The world of sports wasn't always flooded with overpaid divas and emotional brats. There was a time when grit, fiery intimidation and consistent determination ruled the playing field.
Those were the days.
As we retrace a rich history now clouded by flashy highlight reels and eccentric personalities, dedication and a pure love for the game reigns supreme.
Let's take a look at the athletes who reeked of toughness. Whether they put their limbs, teeth and lives on the line for their team or savagely created havoc on the field, these dudes clawed at greatness.
Here are the 100 toughest athletes of all time.
Start wrapping those wrists.
A rating will be given, followed by a necessary commentary.
Why He's Tough: At 5'9" and just a shade under 190, receiver Steve Smith can defeat all types of competition. He can blow by physical corners and out-muscle speedy ones. And he's never afraid to go over the middle.
Toughest Moment: In 2005, Smith earned the "Triple Crown" of receiving in leading the NFL with 1,563 receiving yards, 103 receptions and 12 touchdowns...a year after breaking his leg.
Rating: 50, he's a superstar in three sports, two of which he doesn't even play.
Why He's Tough: Blessed with the mind of fullback and the heart of a lion, outfielder Aaron Rowand turned himself into perhaps the most fearless baseball player in the game. While a solid hitter, it's Rowand's love affair with walls when approaching deep fly balls that has us constantly in shock. There's never hesitation from this warrior.
Toughest Moment: In a 2006 game against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park during his time with the Phillies, Rowand ran down a bases-loaded fly ball by Xavier Nady that seemed headed for the stands. Instead, Rowand pummeled into the center field wall and broke his nose and cheek bones...but held on.
Rating: 51, contact is overrated.
Why He's Tough: The baddest of the Detroit Bad Boys during the '80s, center Rick Mahorn used physical play and a tireless work ethic to make up for his limited leaping ability at just 6'10". He was the backbone of a ruthless 1989 championship Pistons squad. After going to Philly in the offseason, Mahorn formed the dynamic duo of "Thump N' Bump" with Charles Barkley.
Toughest Moment: Few athletes were able to intimidate 7'8" baller Manute Bol. Well done Mahorn.
Rating: 51, a consistent force.
Why He's Tough: This Filipino sensation has become a worldwide phenomenon. The first eight-division world champion, Manny Pacquiao has garnered respect for his hard-nosed nature and quick pair of fisticuffs.
Toughest Moment: When introduced to boxing at 16 years old by his uncle, Pac Man only weighed 98 pounds, naturally below the weight minimum. He decided to put steel in his pockets to reach the required weight of 106 pounds. Problem solved.
Rating: 52, the epic stare.
Why He's Tough: Sure, he shattered the hardest-shot-ever record with a 108.8 mph rocket in this year's skills competition, but Zdeno Chara's toughness on the ice at 6'9" was never in question. There's little doubt over here that he's the real-life, hockey version of My Giant.
Toughest Moment: Reconstructing David Koci's face in 2007, also known as donating to the Red Cross.
Rating: 53, mammoth.
Why He's Tough: Power and intimidation headlined this legendary boxer's magnificent prowess. Despite underworld connections that clouded his title opportunities early on, Sonny Liston cemented his name among the pugilistic greats.
Toughest Moment: His tainted past may have delayed the fight, but Liston eventually won the heavyweight title against Floyd Patterson in 1962 with a first-round knockout.
Rating: 53, focused and patient.
Why He's Tough: The only Puerto Rican to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, Angelo Cordero rode fearlessly and with focus. His 7,057 winners included three Kentucky Derbys ('74, '76 and '85), two Preakness victories ('80 and '84) and a Belmont Stakes win in 1976. Few compare.
Toughest Moment: Despite suffering a "broken elbow, three broken ribs and internal injuries" in 1992, Cordero returned to action in 1995. The King of Saratoga had returned, if even just for a brief time.
Rating: 54, a gifted champion.
Why He's Tough: From scrappy as a player to animated as a manger, Billy Martin never found an umpire he liked, so to speak. But batting .500 in the 1953 World Series certainly helped cement his name among the most intriguing.
Toughest Moment: A game-saving catch in the 1952 World Series. What a memory.
Rating: 55, just a really angry guy.
Why He's Tough: We'll never question the only heavyweight champion in history to retire undefeated. Forty-nine bouts, 49 wins, 43 knockouts. Rocky Marciano scraped perfection.
Toughest Moment: After Ezzard Charles took him the distance in their first bout in June of 1954 (the only fighter to take Marciano for 15 rounds), Marciano seemed beatable for the first time. But he would prove doubters wrong in their rematch, as a brutally-cut Marciano knocked Charles out in the eighth round of a historic showing.
Rating: 55, actually immortal.
Why He's Tough: From undrafted, undersized tweener to quintessential NBA tough guy, 6'9" Ben Wallace traveled a long road to prosperity. A championship ring and four Defensive Player of the Year Awards glamorously shadow a ferocious on-court nature.
Toughest Moment: Aside from sculpting an epic Afro, Wallace stuffed a shocked Shaq (about a minute into the video) in epic fashion back in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.
Rating: 56, sheer intimidation.
Why He's Tough: He may warm the benches in Pittsburgh nowadays, but Byron Leftwich was once a promising prospect with a ferocious competitive streak. His fearless, do-anything-to-win nature was on display during one innocent 2002 game against Akron.
Toughest Moment: After being sent to the hospital in the first quarter of a scoreless game, Leftwich returned to see his Marshall squad down by a score of 27-10 in the third quarter. An eventual loss was insignificant, as linemen Steve Sciullo and Steve Perretta were seen carrying the hampered signal-caller down the field after his completions.
Anyone who saw Leftwich battle through a broken left tibia on that night was forever inspired. A truly historic showing.
Rating: 57, legendary one-hit wonder.
