25 Great Sports Venues and the Athletes Who Own Them
Certain athletes perform at a higher level when the highs get brighter and the stage gets bigger. These are the athletes we revere the most, because as the theatre increases, so does the pressure.
Athletic dominance sometimes comes as an anomaly, and other times by luck. But, the best athletes in the world usually do their best when they know that everyone is watching. That is what separates stars from legends. Who is going to step up in the final moments? Who is going to own the moment?
Here are the top 25 sports venues and the athletes that owned them.
25. Jerry Rice at Candlestick Park
Though his stats are nearly identical for home and away, a testament to his consistency, Rice, regardless of his quarterback, lit up the scoreboard.
His 107 career touchdowns at home still amaze today, and show why he was one of the best ever.
24. Wayne Gretzky at Rexall Place
For those who don’t know, Rexall Place is where the Edmonton Oilers play their home games. During their four Stanley Cup winning seasons, centered around Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One” lead the team in points each season.
This is one of the best arenas in all of hockey, and was raised to a whole new level when Gretzky was there. This was the definition of someone owning their home ice.
23. Richard Petty at the Daytona 500
All NASCAR fans know the number 43 car as the one driven by “The King”.
The Daytona 500 is the most well known and one of the most prestigious races in all of professional driving. Richard Petty was able to conquer the track on seven different occasions, earning him the respect of his peers.
None of his races were more controversial than the 1979 race in which he came back from 3rd place after Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the final lap.
22. Chipper Jones at Shea Stadium
e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'
Shea Stadium is not the holiest baseball stadium in history, but there have been many big moments in sports history; it is also Chipper Jones’ favorite place to play.
In fact, he is so good there and likes it so much that he named his child after the stadium. Jones is a career .313 hitter with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs in 88 games at the park.
He has been a Met killer for years and probably was first in line to buy stadium seats as they were being sold off.
21. Walter Payton at Lambeau Field
The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field could make even the toughest men huddle for warmth with teammates.
In order to get over this chill, you need to keep moving, so that’s what Walter Payton did. He rushed for 1,188 career yards (99 ypg) in Green Bay and six touchdowns over 12 career games at Lambeau.
He was the centerpiece of the Chicago Bears offense and had seven games over 100 yards including a 205-yard performance.
20. AJ Foyt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the home of the well-known Indianapolis 500 and some of the biggest and most fatal crashes in racing history.
AJ Foyt knew about these dangers, but believed he was such a good driver that none of it mattered. He won the Indianapolis 500 four times in addition to a multitude of other races.
Only two other drivers have accomplished this milestone, yet there is something about Foyt that made him a special driver; he always thought it was about the man inside the car and not the wheels he was on.
19. Geoff Hurst at Wembley Stadium
At Wembley Stadium, England won the 1966 World Cup final over West Germany on the back of Geoff Hurst.
The Englishman scored three times in the final, including the game winner in a 4-2 victory.
Wembley is one of the oldest and most prestigious stadiums in the entire world, and on this stage, England proved victorious.
18. Lawrence Taylor at RFK Stadium
LT has 12.0 career sacks at Washington, a true division rival, including snapping Joe Theismann's leg.
He never played a game at that stadium where he did not record a sack. While it was always difficult to contain the beast, for whatever reason, the nation’s capital got the linebacker even more riled up than usually.
17. Tyler Hansbrough at Cameron Indoor Stadium
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of the Duke Blue Devils has the Cameron Crazies, Coach K, and usually a loaded team.
Tyler Hansbrough could care less. In his four years at UNC, Hansbrough and teammate Danny Green were the only Tar Heels to play in four wins at Duke University. This is a significant feat considering that Duke does not lose very often at home.
This is the type of performance that Hansbrough and the Tar Heel had during his tenure.
16. Bill Hartack at Churchill Downs
They call the Kentucky Derby the most exciting two minutes in sports. Churchill Downs is where the race is held each year and draws some of the most influential and affluent people from around the country to watch the race.
While the horse is important, there is also a little man riding on top of it to urge it to go faster. The best in the business was Bill Hartack.
He won the derby five times in only 12 chances, helping him get into the Racing Hall of Fame. His success came in the late 50s and early 60s, well before significant video was kept of the event.
15. Terry Bradshaw at the Orange Bowl
e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'
The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl in two separate Super Bowls.
In Super Bowl XIII, after already winning one title, quarterback Terry Bradshaw took game MVP honors. He passed for 318 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Overall, in two Orange Bowl appearances, Bradshaw accumulated 627 passing yards, six touchdowns and four INTs.
14. Mel Ott at the Polo Grounds
The Polo Grounds is a hallowed place where the ghosts of baseball past hangout. Mel Ott, a lifetime New York Giant hit 323 of his 511 career home runs at the ballpark. This is more home runs than anyone has ever hit there.
Ott may not have been the most famous Giant in baseball history, but his stats speak for themselves.
He was king of the Polo Grounds, a title he takes to his grave.
13. Ayrton Senna at Monaco Grand Prix
The Monaco Grand Prix is a Formula 1 race that is steeped in tradition and looks difficult as hell to drive.
Ayrton Senna, six titles later, is now known as one of the best drivers in the world and the master of this track.
One of his best performances, in a second place finish, was the 1984 race in which drivers had to deal with slick conditions.
