Top 50 Greatest Athletes in American Sports History


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50. Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas was as American as apple pie, with his first-generation heritage, crew-cut hairstyle, and black high-top shoes. Unitas, of course, will forever be immortalized as a Baltimore Colt, leading the NFL in passing on four separate occasions and winning the league MVP award three times. Unitas was to finish his career with 40,239 passing yards, which is still good for 14th place on the all-­time list. Johnny U’s statistics are even more impressive ­­when you consider the fact that he was a quarterback during the 1950s and ’60s, prior to the advent of five-­wide sets, the shotgun spread, and all other pass­-happy gimmicks.

Unitas put his full talents on display in “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” which ushered professional football into the television era. That game pitted a total of 17 Hall of Famers against each other, both Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, for the 1958 championship grudge match. Late in the game, Unitas engineered two separate 80-­yard drives to send the contest into overtime on a short field goal and claim the title for Baltimore on a 1-­yard touchdown dive by Alan Ameche. As the winning quarterback, Unitas went 26-40­­ for 349 passing yards and one touchdown. In doing so, the Comeback Kid laid the groundwork for the likes of John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Joe Montana.

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49. Sandy Koufax

Who better to represent the first baseball player on this list than the great Sandy Koufax? Although his career only last 12 years, with the last half being his best, Koufax endeared himself to Dodger fans. He compiled a career record of 165-87 with a 2.76 ERA and 2,396 strikeouts. Koufax won the NL Cy Young awards in 1963, 1965 and 1966, while also winning the NL MVP in 1963. From 1962-66 (last five years of his career), Koufax led the league in ERA each year, averaging a 1.95 mark over that span. He also hit the 300-mark in strikeouts three times, reaching as high as 382 in 1965. Also consider he had a WHIP of 0.926 over the last five years of his career. Sadly, like Drysdale, Koufax’s career ended prematurely with arthritis in his left elbow. He will forever be a fan favorite among MLB fans everywhere, not just Dodgers fans. He was truly one of a kind.