 Olympic medals, including eight at the 2008 Beijing Games, but that isn't what keeps fans interested in swimming phenom Michael Phelps.

    While his 12,000-calorie diet certainly attracts curious eyes, it's his apparent affinity for the ganja that has fans laughing.

    Phelps needs some help if he wants to survive his inhuman diet.

1. And the Winner Is...Carl Lewis

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    Helping to popularize track and field in the '80s and '90s, Carl Lewis is still known best for his 65 consecutive victories in the long jump, lasting over 10 years.

    With a warming smile and unmatchable talent, the three-time Athlete of the Year was beloved by the sports world and admired by all.

    After winning 10 Olympic medals, an acting career seemed like the next viable option.

5. Ah, the Competitive Sport of Wrestling...John Cena

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    Twelve world titles (a record 10 WWE Champonships) is certainly impressive, but it's been John Cena's non-wrestling endeavors that have separated him from the pack.

    From appearances on Saturday Night Live, Punk'd and Psych to featured roles in 12 Rounds and The Marine, Cena continues to expand his repertoire.

    While certainly his signature outfit, we could live without the jean shorts.

4. Hulk Hogan

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    A notorious villain during his days with WWF, Hulk Hogan and his distinct handlebar mustache dominated the world of wrestling.

    Since first approaching the ring, Hogan has opened his own restaurants, created energy drinks, acted in ridiculous movies and starred on reality television.

    Hogan certainly knows best how to attract a crowd.

3. Trish Stratus

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    Perhaps the most feared woman of her era, Trish Stratus combined sex and power to dominate her playing field.

    A three-time "WWE Babe of the Year" and "Diva of the Decade," Stratus pioneered the way for future beauties to shine in the ring.

    Never had wrestling been so exhilarating.

2. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin

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    He may have won most Popular Wrestler of the Year in 1998, but Stone Cold was huge long before receiving the lovable award.

    Austin was embraced by fans and the media for often defying Vince McMahon and using his famous stunner to quiet him down.

    Now that Austin's seemingly just an actor, we can look back on an illustrious career for the star wrestler.

    No picture sums him up better.

1. You Knew This Was Coming...The Rock

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    Now that he's seemingly an established award-winning actor (yeah right), we can reminisce about Dwayne Johnson's legendary eye curl during his WWE days.

    The first third-generation superstar in WWF history, Johnson took his Miami football talents to the ring and ironically became one of the chattiest stars in history.

    We're still trying to figure out what The Rock was cooking.

5. We've Reached the College Hardwood...Artis Gilmore

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    At 7'2", it was easy for A-Train to garner respect and admiration.

    But it was Artis Gilmore's production at Jacksonville University and engaging smile that entertained crowds around the world.

    Not only is he one of five players to average over 20 points and 20 rebounds during his career, but Gilmore still leads the NCAA in rebounds per game with 22.7.

    His beard and Afro were still his most prolific attributes.

4. Carmelo Anthony

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    It may have been LeBron James' year in 2003, coming out of high school ready to dominate, but Carmelo Anthony was barely a step behind him.

    A one-and-done, Anthony led the Syracuse Orangemen to their first-ever NCAA tournament title as a freshman, before leaving for the NBA draft.

    His performance in the tournament even furthered his stock with fans and scouts.

    Everybody loves a winner.

3. Tom Gola

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    While he did score 20.9 points and 19.0 rebounds during his tenure at La Salle University and holds the NCAA record with 2,201 career rebounds (at only 6'6"), it was Tom Gola's all-around prowess that had crowds in shock.

    He was just tall enough to fight for rebounds, just slick enough to dribble his way out of trouble and just smart enough to defend any scoring threat. 

    Gola added a unique flavor to the game of basketball that few others possessed.

2. Tyler Hansbrough

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    Every dog has its day, and trust us, college was Tyler Hans-bro's time to shine.

    We may have despised his wildly ridiculous celebrations and frustrating style of play, but Hansbrough eventually became the ACC's all-time leading scorer and was a stud at power forward.

    His No. 50 jersey is already retired at UNC and he was only drafted in 2009.

    Bloodied and confident, Hansbrough always came out on top during his days at Chapel Hill.

