The summer of 2012 has been the summer of superhero blockbuster movies.
The party actually got started early when The Avengers hit movie theaters on April 11, 2012. For comic book and superhero fans, this was a truly epic moment.
Marvel Comics had set up The Avengers wonderfully as they developed the back story for it by linking together the story arcs of Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor and Captain America in each heroes' stand alone movies.
The payoff? Only the biggest box office opening weekend in North American history (Wikipedia).
But the tremendous success of The Avengers was just the beginning. On July 3, 2012, The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel's reboot of the series, was released. Though it did not see as much box office success as The Avengers, it still set the record for the highest grossing film released on a Tuesday with $35 million in ticket sales (Wikipedia).
And, finally, we had the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the eagerly anticipated climax to the most recent round of Batman movies. Notwithstanding the horrible tragedy in Colorado on opening night, The Dark Knight Rises has been a critical and box office success as it is currently the second highest grossing film of 2012 (Wikipedia). There was never really a question as to whether The Dark Knight Rises would be a success; the only real question was how big a success?
Obviously, both Marvel and DC Comics have gone for the home run this summer by releasing movies in which some of the most iconic characters in either companies' history are on the silver screen.
For DC, there is little question that they took particular notice of the runaway success of The Avengers and they had to think about how much money they could make by bringing their own group of super heroes to theaters across the world.
I am, of course, referring to The Justice League of America, or JLA for short.
Rumors of a JLA movie have swirled for years, yet it never materialized. The Avengers may have finally convinced DC that the time had arrived to make the rumors more truth than fiction.
As reported by Screenrant, not only is a JLA movie seemingly in full swing, but there is renewed belief that DC will go the route of Marvel and set up the JLA movie by way of a shared universe. In other words except to see stand alone movies involving Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and probably some other members of the JLA coming out and all linking back into the establishment of the JLA movie itself.
By now you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with sports? Well, I started to think about the JLA and I tried to figure out who in the world of sports would be their counterparts. With some of the most recognized characters in comic history—all of whom have fascinating back stories—finding the JLA's sports world counterparts was not an easy task at all.
What follows are my conclusions. Some will seem obvious and others, not so much. But if you are a fan of sports and superheroes, I think you will at least find this entertaining.
One note before diving into this further. Like The Avengers, the JLA has gone through many roster changes over the years. For this article, I am using the most current lineup of the JLA, the lineup that appeared in the reboot of the comic in September of 2011.
The main difference with the new lineup is the substitution of Cyborg as a founding member instead of The Martian Manhunter. For most, that is more information than you likely care about. For the hardcore fans, however, it is an important distinction.
Now that I have thoroughly established my geek cred, let's move onward and see who the JLA's sports alter egos are.
Superman is quite likely the most recognizable superhero in the world.
Even people who know absolutely nothing about superheroes or comics know who Superman is.
His story is well known to most.
The sole survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, Superman, also known as Kal-El (his Kryptonian name), came to Earth in a spaceship created by his father. Once on Earth, he grew up as Clark Kent and discovered he had some special abilities.
Powered by the radiation of our yellow sun, Superman is the most powerful being on the planet. He is immeasurably strong, incredibly fast and he can fly as well. He has the ability to see through anything except lead, to emit heat vision that can melt just about anything and he has super breath that can freeze water in mere seconds.
Aside from his superpowers though, Superman is a model US citizen. He has fought for truth, justice and the American way for decades now.
True, it has earned him a reputation as being a super boy scout, a goody-goody or, dare I say, a dork.
But Superman almost always does the right thing, even when taking a shortcut might be much easier.
And much more often than not, he usually comes out on top.
I know that some of you, if not many of you,will disagree with this choice.
Sure it would have been easy to put Dwight Howard in here. After all, his nickname is Superman.
Or perhaps Shaquille O'Neal, who was being called Superman long before Dwight Howard.
Or maybe Robert Griffin III. He wears Superman socks after all.
Without question, Howard, O'Neal and RG3 are premier athletes with all the physical attributes one would look for in a sports' world counterpart to the Man of Steel.
So why did I choose Tim Tebow here? One big reason is because the things he did with the Broncos last season were superhuman. Tebow, according to all the so-called experts, had horrible mechanics, a terrible release and was really nothing more than a running back who could throw the ball—on occasion that is.
