My Favorite 20 Athletes In Philadelphia Sports History
This will be the definitive list of the 20 greatest athletes in Philadelphia Pro Sports History. Sort of. At least my favorites anyway. The criteria used are as follows:
1. An expert panel of judges (me) was interviewed for this list. All decisions are final and unassailable. Also, they are completely subjective as to how much I liked the guy or not.
2. I am 35 years old, so this list covers only athletes that I have seen and can remember, so anybody before, say, 1979, will not be on this list.
I'm sure Steve Van Buren was off the heezy in 1948, or whatever the kids were saying then, but he will not be on here, so don't look for him. And really, if you are looking for intelligent, in depth analysis like that, I'm not your guy. Sorry.
3. Preferential consideration was given to players who have rings. Sadly, that isn't too many.
4. Anybody who played for any of the major 4 pro sports teams (Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, Sixers) from 1980 onward, for any length of time is eligible. This means that Danny Tartabull is eligible, or rather, he would be if he didn't suck while he was here for an hour and a half, and Joe Frazier is not.
Guido Merkins is eligible, Kelvin Bryant is not. Geoff Jenkins is eligible, that guy who caught the winning touchdown for the Soul in the Arena Bowl is not. You get the idea.
5. A lot of consideration is given to what my dad thinks, as he is the smartest guy I know, and a lot of my early sports direction came from him.
In other words, play hard, no matter the score, if somebody isn't getting up, make sure it's the other guy, and GET OUT OF THE LANE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, THREE SECONDS!!! Also. more recent players are given preference too, as I tend to have a shady memory.
Let's do this.
Honorable Mention - Chuck Bednarik
In complete disregard for all of the rules I just mentioned, this list has to include Chuck Bednarik, because otherwise, I'm afraid he would find me and lay the smackdown on me even at age 83.
The last true full time two way player (please don't say Deion Sanders, or Chuck will punch you in the mouth), Concrete Charlie, like quite a few guys on this list, embodies what it is to be a Philadelphian.
Usually angry, when he arrived at the ball there was a ferocity that few forgot. Ask Frank Gifford, he's the guy laying on the ground there. On second thought, don't ask him, he probably doesn't remember it.
No. 20 - Brian Westbrook
B-Dub makes defensive coordinators wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night like a kid who thought he heard something is his closet and is scared out his mind but is too afraid to call for help because if he makes any noise the monster will hear him and then what? Touchdown, 36, that's what.
In 2007, Westbrook had the greatest season ever for an Eagles running back, amassing over 2100 yards from scrimmage and 12 TD's. Bonus? Giants fans view him like we view Plaxico Burress. Or did before he shot himself in the leg.
No. 19 - Brad "Lights Out" Lidge
Remember in 2005 when Brad Lidge gave up that home run in Game Five of the NLCS to Albert Pujols? Remember when he then gave up the walkoff home run to Scott Posednik (who?) in Game Two of the World Series?
Remember how he was left for dead? Remember the collective groan the city gave when he was acquired along with Eric Bruntlett for a ham sandwich?
Remember when he hurt his knee in spring training last year and we thought we were gonna have another year with Brett Myers as closer?
Yeah, me neither. I do remember him going 48-for-48 in save opportunities and striking out Eric Hinske on a filthy (or is it Philthy?) 0-2 slider to bring home our first real championship in 25 years.
No. 18 - Steve "Lefty" Carlton
The National League's last 25-game winner, Lefty was the most dominant left-hander of his time, winning four Cy Young awards. His most amazing accomplishment came before I was born.
In 1972, playing on an atrocious Phillies team that won only 59 games, Lefty won 27, including 15 in a row. Of course, he lost 20 the next year, and is arguably a complete whack job, but boy, could he throw a slider.
Oh and he is second all time in strikeouts by a left-hander behind Randy Johnson, but at least Lefty never kiiled a bird with a pitch. That I know of.
No. 17 - Julius "Dr. J" Erving
Why isn't Doc higher on this list? For one thing, Doc was not the same after 1979 as he was before. Also, let me tell you a story. Once when I was a kid, I was at a game with my dad.
The 'Sixers were getting blown out when Doc came down and dunked, then jogged back up the court nonchalantly. My dad started booing, and soon the whole Spectrum joined in. I was shocked. (I was also seven and relatively easily shocked.)
When I asked him why we wre booing Doctor J dunking, he said, "Look how he's acting! They are down by 25 POINTS!!! He's acting like that dunk was worth twenty points!" Welcome to Philly.
Having said that, Doc has a ring (he should have like four, another reason he is not higher on this list), and he changed the game. In an era where the game is regularly played above the rim, Doc is the first player that I remember who did it every night.
