The 20 Greatest Individual Seasons in Sports History

Brandon WhalenCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2011

The 20 Greatest Individual Seasons in Sports History

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    Brady and Moss both had great 2007 seasons, but were they good enough to crack the top 20?

    The athletes on this list had absolutely amazing and dominant seasons. There are some names you know will be on this list and there may be some you did not expect.

    The list consists of athletes from sports that are big in America: football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, etc. Sorry soccer fans but there are no soccer players on the list. Also there are no rugby, cricket, Formula 1 racing, or athletes from other sports that are popular around the world but not in America.

    So here it is; the 20 greatest individual seasons in sports history.

Honorable Mentions

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    Martina Navratilova, Tennis, 1984

    Won three majors and had a 74 match win streak.

    Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins, 1970-71

    Won the Hart (MVP), Norris (defenseman), Ross (scoring), and Conn Smythe (playoff MVP).

    Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1941

    Last player to bat over .400. Also led the league in HR and SLG.

    Sugar Ray Robinson, Boxing, 1950

    19-0 record with 12 knockouts and won the World Welterweight Title.

    Deacon Jones, Los Angeles Rams, 1967

     Unofficially had a record 26 sacks in 14 games.

    And now to the athletes who made the top 20:

20. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers, 1987

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    Rice had many seasons with more yards and receptions, but never a season with more touchdowns.

    The 1987 season was shortened because of a strike, but that did not slow down Jerry Rice. He managed to grab a then record 22 touchdowns in only 12 games. Until 2007 no one had ever had 20 touchdown receptions in a full season, and Rice did it while missing four games.

    He also had 65 receptions for 1,078 yards and ran for a touchdown.

19. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, 1987-88

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    The 1987-88 season was Jordan’s best all-around year.

    He led the league with 35 points per game and also grabbed 5.5 rebounds and dished out 5.9 assists per game. He also had a phenomenal defensive season, he led the league with 3.2 steals per game and averaged 1.6 blocks. Jordan became the first player the win the scoring title and the Defensive Player of the Year Award in the same season.

    In addition to his D-POY award Jordan was also named league MVP for the first time in his career.

18. Lew Alcindor, UCLA Bruins, 1966-67

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    You may know him as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but in while at UCLA he was known as Lew Alcindor and he was the best basketball player in the country.

    He joined UCLA in 1965 but, freshmen were not allowed to play on varsity until 1972. In his sophomore year Alcindor came out with a storm. He averaged 29.0 points and 15.5 rebounds per game, and had a shooting percentage of .667.

    He led the Bruins to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the NCAA tournament. In the tournament the Bruins won all four games by double digits on their way to a national championship. Alcindor was named a First Team All-American and was national player of the year. 

    After this season the dunk was banned in college basketball mainly due to the dominance of Alcindor.

17. Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants, 1986

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    Defensive players in the NFL are extremely underrated; normally you would not see a one on a list like this. They just aren’t considered as valuable as offensive players.

    In 1986 Lawrence Taylor was just as valuable as any quarterback in the league, and that is why he is number 17 on the list. He dominated offensive lines on his way to 20.5 sacks and led the Giants to a 14-2 record. He won defensive player of the year for the third time and was the second defensive player to win the NFL MVP award and the only one to be selected unanimously.

    In the playoffs he led the Giants defense who only allowed 3 total points in their first two games. In Super Bowl XXI the Giants defeated the Broncos 39-20 and Taylor made a goal line touchdown saving tackle of John Elway.

    Despite having an average offense L.T. led the Giants to a total record of 17-2 and a Super Bowl victory.

16. Bobby Jones, PGA, 1930

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    In 1930 Jones became the first and only golfer the win all four major tournaments in the same year. An Atlanta sportswriter came up with the term “Grand Slam” to describe this amazing feat.

    The four majors in 1930 were the British Open and Amateur and the U.S. Open and Amateur. A few weeks after winning the U.S. Amateur, Jones retired from golf as an amateur at the age of 28.

    Bobby Jones is the only athlete on this list that never played his sport professionally; he was a full time lawyer and only played golf as an amateur.  

15. Richard Petty, NASCAR, 1967

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    In 1967 Petty earned his nickname “The King”.

    That year he won a NASCAR record 27 of the 48 races he entered, a record that has never been challenged. To put that accomplishment into perspective Jimmie Johnson won a total of 27 races in four seasons from 2006-2009, and won the title all four years.