Why He's Tough: We've seen an upper .360s batting average before, but 54 career steals of home plate is pure madness. Ty Cobb was fearless and perhaps too aggressive, but definitely too great as well.
Toughest Moment: His team was down two runs in the ninth inning of a fierce American League pennant race in 1907, and the 20-year-old Cobb was ready for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Naturally, he nailed a game-tying home run to send the game into extras. But the game was called a tie in 17 innings. Luckily for him, the Tigers won their first ever pennant anyway.
Rating: 58, dirty but fearless.
Why She's Tough: Battling sexism in sports, Billie Jean King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.
Toughest Moment: Defeating former Wimbledon men's singles champion Bobby Riggs in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes was King's defining moment. Her victory paved the way for acknowledgement of a deprived social issue.
Rating: 59, now she's got ultimate bragging rights.
Why He's Tough: A bruising 6'9" power forward with a fearless nature, five-time ABA and NBA All-Star Maurice Lucas helped the Trail Blazers win the title in 1977. Known as an enforcer, Lucas left no prisoners on the court.
Toughest Moment: They may have lost Game 2 of the '77 Finals to go down 2-0, but the Trail Blazers felt the momentum turn to their side following Lucas' heroics. After Darryl Dawkins tossed a failed punch at Bob Gross, instead hitting his own teammate, Lucas took action. His elbow to Dawkins' head got the two squared off and eventually ejected, but the Blazers would eventually win four straight games to take the series.
Rating: 60, a baller.
Why He's Tough: As we reflect on a brilliant life that includes 76 races and a record seven Winston Cup championships, it becomes clear that Dale Earnhardt continues to influence the racetrack. The Intimidator earned his nickname from his legendary driving.
Toughest Moment: A 200-mph crash at Talladega in 1996 saw Earnhardt hit the wall, flip his No. 3 Chevrolet and linger before incoming traffic. He pulled himself out and waved to the crowd.
Rating: 60, unstoppable.
Why He's Tough: A scrappy ballplayer who loved to get dirt on his clothes and was fearless when prancing about the base paths, Lenny Dykstra embodied everything the Mets were during the late '80s. Failure wasn't in his vocabulary.
Toughest Moment: His leadoff home run in Game 3 of the '86 World Series at Fenway Park evidently sparked a Mets club that had gone down two games to none. New York would beat Boston in seven.
Rating: 60, mind-boggling stuff.
Why He's Tough: Drafted out of Louisville by the Steelers in 1955, Johnny Unitas wasn't even given a snap before he was cut in favor of three other competing quarterbacks. With a wife and child to worry about, Unitas worked in construction in Pittsburgh to put food on the table.
Naturally, he played quarterback, safety and punter on a local semipro team called the Bloomfield Rams for $6 a game. By chance, Unitas joined the Baltimore Colts after being asked by Bloomfield Rams lineman Jim Deglau to join him at a tryout. The rest is history.
Toughest Moment: The 1958 NFL Championship Game wasn't only the first playoff game to go into sudden death overtime in history, but it saw the maturation of a legend. Unitas led his crew on an 80-yard, 13-play drive that he called himself. The Colts would win 23-17 in breathtaking fashion.
Rating: 60, whatever it took to win.
Why He's Tough: While he won an unprecedented 16 championships during his career, legendary rancher Jim Shoulders deserves recognition for his consistency in a sport that demanded competitors to pick themselves off the dirt with regularity after being violently tossed to the floor.
Toughest Moment: Hard to single one out, considering Shoulders broke two arms, a collar bone three times, a pelvis twice, a hand and ribs. But let's not forget the plethora of concussions.
Rating: 61, how is he walking?
Why He's Tough: During nearly 27 years of dominance (1938-63), Archie Moore completed a record of 141-plus knockouts and inspired crowds with his aggressive repertoire. But physical adversity would shadow a brilliant career. Severed tendon in his wrist, acute appendicitis, an organic disorder of the heart and a perforated ulcer were among the issues.
Toughest Moment: In perhaps his toughest battle, Moore was defending his world light heavyweight title against Yvon Durelle. After being knocked down three times in Round 1 and once in Round 5, Moore buckled up. He dropped Durelle in Round 10 and knocked him out in the 11th.
Rating: 61, the comeback kid.
Why He's Tough: After being raised in the traditional ethnic Slovak neighborhood of Lansingville, Kelly Pavlik blossomed into a beloved middleweight champ with only two losses under his belt. Loyalty to his neighborhood and a flash-less love for the game has garnered respect from many.
Toughest Moment: In his 2007 fight with then-champ Jermain Taylor, Pavlik was knocked to the ground, already down by points. But he rallied back for a seventh-round knockout and the championship.
Rating: 62, ain't over 'till it's over.
Why She's Tough: The beloved United States all-around women's gymnastics team that emerged victorious at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 was led by one ruthless competitor. Kerri Strug couldn't be stopped, even by a flimsy ankle.
Toughest Moment: After botching her first vault and destroying what looked like her entire leg in the process, the 87-pound gymnast recovered to complete the twisting Yurchenko (known as perhaps the most difficult move in women's gymnastics). She received a score of 9.712, helping the U.S. earn its first ever team gymnastics gold medal.
Rating: 62, do you believe in miracles?
Why He's Tough: With some of the most brutal hits we've ever seen from the receiving position, Hines Ward cemented his name among the greats. The four-time Pro Bowler became a hard-nosed mainstay on a prosperous Steelers team.
Toughest Moment: Catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 18 yards in the 21-10 Super Bowl XL victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Rating: 63, it's not the size of the dog in the fight...
Why He's Tough: Once simultaneously the most beloved and the most despised boxer in the United States, Jack Johnson battled racism to become the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion (at the height of the Jim Crow era).
