Top 7: Athletes' Redemptions in the Clutch

JoeSportsFanSenior Analyst INovember 6, 2009

Every week the Top 7 column will be enhanced by the newest addition to the JoeSportsFan Radio Network, Seven Minutes with Jason Major , where our Top 7 guru rants on the current topic, touches on previous lists and also vehemently defends his Cardinals bias … all in around seven minutes.

One of the media’s favorite storylines is (fill in player) can’t come through in the clutch.  Sometimes they’ll even take it a step further and say (said player) will never win a (fill in name of title).  Sometimes they’ll even go further than that and say (said player) can’t win because of (fill in random psychoanalysis that is completely not provable but sure sounds good). 

Once this player comes through in the clutch or wins the title, the same media members will do more psychoanalysis to figure out what finally happened in their head to make them able to win.

Someone will try to connect A-Rod’s World Series title with him getting some kind of secret ooze from Derek Jeter, which is how they won. It will happen.

Once the player has their clutch moment or their title, a new person must come along to take their place, and the cycle repeats endlessly.  Same storyline … they never will win a title, unless they do. Here are the Top 7 guys who got their redemption in the clutch.

7. Barry Bonds

Bonds may be the most notorious under-performer in the playoffs of all-time in baseball, especially since there wasn’t such a massive amount of media around when Ted Williams and Willie Mays were stinking up the playoffs themselves (point being, Bonds wasn’t the first great player who struggled in the postseason). 

Then came the 2002 World Series, where Hulk Bonds hit .471 with a .700 on-base percentage and four homers—including one that went about 7,000 feet. He didn’t win the Series, but it sure wasn’t his fault. 

I’m not too familiar with that series, but I’m sure Giants fans would say it had something to do with Dusty Baker … that seems to always be the culprit with his teams.

6. Tony LaRussa

This spot almost went to Mick Foley for his finally winning the WWF title, then I remembered LaRussa, and it’s always fun to rip on his detractors. 

Mostly due to him not living in St. Louis year-round, there is a small percentage of Cardinals fans who will never accept him, and used to go so far as to say that the Cards would never get to a World Series while he was manager. 

This “faction” even ran a hilarious campaign to try to get him fired prior to the 2004 season, flying a banner over the Cards spring training facilities.

The Cards then won 105 games and went to the World Series, so the theory became “the Cards will never win the World Series with LaRussa as manager.”  Then LaRussa won the World Series with the Cards, and the people immediately tried to disregard it, saying he got lucky. 

So their platform apparently all along was “the Cards will never make the World Series with LaRussa as manager, unless they do, in which case they will never win the World Series … unless they get lucky."

These people have something wrong with them. If you were to make a Venn Diagram of LaRussa haters with 9/11 Truthers and Obama Birthers, they would probably fall in the circle that encompasses all three.

Some of the most insane ones will even disregard his first World Series title with the A’s because of the '89 earthquake in the Bay area. I guess all of the Giants died in the quake and the A’s played nine-on-none baseball. Some will say that they hate LaRussa because of his DUI … OK, fine.  But the fringe nut jobs were there long before that happened.

5. Phil Mickelson

Some of the guys who never won were just fun to watch lose. I’m not sure if I am in the minority here or not, but it was fun to watch Mickelson’s hopes crushed time and again, and I’m not even sure why. 

It was fun to see how he could go about losing another one. The same goes for Karl Malone—he and Charles Barkley were probably the two most talked about when it came to not winning an NBA title.

Yet, when Mickelson finally won a major, it was one less thing to perversely cheer for in sports. At least we still have plenty of bad quarterbacks to enjoy.

4. Dan Jansen

USA!  USA!  USA!  Jansen, as a speed skater, was favored to win Olympic gold in 1988 and 1992 and came up short both times to receive even a bronze. 

This happened even though he owned the world record prior to the '92 Olympics. Could Jansen win the big one?  No, it seemed. 

In his final try in 1994, he won the gold and dedicated it to his sister, who had died of leukemia the morning of his try in 1988.

Avenging an earlier loss + dedication to a late sibling + United States = gets me every time.

3. John Elway

Elway and Marino were the Barkley and Malone of the NFL. Unfortunately for Marino, he never got Terrell Davis in his backfield. 

It would have been like Malone going to the Lakers to play with Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and Gary Payton—he surely would have won a title then, right? 

It is hard to put all of your stock in “great quarterbacks lead their teams to titles” when Brad Johnson is a Superbowl-winning quarterback and Dan Marino isn't.

2. Alex Rodriguez

The question now becomes who takes A-Rod’s place as baseball’s “never win a title” whipping boy? 

His was amplified at least a trillion times because he played in New York; besides Bonds, nobody got it worse. I’m not an A-Rod fan, but it was ridiculous how people acted like it was impossible that a team with one of the best players of all-time “couldn’t win a World Series." It’s idiotic. But that won’t stop it from happening again with someone else.

There were also Yankee fans who bought into it too. Are they celebrating the title, or are they a bit disappointed that they were wrong?

1. Peyton Manning

Manning not only gets the top nod because he shed the “can’t win the big one” by winning the Superbowl from college as well as the pros, but because since then he has become one of the most clutch players in football and maybe even in all of sports. 

He makes things look easy and effortless, and keeps winning.

No one else has made a transition from “can’t win big games” to “absolute clutch assassin” more than Peyton Manning.

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