All he did was take over for an ineffective Kyle Orton after Orton had led the Broncos to a dismal 1-4 start and then led Denver to a 7-4 record the rest of the way and to its first AFC West championship, and first playoff berth, since 2005.
Tebow had so many truly memorable moments last year, with multiple amazing comebacks and heart pounding endings that it was easy to think he really was Superman.
Not bad for a guy with supposedly no real talent.
But what Tebow might lack in talent, he makes up for that with heart and determination. His unwavering belief in himself, and his faith, sets him apart from players like Howard and O'Neal.
And Tebow's charisma is infectious as he had followers by the hundreds of thousands in Denver—and even more all across the USA. There was something about him that made so many want to see him succeed.
Now he has relocated to New York City, the real world version of Metropolis, Superman's home city. If he is halfway successful, there his popularity will go through the roof.
Truth, justice and the American way? Tim Tebow could be the poster child for all three traits. Combine that with his will to win, his overall athletic ability, his looks and the effect he has on so many people and you just might agree with me that Tim Tebow is Superman's sports world alter ego.
Batman might very well be the second most recognizable super hero in the world. What has always fascinated so many about the Dark Knight is the fact that he is such a renowned super hero—yet he has no super powers.
What Batman does have though is a superior intellect combined with superior physical condition combined with a supreme knowledge of fighting styles, technology and psychology. No, Batman might not have super powers—but he is the most dangerous super hero of them all.
By now, after so many have watched the Dark Knight trilogy of movies, Batman's origin story is well known. As just a young man, Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents gunned down. Instead of curling up into the fetal position and giving up on life, young Bruce went the other way as he declared war on crime in Gotham City.
Assuming the form of something that terrified him, Bruce Wayne became Batman. Through the use of technology, his immense fortune and his various connections, Batman equipped himself with all the tools he would need to wage his one-man war on crime. Being a physical specimen that would give even the best MMA fighter ever more of a battle then he would probably be able to handle did not hurt either.
A dark and somewhat brooding personality that prevents many from getting close to him, Batman is part hero, part vigilante and one of the greatest superheroes ever.
This one was another difficult choice. The natural choice would seemingly be someone with elite fighting skills, like Anderson Silva or Jon Jones.
But I went with Dale Earnhardt Jr. because his back story, to a certain extent, mirrors Bruce Wayne's.
On February 19, 2001, Dale Jr.'s father, the legendary Dale Earnhardt, crashed into Turn 4, on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. As virtually everyone knows, Dale Sr. died from injuries he suffered in that wreck, a wreck that changed NASCAR forever.
Dale Jr., like Bruce Wayne, used this tragedy and instead of letting it defeat him, let it be a springboard for success. Junior would end up winning three races that year, including a tremendous win, under unimaginable emotional circumstances, at Daytona in the Pepsi 400.
While Dale Jr. might not be able to take on multiple ninjas in hand-to-hand contact and hope to survive, he is every bit as mentally tough as Batman.
Like the Caped Crusader, Dale Jr. also has access to the best technology money can buy. For quite a few years though, all that technology did not help Dale Jr. win any races. He was mired in a 143 race winless streak until June of this year, when he won the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan.
And what logo was plastered on the hood of his car when this winless streak came to an end? The Dark Knight Rises logo, of course. Watch the video and you will see it.
Is it a coincidence that Dale Jr. broke out of his long slump at about the same time that he put Batman's logo on his car? Maybe. Maybe not.
But with the similarities between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bruce Wayne, seeing that logo on Dale Jr.'s car was the last thing I needed to see to declare Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the sports alter-ego of Batman.
If Superman is the most recognizable male superhero in the world, then Wonder Woman has to be the most recognizable female superhero of them all.
While she might not be quite on the same level as Superman or Batman, in terms of overall popularity, Wonder Woman is every bit their equal as far as strength, smarts and courage.
Wonder Woman, despite her beauty and feminism, will never be confused with a dainty little flower.
Anyone familiar with the Amazonian princess knows this to be true.
Unlike Superman or Batman though, Wonder Woman's origin story is not quite as well known.
As Princess Diana of the fabled Amazons, Wonder Woman was leading the quiet life (well, as quiet a life as an Amazonian princess could really lead) on her hidden island paradise when Steve Trevor, a pilot with the Army, crashed onto the island—fulfilling the fantasy of many men the world over in the process.