Toughest Moment: Knocking former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries down for the first (and second) time in his career during the 1910 "Fight of the Century." This was more than just another victory for this fearless pioneer.
Rating: 64, heroics.
Why He's Tough: Born in Italy, raised in Montreal and groomed in Jersey City. A class act outside of the ring and a courageous target within it, Arturo Gatti was perhaps the most exciting fighter of his time. But while he did hold junior lightweight and junior welterweight belts during his career, he was best known for absorbing endless punches in order to dish out his own.
Toughest Moment: Battling Gabriel Ruelas in defense of the IBF Super Featherweight Title, Gatti received a juicy left uppercut in the fourth round and then more than 15 consecutive punches before the bell echoed. He knocked the promising Ruelas out in the next round.
Rating: 64, a bruiser.
Why He's Tough: He'd never shock you with his ability, but Y.A. Tittle could sure chuck the pigskin. This epic moment captures all that Tittle represented. Hard work, dedication and passion.
Toughest Moment: Tossing seven touchdown passes in a 49-34 win over the 'Skins in 1962.
Rating: 64, never back down.
Why He's Tough: At 4'11" and 195 pounds, horseback riding was a clear destiny for tough-nosed Bill Shoemaker—8,833 victories, 11 Triple Crowns and a world of support.
Toughest Moment: A 54-year-old Shoemaker became the oldest jockey ever to win the Kentucky Derby (in 1986). Unknown horse Ferdinand defied the 18-1 odds.
Rating: 64, athletes seek his autograph.
Why He's Tough: Aside from owning a memorable hightop fade, Charles Oakley is remembered as the beating heart of the illustrious Pat Riley-led Knicks during the '90s, along with Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Mark Jackson. Few so eloquently perfected the art of defense like this solid piece of Oak.
Toughest Moment: During the 1994 season, which featured a record 25 playoff games, Oakley started every single game (regular and postseason) for a record 107 starts in a season.
Rating: 64, solid oak.
Why He's Tough: A career perhaps shadowed by one hysterical wrong-way run in 1964 is eloquently highlighted by a record 30 fumble recoveries. An integral part of the Purple People Eaters (Vikings defensive line from the late '60s to the late '70s), Jim Marshall played in 282 consecutive games with numerous injuries and consistent passion. Constantly approaching greatness on the gridiron.
Toughest Moment: The 1964 game against the San Francisco 49ers included perhaps the most comical moment in history. Marshall recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards into his own end zone, before animatedly throwing the ball away in celebration and forcing a safety. The Vikings would still win the game, but Marshall would become a permanent blooper.
Rating: 65, we'll forgive one mistake.
Why He's Tough: At more than a tad below 170 pounds, feisty guard Allen Iverson could rarely be found on the hardwood. His high-energy presence, lethal shot and ankle-breaking crossovers left defenders salivating.
Toughest Moment: With the Bucks trying to out-muscle the smaller A.I. during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Iverson conquered his opposition with 44 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a 108-91 win. The Sixers earned a berth in the championship series for the first time in 18 years.
Rating: 65, weaving and winding toward greatness.
Why He's Tough: Not only does Silva hold the longest winning streak (14) and title defense streak (nine) in UFC history, but he's a master in Muay Thai striking and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt. Perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound mixed martial artist ever.
Toughest Moment: Defeating Rich Franklin in his hometown of Cincinnati with a knockout in the second round.
Rating: 65, he's mastered the art of war.
Why He's Tough: Most kids are finishing high school after turning 18, but Ty Murray? Well, he joined the PRCA and became the youngest All-Around Rodeo Cowboy ever. And he was an instant hit, winning six straight World All-Around Rodeo Champion titles from 1989 to 1994. But reconstruction surgery on both knees in '95 and a broken shoulder in '97 would keep him sidelined for three full years before his comeback in '98.
Toughest Moment: Winning his seventh All-Around Rodeo title in his 1998 redemption trail.
Rating: 65, never gets knocked down.
Why He's Tough: Testicular cancer that had metastasized his brain and lungs may have proved a bump in the road, but it wasn't going to stop bicyclist Lance Armstrong from accomplishing his dream.
Toughest Moment: Winning seven consecutive Tour de Frances certainly headlines an inspirational, livestrong career.
Rating: 65, relentless.
Why He's Tough: Despite being the defense's main focus every night and dealing with constant outside pressures and controversies, the Black Mamba continues to drain angled heaves and close out nail-biting games. With two championships after the departure of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant is showing the hardwood world that he is both dinner and the show.
Toughest Moment: It was Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals, Shaq on the bench after fouling out, Kobe primed for brilliance. His eight points in overtime gave the Lakers a 120-118 win over Indiana, and Los Angeles would eventually win the title in six games.
Rating: 65, stealthy as always.
Why He's Tough: Eight seasons in the league was all it took for 6'0" NHL enforcer John Ferguson to cement his name in the record books. Not only did Ferguson protect captain Jean Beliveau from snarling defenders, but he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1969.
Toughest Moment: Nearly 12 seconds into his first game, the scrappy Ferguson got into a fight with ferocious defenseman "Terrible" Ted Green of the Boston Bruins—and won. Just a brief taste of what was to come.
Rating: 66, a heavyweight on ice.
Why He's Tough: T.D. was never one to let adversity slow him down. After being a sixth-round pick by the Broncos in 1995, Terrell Davis went on to rush for a franchise-high 7,607 rushing yards for the Broncos during his glorious career.
Toughest Moment: In Super Bowl XXXII, Davis rushed for 157 yards and became the first player in Super Bowl history to score three rushing touchdowns. All this with a migraine that forced him to miss the entire second quarter.
Rating: 66, the ideal football player.
Why He's Tough: A record 27 seasons were properly completed with an epic 1993 on-mound victory over 26-year-old Robin Ventura, who had rushed him after being hit. Nolan Ryan overpowered the competition with an upper-90s fastball, a devastating 12-6 curveball and a gutsy approach.