1. Did You Really Expect This? Pete Maravich

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    Obviously the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history (3,667 points) is going to be popular, but that wasn't what put Pete Maravich in the spotlight.

    Arguably the best offensive creator in history, "Pistol" averaged 44.2 points per game before the three-point line was even introduced to college basketball.

    But what really increased his exposure was being a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at LSU.

    He could undoubtedly funnel beers with the best of them.

5. We Approach the MMA World...Georges St. Pierre

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    Even if you don't follow mixed martial arts, you've easily heard the name Georges St. Pierre numerous times and wondered why his first name ends with an "s."

    The three-time Canadian Athlete of the Year is the UFC's current welterweight champion and has just two losses in his career. 

    The man can fight, and people are clearly taking notice.

4. Kimbo Slice

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    A rags-to-riches story, Bahamian-American boxer Kimbo Slice went from street fights to professional battles.

    While he wasn't very productive (4-2 in six MMA fights), Slice was already famous for being "The King of the Web Brawlers."

    His street exchanges had already been a hit with eager Internet dwellers.

3. Rampage Jackson

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    Some might say Quinton "Rampage" Jackson enjoys the spotlight more than the ring, but we beg to differ.

    Sure he cancelled his bout against Rashad Evans at UFC 107 so that he could take accept a role in The A-Team, but Jackson's powerful body slams and hilarious interviews have kept us engaged.

    He never disappoints.

2. Randy Couture

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    Known as the only athlete in history to win a UFC championship after becoming a Hall of Famer, Randy Couture helped mainstream MMA.

    He was the first fighter to hold two UFC championship titles in two different divisions and one of the first elected into the illustrious Hall.

    Couture continues to stand as one of the two MMA poster boys.

1. Oh Yes, the Main Man...Chuck Liddell

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    But Couture didn't do it on his own. No, his buddy Chuck Liddell was there to help promote.

    Not only does he have the most knockouts in UFC history, but Liddell is the first UFC fighter to be on the cover of ESPN The Magazine (2007).

    That'll get you noticed.

5. The College Gridiron Has Brought Us...Reggie Bush

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    He may have turned into a reality star, but Reggie Bush was once an icon, a god on the field.

    During his time at USC, Bush was a video-game highlight reel, shocking fans with each breathtaking cutback.

    It's nice to reminisce.

4. Earl Campbell

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    He was an All-American, won a Heisman Trophy (Texas University's first) and finished with 4,444 career rushing yards. Quite the collegiate career for Earl Campbell.

    The 244-pound specimen trampled defenders and revolutionized the position with his unusual size.

    Smash-mouth football at its finest.

3. Barry Sanders

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    Despite backing up Thurman Thomas for his first two years at Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders had arguably the most prolific season in college football history.

    In 1988, Sanders finished with 7.6 yards per carry, 237.5 yards per game, 2,628 yards rushing, 3,248 total yards and 39 touchdowns.

    Before even entering the NFL before his senior season, the 5'8" specimen was seemingly looked up to by even the most casual fans.

2. Ernie Davis

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    This may seem like a strange selection for the time period, but hang tight.

    As the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy, Ernie Davis will have a lasting impact on college football.

    He continues to be admired by those who hear his story.

1. Oh God No...Tim Tebow

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    Obviously you saw this one coming.

    Even before hitting it big on the NFL scene, Tim Te-bro was actually quite popular with the Gainesville faithful.

    It wouldn't be weird to find out that Tebowing is an official major at Florida University.

5. It's Not Chilly Enough for Winter Olympics, Yet...Shaun White

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    "Long (red) hair, don't care" should be the motto of this unlikely star.

    A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shaun White has appeared on The Girls Next Door, briefly played a role as himself in Friends with Benefits and was named Transworld Snowboarding's Rider of the Year twice.

    This talented ginger's dominance on the half-pipe always appears in slow motion.

4. Apolo Anton Ohno

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    Since becoming the youngest U.S. national champion (at 14 years old), all short-speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno has done is win eight Olympic medals, become a motivational speaker, discover his philanthropic ways and win Dancing with the Stars.

    Oh, and how could we forget? He created a nutritional supplement establishment called 8 Zone. 

