Come to Think of it...Open Mic: Top Ten Most Recognizable Sports Figures Ever

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer ISeptember 18, 2008

Hey everyone.  I'd like to open the forum for a discussion on who you think are the ten most recognizable sports stars of all time. I must admit I'm limiting my selections to being recognizable in the United States, as that is the country I am from. You may decide that someone else is even more of a recognizable figure outside this country and that's fine, bring it on!

Without further ado, here are my choices, in no particular order (although if forced to, I'd probably go with Ali-Jordan-Ruth top 3):

Yogi Berra

Known as much for his famous malaprops as for his Hall of Fame baseball career, Yogi was arguably the most beloved baseball player since Babe Ruth. Berra was one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times, and one of only six managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. His legend lives on in a famous commercial for Aflac insurance.

Michael Jordan

Thought by many to be the greatest basketball player ever, "Air Jordan", or simply "Michael" Jordan's individual accolades and accomplishments include five MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances and three All-Star MVP, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA record for highest career regular season scoring average with 30.12 points per game, as well as averaging a record 33.4 points per game in the playoffs. He still can be seen on numerous TV product endorsements as one of the more marketed athletes in history.

Vince Lombardi

His name and reputation are synonymous with leadership. He was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers of the NFL from 1959-67, winning five league championships during his 9 years, and won the first two Super Bowl titles. His speeches are legendary and many school textbooks still cite references to him whenever the subject of auditory brilliance and leadership is taught.

Muhammad Ali

"He floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee", Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) is considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight boxer ever. His self confidence and bravado are legendary. He is still the only heavyweight boxer to have held the title three separate times. His latter day struggles with Parkinson's disease may have silenced his once powerful voice, but it has endeared him even more to the world. In 1991, Ali was voted "the most recognized American in the world."

Babe Ruth

George Herman Ruth, aka "the Babe", was one of the more larger than life characters in sporting history. Known for his prodigious home run power, Ruth was also a tremendous pitcher in his youth. Late in his career, Ruth was known to be an overweight, hot dog eating beer drinker, and his late night exploits and life outside the diamond became  legendary.  Ruth's lifetime total of 714 home runs at his retirement in 1935 was a record for 39 years, until broken by Hank Aaron in 1974. He is widely recognized as the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

Tiger Woods

Almost everyone agrees that Tiger Woods, if he is not already, will be considered the greatest golfer who ever lived, by the time his career ends. Woods has won fourteen professional major golf championships, the second highest of any male player, and 65 PGA Tour events, third all time. He has more career major wins and career PGA Tour wins than any other active golfer. He is the youngest player to achieve the career Grand Slam, and the youngest and fastest to win 50 tournaments on tour. Like Jordan, Tiger has been marketed well, and his TV advertisements and billboards can be seen all over the world.

Lance Armstrong

A celebrated American cyclist, Armstrong won the Tour de France a record-breaking seven consecutive years, from 1999 to 2005. He is the only individual to win seven times. He has survived testicular cancer. In 2002, Sports Illustrated magazine named him Sportsman of the Year.

David Beckham

Perhaps the best known sports personality outside the U.S., Beckham has brought attention to soccer by virtue of his good looks and marriage to one of the Spice Girls. His decision to play in the States has raised the popularity of the world's most popular sport. He was Google's most searched of all sports topics in both 2003 and 2004. Such global recognition has made him an elite advertising brand and a top fashion icon.

Peyton Manning

The QB of the Indianapolis Colts makes the list perhaps by virtue of his TV commercials as much as his success on the field. He also is the son of a former NFL QB (Archie) and his brother QBs for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants (Eli). Manning holds NFL records for consecutive seasons with over 4,000 yards passing and the most total seasons with 4,000 or more yards passing in a career. Manning has become the NFL's most marketable player.

Dale Earnhardt

To ignore one of the more popular sports would be folly. And yes, NASCAR racing has become extremely popular in the United States. Arguably the most recognized driver, Earnhardt won 76 races in a career that ended tragically when he crashed his car in the 2001 Daytona 500. He was known as "The Intimidator."