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Athletes Who Almost Played Another Sport

Nick DimengoFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2014

Athletes Who Almost Played Another Sport

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    To become a professional athlete, one must have skill, dedication and a little bit of luck.

    And while us fans marvel at the things that our favorite players do every single night, some of these guys are even better than what they display each game.

    How?

    Take these current and former players, who, although they made it to the top of one sport, actually could have done the same in another.

Charlie Ward

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    KATHY WILLENS/Associated Press

    Winning the Heisman Trophy back in 1993 while at Florida State, former NBA guard Charlie Ward proved that he wasn't lacking athleticism—seeing as how he was also drafted twice in the MLB draft (even though he never played baseball in college).

    But while he was shredding defenses for the Seminoles on the gridiron, Ward was also playing on the hardwood for the school, actually giving up football to pursue a career in the NBA—which included a trip to the Finals in 1999 with the New York Knicks.

    It must be nice having such options.

Pat Riley

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    Wilfrdo Lee/Associated Press

    Pat Riley might be best known as a championship-winning head coach and front office guru, but Riles was actually a pretty damn good athlete back in his day, too.

    Sharing an alma mater with myself—he was an All-American for the Kentucky Wildcats—Riley eventually went on to play nine seasons in the NBA, winning one title as a player.

    But had he not shined on the court, he had an option to play for the Dallas Cowboys, which drafted him in the 11th round in 1967.

Michael Vick

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Current New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick may have been the No. 1 overall pick back in 2001, going on to revolutionize the position during his time with the Atlanta Falcons, but it could have been very different for him.

    That's because Vick was drafted to be a pitcher by the Colorado Rockies in 2000, even though he hadn't thrown a pitch in four years.

    It just goes to show just how gifted an athlete this guy has been for the past 15-plus years.

Dan Marino

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Arguably one of the best passers in NFL history, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino eventually walked away from the game as the all-time passing leader—since passed twice.

    But while Marino is best-known for rifling football's through tight windows, he could have been remembered for striking out batters, as he was once drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round.

    Even though Marino never won a Super Bowl during his 17 years with the Miami Dolphins, it's safe to say that he accomplished more than enough to warrant his decision to play football instead of trying out baseball.

Todd Helton

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The case of recently retired Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton is an interesting one.

    Not only did the guy play football for the University of Tennessee, but an unfortunate injury he sustained actually opened the door for some freshman named Peyton Manning to replace him back in 1994.

    If that wasn't enough, Helton didn't even stick to playing football, as he focused on baseball full time, putting together a debatable Hall of Fame career.

    Seeing as how he was once ahead of Manning, it's clear Helton could spin it pretty well himself.

Troy Aikman

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    A three-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman showed that he was one of the best players in the '90s.

    But before fully committing to football, Aikman was approached by the New York Mets back in the mid-'80s, which tried signing him to play baseball instead.

    The holdup?

    Aikman requested at least $200,000 to play, which the Mets weren't willing to give, thus leaving Aikman with the choice of the gridiron—which turned out quite well.

Jeff Samardzija

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Most of us remember some of the insane catches that Jeff Samardzija made as a wideout for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team while in college.

    And while he was an All-American and a surefire first-rounder had he decided to keep the pads and helmet on, Samardzija opted for the baseball diamond instead—a decision that he recently said he doesn't regret, as he found himself on the mound for the Chicago Cubs.

    It has worked out fairly well for him, too, with decent career numbers—even if he doesn't get any run support.

Johnny Manziel

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    USA TODAY Sports

    New Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel might be getting groomed to take over the starting gig for my hometown NFL team, but that still didn't stop the San Diego Padres from drafting him in this year's MLB draft.

    Yep, even though Manziel's nickname is Johnny Football, the Padres took a flier on him in the 28th round by hoping they might be able to convince him to put on a glove and play for them one day—who hasn't played baseball since high school several years ago.

Colin Kaepernick

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Seeing the new, mega-rich contract that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick just signed recently, I'd say it was a wise move to stick with football instead of playing baseball.

    Still, Kaep had the choice to do one or the other a few years ago after the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 43rd round of the MLB draft in 2009.

    The guy does have a cannon for an arm, runs like a gazelle and is as strong as they come, so I wouldn't doubt he would've excelled on the baseball diamond had he stuck with it.

Carl Lewis

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    For anyone who watched the documentary last week on the 1984 NBA draft, you were probably as surprised as I was to see nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis mentioned as one of the players selected.

    Even though he didn't play hoops in college while at the University of Houston, the Chicago Bulls took a chance on the freak athlete by choosing him in the 10th round.

    More than just the NBA, though, the NFL wanted Lewis, too, as the Dallas Cowboys chose him with the 334th pick in the 1984 draft, only for them to see Lewis shun them on even trying out.

    With all this recognition as an athlete, it's no wonder Lewis didn't have time for voice lessons.

Russell Wilson

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    He may be the most recent starting quarterback to have led his team to a Super Bowl, but before Russell Wilson was hoisting a Lombardi Trophy, he was nearly lifting a baseball above his head.

    Wilson was surprisingly drafted three times by three different teams in the MLB draft, most recently being selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Texas Rangers just last year.

    And even though Wilson is not distracted by all of the attention on his baseball career, he doesn't shy away from it, even joining the Rangers in spring training a few months ago.

    It goes to show just how much of a freak athlete Wilson really is, even with his success as an NFL signal-caller.

Tim Duncan

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs may be on the verge of their fifth NBA title in the past 15 years, but Timmy's hoops career actually happened under strange circumstances.

    Growing up a swimmer, Duncan decided to give basketball a chance only after Hurricane Hugo destroyed his local pool in 1989 when he was 13 years old.

    Earning himself a scholarship to play at Wake Forest and, ultimately, becoming the first overall pick in the 1997 draft, Duncan will be a Hall of Famer just a few years after he calls it quits for good—which hopefully isn't anytime soon given his recent success.

John Elway

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    ed andrieski/Associated Press

    A two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and current front office exec for the Denver Broncos, John Elway has proven that he knows a hell of a lot about football.

    I wonder if he would've had the same success had he chosen baseball, though?

    That was the decision Elway had to make back in 1982 and '83 when, after being drafted by—and shortly playing for—the New York Yankees as a pitcher, he had to pull a quick maneuver in order to land in Denver and stick with just football.

    Dude is a legend, so good move to stay with tossing the pigskin, John.

Tom Brady

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Arguably the best quarterback in the NFL over the past decade or so, Tom Brady actually had a chance to play baseball before deciding on football.

    While he eventually ended up at Michigan, leading the team to an Orange Bowl victory in his senior season, Brady was first drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB draft.

    With a supermodel wife, three Super Bowl rings and a soon-to-be spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I'm glad things worked out for Brady.

Dave Winfield

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    Rick Diamond/Getty Images

    Whenever a guy is drafted by four teams in three different sports—as Hall of Fame baseball player Dave Winfield was—it means that he was quite the athlete.

    Taken by the San Diego Padres fourth overall in baseball, the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and Utah Stars of the ABA and then the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL—even though he never played on the gridiron in college—Winfield is the original dual-sport athlete.

    Standing at 6'6" and weighing 220 pounds during his playing days, it's no wonder Winfield was coveted by so many front offices in three major sports.

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