    Like any great athlete, Ohno evidently tried his hand at modeling.

3. Bjorn Daehlie

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    While winning 29 medals in the Olympics and World Championships between 1991 and 1999 certainly makes Bjorn Daehlie the most successful cross-country skier in history, it was his astounding Vo2 max that has us amazed.

    Evidently the most fit human on the planet, Daehlie wasn't finished after retiring from the sports world, as the Norwegian hero became a stout businessman, concentrating in real estate and fashion. 

    If only we could pronounce his name.

2. Michelle Kwan

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    The Tiger Woods of figure skating, Michelle Kwan was seemingly always at the top of popularity charts.

    Sure she's a two-time Olympic medalist, a five-time world champion and a nine-time U.S. champion, but it was Kwan's abstract repertoire and creative nature on the ice that had fans exhilarated.

    Endorsements, media coverage, television appearances and beauty...the talented ice dancer had it all.

1. And How Can We Forget...Eric Heiden

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    The most successful athlete an any single Olympic Games, Eric Heiden (five individual gold medals in 1980) is perhaps the most renowned skater in history.

    Nobody has simultaneously dominated long-distance and short-speed skating like Heiden did.

    His legend never fades.

5. Greg Norman...Australian for Golf

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    A refreshing change from the mundane straight-laced golfer often seen before the 1990s, Australian golfer Greg Norman brought his wild style to the green.

    Yes he spent 331 weeks ranked as the world No. 1 in the '80s and '90s, but it was The Great White Shark's aggressive style that had the sports world in awe.

    Crocodile Dundee finally decided to approach athletics.

4. Jack Nicklaus

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    While we know he won an astounding 18 career major championships, it was Jack Nicklaus' off-course endeavors that had the world intrigued.

    Charity work, writing and course design headline a prolific career away from the green.

    His athletic talent just got us paying attention.

3. Tiger Woods

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    OK, so maybe his recent romantic flings have dropped him down a notch in most books, but let's not forget Tiger Woods' prime, his god-like days of athletic domination.

    Few put it in the hole (stop laughing) as well as Tiger.

    There was a time when SportsCenter seemingly dedicated half- to full episodes to Woods and his building legend.

    They've now turned that section over to some guy named Tim Tebow. We've had enough.

2. John Daly

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    He drank, smoked and liked to party hardy; there was everything to love about John Daly.

    Especially his bright-colored, ever-changing outfits.

1. Getting Thirsty for Some...Arnold Palmer

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    Like his drink, Arnold Palmer's game was sweet for fans and sour for opponents.

    Helping to popularize the sport of golf in the 1950s, Palmer remains a respected icon in the sports world.

    Considering a beverage was named after him, Palmer seemingly did quite well for himself with the crowd.

5. The Big-Boy Courts...Larry Bird

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    The man named after the animal he resembles—a match made in heaven.

    His fearless demeanor and unlikely shooting prowess led Larry Bird to immortality in the basketball world.

    Beloved by fans and hated by opponents, Bird was the quintessential NBA icon in his day.

4. Magic Johnson

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    Everyone loves magic, and boy could Earvin Johnson perform some tricks on the hardwood.

    After winning a championship and NBA Finals MVP in his rookie season, it was clear the Michigan State phenom was headed for greatness.

    Despite his 6'9" stature, Johnson is the NBA's all-time leader in assists per game with 11.2.

    A pioneer in his field.

3. Julius Erving

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    Few dunks could've competed with Dr. J.'s high-flying explosions from the free-throw line.

    The four-time MVP seemingly popularized dunk contests, although Nate Robinson's antics were also ridiculous.

    Julius Erving made kids dream just a bit brighter.

2. Shaquille O'Neal

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    Perhaps the most physically dominant specimen ever to grace the hardwood, Shaq Diesel was beloved by fans, feared by opponents and dissected by comedians.

    From rap albums and ridiculous films to reality shows and comedic ploys, O'Neal tried it all.

    Even his failures were legendary.

1. Time to Air It Out...Michael Jordan

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    Nobody did it better in the clutch than Air Jordan.

    Six championships (Finals MVP of every one) and five MVP awards doesn't quite tell the story.