No. 16 - Moses Malone
"Fo, fo, fo." Like Concrete Charlie, Moses Malone embodies the Philly mentality. Nothing was ever given to him, he worked his tail off and earned it. He was the catalyst for a very talented 'Sixers team that FINALLY won a title in 1983.
After watching Darryl Dawkins get dominated year after year by Robert Parish and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (and even Magic Johnson - as a rookie point guard playing CENTER! YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! - once), the 'Sixers went out and got a real man to play center.
Before the playoffs started, Moses was asked how he thought the playoffs would go. His response? "Fo, fo, fo," predicting three sweeps (there were only three series then). They ended up going fo, fi, fo, as Milwaukee beat them once in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then the darkness began.
No. 15 - Terrell Owens
Yeah I said it, T.O. No player in the last 30 years has had such an impact in such a short period of time. T.O. took the Eagles from a very good offense to a ridiculous, how-much-are-they-gonna-win-by-this-week offense.
He broke the Eagles single season TD record while MISSING THREE GAMES.
He had a great Super Bowl, but it was clear he wasn't 100 percent, a scant six weeks after a horrific leg break by Roy Williams, who will be in the Ninth Circle of Dante's Hell along with Brutus, Judas Iscariot, Norman Braman, and, let's be honest, T.O. for what he did after the Super Bowl.
And when the Cowboys cut him, if you say you didn't think about it, even for a split second, you're a liar.
No. 14 - Brian Dawkins
I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear when the Wolverine signed with Denver. And I know I am not the only one. No one, no one understood us better than Weapon X.
From the pick of Brett Farve in the 4th-and-26 game, to his leaping strip of Ben Rothlisberger last year, to being everywhere on the field versus Dallas in the playoff clinching romp, he lived and died with every win and loss. It is said that players don't care as much as fans. Not true here.
My favorite B-Dawk moment? After beating the Giants last year in the playoffs, he was so overcome with emotion that he was unable to speak to ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. He tried several times, but just couldn't do it. He broke down and walked away.
I, and many, many others I'm sure, felt the same way. He later apologized to Sal during the press conference. He is one of us. He may wear orange next year, but he will always be an Eagle.
No. 13. - Chase Utley
"World Champions. World Bleeping Champions!" How many times had you said that in your head between Hinske's strikeout and Chase actually saying it on TV?
He caught a lot of heat for it, but, man, we were all thinking it, if not saying it. The guy hit 33 homers with a bad hip. He was on his way to an MVP season when he hurt it. He never complained, just went out and played.
I have a bad hip, and I have trouble walking sometimes, much less playing professional baseball on its highest level.
No. 12 - Ron Hextall
In 1987, Hexy, as a rookie, won the Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) trophy for the LOSING TEAM. He was, well, ridiculous in net, posting a goals against of 2.77 with a 90.8 save percentage.
He almost single-handedly carried the Flyers to a Stanley Cup against an Edmonton Oilers team that had like 72 future hall of famers on it, including Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and some guy named Wayne Something...what was it?
Ah, it'll come to me in a second. Also, he was the first goalie ever to actually score a goal by shooting the puck into an open net. He did it again in the playoffs a couple years later. Also, anybody that came near him got whacked—hard—across the legs.
You gotta love that.
No. 11 - Cole Hamels
NLCS MVP. World Series MVP. A super hot wife. Cole Hamels is as cool as that first bite of ice cream in the middle of August. He is clutch. He can dominate, and he is a stopper. His change up is ridiculous.
If he gets some run support once in a while, he could win 20 games a year.
No. 10 - Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard works at the corporate offices of Dunder Mifflin...
Wait, that's the wrong Ryan Howard.
The fastest player in history to 100 (and 150) home runs, the REAL Ryan Howard has averaged - AVERAGED - 51 home runs the last three seasons. He was NL rookie of the year in 2005.
He won the MVP in 2006, and if not for a horrific start to the season last year, he likely would have won it again last year. He holds the Phils single season home run record, and carried them to the division title last September, en route to winning the whole enchilada.
No. 9 - Randall Cunningham
Quick, who holds the NFL record for the longet punt ever? Who was once dubbed "The Ultimate Weapon" by Sports Illustrated? Whose name does Carl Banks still wake up screaming in the middle of the night before weeping softly in his hands saying, "I had him...I HAD HIM!!!"
Yes, Randall Cunningham. You think McNabb had no help? Buddy Ryan used to literally tell Randall to "just go make something happen." I mean, Fred Barnett? Calvin Williams? Victor Bailey?
A (allegedly) coked up Cris Carter? Really? Randall was Mike Vick before Mike Vick was cool. If he had had any help at all on offense, or if that fog hadn't rolled in at Chicago in 1988, he would be in the Hall of Fame. He still should be. He changed the quarterback position.
And that Carl Banks play on Monday Night was the most incredible 5 yard TD pass you'll ever see. Google it, I can't describe it, it was that good.
