Commentary

More of the least cool athletes in history

Originally Published: February 16, 2011
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

Redick, Malone, YepremianESPN.com Illustration

GQ magazine recently published its list of the 25 coolest athletes of all time, a compendium of the usual suspects: Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, etc. All in all, a perfectly fine idea. Except for one detail.

The magazine took the easy way out.

Here's the thing about talented athletes: They're generally cool by default. Throw a football 60 yards? You'll be admired. Soar through the air with the greatest of ease? Sprint as though your shoes contain nitroglycerin? Society's unconditional approval awaits. Indeed, physical prowess is a first-class, all-expenses-paid ticket to Coolville, population: you. This is true for Tom Brady; it's true when picking teams in elementary school; it means that the real challenge for gifted jocks isn't being cool but rather finding a way to screw up said coolness.

That's where Page 2 comes in.

Last week, we began our celebration of the dorks. (Click here to read Part 1.) The tools. The iconic athletes remembered and -- quick, what's the opposite of "revered"? -- for being uncool. The ones who lacked élan. Who were clumsy. Who rankled. The ones who tried too hard to be cool (and invariably failed); the ones we never wanted to emulate and wouldn't trade places with; the ones born with a social silver spoon who nevertheless ended up eating belly button lint.

Uncool is like obscenity: You know it when you see it. With that in mind and with the help of your suggestions, Page 2 presents more of the least cool athletes of all time.

(Do you think we missed someone? Click here to send us your suggestions. We'll be adding to our list in the future.)


Shawn Bradley

Wilt Chamberlain once lamented that "nobody roots for Goliath." Which in turn begs the question: What happens when Goliath is 7 feet, 6 inches of gangly, sharp-elbowed awkwardness? Enter Shawn Bradley. Selected No. 2 overall in the 1993 NBA draft, Bradley was a reasonably competent professional center -- a more skilled version of Manute Bol minus the fantastic backstory and the charming penchant for 3-point shots.

Like Bol, Bradley was tall. Really tall. Height defined him both on the court and in a small, dusty corner of popular imagination's spare linen closet. (Why else would he be asked to join Muggsy Bogues in "Space Jam?") Bradley's exaggerated stature allowed him to make a nice living -- if he were 6-foot-7, he would have been lucky to play pro ball in Central America -- but also came at a cost. Specifically, it made him a carnival attraction. A dunk target. A man whose primary claim to fame was getting slammed on -- hard, repeatedly -- by a who's who of the league.

Tracy McGrady with the one-handed hammer. Jason Richardson with a memorable tip dunk. Shaquille O'Neal with too many to count. Stuffing the rock in Bradley's goofy craw was practically an NBA rite of passage; because Bradley could actually play (2,119 career blocks), doing so meant something. Indeed, Bradley was less dunk-contest prop than picture-perfect enabler, the posterizee in a league of posterizers, tragically born too soon for the coming of Blake Griffin. Sigh. Nobody roots for Goliath. Nobody rooted for Bradley, either. But without a big man to fell, does anyone care about David?


Garo Yepremian

Kickers are different from you and me. Actually, that's wrong. Kickers are the same as you and me, which makes them markedly different from other professional football players. The single-bar face masks. The diminutive frames. The comic musical tributes. The overlooked, underappreciated, razor's-edge-of-employment existence. To gaze upon an NFL kicker is to despair, to grasp an awful, Walter Mitty-killing truth: That's what I would look like in a helmet and shoulder pads.

Why is Yepremian so transcendentally uncool? He made all of the above explicit. And he did it in a single play on the game's grandest stage. Super Bowl VII. Miami against Washington. With the Dolphins leading by two touchdowns and just more than two minutes remaining, the sure-footed Yepremian lined up to kick a field goal that would seal his team's historic perfect season.

And then this happened.

Washington's Bill Brundige blocked the kick. Yepremian scrambled to the ball. He could have fallen on it. Should have fallen on it. Instead, he picked it up and attempted -- note: we use the next term loosely -- a pass. Quite possibly the least athletic-looking attempt to throw a spherical object in the history of organized athletic activity (including Carl Lewis' first pitch). That Washington's Mike Bass scored a return touchdown hardly mattered. What mattered was Yepremian setting back the coolness cause of kickers by at least a half century; what mattered was a terrifying vision of how panicky and inept the rest of us would look in the same situation, as opposed to gambling and criticizing and watching from the stands.


Jeff Gordon

"Rainbow Warrior"? Not exactly "Night Train" Lane. But still, a dorky nickname is to Jeff Gordon's coolness deficit as spending billions on stealth fighters is to the federal budget deficit -- unhelpful, yet hardly the primary problem. Gordon's essential lameness stems from what he represents: NASCAR's shift from an outlaw, chic sport of iconoclastic, Southern, moonshine-running badasses to a high-speed branding exercise piloted by clean-cut technocrats with sensible facial hair compiling points for the bean-counting overlords in corporate.