    Neither does his getting "cut" from the high school basketball team.

    Michael Jordan is basketball.

5. Time to Hit the Courts...Serena Williams

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    While we want to give both Williams sisters a shout-out, it was Serena who reigned supreme when it came to hitting the ball over the net.

    Amid music video and movie appearances, company sponsorships and modeling endeavors is a collection of colorful outfits that separate Williams from the pack.

    She never shies from the spotlight, especially when it comes to judges.

4. Roger Federer

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    After holding the ATP No. 1 spot for a record 237 consecutive weeks, we began to realize that Roger Federer was perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time...perhaps...

    His 16 Grand Slam titles are obviously impressive, but we respect his charitable efforts a bit more.

    The Federer Express, or rather FedEx, may be losing the spotlight to Novak Djokovic, but he'll never lose his place in the hearts of fans.

    He had a magical run.

3. Anna Kournikova

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    Kournikova No. 3!? Well, wait a second.

    Without a tennis racket, Russian beauty Anna Kournikova likely would've been just as famous.

    Never winning a WTA singles title didn't stop her from reaching immortality, as Kournikova's sexy photo shoots and high-profile relationship endeavors occupied a lacking resume.

    From a promising start to a beautiful finish, Kournikova was perhaps the biggest visual sensation in tennis history.

2. Pete Sampras

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    Women loved him, men wanted to be him...Pete Sampras was the Austin Powers of his day—yeah baby!

    The King of Swing won 14 Grand Slam singles titles during his 15-year reign, and was part of a passionate rivalry with long-haired phenom Andre Agassi.

    And let's not forget, he did marry "that Veronica Vaughn" Bridgette Wilson.

    Perhaps his best victory.

1. Grab a Brush...Andre Agassi

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    Arguably the biggest star in tennis history, long-hair-don't-care man Andre Agassi used fierce determination and his own unique style to attract the cameras.

    He traveled a long road to immortality, but Agassi will forever be cherished by those who were lucky enough to see him play.

    The only one of his kind.

5. Strap on Those Gloves...Manny Pacquiao

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    An icon in the Philippines and arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer ever, Manny Pacquiao continues to build his legacy through respect for the game and sheer domination.

    He's acted, recorded music and now has a huge role in the political world, as a member of the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress of the Philippines. 

    A scrappy champion, Pac-Man is impossible to despise unless your name is Floyd Mayweather Jr.

4. Joe Louis

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    Instrumental in popularizing boxing in the '30s and '40s, hard-working heavyweight champion Joe Louis was perhaps the first African-American icon in the United States.

    Sure his championship reign lasted 140 consecutive months, but it was Detroit naming Joe Louis Arena after him that was the ultimate achievement.

    An honest and respectful talent, Louis brought honor back to the sport of boxing.

    And he was loved for that.

3. Evander Holyfield

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    We keep hearing Joe Frazier's name echoing in our ears, but Evander Holyfield is the man who has always stuck in the spotlight.

    The only four-time world heavyweight champion, Holyfield is perhaps known best for having his ear chewed off by Mike Tyson.

    A champion in both the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions, Holyfield was more than a holy figure on the mat; he was a legend.

    All he lacked was a grill named after him.

2. Mike Tyson

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    So maybe he bent the rules a bit and had a nasty streak that wasn't quite respected, but the crowd loved him and the media needed him.

    With perhaps the most threatening punch in the history of boxing and an uncontrollable tone, Mike Tyson made every match and interview memorable.

    Easily the craziest human being to approach the ring.

1. The Greatest...Muhammad Ali

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    He floated like a butterfly and stung like when Jerry Stiller likely tries to pee. Muhammad Ali was greatness. 

    An arrogant villain to opponents and a magical hero to fans, Ali was both hated and loved by the world.

    But he couldn't care less what anyone thought of him, and that led him to immortality.

5. Step on Those Breaks...Jimmie Johnson

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    Becoming the first racer to win Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year (2009) is quite the accomplishment, but it was Jimmie Johnson's HBO mini-series deal that proved his popularity. 

    24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona was the title, his road to Daytona 500 the plot.

    He is perhaps the most discussed driver in the world of NASCAR, for his clean-cut demeanor and ability to engage the camera.