Toughest Moment: Securing an inspirational win for elders worldwide, the Ryan Express destroyed Ventura six times before analysts could even dish out awards.
Rating: 66, don't mess with grandpa.
Why He's Tough: You don't become a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 13-time Pro Bowler and 12-time All-Pro selection without being tough as nails. And let's not forget the 198.5 sacks.
Toughest Moment: After a one-year retirement, White came back in 2000 and recorded 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 16 games for the Panthers.
Rating: 66, never reckoned with.
Why He's Tough: Aside from breaking the color barrier in 1947 amid unbearable acts of discrimination, Jackie Robinson became the first athlete in UCLA history to letter in four sports (baseball, basketball, football and track) and served as a second lieutenant in the Army from 1942 to 1944.
Toughest Moment: Facing adversity en route to becoming the first black Major League Baseball player of the modern era.
Rating: 67, he changed the world.
Why He's Tough: He had gold medals at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and even went undefeated in international competition from 1987 to 2000. But Alexander Karelin truly cemented his name among the greatest Greco-Roman wrestlers of all time when he went six years without conceding a point.
Toughest Moment: Here is all the proof we need to know he's not to be messed with.
Rating: 67, a scary force.
Why He's Tough: The only offensive lineman ever to be named MVP, linebacker/center Mel Hein never missed a single down in his career. A bloodthirsty hitter and a ruthless blocker, Hein was the centerpiece of the Giants clubs during the '30s and early '40s.
Toughest Moment: The closest Hein ever came to missing a play was when he allegedly called a timeout to reset his broken nose.
Rating: 67, everywhere on the field.
Why He's Tough: Like an '82 Bordeaux, defenseman Chris Chelios only blossomed with age. During his 26 NHL seasons, the crafty veteran built a foundation behind solid, consistent and hard-nosed play. There are few others we'd rather have protecting the front of the net in the waning moments.
Toughest Moment: Destroying Scott Stevens, enough said.
Rating: 67, old man tough.
Why He's Tough: To complement his 26 seasons (the most in the professional football history), all-everything George Blanda finished his career with the most points in history (at the time of his retirement). This tough-nosed quarterback played defense and special teams as well during his climb toward greatness.
Toughest Moment: Despite a losing effort in the 1970 AFC title game against the Baltimore Colts, Blanda passed for 217 yards and two touchdowns and kicked a 48-yard field goal and two extra points at 43 years old, becoming the oldest quarterback ever to play in a championship game.
Rating: 68, he was never finished.
Why He's Tough: With a trademark stare and world-class ability, Maurice Richard developed into the best scorer of his era. The first to score 50 goals in 50 games, Richard captained four of the Montreal Canadiens' five straight Cup wins from 1955 to 1960. He was so beloved by his Quebecois that they started the "Richard Riot" when Richard was suspended after hitting a linesman.
Toughest Moment: After getting pummeled by Leo Labine in the 1952 semifinals against Boston, a concussed, dazed and bloodied Richard somehow scored the historic game-winning goal on goalie Sugar Jim Henry.
Rating: 69, influential.
Why He's Tough: His refusal to run out of bounds and propensity for the stiff arm led Sweetness to greatness. Walter Payton stutter-stepped his way into the hearts of fans worldwide.
Toughest Moment: Breaking Jim Brown's rushing record headlined a magnificent career.
Rating: 69, not that sweet.
Why He's Tough: Alexander Karelin had gone 13 years without losing and six years without giving up a point until he met Greco-Roman grappler Rulon Gardner in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Gardner won the gold and the hearts of fans all over.
Toughest Moment: After a plane crash into Utah's Lake Powell in '07, Gardner and two others swam for an hour in 44-degree water and spent the night without shelter. They were finally rescued, their survival inspirational.
Rating: 70, breathtaking story.
Why He's Tough: After scoring 46 points against the Lakers during his rookie season, it was clear Willis Reed was something special. Eventually becoming the wind beneath the wings of the '60s-'70s Knicks, the 6'9" Reed was crafty in his approach, yet always effective. Seven-footers never had a chance in the paint.
Toughest Moment: Without a doubt, Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers. After missing Game 6 with a severe pull of right thigh muscle and having to watch Wilt Chamberlain rack up 45 points and 27 rebounds in a dominating victory over his Knicks, Reed famously limped back for Game 7. Four points doesn't detail the impact he had, as the Knicks would win the deciding game and their first championship.
Rating: 70, forget bandages.
Why He's Tough: Perhaps the most durable lineman in NFL history, Bruce Matthews played 229 consecutive games and never missed one. The 14-time Pro Bowler played everywhere on the line and paved lanes for legendary tailback Earl Campbell in Houston.
Toughest Moment: Spending his entire career with the Oilers franchise, which went from Houston to Tennessee and was eventually renamed the Titans.
Rating: 71, unmovable.
Why He's Tough: Despite, or perhaps in light of his recent personal issues, Tiger Woods remains one of the most focused, unfazed individuals in sports. Not only does he have 72 PGA Tour wins and counting, but Woods once spent 281 weeks (between June 2005 and October 2010) as World No. 1.
Toughest Moment: Winning the 2008 U.S. Open despite two leg fractures. Quintessential Tiger.
Rating: 72, mentally unstoppable.
Why He's Tough: Perhaps the hardest and cleanest hitter of his time, former NHL defenseman Bobby Baun is remembered somewhat for never scoring more than 20 points in a season. But he didn't have to. The stout defender protected that crease with his life.
Toughest Moment: Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, Maple Leafs against Red Wings, everything on the line. After breaking his leg earlier in the game on a Gordie Howe slap shot and being carried off the ice on a stretcher, Baun came back to score the overtime game-winner and force a Game 7. He would return for the deciding game and lead the Leafs to victory.