To put things another way, Gordon is no Dale Earnhardt.

Thing is, Gordon ought to be cool. During a four-year span, he racked up 47 victories just by driving faster than everyone else. He married a smoking-hot Belgian model. He pretty much reached the twin summits of awesomeness -- top speed and maximum babe-age -- as understood by 14-year-old boys. All for naught. After all, what made stock car racing cool was its attitudinal cocktail of just-win-baby determination, death-defying insouciance and up-yours working-class defiance. NASCAR was a sport both in and out of time; as a kid-faced Californian who won too much, too soon and had the gall to whine when he wasn't spouting the names of each of his sponsors, Gordon made racing thoroughly modern. More smooth than rough. More merlot than moonshine.


John Stockton and Karl Malone

Like Batman and Robin, the two will forever be linked. And in the realm of uncoolness, both John Stockton and Karl Malone are less brooding Caped Crusader than dorky Boy Wonder. Stockton: played without panache, kept whatever personality and/or sense of humor he had private, stuck with basketball short shorts long after team-themed Daisy Dukes joined the McDLT on the wrong side of history. Malone: considered dunking with one arm cocked behind his head to be stylish, overshared his cowboy hat-wearin', 18-wheeler-lovin' ways with an uncomprehending public, played the sidekick to a Mormon gunslinger in the 1994 movie "Rockwell."

Together, Stockton and Malone perfected the pick-and-roll, an admirable yet insufferable accomplishment that made them the NBA's answer to a Chuck Lorre sitcom. Specifically, "Two and a Half Men." On one hand, perfecting basketball's basic two-man play made them as ultraefficient and borderline unstoppable as a Sheen-to-Cryer punch line; on the other, their metronomic mastery sucked much of the joy out of watching a game -- at least the joy that comes from imaginative spontaneity, from the possibility of spectacular failure, from not knowing exactly how the show is going to end before it even starts. Winning isn't always cool.


Daniel-san from "The Karate Kid"

The ridiculous headband. The absurd crane stance. The slightly creepy hanging out with an elderly gardener. We're not saying that Daniel-san deserved to get jumped by the Cobra Kai -- actually, wait. That's exactly what we're saying.


Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards

A "ski-dropper." That's what they called him. Perhaps being kind. The 1988 Winter Olympics featured the world's top alpine athletes. Also Eddie Edwards, a British ski jumper nicknamed "The Eagle." A former downhill racer who missed the Sarajevo cut in 1984, Edwards switched to jumping to increase his Olympic odds. The plan worked. As the only competing British jumper on the planet, Edwards qualified for Calgary, where he finished dead last.

This was expected.

Edwards worked as a plasterer. He was mostly broke. A self-taught jumper, he was 20 pounds heavier than his spindly, wraithlike peers. Moreover, he was deathly nearsighted, doomed to wear his signature soda bottle glasses, which invariably fogged up on the slopes. Edwards had two choices: (a) jump blind without his specs; (b) jump blind with them.

But forget all that. Somehow, some way, without the help of Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, Edwards parlayed his athletic ineptitude into global stardom. He appeared on "The Tonight Show." (Which used to be a big deal. Ask your parents.) He landed endorsement deals. He became the only individual athlete ever to be mentioned during the closing speech of an Olympics.

In short, Edwards became improbably, impossibly famous. Simply for being just like us.

Following Calgary, an embarrassed International Olympic Committee tightened its entry requirements to make sure Edwards never competed again. Talk about shortsighted. The IOC should have given him a platinum medal. Years before "Survivor" and Ozzy Osbourne, the Eagle was the first reality television star.


Wade Boggs

Content to hit single and doubles off the wall? Lame. Finishing his career as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray when no one else wanted him? Lame. Kissing the plate after hit No. 3,000? Lame. Riding a police horse after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series? Lame. Chicken every day? Really? Lame.

Oh, and Margo Adams wasn't even hot.

-- David Schoenfield


Freddie Mitchell

Fact: There is something profoundly and indisputably uncool about failing to walk the talk. And in the long, undistinguished history of charge-card mouths attached to check-bouncing butts, not even Nikita "we will bury you" Khrushchev can hold a candle to Freddie Mitchell.

Surely you remember -- dissing and dismissing the New England Patriots' secondary before and after a Super Bowl loss, ripping quarterback Donovan McNabb, carping that Terrell Owens limited his touches, never catching more than 40 passes in an NFL season, wearing oven mitts to a news conference and thanking his hands "for being so great." There also was a string of self-proclaimed monikers: The People's Champ, First Down Freddie, Hollywood, the Sultan of Slot, Burrito Mitchell and FredEx.

