10 Pairs of Athletes Forever Linked to Each Other

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2016

10 Pairs of Athletes Forever Linked to Each Other

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    Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning was a legendary NFL rivalry
    Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning was a legendary NFL rivalryDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Just about every elite athlete is linked with another who was a friend or a foe on the field. 

    Muhammad Ali battled with Joe Frazier multiple times in the ring. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had legendary encounters during their NBA careers. An infamous moment involving a broken bat will forever link Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens. 

    The last decade alone has provided numerous examples of pairs of athletes whose careers will always be connected for one reason or another.

    Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are arguably two of the finest quarterbacks in NFL history, and their on-the-field rivalry was something we may never see again in the history of the league. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz may not be Brady-Manning 2.0, but they will be associated with each other because of when they were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. 

    Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate could be the most fascinating case of all, if only because nobody can predict how their stories will end. Although, we may never again see Rousey and Tate compete against each other in UFC, which would be unfortunate because it would leave fans and the fighters wondering what could have been. 

    The phenomenon of linking athletes will continue so long as sports remain significant. Associating an athlete with one of his or her peers provides narrative. It also allows us to compare those individuals to athletes who came before them and those who have not yet forged their careers. 

    For all we know, the next great rivalry in pro sports could be born before the end of 2016. 

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III

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    Will Andrew Luck versus Robert Griffin III ever be a great rivalry?
    Will Andrew Luck versus Robert Griffin III ever be a great rivalry?Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts can currently claim to be the winners of the 2012 NFL draft. 

    Indianapolis tanked finished the 2011 NFL season with the league's worst record, which allowed it to move on from Peyton Manning and select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the draft. The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, had to complete a trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up to the second pick to secure the rights to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. 

    Griffin had the better debut season of the two as he won Rookie of the Year honors. However, RG3 suffered multiple knee injuries during that season, and his career in Washington went downhill from there. The Redskins replaced Griffin with Kirk Cousins before the start of the 2015 season. Then, the Redskins cut Griffin in March 2016 amid reports that he was never all that popular among teammates.  

    Luck, meanwhile, has emerged as the clear leader of the Indianapolis offense. In January 2014, Luck guided the Colts to a historic comeback win in a playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It has not been all sunshine and rainbows for Luck, though, as he missed much of the 2015 season due to injuries. 

    2016 could be a big year for both. Luck will be looking to take the next step of his career en route to possibly becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Griffin, meanwhile, will try to resurrect whatever is left of his pro playing days with the Cleveland Browns. 

Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather

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    Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather was one disappointment after another.
    Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather was one disappointment after another.John Locher/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will have their names associated with each other long after retirement. 

    Unfortunately, that's the case because of what could have been rather than what the fighters gave to their profession. 

    In December 2009, casual fans had reason to believe Pacquiao and Mayweather were going to deliver the next "big fight" since Mike Tyson was last relevant. However, cold water was dumped onto that excitement almost immediately due to arguments about drug testing

    Fans, therefore, had to wait. They waited through 2010, and through 2011. They waited all the way up through May 2015, when the fight that was roughly six years in the making finally took place in Las Vegas. 

    The bout, as Edoardo Chavarin of Remezcla.com put it, was one of "boxing's biggest disappointments." Pacquiao had few answers for Mayweather's defensive style, and Mayweather won a unanimous decision for a fight that was, to put it bluntly, boring.

    Thanks for nothing, guys.

    Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, has stated on multiple occasions this spring that a Pacquiao-Mayweather rematch could be in the cards, per ESPN.com. Though, don't hold your breath waiting to see a gem if the two do enter the ring for one more payday. 

Neymar and Gareth Bale

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    Neymar and Gareth Bale should both have bright futures
    Neymar and Gareth Bale should both have bright futuresManu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Some might say that it's hopeful to suggest that Neymar and Gareth Bale will have their careers linked together for any meaningful length of time. 

    Both men, after all, only joined La Liga three years ago in the summer of 2013. Neymar signed with Barcelona, while Bale made the switch from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid. The two may still be early into their La Liga stints, but both have already made massive impacts for their clubs. 