Diana and Steve quickly developed a fondness for each other and Diana took it upon herself to bring Steve home. After defeating other eagerly willing Amazons, Diana brought Steve back to the world, revealed the existence of Amazons and Wonder Woman was born.
A supreme fighter, armed with incredible strength and tremendous speed, Wonder Woman seems intent on protecting people, even though she does not understand the ways of humans and our own propensity for weakness and error.
She is quite similar to Batman in that she has a few gadgets of her own that usually tip the scales in her favor, most notably her Golden Lasso that compels one bound by it to tell the truth.
Many would consider her the greatest female superhero of them all.
I just consider her one of the greatest superheroes ever—period.
This was another place where an arguably obvious choice really isn't the best choice.
At first blush, when you think about a female athlete who matches beauty with a warrior princess' spirit, then Ronda Rousey comes to mind really fast. Picking her as Wonder Woman's sports alter ego would make a lot of sense.
But in my opinion, WWE Diva, Beth Phoenix, is the better selection here.
One reason is just that I think Phoenix looks more like Wonder Woman than does Rousey. Yes, I understand both women have blond hair whereas Wonder Woman has black hair so either way it is an imperfect comparison.
But for anyone who has watched Phoenix over the years, they will know that many of her outfits make her look almost exactly like a fair haired version of Wonder Woman.
I have seen her wear very super heroine-looking tights complete with cape and boots. I have seen her wear several various types of colorful tiaras. I have even seen her wear bracelets that look very much like the ones that Wonder Woman wears.
Phoenix's embracing of the Wonder Woman character went from subtle to in everyone's face in 2007 when she started calling herself The Glamazon, a name that has stuck to this very day. Assuming this persona, Phoenix became a very effective heel and absolutely crushed pretty much any female placed in her path.
She even beat former United States Champion, Santino Marella, in 2008. Like a true Amazon, Phoenix defeated women, men and anyone else placed in her path.
Yes, we all know that pro wrestling is part sport and many more parts entertainment. Still, Beth Phoenix plays the part of a conflicted battler very well as she has had fans cheer for her and, more often than not, boo her mercilessly.
And it is not just all show for Phoenix. She had a very solid amateur wrestling career including winning the 72 kg title at the New York State Fair Tournament in 1999 (Wikipedia). Amateur wrestlers who ultimately end up as professional wrestlers are not as common as one might expect.
For women, it is even more of a rarity.
Like Wonder Woman, Phoenix has had to find ways to excel in a male dominated industry, particularly the WWE. She has done this with a combination of beauty, brains and brawn.
Rousey really does not have a lot of that going on. She is a tremendous fighter, and an incredible talent, no doubt about that. But when I tried to find Wonder Woman's sports alter ego, Beth Phoenix just felt right; Rousey didn't.
The Glamazon, Beth Phoenix, is just a natural fit for the greatest of all the Amazons, Wonder Woman.
While Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman may be three of the most respected super heroes out there, Aquaman might just be the most ridiculed.
The butt of an alarming number of jokes, parodies and spoofs, Aquaman has caught a bad rap for many years.
Personally, I have never really understood why. The King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman has so many cool things going for him.
Think about it for a moment. If someone came to you tomorrow and said you were about to be blessed with super strength, the ability to communicate telepathically with sea creatures of all sizes, the ability to breath underwater and would be able to survive the deepest parts of the ocean, how would you feel about that?
I would feel pretty stoked.
Similar to Wonder Woman, the origin story of Aquaman is not very well known at all. The rightful heir to the fabled city of Atlantis, Arthur Curry was expelled and grew up on land thinking he was just like every other young man on the planet.
Nothing could've been further from the truth. When Atlantis sought to reclaim him as their own, Aquaman became caught in the cross-hairs of a conflict between the destructive population living above the water's surface and the Atlanteans', who had just about all of the human race that they could stomach.
A founding member of the JLA, and one of the more recognizable super heroes in the DC Universe, Aquaman may be very misunderstood. But he also is very powerful and an ambassador of the human race—as well as humanity in general.
Unlike the first few sports alter egos we looked at, this choice was a pretty easy one to make.