    Petty won a record 10 consecutive races and fished the year with 40 top ten finishes. He also recorded 19 poles which is second all-time for a season.

14. O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973

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    O.J. was the first of six NFL players to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, and he is the only one to do so in a 14 game regular season.

    In 1973 he rushed for a then NFL record 2,003 yards on 332 carries. He almost doubled John Brockington’s rushing total of 1,144 yards, who came in second that season. O.J. also averaged an NFL record 143.1 rushing yards per game, which is 10 yards more than the next best for a season and was over 50 yards more per game then the next best in 1973.

    “The Juice” was named the NFL MVP and the AP Male Athlete of the Year.

13. Walter Johnson, Washington Senators, 1913

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    In 1913 Walter Johnson had one of the most dominating pitching seasons in MLB history.

    He led the league in almost every pitching category you could possibly think of; wins (36), win percentage (.837), ERA (1.14), complete games (29), shutouts (11), innings pitched (346.0), SO (243), ERA+ (259), WHIP (.780), Hits per nine innings (6.0), walks per nine innings (1.0), SO per nine innings (6.3), and SO/BB (6.39), and he was named the league MVP.

    From April into May, Johnson pitched 55.2 consecutive scoreless innings; it still remains as the AL record and is third all-time in the MLB. For a pitcher who has started at least 20 games his 1.14 ERA and 259 ERA+ are the fifth lowest for a season, and his .780 WHIP is second all-time.

12. Rod Laver, Tennis, 1969

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    Rod Laver is the name on this list that the average sports fan my never have heard of.

    In 1968 he became the first professional male tennis player to win all four Grand Slam single titles, (two amateurs won all four slams before this; Budge in ’38 and Laver in ’62). In the four Grand Slam finals Laver lost a total of only two sets. He also won 18 of the 32 singles tournaments he entered, and had a record 0f 106-16 for the year.

    He became the first player in history to earn over $100,000 US Dollars, by compiling $124,000 in prize money.  

11. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1992-93

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    In 1992 Lemieux started off the season on a tear, he was on pace to challenge Gretzky’s records for goals and points for a season, 92 and 215 respectively.

    On January 12th Lemieux announced that he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    He would miss the next two months due to radiation treatments, and without him the Penguins struggled. In the first game of his return, he scored a goal and assist in a 5-4 loss. Pittsburgh then won an NHL record 17 consecutive wins and finished in first place. Although he missed 20 games he finished the season with a league leading 160 points.

    Lemieux averaged an amazing 2.67 points per game, which is the highest ever by someone not named Wayne Gretzky.

10. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals, 1961-62

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    In his second year in the league “The Big O” became the first and only player to average a triple-double for the entire season.

    He averaged 30.8 points, 11.4 assists, and 12.5 rebounds per game. Oscar is the standard for great all-around players; he scored 2,432 points to finish third in the league, was in the top ten in rebounds by grabbing nearly 1,000, and led the league with 899 assists. He decisively broke Bob Cousy’s two-year-old assist record of 715. He finished third in the league with 700 free throws while shooting over 80 percent from the line.

    “The Big O” was also a very durable player; he averaged 44.2 minutes per game and trailed only Wilt Chamberlain in total minutes played.

9. Pete Maravich, LSU Tigers, 1969-1970

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    Pete Maravich is above and beyond the greatest scorer in college basketball history.

    In three seasons he averaged 44.2 point per game and is the all-time leading scorer with 3,667 total points. He was fantastic all three years, but his junior season was his best.

    He averaged 44.5 points per game, his highest total and the NCAA record for points per game in a single season, and his 1,381 points is also a NCAA record. Maravich scored 50 plus points on ten occasions and 60 plus points three times.

    He scored big in every game, his lowest point total for a game was 29; the same amount of points that Jimmer Fredette averaged this past season to lead the league.

8. Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 2000

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    Coming off his 1999 season that could be argued as one of the greatest pitching seasons of all-time, Pedro kept the momentum going with another phenomenal year.

    He finished the season with a very good 18-6 record, but that does not illustrate his dominance, in his six losses he had an ERA of 2.44. He finished the season with a league leading 1.74 ERA, second to him in the AL was Roger Clemens with an ERA of 3.70.