    Bale managed to notch a pair of historic goals in his debut season at Real. The Welsh wonder scored the match-winner in the 2014 Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona following an end-to-end run during which Bale demonstrated his incredible athleticism and pace. As an encore, Bale delivered the match-winner in the 2014 Champions League Final. 

    Not bad. 

    Neymar's reply to Bale's heroics came during the 2014-15 campaign. The young Brazilian star combined with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to score a total of 122 goals, the most in any one campaign for a Spanish attacking trio. Barcelona won the La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles for the season.

    Plenty could happen, perhaps as soon as the coming summer months, to separate Neymar and Bale. Perhaps Neymar could, as Joe Short of The Express recently hinted, join Manchester United. Maybe Bale will be enticed to make a return to the Premier League, as well. 

    Assuming the two stay put for at least the next few seasons, we could be looking at the next great rivalry in Spanish football. 

Danny Willett and Jordan Spieth

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    Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett now have similar jackets.
    Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett now have similar jackets.Chris Carlson/Associated Press/Associated Press

    This example isn't fair, at least not for one of the individuals involved. 

    Danny Willett was not a recognized PGA superstar heading into the 2016 Masters. Willett, as of April 7 of this year, had never won a major tournament. He was not part of a so-called "Big Three" perceived to be the future of pro golf as was Jordan Spieth.

    Spieth, on the other hand, was a two-time major winner and the defending Masters champion who was, on the morning of April 10, 18 holes away from going back-to-back at Augusta and leaving Willett and everybody else on the scoreboard in his dust. Willett may not have even been on anybody's mind after Spieth closed out the front nine of his final round with four straight birdies. 

    That all changed when Spieth teed off at the 12th hole. He put a pair of shots in the water, shot a quadruple-bogey on the par three, and lost his spot atop the leaderboard to Willett. Willet, meanwhile, shot a bogey-free, five-under final round to stun the golf world and win the Masters. 

    What is unfair to Willett in all of this is that he will now be the answer to a Jeopardy! question asked years down the road: "He is the man who won the 2016 Masters after Jordan Spieth collapsed on the 12th hole." 

    Spieth, meanwhile, will be tied to Willett with pictures and video of Spieth putting the green jacket on Willett. Not only did Spieth have to fulfill this duty, he did so hours after his nightmare on the 12th hole. 

    It's possible the 2016 Masters will spark a new and exciting PGA rivalry. Though, maybe Spieth and Willett will never again be so close on a scoreboard. Whatever happens in the future, they will be linked because of one sunny afternoon on a golf course in Georgia. 

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin

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    Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin battle in out in the playoffs for a second time.
    Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin battle in out in the playoffs for a second time.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The hockey fates seemingly went out of the way to make it so Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin would be linked together. 

    Following the labor dispute that cancelled the 2004-05 NHL season, a special draft lottery was held to see what franchise would receive the rights to the first overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins won that lottery and selected Crosby. Ovechkin, meanwhile, put pen to paper on a deal with the Washington Capitals, meaning the two highly-rated prospects would be playing against each other as part of a long-standing NHL rivalry. 

    It did not take long after Crosby and Ovechkin made their debuts for arguments to land on websites such as NHL.com about who the better player was. 

    Both Crosby and Ovechkin have taken home multiple personal awards, and both are multi-time winners of the Hart Memorial Trophy. However, what looked to be a budding rivalry coming out of the NHL lockout a decade ago, has largely been a letdown. 

    The Penguins and Capitals have met in the playoffs only twice since the fall of 2005—in 2009 and in the spring of 2016. That 2009 series was wildly entertaining for fans and for casual viewers, but it happened seven years ago. At this rate, Crosby and Ovechkin will face off in a postseason series just once more before they retire. 

    Neither the Penguins nor the Capitals have become dynasties since Crosby and Ovechkin entered the NHL. The Penguins have gone 1-1 in Stanley Cup Finals since drafting Crosby, and the last time Pittsburgh qualified for a championship final was in 2009. Washington, meanwhile, has never played for a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin on the roster. 