12. Deion Sanders at the Georgia Dome
Newly inducted NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders couldn’t shut off the “Prime Time” swagger that made him one of the best cornerbacks of all time.
After playing five stellar seasons in Atlanta, he returned to the Georgia Dome in a San Francisco 49er uniform.
After an exchanging of blows with former teammate Andre Rison, Deion returned an interception for 93 yards and a touchdown.
When interviewed about the incident, he said, “I built this, this is my house” in reference to the newly constructed stadium.
His ego was a little bit big.
11. Ted Williams at Fenway Park
If you ask someone what the Green Monster is, you would expect a wide range of puzzled looks and confusing answers. But, anyone who knows anything about sports has made that nickname synonymous with the giant left field wall at Fenway Park.
There are few legends that mean more to a franchise than Ted Williams. Boston’s lifetime outfielder was a two time MVP, lifetime .344 hitter, and even a war hero.
He topped it off in theatrical fashion with a home run in his final at bat.
10. Lance Armstrong at the Tour De France
They called it the “Tour de Lance” from 1999-2005 because of the overall dominance by Armstrong and his team.
There are some that question the validity of his victories based on alleged doping, but as his drug results have shown up clean, there is no reason to doubt the man who has single handedly changes cycling.
The Tour de France first took place in 1903, with dozens of racers from 12 countries having take home the title. It is truly a special event and a honor to be part of such an elite group.
For Armstrong, he not only joined this club, but he surpassed them.
9. Lionel Messi at Camp Nou
Tyler Hansbrough UNC
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Camp Nou is the largest stadium in Europe and home to the best team in the soccer world right now.
Their star, Lionel Messi is one of only four players in team history to score 100 league goals. At only 24, it is all but certain that Messi will become Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer at his current pace.
Watching Messi play is special and soon enough he will be atop the record books for the football club.
8. Larry Bird at the Boston Garden
There are few basketball venues more legendary than the Boston Garden. Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Bob Cousy are but a few of the legends to take the court and win multiple championships on the checkered hardwood.
Despite all of these legendary players, none owned the court quite like Bird. Between his inbounds steal, three championships, and epic battles with Magic Johnson, Larry legend had it all.
7. Vince Young at the Rose Bowl
There have only been two two-time Rose Bowl game MVPs. They were Ron Dayne and Vince Young. After going to the tape, Young owned the games at a higher level and took home a National Championship.
In 2005, he beat Michigan 38-37, rushing for 192 yards and four touchdowns. The highlight of the night was the game wining drive capped off by a field goal.
Then, in 2006, Young lead the Longhorns over the favored USC Trojans. This game included the iconic final drive where Young scored on 4th-and 5 with seconds remaining.
He cemented himself as the best player in the Rose Bowl’s long and storied history.
6. Michael Phelps at the Beijing National Aquatics Center
The 2008 Beijing Olympics featured some of the most state of the art facilities ever created. The Beijing National Aquatics Center was a magnificent arena that staged Michael Phelps’ run at seven gold medals.
There were run away victories, nail biting finishes, and world records set. Phelps took swimming to a whole new level and dominated the sport like few have done before him.
It was an amazing display of endurance, strength, and will power for the young American.
5. Jack Nicklaus at the Masters
Few, if any golf tournaments rival The Masters at August National Golf Club. The mystique and aura around the greats who have won, make it a special event that the best golfers in the world attend every year.
Jack Nicklaus has won the event more than anyone else in the history of professional golf. The six-time champion won over the span of 26 years, with none being more famous than his final go around at the back nine of the 1986 Masters.
This was where ”The Golden Bear” won his 18th and final major.
4. Roger Federer at Wimbledon
What Nadal is to clay, Roger Federer is to grass. The all-time grand slams leader has made center court at Wimbledon his home for the better part of a decade, winning six titles, including five straight.
What he lacks in pure power, he makes up for in craft and guile. While his reign at the top of the tennis world appears to be coming to an end, there was a time when nobody could be beat Federer on grass, let alone any surface.
He is arguably the best tennis player of all time, and made the legendary All England Club his masterpiece.
3. Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros
Roland Garros, the home of the French Open has been utterly dominated by Rafael Nadal over the last seven years.
From 2005-2011, Nadal has only lost one French Open title (2009) and has been deemed the “King of Clay” for his ability to beat nearly every opponent on that surface.
Despite my preference for Roger Federer, watching him play at the French Open is a treat. He makes shots that seem impossible and wears you down before snapping a forehand winner.
2. Babe Ruth at Old Yankee Stadium
They don’t call it "The House that Ruth Built", for no reason. The bambino hit 259 career home runs at the original Yankee Stadium, second most in team history.
Ruth also won four World Series titles in New York and had his 60 home run season in 1927, as a member of the Yankees.
To this day, the Babe is considered one of, if not the best baseball player of all-time, and Yankee Stadium was his cathedral.
1. Michael Jordan at Madison Square Garden
Honorable Mention: Reggie Miller
As long as Michael Jordan was in a Bulls uniform, the New York Knicks were never able to get out of the Eastern Conference.
For Jordan, MSG and the city of New York was the Mecca of basketball. There was no bigger stage and no visiting fan base that appreciated his work more. Every time he stepped on the floor, it was as if his game was taken to another level.
Jordan expected perfection out of himself, and at The Garden, he was nearly that...Perfect.