Cool Rule No. 26: Nobody cool ever gave himself a nickname.

Asked why he later appeared on "The Millionaire Matchmaker" -- a direct violation of Cool Rule No. 175 -- Mitchell said he needed help finding someone who "cares about Freddie Mitchell." Good luck with that.


Vijay Singh

It's difficult to stand out as one of the least cool people in golf -- a sport whose stars best only pro bowlers in street cred -- but Vijay Singh has managed to do it during his nearly 20-year PGA Tour career. He joined the Tour in 1993 sporting massive spectacles, taking up the goofy glasses torch from Golf Nerd Hall of Famer Tom Kite. He also rocked one of those extra-long putters, basically the orthodontic headgear of golfers. And even though he eventually shed the glasses and the long putter, he kept his uncool status the same way uncool people in any field the world over do: by being bad with women.

When Annika Sorenstam played in the 2003 Colonial, Singh told reporters she "doesn't belong" on the PGA Tour. Granted, this is a guy who knows about not belonging. He's probably been turned away at the door of nightclubs on almost every continent.

-- DJ Gallo


Chris Sabo and Brian Scalabrine

For all we know, they're actually two of the coolest guys to ever wear professional uniforms. That said ... just look at them:

Chris Sabo
Mitchell Layton / Getty Images

Brian Scalabrine
Brian Babineau / Getty Images

J.J. Redick

The poetry, we can overlook. (Hey, we're not about to slag someone else for amateurish written expression.) But the Duke Factor? Not so much. What Luke Skywalker was to the Force, J.J. Redick is to a lack of cool: the unwitting conduit to a higher power, an heir to an inescapable tradition. Erik Meek. Chris Collins. Mike Gminski. Cherokee Parks. Greg Paulus (pre-football cool revival). Shane Battier. Shav Randolph. Wojo. Wojo! As such, cut Redick some slack. Search your feelings. You know it to be true. The moment he signed his Blue Devils letter of intent -- committing to college basketball's Galactic Empire -- uncoolness was his destiny.


Bode Miller

We said before that not caring what anyone else thinks of you is the closest thing to a working definition of cool. Guess what? We were wrong. Not caring what anyone else thinks of you is cool only to a point. When it becomes a detriment to your actual performance -- and the animating principle of an (Luke Perry voice) I don't live by your rules and standards, man shoe company marketing campaign -- well, that's the exact moment flippant individualism becomes uncool. 'Cause then you're Bode Miller at the Torino Olympics, swigging longnecks and pretending it's all a lark, retroactively moving the goalposts in a transparent effort to cope.


Chad Ochocinco

Stop. Hold up. He creates touchdown dances that are little works of preplanned performance art. He tweets. He has a reality show. He tweets. He has a talk show. He tweets. He changed his last name to something wacky. He tweets. He never met a self-promoting, fame-extending, personal-branding opportunity he didn't like. Also, he tweets. By every new millennium metric, isn't Chad Ochocinco cool by default?

Yes. And that's what lands him on our list.

Ochocinco tries too hard. Simple as that. He's sometimes funny and generally engaging. But also grasping and a little bit desperate. At its core, cool is an uneven relationship. Others need you more than you need them. Period. If the world stopped paying attention to Ochocinco, exactly nothing would change. For the world. Can the same be said of Chad Johnson?


Cool or Uncool?

Do the following athletes belong on our list? Help Page 2 decide by clicking here to vote:


Greg Maddux
Uncool: Soft-tosser relied on placement and brainpower; physically less imposing than many CPAs.

Cool: Dominated steroids era hitters without juicing; "Mad Dog" nickname delightfully ironic.


Chris Kluwe
Uncool: Punter -- striiiiike one! -- is an avid video game player who goes by the Twitter handle "ChrisWarcraft."

Cool: Artist behind single most insightful piece of commentary on NFL's concussion crisis.


Dennis Rodman
Uncool: The wedding dress, the "Demolition Man" 'do, the endless attention grasping -- Rodman was Ochocinco before Ochocinco.

Cool: "The Worm" is a first-rate organic nickname; for a time, the man made rebounding cool.


Tim Duncan
Uncool: Fundamental, flash-free floor game makes both coaches and your dad happy, which is the opposite of cool. Also is a sword collector ... and has a tattoo of Merlin.

Cool: Seems more icily self-contained than a DeNiro character in a heist flick.


Pete Sampras
Uncool: Personality unfavorably likened to a cardboard cutout; according to Andre Agassi, not a good tipper.

Cool: Serve-and-volley game took cojones; when asked about the difference between himself and rival Patrick Rafter, replied, "10 grand slams."


The Hanson Brothers from "Slap Shot"
Uncool: Seriously, just look at them.

Cool: Greatest characters in one of greatest-ever sports movies; is a killer nerd still a nerd?


Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.


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