If Aquaman is the King of the Seven Seas, then Michael Phelps has to be considered the king of everything else related to the water. With all due respect to Mark Spitz, Phelps has to be considered the greatest swimmer of all time.
That sentiment was echoed by Sports Illustrated as they named Phelps Sportsman of the Year in 2008, and also considered him the greatest swimmer in history, after his record setting performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (Sports Illustrated).
Even Spitz himself admitted that Phelps was the greatest ever (ABC News).
How dominating has Phelps been?
He has captured 22 Olympic medals from 2004 to the present, including a record-setting eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
He has won a total of 71 medals in international competition.
He has been named World Swimmer of the Year six times.
Phelps’ performance at the 2012 Olympics only served to further his legendary status. In London, Phelps added four more gold medals to his resume and added two more silver medals just for good measure.
There is no longer any room for debate. Phelps remains the best swimmer in the world and the greatest swimmer ever.
It is hard to imagine a more perfect sports alter-ego for Aquaman than Michael Phelps.
One cannot really talk about speed without mentioning The Flash.
As a forensic scientist, Barry Allen was, by all accounts, a workaholic. But when a lightning bolt struck a batch of chemicals that then spilled on Allen, the young scientist's life was changed forever.
The accident blessed Allen with near limitless speed.
As The Flash, Allen can run at almost the speed of light. His tremendous speed enables him to run up buildings or even run across water. He can cause sonic booms without even trying. He can cause himself to vibrate so fast that he can actually pass through virtually any object.
If The Flash has a weakness it is that even as the fastest man alive, he still is a workaholic. Though it has never really been said, The Flash certainly has some obsessive compulsive disorder-like symptoms.
Nevertheless, The Flash is so fast that it has to be seen to be believed.
Good luck catching a glimpse of him though.
This one was a very easy choice for obvious reasons.
Going into the 2012 Olympics, there were many out there who were declaring the king to be dead.
At the 2012 Jamaican Olympic trials, Usain Bolt, considered by many to be the fastest man on the planet, was beaten in the 100 metre and 200 metre competitions by his primary rival, Yohan Blake (mailonline.com/UK).
For the first time in a very long time, Bolt looked vulnerable and, perhaps, not as fast as he had once been.
After his recent performance in London, any doubt as to Bolt's status as the sports alter ego for The Flash were emphatically erased.
At the 2012 Olympics, Bolt set a new Olympic record with his win in the 100-metres (9.63 seconds), became the first man in Olympic history to successfully defend his 100-metre and 200-metre titles and then anchored the Jamaican team to a new world record (36.84 seconds) and a gold medal in the 4x100 metre relay event (Wikipedia).
Not bad for a guy supposedly on the downside of his career.
In reality, Bolt might not have even reached his prime yet. That's right—he might get even faster!
When you look at all Bolt has accomplished already, that is a scary thought for opponents.
His resume, thus far, is astounding: Six Olympic gold medals, five world championships and the world record holder in the 100-metres with a mind-bending time of 9.58 seconds.
No, Bolt would have no chance if he were to actually race The Flash.
But as far as the real world is concerned, there is no one on the planet who is more like The Flash than the man known as the "Lightning Bolt."
Green Lantern is a curious superhero.
He is not nearly as popular as Superman or Batman.
Nor is he as maligned as Aquaman.
He is somewhere in between, which is somewhat curious because if you were the one bearing the ring of power, you would probably feel pretty damn good about yourself.
The ring, of course, is the key to Green Lantern. With the power of the ring, combined with his will, and limited only by his imagination, Green Lantern can create virtually anything just by willing it to happen.
Green Lantern's origin is a great story of unrealized potential ultimately realized. Hal Jordan wanted to be a test pilot even though he witnessed his father die doing just that. Irresponsible and headstrong, Hal Jordan is the last person in the world you would think of when you thought of a hero and protector of the universe.
Yet Hal is chosen to be a select member of the Green Lantern corps, a universal police force if you will.
As a member of the corps, Hal Jordan demonstrates just what he is made of. As Green Lantern, Hal Jordan has confronted all sorts of alien menaces and has saved many worlds time and time again.
The old saying "you can't judge a book by it's cover" could very well be the mantra for Green Lantern.
He might be an unsuspecting hero—but he is one of Earth's greatest superheroes.
