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Monday, December 9, 2002
The List: Most electrifying athletes

Page 2 staff

This week, Page 2 posts its list of the 10 most electrifying athletes of all time.

Check out our top 10 thrillers, then, be sure to vote in the poll on the right to crown the biggest voltage vendor of them all.

Muhammad Ali
With "The Greatest" in the runnings, the real contest here is for second place.
1. Muhammad Ali
Head and shoulders above the others on this list -- more electrifying just coming into the arena and entering the ring than anyone in sports history. And when he fought, the world stopped. Even long after his boxing days were over, Ali remained the magic moment man: the most spine-tingling symbolic moment in sports came when he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta.

2. Jackie Robinson
We never saw Jackie play, so we'll quote from someone who did, time and time again. This is Red Smith, recalling the great pioneer the day after Robinson died in 1972: "He was the only runner of his time who could bring a game to a stop just by getting on base. When he walked to first, all other action ceased.

For Robinson, television introduced the split screen so the viewer at home as well as the fan in the park could watch both the runner on first and the pitcher standing irresolute, wishing he didn't have to throw."

3. Michael Jordan
What can be said that hasn't been? People line up to pay to see him play, even if, as in his latest incarnation, the games are often meaningless and the nine other guys on the court ain't worth a box of popcorn.

4. Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers
Watching Gale Sayers tear through the gridiron gives us the tingles.
The NFL has had no shortage of electrifying running backs -- Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett, O.J. Simpson, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, and on and on -- but Sayers is the guy we'd pay the most to see. The game we really would have wanted to be at? When, as a rookie, he scored six TDs, tying an NFL record, against the 49ers. His scoring plays on the muddy Chicago field that December included a 50-yard run, an 80-yard screen pass, and an 85-yard punt return. "He could slice through the middle like a warm knife through butter," wrote Red Smith, "and when he took a pitchout and peeled around the corner, he was the most exciting thing in pro football."

5. Pete Maravich
Basketball's first great showman, droopy socks, longish floppy hair, amazing passer, incredible shooter, and most of all, great dribbler. It was at LSU that he lit arenas up the most, averaging 44.2 ppg over his college career.

He also electrified the NBA, leading the league in scoring but still not thinking much of his 31.1 average in 1977. "Shooting is nothing," Maravich told The New York Times. "Anybody can shoot. The big charge is putting on a show for the crowd."

Again, we'll quote from someone who saw him play, this from SI in 1968, Curry Kirkpatrick profiling the LSU soph: "Here he comes now, Maravich bringing the ball up against Kentucky. The first defensive man slows him at the top of the zone, but Maravich goes right and is immediately swarmed over and double-teamed. He jumps, gliding forward through the air, and either hits the open man in the corner or puts the ball up to the basket himself. The next minute he dribbles by the first man, but he is hit by three defenders at the foul line and throws a hook pass to his blind side or slams the ball behind his back, a bounce pass to the corner again. He comes up once more and takes the shot himself, sliding through the zone and hooking from the corner on the run, or driving under and, with his back to the basket, flipping the ball in with a lefthanded, underhand double-pump shot."

Bobby Orr on the ice is enough to fry an egg.
6. Bobby Orr
He changed the way hockey is played, but forget history for a moment -- Orr delivered what fans wanted. SI's E.M. Smith nutshelled it: "Lord, he played the game with creative unconstraint."

7. Magic Johnson
He was 6-foot-9, but some nights he played like he was a 6-1 skoocher, other nights like he was a 7-foot dominating center, and most nights like he was what he was -- the tallest guard in NBA history, a man who could do it all. The real "magic," though, was in the passing -- the no-looks, alley-oops, and needle-threads that made us all understand why super-slo-mo was a necessity.

"There have been times when he has thrown passes and I wasn't sure where he was going," said his former teammate, Michael Cooper. "Then one of our guys catches the ball and scores, and I run back up the floor convinced that he must've thrown it through somebody."

8. Mark Fidrych
There are lots of memorable players and moments from the relatively moribund baseball of the 1970s, but the only guy we'd take a time machine to see is The Bird. For one season, he buzzed and hummed and danced around the mound so much that they didn't need lights when he pitched at night. He paced, he talked to the ball, he fiddled and flapped, and he befuddled opposing batters. And Tiger Stadium rocked every time he pitched, drawing huge crowds. "Two things keep this city alive," said one Detroit native back in 1977. "The automobile industry and the Bird."

9. Michael Vick
The inspiration for this list. Even if he flames out, Vick has provided enough excitement this season to fill a couple of hours worth of NFL Films reels. Or to put it another way: The bathroom is always free when the Falcons have the ball.

10. Babe Ruth
If harnessed, Michael Vick's energy could be used to light homes across America.
To paraphrase the Babe himself, they came out in groves to see him -- watching Ruth strike out, they said, was almost as exciting as watching him homer. And even his pithiest comments make us wish he was still around today. When the Bambino was introduced to President Coolidge on a hot day in Washington, he said, "Hot as Hell, ain't it, Prez?" It just doesn't get any better.

Also receiving votes:
  • Bobby Hull
  • Tiger Woods
  • Jesse Owens
  • Dr. J
  • Satchel Paige
  • Allen Iverson
  • Red Grange
  • Arnold Palmer
  • Sugar Ray Robinson
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Rickey Henderson
  • Earl Monroe
  • Nadia Comaneci
  • Calvin Murphy
  • Barry Sanders