Rating: 72, a scorer only when necessary.
Why he's tough: Aside from being awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender and leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals during his rookie season in 1986–87, Ron Hextall immediately set the tone with more than 100 penalty minutes in each of his first three seasons.
Toughest Moment: Redemption for every goalie who has ever been brushed by an opponent. Just ask Kent Nilsson.
Rating: 73, don't get near that crease.
Why He's Tough: They don't quite make them like Smokin' Joe anymore. The former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion used physicality and snarling grunts to become one of the greatest heavyweights ever. Defeating Muhammad Ali on points in the historic 1971 "Fight of the Century" was a signature moment in the life of Joe Frazier.
Toughest Moment: Surgery to remove a cataract on his left eye in November of 1975 couldn't prevent Frazier from becoming legally blind in his left eye. Wearing contacts in his rematch against George Foreman in June of 1976, Frazier made it until Round 5 before realizing his career was over. But he made a valiant exit indeed.
Rating: 74, little stopped him.
Why He's Tough: The only professional athlete to captain two different teams (Oilers and Rangers) to Stanley Cup championships, Mark "The Moose" Messier was as old school as they come. Durable, aggressive and fearless.
Toughest Moment: Like Joe Namath in Super Bowl III, Mark Messier made a promise to the New York faithful that Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals was going to be won by the Rangers, despite being down 3–2 to the New Jersey Devils in the series. His natural hat trick secured the win.
Rating: 75, biting at greatness.
Why He's Tough: Unbearably icy temperatures and ferocious terrain didn't stop musher Lance Mackey from winning the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest and the 1,100-mile Iditarod within a month...in two straight years. And neither did throat cancer.
Toughest Moment: A combination between winning the Iditarod race with frostbitten feet and racing with throat cancer makes Mackey champion.
Rating: 75, clearly he doesn't quit.
Why He's Tough: Always seen as undersized and underwhelming, the 250-pound Jim Otto shocked the world and became a mainstay at center for the Raiders of the '60s and early '70s. Having undergone 40 surgeries (28 knee operations) and multiple joint replacements, we'll never question Otto's dedication to the game of football.
Toughest Moment: Not once did he miss a game, be it preseason, regular season or postseason—308 consecutive to be specific.
Rating: 76, no prisoners.
Why He's Tough: This retired Japanese gymnast is remembered for his memorable showing in the 1976 Olympics, in which he carried the team on his back in Greg Jennings-like fashion.
Toughest Moment: Naturally, winning a team gold in the 1976 Summer Olympics. Fujimoto continued to compete despite breaking his knee during the floor exercise. After earning scores of 9.5 on the pommel horse and 9.7 on the rings, Fujimoto shot to the floor in pain. The dismount provoked a dislocation in his already-broken kneecap and torn ligaments in his right leg.
Rating: 77, a world-class champion.
Why He's Tough: Few quarterbacks could carry teams like Air McNair carried the Oilers/Titans. Not only did he possess speed, a rocket arm and a fearless demeanor, but Steve McNair was clutch.
Toughest Moment: Despite a leg injury, McNair scampered for a last-second touchdown against Grambling to earn his Alcorn State Braves a I-AA playoff nod.
Rating: 77, one with the air.
Why He's Tough: Twenty-two seasons of pure open-ice mayhem headlined this defenseman's NHL career. While he never won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, Scott Stevens was the backbone of all the teams he played for (Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and the New Jersey Devils). Stats weren't necessary with this brute force.
Toughest Moment: It was Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, and Stevens seemed ready to spread the word about his hard-hitting nature. Vyacheslav Kozlov would be the lucky recipient of a monstrous deck.
Rating: 78, threatening eyes.
Why He's Tough: Among the stars of the '70s Steelers dynasty was one beloved running back who traveled a road few could imagine. After getting drafted, Rocky Bleier volunteered for the Vietnam War and was sent in. Despite a shrapnel in his leg, this scrappy legend came back and eventually went on to play a pivotal role on four Super Bowl teams.
Toughest Moment: He caught the deciding touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw in Super Bowl XIII.
Rating: 79, the little engine that could.
Why He's Tough: More of a peaceful tough guy, Cal Ripken Jr. was revered for his consistency and loyalty to Baltimore. The legendary shortstop would play in an unprecedented 2,632 consecutive games, a breathtaking feat.
Toughest Moment: Breaking Lou Gherig's 56-year-old consecutive games record in his 2,131st consecutive game on September 6, 1995 was perhaps the greatest moment in baseball history.
Rating: 79, he's got a bat.
Why He's Tough: Known as an all-around hard-nosed force on the Giants teams of the late '80s, Mark Bavaro cemented his name in history with several game-changing plays that fully detailed his determined nature.
Toughest Moment: 1986 was a special year. Not only did he carry seven 49ers (including Ronnie Lott) on his back for nearly 20 yards, but Bavaro even broke his jaw during a game against New Orleans. That didn't stop him, as Bavaro went to the locker room to have it wired shut and then returned.
Rating: 80, old-school cool.
Why He's Tough: As he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee toward greatness, Muhammad Ali showed the world that he was the greatest creation since seedless watermelon. Ali could certainly absorb his fair share of hits, which was all part of the plan.
Toughest Moment: During what would become only the second defeat of Ali's career (a 12 round split-decision), Ken Norton broke his jaw. But Ali came back, wired jaw and confidence intact, for revenge in their second battle.
Rating: 81, the rope-a-dope, enough said.
Why He's Tough: Perhaps the greatest catcher of all time, the brutal Johnny Bench was a 14-time All-Star and two-time National League MVP. As the ringleader of the illustrious Big Red Machine, Bench helped secure six division titles, four National League pennants and two World Series championships.