    There are, of course, more chapters to write on any book detailing the careers of Crosby and Ovechkin. Perhaps the best of this rivalry is yet to come. Otherwise, a cynic could view the careers of Crosby and Ovechkin as a "what could have been" era for the NHL. 

Jared Goff and Carson Wentz

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    Who will be better between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz?
    Who will be better between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz?Matt Marton/Associated Press

    History suggests that either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz will struggle to adapt to NFL life. 

    The quarterbacks were taken with the first and second overall picks in the 2016 NFL draft. The Los Angeles Rams selected Goff, while the Philadelphia Eagles happily grabbed Wentz. The Rams and Eagles both executed trades to move up in the draft order, putting that much extra pressure on Goff and Wentz to be immediate hits as pros. 

    Mike Huguenin of NFL.com wrote in April 2015 about different quarterback duos who went 1-2 in draft classes. 

    It is far too early to grade either Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Both could improve and become elite players, or one or both could ultimately flop later in their careers. 

    Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III being taken 1-2 in the 2012 NFL Draft has already been touched upon in this piece. 

    It is difficult, knowing all that we now know, to adequately grade the first two picks of the 1999 NFL Draft. Donovan McNabb, taken second overall by the Eagles that year, undeniably had a better career than former Cleveland Browns quarterback and former first overall draft pick Tim Couch. Couch also played for the expansion Browns, one of the worst NFL teams ever assembled. 

    And there is no way to know that McNabb would've been a better fit for Cleveland. 

    Odds are that you are probably familiar with the stories of Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. 

    Goff and Wentz will now forever be joined at the figurative hip. They will either both be seen as massive letdowns for their teams, one will be a hit while the other is a dud who gets a coach and maybe even a front office fired, or both will be stars who are fated to play against each other in regular season and postseason matchups. 

Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate

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    Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate aren't finished with each other yet.
    Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate aren't finished with each other yet.David Becker/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The hope is that we are only about halfway through the story of this mixed martial arts feud. 

    What FOXSports.com once referred to as one of the top feuds in UFC history began back in 2011 when the two were fighting for Strikeforce. Rousey, who had already notched several pro victories, announced she was moving down to 135 pounds to face Tate and win the bantamweight championship. Tate, as one would expect, did not take kindly to those words, and the two began a verbal battle that played out in the press and in interviews. 

    Rousey won where it mattered most, submitting Tate in March 2012 to win her first pro championship. 

    The two met again in the cage in December 2013. This time it was Rousey defending a title: the UFC Bantamweight Championship. While Tate was able to survive the first two rounds of the fight, the result was the same as their first go-around: Tate submitted to a Rousey arm bar. 

    This storyline took an interesting twist in November 2015 when Holly Holm knocked out Rousey. Holm's stay in headlines was short-lived, however, as she was submitted by Tate in March of this year. 

    We are thus, back to where we started, with Tate and Rousey again being viewed as the two best fighters in the bantamweight division. There is just one problem: Rousey has not been able and/or willing to commit to a date for a third fight against Tate. 

    There is nothing that Tate will be able to do shy of beating Rousey that will allow the current UFC champion to escape from the "Rowdy" one's shadow. Tate could obliterate the rest of the bantamweight division, but there would still be a perception among fans that she was merely holding Rousey's title.  

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

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    You couldn't go wrong picking either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world.
    You couldn't go wrong picking either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world.FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

    Somewhere, pockets of fans exist who would be legitimately upset if one dared to put Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Lionel Messi even in the title of this slide. 

    That says a lot about why Ronaldo and Messi will forever be mentioned alongside each other. 

    The shame with this rivalry is that Ronaldo and Messi do not happen to come from countries that typically face off in international competitions. Imagine that one was a native of Spain and the other from Germany. We would then have been able to watch Ronaldo and Messi play against each other in European championships and other emotional contests.

