Iron Man Competition: Brett Favre vs. Cal Ripken Jr. vs. A.C. Green
With the potential end of Brett Favre's record 291 consecutive NFL starts looming, I started thinking about other Iron Men. I remember watching the game Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record, and finally walked away under his own power from his own amazing streak of starts in 1998. I grew up watching the Celtics battle the Lakers in the late 80's and early 90's-a team that featured the NBA's "Iron Man"; A.C. Green, whose own streak of 1,192 games played in the NBA is pretty amazing in itself. As something of an "old school" sports fan, I've always been one that appreciates toughness over flash, endurance over a "one hit wonder", and longevity and consistency in general. As such, I appreciate players like these three, and in appreciating them I often wonder whose streak is the most impressive. Who displayed the most toughness in their pursuit of their respective sports' "Iron Man" designation? Who battled through the most adversity to maintain their place among history's most reliable competitors? On the pages that follow I'll make a case for each player, and at the end I hope you the readers will help me make up my mind with your comments below.
A.C. Green 1,192 games played
Perhaps the least well known of these three iron men, A.C. Green spent 15 years in the NBA and throughout that entire time missed only three of a possible 1,281 games. He started 832 of those games, playing 36,552 minutes during that time. The only three games Green ever missed were in his second year with the Lakers, working as the backup to Hall of Famers James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a championship winning season for the Los Angeles team. Frankly, it's amazing a second year players found his way into 79 games on a team like that! However, from November 19, 1986 through the end of his career, playing the final game of the 2000-2001 season. Finally on April 18, 2001 Green walked off the basketball court for the final time in the regular season. 9 days later he walked off an NBA court for the last time in his life as a player, as the Miami Heat were swept in the first round of the playoffs-a series during which the then 37 year old got into all three games for a total of 21 minutes. This ended the amazingly consistent career of A.C. Green, who played in 99.8% of the games he could have possibly played in throughout a 16 year career. In addition to the 1,278 career regular season games, Green added on another 153 playoff games as almost every team Green played on made and advanced in the playoffs (with only the exception of the Dallas Mavericks). If playoff games are included, with the knowledge that 9 of those games came in his first season (prior to the three games he missed in his sophomore season), this extends Green's streak from 1,192 games to 1,336 games-or the equivalent of roughly 16.25 NBA regular seasons. Certainly, despite the fact A.C. Green was never really what we'd consider a star (only one All-Star appearance and a career average in single digits in both rebounds and points), Green was certainly a champion (as a member of the Lakers in 86 and 87) and he was without a doubt a true Iron Man.
Cal Ripken, Jr. 2,632 Games Played
Ripken is perhaps the best known "Iron Man" in professional sports, breaking a record once held by a legend of "America's pastime". Maybe it's because I grew up a Boston fan and the Orioles played in the AL while the Packers played in the NFC far away (generally) from our Patriots, or maybe it's remembering that Superbowl against Green Bay and being a little Anti-Favre as a result, but either way I've always felt like Ripken got a lot more publicity for his record than Favre did (or A.C. Green for that matter, he's really got a legitimate gripe!) It makes sense however, at least in comparison to Green as Ripken was a much bigger player when he broke his record than Favre was when he broke the record, or Green ever was in their respective sports. During the course of his 21 seasons, Ripken was voted the AL Rookie of the year, selected as an All-Star 19 times, voted AL MVP twice, won two Gold Gloves, eight Silver Slugger awards, and if that wasn't enough-he was also selected the All Star game MVP twice. Ripken is truly one of the legends of the MLB, and his career statistics show he is not only perhaps the greatest shortstop at the plate of all time, but he might also be considered one of the greatest hitters at any position. His final numbers rank him 14th in the MLB books in hits, as one of only 27 players to join the 3,000 hits club, with 3,184 total. He also hit for power, ranking 13th in doubles with 603, and 40th all time in home runs with 431 lifetime. Despite sporting a .276 lifetime average, Ripken batted over .300 for a total of 5 seasons, at one time ending the season with a sky-high .340! He also ranks 4th in MLB history with 11,551 at-bats (behind only Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, and Carl Yastremski). In 2007 Ripken was a first ballot hall of famer, receiving 98.53% of the vote, marking him as the 3rd greatest vote getter ever, and best percentage for election of any positional player. Without a doubt, even without the 2,632 consecutive games played, Ripken was a surefire hall of famer that posted legendary numbers and was a constant threat at the plate for more than 2 decades while playing one of the most defensively demanding positions in the sport of baseball. For 14 years (1982-1996) Ripken was the only player to start at shortstop for the Orioles, and this only ended because they moved him to third base as an experiment and he turned out to be great there. Part of that 14 years covered what might be an even more amazing streak, from June 5, 1982 to September 14, 1987 Ripken DID NOT MISS ONE SINGLE INNING OF BASEBALL. Not one. That is the equivalent to showing up to work every single day exactly on time, never being late back from your lunch break, never clocking out a minute early, never taking time off for a dentist's appointment, or a doctor's appointment, never staying home once with the kids because they've got chicken pox, no time missed whatsoever, for 5 years. That's pretty impressive if you ask me. I mean, I work as hard as the next guy-but things come up! For Ripken though, nothing ever came up that was more important than the job at hand-playing baseball for the Baltimore Orioles. No matter who you think the greatest Iron Man is, do not allow the passage of time to dull down the shine of the star that was Cal Ripken, Jr.