This one was the hardest choice to make.
But when you watch Ray Lewis describe Tom Brady at the beginning of the video clip, the similarities between Brady and Green Lantern became rather apparent.
Not the biggest or fastest or strongest. Overlooked by all the experts. Under-appreciated by the scouts.
If there was ever a college quarterback who seemed destined to be one of the greatest of all time, then Tom Brady was not that quarterback—at least not on paper.
But, as Lewis notes, you can look at someone all day, everyday, and think you know everything about them—but not know anything because it is impossible to see that fire burning inside.
That is what Tom Brady is all about. That is what Green Lantern is all about.
Like Hal Jordan, Tom Brady was a handsome guy. But there was nothing about him that screamed "greatness", nothing to indicate he would make a difference and nothing to suggest he could be a hero, or a role model or an MVP.
Brady is all of those things and then some. A sixth-round draft pick, all Brady has done is get the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl five times, winning the championship three times. He has been the Super Bowl MVP twice and holds the single-season touchdown passing record, throwing 50 touchdown passes during the Pats undefeated regular season in 2007.
Like Green Lantern, Brady's strength comes from his will, more specifically his will to win. Tom Terrific does not need a ring of power because his will is greater than his opponents and once he exerts his will upon those opponents it is pretty much game over.
It may not be the most perfect comparison, but there are so many similarities between Hal Jordan's evolving into Green Lantern and Tom Brady's evolving into a NFL legend that naming Tom Brady as Green Lantern's sports alter-ego just makes sense.
Cyborg is one of the newer members of the JLA.
When the JLA reboot was completed in 2011, Cyborg came into his own as he was deemed one of the founding members of the JLA.
As he is so relatively new, many people do not know much about his origin story.
In many ways, Cyborg is the superhero for the 21st century. Part man, part machine—and one of the most powerful superheroes out there.
Like so many young men, Victor Stone only yearned for his father's approval. His father, however, was too busy to focus on his son, who was a world class athlete and a sports legend in the making.
When young Victor was gravely injured in an attack by the super villain Darkseid though, Victor's father stepped up to the plate and saved his son by replacing his mangled body with cybernetic parts.
As a result, Victor Stone became Cyborg. Not only was he blessed with super strength and speed, but his cybernetic make up enables Cyborg to be able to connect with any computer on earth in a way that would make even the greatest hacker in the world feel like an amateur.
His unique skills and powers make Cyborg an invaluable addition to the JLA and demonstrates that even the most serious of injuries cannot hold someone down when their will to survive—and thrive—is stronger than the dark forces that try to bring them down.
This was another difficult choice to make.
In the end, I chose Stephen Strasburg because like Victor Stone, Strasburg was, essentially, rebuilt and came back better than ever.
By now, most sports' fans know Strasburg's story. Strasburg was one of the most highly-touted pitching prospects ever coming out of college. While pitching for the San Diego State Aztecs, Strasburg was an absolute monster.
He struck out 23 in a game against Utah (Wikipedia).
He then threw a no-hitter in a game against the Air Force Academy in 2009.
He was the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Washington Nationals. When he finally debuted on June 8, 2010, Strasburg more than lived up to the hype as he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in a performance for the ages.
Strasburg was having a solid rookie season when disaster struck. He suffered the dreaded torn ulnar collateral ligament and would require Tommy John surgery. It was a stunning setback for Strasburg and the Nationals.
But Strasburg would undergo surgery, complete his rehab, and actually get in some work back with the Nats near the end of the 2011 season.
During the present 2012 season, Strasburg has been absolutely dominant and the Nationals are, surprisingly, the best team in baseball.
Like Cyborg, Strasburg was a world class athlete to begin with. Like Cyborg, Strasburg has turned disaster into something wonderful and amazing, all at the same time.
Like Cyborg, Strasburg rose from the ashes of his own unfortunate circumstances to become even better than he was before.
I think that is the essence of the Cyborg character: To reinvent oneself, even in the face of an unthinkable tragedy, and, by so doing, achieving the maximum potential to which one is capable.
Like Cyborg, Stephen Strasburg has made the most of his second chance, has capitalized on the repairs made to his body and has truly taken significant steps towards becoming the best he can be.
Because of that, I believe Stephen Strasburg is the sports alter-ego for Cyborg.