    This is not to say that we have been lacking Ronaldo-Messi showdowns. Ronaldo and Real Madrid play against Messi and Barcelona twice every year during La Liga campaigns, and the possibility exists each year that the two could meet on the pitch for Copa del Rey and Champions League matches. 

    It is a blessing, for fans who have no ties to the players and clubs involved in this on-field rivalry, that Ronaldo and Messi have played in the same league since Ronaldo joined Real before the 2009-10 season. The two best players of their generation and arguably the two greatest footballers who ever lived have become so intertwined that ESPN FC has an entire blog dedicated to the duo.  

    Ronaldo and Messi have split Ballon d'Or (Player of the Year) honors throughout the past eight years, though Messi currently has a 5-3 advantage for the award. Both men have hoisted La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey trophies in celebration during their legendary careers. 

    Nobody should bother with discussions about who is better between Ronaldo and Messi. Doing so is similar to engaging in arguments about what is the best kind of pizza between New York and Chicago styles. It is a matter of personal preference. Everyone should simply cherish watching Ronaldo and Messi whenever the two share a pitch.

    The time is coming, maybe sooner than later, when Ronaldo versus Messi will be a thing of the past.  

LeBron James and Stephen Curry

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    Is Stephen Curry the heir to LeBron James' throne?
    Is Stephen Curry the heir to LeBron James' throne?Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Current Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James had no equals during the first half of his NBA career. 

    Kobe Bryant had already established himself in the NBA before James first took the court as a member of the Cavaliers. Carmelo Anthony entered the league on the same day James was drafted by the Cavs, but Anthony has never proven himself to be worthy of winning a Most Valuable Player award. Nobody over the past decade has won more MVP honors than James, who currently has four.

    That all began to change, however, during the 2014-15 NBA season. 

    It was last year when Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry went from being a spectacular shooter to an overall offensive threat deserving of being named MVP and capable of leading a team to an NBA title. Curry and the Warriors defeated James and the Cavs in the 2015 NBA Finals, but that series was affected by Cleveland starters Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving being injured. 

    James and Curry will now likely be linked well into the future. We don't yet know exactly how, but that makes this scenario that much more interesting. 

    Will Curry be the player who takes the figurative torch from James and carries the NBA into the next decade? Will James and Curry go back-and-forth in MVP races and in NBA Finals competitions, splitting awards and engaging in multiple epic on-the-court battles? Will James ultimately get the better of Curry en route to cementing himself as one of the greatest players in NBA history? 

    Whatever happens between James and Curry, it will probably be entertaining. 

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning

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    Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: Two of the best to ever play the game.
    Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: Two of the best to ever play the game.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    The on-field rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning was nothing short of a gift from the football gods. 

    Take a look at the current NFL. Try to come up with a duo of quarterbacks who could give us anything even close to what Brady and Manning provided for over a decade. 

    Does anybody think that Russell Wilson versus Colin Kaepernick will be the next great rivalry? Please. Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton may be able to produce some memorable games before Roethlisberger rides off into the sunset, but it is highly unlikely that we will view that matchup as the next Brady-Manning. 

    Brady and Manning played against each other in the NFL a total of 17 times. While Brady won the overall series 11-6, Manning defeated Brady in three of five postseason games and in three of four AFC Championship matchups. Brady has a 4-2 advantage as it pertains to Super Bowl rings, but Manning will likely have more regular-season records unless Brady plays well for at least another five years at least. 

    Thanks to the Gary Myers book, Brady vs. Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry that Transformed the NFL, we know that Brady and Manning are, when not competing against each other, close friends. They called each other during seasons. Their families have vacationed together. Brady and Manning were known to enjoy games of golf during the offseason.

    One has to wonder, though, how friendly those contests were over the years. 

    It would be only fitting if the two were to induct each other into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Who better to speak of Brady's competitive nature than Manning? Who better to talk about what Manning meant to the NFL than Brady? Truth be told, the two could have their own combined wing in the Hall of Fame.

    That way, their careers would literally be linked together forever.