Brett Favre 291 games started
Of the three candidates you've certainly heard more about Favre in recent years, whether he's battling a decision to retire, an injury, or a particularly stout defense, what Favre does tends to be newsworthy. In fact, what Favre doesn't do could possibly be newsworthy as well, given that just the potential of his missing a start spurred this article (and probably thousands of similar articles). What makes it that way is the legend that is Favre, for whether you like his public antics or not, when it comes to NFL QB's Favre has pretty much set the mark other QB's are measured by no matter how you look at it. Passes completed (6,187), Passes attempted (9,990), Passing Yards (70,520), Passing touchdowns (504), and Career wins (183) are all statistical categories Brett Favre leads every QB in NFL history in, and most of those categories are by wide margins. Touchdowns for instance, the second QB on the list is Dan Marino with 420, the next active player is Peyton Manning with 379-125 behind Favre. Of course Favre also leads in all the negative statistical categories; fumbles (164), interceptions thrown (327), and times sacked (517), but those things will happen when you've lined up for nearly 2 decades without missing a game.
In my mind, the one thing that sets Favre apart from the jaw-dropping number of games Ripken played is the relative toughness of the sport. The most serious injury Ripken suffered during his run was a sprained knee, while Favre has suffered at least 20 serious injuries while hardly ever missing a down, let alone a game. Injuries Favre has played through include; torn bicep, separated shoulder, concussion, and a sprained left knee. As is well known by most NFL fans at this point, Favre now has two fractures in his ankle. He's also undergone at least three surgeries in his career, two on his ankle and one arthroscopic surgery to repair his biceps tendon. There have been accounts relayed by former Favre backups of his having one foot in a size 13 and the other in a size 15 it was so swollen-and yet he still started. And he typically played well during those games. Apparently while some of us outgrew believing in things like the tooth fairy, and Santa Claus, Brett Favre outgrew believing in being injured. Throughout his streak of starts he's only failed to finish a game due to injury on 6 occasions. Only 6 times his backup has gotten work in the past 20 years! Why not just rename the position behind Favre "Official NFL Clipboard Carrier"?
Brett Favre always has been and still is a true warrior in one of the most violent professional sports we have in this country. While other players take time off for hang nails and scrapes, Favre fights through broken bones, sprained joints, and torn muscles-in the most physically demanding and punishing sport of the three represented here in this article.
And The Winner Is...
Despite the glaring difference on the surface in numbers, I for one have to call Favre's streak more impressive. While Ripken thought about sitting out over a strained hamstring at one point in time, Favre has finished out seasons with torn muscles. Beyond that, Favre's streak is actually longer in terms of months and years, 18 years to Ripken's 16. Another interesting thing I looked at when comparing the two was the percentage that number 2 had, of their total streak. For Ripken, Gehrig has played 2,130 games consecutively-or roughly 80% of Ripken's end total. For Favre, the second place guy is Peyton Manning, who has lined up for 199 consecutive games-or about 66% of Favre's record. Goes to show how much one athlete set himself apart from the others. Additionally Favre's career has had far more impact on the record books than Ripken's had. Sure Ripken is a Hall of Famer, he was a great player and he posted some great numbers, but how many categories does he actually lead? 0. Favre, on the other hand leads every major statistical category that he possibly could, including wins. While both Favre and Ripken were champions and incredibly accomplished in their respective sports, Favre's career has clearly been more dominating and he has obviously pushed through far more injuries and physical limitations than Ripken, making him in my mind-the greatest of the Iron Men.