    His commercial acting, however, needs some work.

4. Danica Patrick

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    She may be the most accomplished female racer ever, but it's Danica Patrick's sex appeal and aggressive nature that always has us keeping a close watch.

    Resembling a (much) younger Demi Moore, Patrick has paved the way for future sex symbols to approach the world of NASCAR.

    But the flirtatious GoDaddy commercials have lost their touch.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Considering he's won the Most Popular Driver Award nine times, it's safe to say the son of the late Dale Earnhardt is quite beloved by the racing world.

    A third-generation driver, Earnhardt Jr. clearly has gasoline running through his veins.

    Shake and bake at its best.

2. Richard Petty

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    While he's known for winning the NASCAR Championship seven times and winning a record 200 races, it was Richard Petty's work with fans that earned him respect.

    He apparently loved to sign autographs and would stay for hours pleasing fans who yearned for his signature.

    A true hero.

1. The Late, the Great...Dale Earnhardt

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    Amid his 76 wins and seven championships was Dale Earnhardt's stellar mustache, ever-trimmed and shining bright.

    He was the face of NASCAR, an icon in the car-racing business.

    Few looked cooler dominating.

    He'll always be revered.

5. We've Reached the Blue Line...Alexander Ovechkin

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    Sure he's a scoring machine, but it's Alexander Ovechkin's eccentric personality and flair for the spotlight that has us mesmerized.

    Sidney Crosby may hog the cameras on the ice, but Ovechkin has mastered the art of catering to the masses away from it.

    From superfluous post-goal celebrations and features in music videos to video-game covers and a humorous appearance in a SportsCenter commercial, Ovechkin has tried it all.

    Next is a rap career.

4. Bobby Hull

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    While it's debatable whether goalies feared his vicious slap shot or the intimidating gap between his teeth, we're quite positive we love both.

    Referred to as "The Golden Jet," Bobby Hull once reached 118.3 mph on a slap shot and 105 mph on a wrist shot.

    With the power and presentation of a champion, Hull continues to shadow the game of hockey with his legacy.

3. Patrick Roy

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    He may have been nicknamed "Saint Patrick," but Patrick Roy was no angel.

    Arguably the greatest goalie of all time, Roy essentially universalized the butterfly style of tending the goal and became a role model to all.

    Any goaltender willing to get bloody for his team earns our respect, unless his name is Rick DiPietro.

2. Bobby Orr

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    Like his name insinuates, defenseman Bobby Orr was as tough as a hard piece of wood, but that's not what made him a legend.

    No, it was his two Art Ross Trophies (only defenseman ever to lead the league in scoring) and three consecutive Hart Trophies (MVP) that separated him from the pack.

    The man revolutionized his once-stagnant position, a spot once bereft of any scoring threats.

    The hockey world yearned for his next trick. Soaring over the ice certainly sufficed.

1. A Talent Unmatched...Wayne Gretzky

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    The greatest scorer ever to reach the ice, Wayne Gretzky was cherished by youths yearning for excitement and elders who had never seen such production.

    We respect him most, however, for his sportsmanship. It's no coincidence he won the Lady Byng Trophy five times for exceptional conduct and respect.

    He wasn't big, fast or strong, but "The Great One" had the moxie, desire and smarts to dominate his competition.

    All he lacked was a fluffy, curled mustache to complement his ability.

5. Running the Bases...Tony Gwynn

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    We all love an athlete who commits to one team for his entire career, and Tony Gwynn was one of those legends.

    During his 20 years with the San Diego Padres, Gwynn never hit below .309 in a full season and only struck out 434 times in 9,288 plate appearances (unheard of).

    The .338 career hitter was a contact beast in his day.

4. Cal Ripken Jr.

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    Sure he played a record 2,632 straight games and finished with 3,184 hits, but Cal Ripken Jr. is applauded most for playing his entire 21-year career in Baltimore.

    Naturally a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Ripken received the third-highest voting percentage (98.53 percent) ever when he was inducted in 2007.

    The 6'4" shortstop changed the game forever and led the way for future sluggers at the once-scrappy position.

3. Willie Mays

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    Like Ted Williams once said, "They invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays."