Toughest Moment: Rumor has it that during a 1968 spring training game, Bench was convinced that veteran pitcher Gerry Arrigo's once-prolific fastball had lost its pop. Arrigo refused to listen to the youngster, so Bench called for a fastball and dropped his glove as it was released, catching it comfortably barehanded. Point proven.
Rating: 81, seasoned.
Why He's Tough: For those who hate their jobs, time to rip a page out of Dick Lane's book. Word has it that Night Train Lane hated working at an aircraft factory, so he showed up to Rams training camp as a hopeful wide receiver. He was moved to defensive back, where he blossomed into a hard-hitting ball hawk with legend written all over him.
Toughest Moment: Fourteen interceptions in his rookie season, a record that remains until this day.
Rating: 82, all we hear is "choo-choo."
Why He's Tough: Breaking the mold of perfect defensive tackle, Bob Lilly was durable, strong and active. From his four-point stance, Lilly was seen slicing, dicing and even intercepting for six. He would only miss one NFL game because of a leg injury (1973 NFC Championship Game loss).
Toughest Moment: Playing in 196 consecutive regular-season games, despite hampered hamstrings and deteriorated bones.
Rating: 83, breaking other molds.
Why He's Tough: Nicknamed "The Raging Bull" for his aggressive repertoire and ability to withstand punches, Jake LaMotta was a rebel in the ring, with 83 wins during his brutal career.
Toughest Moment: Handing Sugar Ray Robinson his first career defeat in the second of their six memorable bouts.
Rating: 84, go hard or go home.
Why He's Tough: He wasn't the last "Chuk" to grace the ice, but he was surely the toughest. During a time period when goalies lacked facial protection, Terry Sawchuk dominated the competition with an unprecedented fearlessness.
Toughest Moment: Some say 400, others 600, but either way Sawchuk received hundreds of stitches during his Hall of Fame career. While not quite a single moment, Sawchuk's ability to win 447 in 21 seasons without the ability to see straight certainly set the tone.
Rating: 85, hockey puck rubber is brutal.
Why He's Tough: As a tight end and a coach, Mike Ditka was a ruthless competitor. Few possess similar ferociousness on the gridiron.
Toughest Moment: In 1983, "C'Mon Man" Ditka allegedly broke his wrist after slamming a locker.
Rating: 85, good old Superfans.
Why He's Tough: A linebacker-turned-safety, Pat Tillman was a natural-born warrior, but he was perhaps even greater as a person. The former Cardinal once turned down a five-year, $9 million contract offer from the St. Louis Rams to stay with the Cardinals for far less. One moment in 2001 changed everything.
Toughest Moment: In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals to enlist in the Army. He would lose his life to friendly fire, but his actions would remain inspirational.
Rating: 86, real heroics.
Why He's Tough: The Undisputed World Middleweight Champion from 1980 to 1987, Hagler is known for holding the highest knockout percentage of all middleweight champions (78) and for his epic chin. "Marvelous" is routinely placed before Marvin.
Toughest Moment: Despite being covered by his own blood, a cut-up Hagler knocked Thomas Hearns out in the third round of their historic 1985 bout. It is perhaps the greatest three minutes in boxing history.
Rating: 87, an entertainer.
Why He's Tough: The all-time hits leader had a hustling and clutch-like nature that clearly inspired teammates and fans, as the team won three titles and he made 17 All-Star appearances. Pete Rose was the quintessential hard-nosed ball player. He also made 17 All-Star appearances at five different positions.
Toughest Moment: As a manager, Rose certainly wouldn't be ignored. We'll let him cover this one.
Rating: 87, rough around the edges.
Why He's Tough: Once seen as the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist, Fedor Emelianenko remains a respected figure with a record of 33-4-1. He's won the Pride 2004 Grand Prix and the World Combat Sambo championship four times. He was undefeated for nearly a decade.
Toughest Moment: Despite an oozing gash above his eye following a vicious hook from 2000 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling silver medalist Matt Lindland in the 2007 "Clash of the Nations," Emelianenko still won by submission in the first round.
Rating: 88, bloodied and beastly.
Why He's Tough: To cap off three Vezina Trophies were 502 consecutive games for goalie Glenn Hall, or rather seven years between 1955 and 1962. Impressive, considering they were all during a time when goalies didn't wear masks.
Toughest Moment: A 36-year-old Hall was left unprotected for the summer 1967 expansion draft and eventually chosen by expansion St. Louis Blues. But Hall's magnificent play led the team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they battled hard despite being swept. Hall shocked the world by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoffs MVP) despite a losing effort.
Rating: 89, the invisible shield.
Why He's Tough: Known as a fighter and one brilliant half of the "Bruise Brothers" with former Red Wing teammate Joey Kocur during the late '80s and early '90s, Bob Probert was more of a heavyweight legend on the ice. His 398 penalty minutes in the 1987-88 season (sixth-highest single-season total in NHL history) sum up his recklessness.
Toughest Moment: Dominating fighting extraordinaire Marty McSorley in 1994. The greatest heavyweight battle never scheduled lasted nearly two minutes. Just two dudes fighting it out.
Rating: 89, a classy bruiser.
Why He's Tough: A demigod when it came to clutch shots, MJ finished his career with 28 game-winners and six championships. Stats aren't even applicable to such an icon. There was never a question with the ball in his hands.
Toughest Moment: Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, the series tied at two, Jordan got the flu. Despite feverish symptoms and a dehydrated stomach, the Raging Bull put 38 points on the opposing Jazz. A three-pointer with 25 seconds left capped the 90-88 win.
Rating: 89, one with the court.
Why He's Tough: The last two-way player in the NFL, center/linebacker Chuck Bednarik was a monstrous force to be reckoned with. His nasty, fearless and demonstrative play helped the Eagles win championships in 1949 and 1960.