No. 8 - Lenny Dykstra
If not for Mitch Williams and his 26 mph "fastball" to Joe Carter, the Dude would have been the World Series MVP in 1993, Curt Schilling would not have demanded a trade to win a title, the Red Sox would not be crowing about some stupid bloody sock...but this is not about my 16-year old resentment against Mitch Williams (SERENITY NOW!!!).
It is about the great 1993 season of Len Dykstra. He set a record for most plate appearances, and led the league in runs, hits and walks. He was second to a(n allegedly) pre-steroid Barry Bonds in the MVP voting.
He hit four home runs in the World Series, and did everything he could to win it. Shame he couldn't pitch. He played absurdly hard, and with reckless abandon. He was great to watch.
No. 7 - Jimmy Rollins
"We are the team to beat." He said it, then went out and won the MVP, leading the Phillies to their first division title in 12 years. This was the beginning of the Phillies getting in the Mets' heads, and It was all started by J-Roll.
He is the straw that stirs the drink. As J-Roll goes, so go the Phillies. And more often than not, he goes well.
No. 6 - Pete Rose
If I had done this list a few years ago, Charlie Hustle would have been number one. One of my earliest sports memories is of this picture in Game six of the 1980 Series. The ball had just popped out of Bob Boone's glove and Pete was there to catch it.
I was seven, and no matter what else he ever did after that, he would be forever in my debt. He is the all time hits leader. He has three rings. And not three cheap rings like Tim McCarver, he was a major player on those teams.
He absolutely should be in the hall of fame. So, he bet on a few games, who hasn't? Course, I had no influence over any games I may or may not have bet on, I admit nothing.
No. 5 - Reggie White
This is why Norman Braman will be down there with Brutus, Judas, Roy Williams, and T.O. for letting arguably the best defensive end ever go for nothing.
The Minister of Defense was the anchor on a ridiculous defense in the early '90s. He was a tremendous leader, and losing him was almost as painful as losing Dawkins.
Second all time in sacks (first for the Eagles), two-time defensive player of the year, 13 time pro bowler and 12 time all pro, he is the greatest defensive player in Eagles history.
No. 4 - Mike Schmidt
12 time all-star. 10-time gold glove winner. Three time NL MVP. World Champion. Still holds career Phillies records for HR and RBI. Arguably the best third baseman ever.
First Ballot Hall of Famer. Schmitty was the man. He was so good, that even when he retired in May 1989, he was still elected to be an all star starter. He called us as fans "an uncontrollable mob scene." I loved him. Yeah, I booed him sometimes. But I loved him growing up.
No. 3 - Eric Lindros
A polarizing figure, Easy E is my favorite Flyer ever, and easily the best since 1980. Two moments come to mind.
First, in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals, Lindros was caught behind his own net shorthanded with no stick (I think he shoved down some guy's throat). He killed a penalty, by himself, by kicking the puck back and forth to himself and keeping opponents away with brute strength.
Then, after they won the Conference Championship, he refused to touch the trophy. He wouldn't even look at it. When asked why, he said that wasn't the trophy he wanted.
Sadly, a series of concussions, along with a penchant for going across his own blue line with his head down (Hi, I'm Scott Stevens, nice to meet you) caused him to finish his career as a shell of his former self.
When he centered the Legion of Doom line with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, they were actually bigger than the Eagles linebackers at the time. Lindros was money. His dad, not so much.
No. 2 - Allen Iverson
"Practice?" His hilarious practice hating rant not withstanding, nobody, nobody played harder here than AI. Possibly even more polarizing than No. 3 Eric Lindros, Iverson played every game like he was never going to be allowed to play again.
I will never in my life forget his epic dueling 50-point battles with Vince Carter in the 2001 playoffs, but especially this boom-headshot dagger he hit in Tyronn Lue's face than stepping over him like he was a giant piece of crap. Of course, Lue has a ring and AI doesn't.
That is just wrong.
No. 1 - Donovan McNabb
I know. He's inaccurate. He's a company man. He isn't serious enough. He threw up in the Super Bowl. Whatever. Here is why he is No. 1. What is the most popular team in Philly, even after the Phillies won the World Series?
What is the single most important position in football? Who is the best quarterback in Eagles history? He is the Eagles all time leader in wins, playoff wins, yards and touchdowns.
He was CBS Radio's Player of the year in 2000. He is a five-time pro bowler. He has won four division titles, been to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. He was the 2004 NFC Offensive player of the year.
He is 13th all-time in the NFL for passer rating. Last year he broke the Eagles single season yardage record.14.1 seconds against the Cowboys. 4th-and-26. Juking Stanley Richards out of his jock.
He is, as far as I am concerned regarding Eagles QBs, the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. Period.
Let the debating begin.