    Arguably the greatest talent to approach the diamond, The Say Hey Kid made 24 All-Star appearances (wow) and won 12 Gold Gloves.

    Mays made catches that his peers only hoped to witness.

2. Babe Ruth

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    He dominated on beer and hot dogs—enough said.

    For casual fans, this man was an anomaly—for diehards, a legend.

    Just as prolific on the mound as he was at the plate, Babe Ruth continues to be the face of baseball after finishing his career with 714 home runs and seven World Series Championships.

1. Sweetness...Ken Griffey Jr.

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    With arguably the sweetest swing and most graceful stride in major league history, Ken Griffey Jr. easily stole the throbbing hearts of his awe-inspired fans.

    If not for his injury problems, we'd like to believe Griffey would've been the greatest talent ever to grace the baseball field.

    Video games named after him, contracts with Nike (among others) and beloved fans.

    Junior was immortal.

5. Time to Rip Through the Pigskin...Peyton Manning

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    His pre-snap ritual may frustrate many fans, but Peyton Manning's production and non-football endeavors have led to his popularity.

    Manning's hosted Saturday Night Live, bragged about his right arm in commercials, voiced for The Simpsons and, oh yeah, dominated the game of football from the quarterback position.

    Arguably the greatest ever, the older Manning has recently found himself in the shadows of younger brother Eli Manning.

4. Ray Lewis

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    Perhaps the second-scariest linebacker in history, Ray Ray revolutionized the position.

    Inspirational speeches, fierce hits and controversial statements headline a legendary career.

    We'll always look up to a fearless maniac.

3. Walter Payton

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    It's no coincidence the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award represents exceptional charity and volunteer work.

    While he did run for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns, make nine Pro Bowls and win a Super Bowl, it was Payton's role as a humanitarian that garnered respect and admiration.

    "Sweetness" always left fans smiling.

2. Dick Butkus

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    Possibly the most feared linebacker in football history, Dick Butkus was a tank on the gridiron.

    But he's also a hit with fans...especially old ladies.

1. It's Almost Al Dente...Jerry Rice

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    He may be the greatest receiver of all time, but it's Jerry Rice's calm, seemingly respectful nature that has fans smiling about his legacy.

    Essentially the Michael Jordan of football, Rice will always be revered by fans, peers and media.

5. Goooooooooooaaaaaalll...Cristiano Ronaldo

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    He may resemble a pompous pretty boy, but—well, yeah, that's exactly what he seems like.

    Sure he's the most expensive player in soccer history, but it's Cristiano Ronaldo's playboy demeanor and endless list of romantic endeavors that have thrust him into the spotlight.

    The soccer celebrity still isn't satisfied.

4. Kaka

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    One hundred fifty-three goals may be impressive, but it's Kaka's humanitarian work that engaged a cynical public. 

    He became the youngest ambassador of the UN World Food Programme when he was appointed in 2004, and is a devout evangelical Christian, which we all know will attract plenty of believers.

    Kaka's name is among the most hilarious in history, making him even more of a legend on search engines.

3. Lionel Messi

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    Like Vinny from Jersey Shore, Argentine footballer Lionel Messi isn't as big a celebrity as his peers, but is perhaps more beloved and easily more respected.

    With 218 goals in 308 appearances, he's also quite lethal on the soccer field.

    After being nominated for the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year at 21 years old, it was clear Messi was going to be special.

    His smile is contagious.

2. David Beckham

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    Model first, soccer star second, David Beckham has seemingly done a better job attracting women to the sport than he has scoring goals.

    With a joint wealth of just under $200 million, the Beckhams essentially rule the United Kingdom.

    Victoria Beckham enjoys the lackadaisical lifestyle of changing her outfit in every store she enters and her husband gets to seduce millions of female eyes with every obnoxious underwear commercial.

    The ultimate power couple.

1. Pele

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    One thousand two hundred eighty-one goals in 1,363 games is certainly astonishing, but it's Pele's iconic presence that had the sports world in awe.

    "The King of Football" constantly spoke out against poor conditions and even dedicated his 1,000th goal to Brazil's underprivileged youth.

    His emotional nature and skilled feet have cemented Pele in sports lore forever.