Toughest Moment: Knocking star tailback Frank Gifford out of professional football for a year and a half. He wasn't called Concrete Charlie for no reason.
Rating: 89, vicious hitter.
Why He's Tough: While captaining the infamous Broad Street Bullies during their mid-'70s heyday, Bobby Clarke displayed a passionate competitiveness and a persistent work ethic. He was beloved in Philly because of his will to win and his fearlessness when it came to victory.
Toughest Moment: It was Game 6 of the fierce 1972 Summit Series, Canada against the Soviet Union, respect on the line. Clarke knew he had to stop USSR scoring machine Valeri Kharlamov, who had dominated the first five games. He slashed him on the left ankle, breaking it, in fact. Kharlamov would be ineffective for the rest of the series, and Canada would earn its victory.
Rating: 89, the toothless wonder.
Why He's Tough: This 6'7", 287-pound defensive lineman ruled the trenches for 13 years after becoming the first black No. 1 draft choice in professional football.
Toughest Moment: Playing in 166 consecutive games during a time when rules were more like guidelines, if even that.
Rating: 89, fear isn't real.
Why He's Tough: Arguably the greatest defensive end ever to grace the gridiron, Deacon Jones specialized in quarterback sacks, a term which he is credited with coining. Jones had 173.5 sacks in 14 years—enough said.
Toughest Moment: Missing just six out of a possible 196 regular-season games in his 14-year career.
Rating: 90, a pioneer.
Why He's Tough: He may be an atrocious general manager, but 6'1" Isiah Thomas was a legendary competitor during his days as a fiery Piston. Thomas' fearlessness helped him take over games at will.
Toughest Moment: It was the NBA Finals of 1988, and Thomas had just suffered a badly sprained ankle late in Game 6. Naturally, Thomas hobbled around the court for 25 points...in the third quarter (an NBA Finals single-quarter record).
Rating: 90, the fighter.
Why He's Tough: With a 244-pound frame and 4.5 speed, bruising back Earl Campbell became arguably the most vicious runner in history. The battering back eventually retired after only eight magnificent seasons, but he certainly left an untouchable legacy and paved the way for shorter backs.
Toughest Moment: Unquestionably, his demolition of the Rams' Isiah Robertson. Perfection personified.
Rating: 90, poor safeties.
Why He's Tough: Today's version of an old-school talent, Ray Ray has taken over the game of football from the middle linebacker position since being drafted by the Ravens in 1996. Always thirsting for blood on the field, the 13-time Pro Bowler and surefire Hall of Famer continues to shatter all who cross his path.
Toughest Moment: During a game in October of 2002, Lewis suffered the first major injury of his career when he popped his left shoulder trying to recover a fumble. He would eventually go on injured reserve, but not before finishing that game.
Rating: 90, not human.
Why He's Tough: Consistency headlined this magical Red Wing's career. Since being named captain of the Red Wings at 21 years old, all Steve Yzerman did was lead the Wings to three Stanley Cups and five first-place finishes. After dressing as the leader for over 1,300 games, Yzerman retired as the longest-serving captain of any team in North American major league sports history.
Toughest Moment: Following reconstructive surgery that kept him out for the first half of the 2002 season, Yzerman played the second half and the entire postseason with essentially one leg. And he couldn't be stopped, scoring 23 points in 23 games.
Rating: 91, the iron wrist.
Why He's Tough: Possibly the most dominant defender of the '70s, Steel Curtain ringleader Joe Greene was an old school talent at the tackle position. The 10-time Pro Bowler clogged a breathtaking Steelers defense.
Toughest Moment: His epic 1979 Coca-Cola commercial has shaped generations.
Rating: 91, mean meat.
Why He's Tough: The NFL career rushing leader and the first to win the Super Bowl, the MVP, the rushing title and the Super Bowl MVP all in one season, Emmitt Smith left an untouchable legacy on the gridiron. Vision, balance and second efforts helped the 5'9" Smith dominate the competition.
Toughest Moment: Despite suffering a separated shoulder in the regular season finale against the NFC East rival Giants, Smith willed the Cowboys to a 16-13 victory for the division title with 168 rushing yards and 10 catches.
Rating: 92, proving doubters wrong.
Why He's Tough: A tough-nosed bruiser at the running back position, Bronko Nagurski led the Bears to two NFL championships. But most impressive was his record championship ring size, sitting at a modest 19.5 (the average male is 10).
Toughest Moment: Winning the world heavyweight title three times as a wrestler during and after his football career. What a fearless visage he possessed.
Rating: 93, on name alone.
Why He's Tough: With 1,539 penalty minutes and over 600 stitches during his 21-year career, bruising defenseman Bill Gadsby left his mark as one of the most reckless individuals ever to grace the ice.
Toughest Moment: A barbaric hit on Tim Horton of the Leafs during a game in 1955 left Gadsby's opponent with a broken jaw and leg.
Rating: 93, reckless.
Why He's Tough: This all-world tight end would break numerous records throughout his glamorous career, but it was his role as pass-catching pioneer that has his name cemented in history. One of the first of his kind, Kellen Winslow made receiving an art form and was a constant force.
Toughest Moment: A 1982 playoff game against the Miami Dolphins known as "The Epic in Miami" became a defining moment in Winslow's historic career. He caught a playoff-record 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown and blocked a field goal in the waning seconds to force overtime. But he did all this while being treated for a pinched nerve in his shoulder, dehydration and severe cramps and receiving three stitches in his lower lip.
Rating: 93, transforming the game.
Why He's Tough: Jack Youngblood boasted 151.5 sacks and seven Pro Bowls en route to a Hall-of-Fame nod. A determined beast.