    He set several all-time MLB pitching records in 2000 including; ERA+ (291), WHIP (.737), opponents BA (.167), and on base % (.213). He also led the league by giving up only 5.3 hits per 9 innings and had 284 strikeouts. Martinez only gave up 128 hits and is the only pitcher to record twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed.

    What makes this season even more impressive is that it was done at a home run friendly Fenway Park for his home games, in the heart of the steroid era, and in the league with a designated hitter.

7. Steffi Graf, Tennis, 1988

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    In 1988 the 19 year old Graf had the greatest season in tennis history. She was the first and remains the only person ever to achieve the “Golden Slam” (All four majors and the Olympic gold medal).

    She started off by defeating Chris Evert in the Australian Open in straight sets. She won the French Open by overwhelming Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0, the first double bagel in a major final in over 75 years.  At Wimbledon she came back from a set down to beat Navratilova 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. In the last major of the year she defeated Gabriela Sabatini in three sets to win the U.S. Open, and became only the third female tennis player to win the Calendar Year Grand Slam.

    Graf finished off the year by again defeating Sabatini in the Gold Medal match at the Olympics to complete the “Golden Slam.” She finished the year with a 72-3 record and eleven singles titles, including eight consecutive.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots, 2007

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    In 2007 Brady had perhaps the greatest individual seasons in NFL history.

    He threw for an NFL record 50 touchdown passes and only tossed 8 interceptions. He led the Pats to the NFLs first 16-0 regular season, and the highest scoring offense in league history. He also threw for 4,806 yards, the fourth highest total ever, and had a quarterback rating of 117.2 which is good for second all-time.

    Through the first 10 games of the season Brady tossed 38 touchdowns and had at least three in all ten games, both of which are NFL records.

5. Tiger Woods, PGA 2000

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    Tiger’s 2000 season wasn’t just about greatness; it was about his dominance of the competition.

    He broke the U.S. Open record with a 12-under and won by a major championship record of 15 strokes. Next he won the British open by 8 strokes and his 19-under broke the major championship record in relation to par. Woods then won the PGA championship in a playoff, joining Ben Hogan as the only golfers to win three professional majors in one season.

    Tiger finished the season with nine total wins and his 68.17 scoring average is the lowest in PGA history. 

4. Babe Ruth, New York Yankees, 1921

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    In 1921 there was nothing the Babe couldn’t do.

    Ruth led the league in runs (177), home runs (59), RBI’s (171), on base% (.512), SLG% (.846), OPS (1.359), total bases (457), extra base hits (119), and his .378 batting average was third. His slugging percentage and OPS were both over .200 points ahead of the next best player that year.

    He set major league records this year in runs, home runs, RBI’s, total bases, and extra base hits. Babe’s 457 total bases and 119 extra base hits still stand as MLB records.

3. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers, 1981-82

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    Gretzky shattered the NHL records with 92 goals 120 assists and 212 points.

    Before that season the record for most goals was 76 by Phil Esposito, and the records for assists and points were 109 and 164 which were set by Gretzky just the year before. His 92 goals still stands as a record and his totals for assists and points have only been surpassed by him.

    Gretzky set the record with 10 hat tricks in a season, which he would later tie. He also led the league with 6 short-handed goals and 12 game-winning goals, and had a very accurate shooting percentage of 24.9.

2. Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State Cowboys, 1988

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    Sander’s 1988 season was so good it’s hard to believe it was even real.

    He rushed for 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns in 11 games.

    In the Holiday Bowl he added 222 yards and five more touchdowns, bringing the 12-game total to 2,860 yard and 42 touchdowns. That’s an average of 237.5 rushing yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game! He also had 515 return yards with two touchdowns and 106 receiving yards, giving him 3,471 all-purpose yards and 44 total touchdowns.

    Sanders set 34 NCAA records in 1988, including rushing yards, touchdowns, points scored, and all-purpose yards.

1. Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors, 1961-62

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    Chamberlain is arguably the most dominating athlete ever to play in the NBA, and his 1961-62 season is a great example of it.

    Wilt scored a record 4,026 points while averaging a staggering 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. The Stilt scored 50 plus points in 45 games, and to put that into perspective, no other player has scored 50 plus points that many times in an entire career.

    He also had the most incredible single game performance in NBA history, when he scored a record 100 points on March 2nd against the Knicks.

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