Toughest Moment: After having his fibula snap against the Cowboys in the 1979 divisional round, Youngblood came back to sack Roger Staubach en route to a 21-19 upset victory. He would carry the Rams to a NFC title the next week, too, before losing Super Bowl XIV to the Steelers. You can bet he played in the Pro Bowl as well.
Rating: 94, not a quitter.
Why He's Tough: The only four-time heavyweight champion of all time has endured 57 brutal fights through nearly three decades of boxing. And never once did we question his mental and physical strength, from getting his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson to his memorable bouts with Riddick Bowe.
Toughest Moment: Seen as a washed-up fighter attempting a comeback, Holyfield upset Mike Tyson in their '96 match to win the title.
Rating: 94, ferocious.
Why He's Tough: While he's the only signal-caller ever to throw for over 70,000 yards, over 500 touchdowns, over 300 interceptions and over 10,000 pass attempts, Brett Favre's consistency is what attests best to his toughness. His 297 straight starts cemented this Wrangler-jean-wearing gunslinger among the greats.
Toughest Moment: One day after the death of his father in 2003, Favre threw for four touchdowns and 399 yards in a 41–7 victory over the Raiders on Monday Night Football. And we could never forget the 154.9 passer rating.
Rating: 95, the iron man.
Why He's Tough: The anchor of Pittsburgh's illustrious Steel Curtain of the '70s, gruesome linebacker Jack Lambert was the quintessential old-school defender. Fearless and reckless en route to four Super Bowls in 11 years.
Toughest Moment: It was Super Bowl X against the Cowboys, and Dallas safety Cliff Harris had just jokingly congratulated Pittsburgh kicker Roy Gerela on his second missed field goal of the game. Jack Lambert would have none of it.
Rating: 95, another historic set of teeth.
Why He's Tough: His 251 wins and 3,117 strikeouts in 17 years are obviously magnificent, but they doesn't sufficiently detail the greatness of Bob Gibson. 1968 perhaps defined the brush-back righty best. He posted a modern-day record 1.12 ERA during the regular season, only to then strike out 17 batters in Game 1 of the World Series that same year. Aggressive, powerful, old school.
Toughest Moment: Allowing three total runs during three complete game victories in the 1967 World Series. To top it off, Gibson slugged a two-run bomb in Game 7.
Rating: 96, all-world talent.
Why He's Tough: He was listed as a linebacker, but the original L.T. was more like a trained saber-toothed tiger. Wild aggression and fearless hitting highlighted a glorious career on the field. He was perhaps the best ever.
Toughest Moment: Whispers swirl of a 1983 game against the Eagles in which Giants trainers hid Lawrence Taylor's helmet after a concussion to protect him from further injury. His reputation was to play through the pain.
Rating: 96, what a rebel.
Why He's Tough: He wasn't called "The Assassin" for no reason. Jack Tatum's smashing hits from the safety position set plenty of tones en route to the Raiders' first Super Bowl victory.
Toughest Moment: The stage was Super Bowl XI on January 9 of 1977, and Tatum was ready for blood. His hit on Vikings wide receiver Sammy White not only knocked his opponent's helmet off, but it cemented Tatum as arguably the most feared man on Earth.
Rating: 97, why so serious?
Why He's Tough: In guarding the prolific pack of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey, tough-nosed enforcer Dave Semenko was essentially the wind beneath the wings of the '84 and '85 Stanley Cup-winning clubs.
Toughest Moment: Fighting boxing icon Muhammad Ali in an exhibition on June 12, 1983. Word has it that his teammates signed him up.
Rating: 97, bro love with the Great One.
Why He's Tough: The centerpiece of the Packers dynasty during the '60s, linebacker Ray Nitschke won five league titles during a ferocious 15-year career. MVP honors in the 1962 NFL championship game (two fumble recoveries and a deflected pass-turned interception) headlined his tenure.
Toughest Moment: Shaking off a metal tower that had just collapsed on him during a practice in Green Bay. Vince Lombardi wasn't worried for a second.
Rating: 98, football personified.
Why He's Tough: After leaving Syracuse as an All-American in football and lacrosse, Jim Brown went on to produce arguably the greatest rushing career in history. In 118 career games, Brown averaged 104.3 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. He never missed a game in his career.
Toughest Moment: In 1962, Brown rushed for 996 yards in 14 games...on a broken toe.
Rating: 98, quintessential old school.
Why He's Tough: Ten Pro Bowls during a brilliant 15-year career doesn't quite suffice when describing the vicious Ronnie Lott. He could cover, hit, lead, inspire. Perhaps the greatest safety in history.
Toughest Moment: He had the tip of his pinky finger amputated after the 1985 season (crushed it when tackling tailback Timmy Newsome) because bone graft surgery wouldn't have had him ready for the 1986 season. He played through the procedure and led the league with 10 interceptions.
Rating: 99, high-flying beast.
Why He's Tough: As the first player to skate in six different decades (including an appearance with the IHL's Detroit Vipers in 1997), Mr. Hockey was far from a delicate flower. The six-time Hart Trophy winner is spoken about as perhaps the greatest ever.
Toughest Moment: He fractured his skull after a failed attempt to check Toronto Maple Leafs captain Ted Kennedy into the boards during the 1950 playoffs. Emergency surgery was performed to relieve pressure on his brain. Despite the injury, Howe recorded 86 points (winning the scoring title) the following season.
Rating: 99, The Mister of Hockey.
Why He's Tough: Arguably the most feared linebacker in history, Dick Butkus was a monstrous legend on surname alone. But the instinctive, hard-nosed defender destroyed numerous psyches and consistently ate running backs without silverware or napkins.
Toughest Moment: Despite suffering an injury to his right knee and undergoing partially-successful surgery for reconstruction of loose ligaments in 1970, the pain-ridden Butkus went on to record 117 tackles and 68 assists, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions the following season.
Rating: 100, in a league of his own.