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Friday, January 16, 2004
 



WHO ARE THE GREATEST ATHLETES OF THE PAST 25 YEARS?


Today's Writers' Bloc was prompted by the SportsNation poll asking readers to rank the 25 greatest athletes of the past 25 years.

Needless, to say, things got a little heated ...


Eric Adelson
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Eric Neel's list of greatest athletes

What is up with Neely's Top 25? It's good, but Roger Clemens in front of Jerry Rice?! Look at Eric's Top 20. Each athlete changed the game ... except one. Even Eric said it: "Go with revolution." Where's Roger's revolution? Only on the front of his cap. Patrick Roy was more of a revolution than the Rocket. And I can't believe Eric left out the zebra from Man vs. Beast. Shame.


Eric Neel
To: Eric Adelson
Subject: Clemens over Rice

On Raj I was thinking longevity, two twenties, his best year coming 13 years into his career, and the fact that Bill James (who knows more about these things than I do) says "there is a very good argument that he is the greatest pitcher who ever lived."

On the Zebra I was clearly asleep at the wheel. My bad.


David Schoenfield
To: Eric Neel
Subject: Clemens vs. Rice

Two twenties AND six other twenties, not to mention six Cys. Greatest pitcher ever? There is a definite argument for that case.

But ... Jerry Rice is the greatest football player ever. (Sorry, Jim Brown, you quit too early.) Gotta give the nod to Rice over Rocket, even if someone else did have to deliver him the ball.


Eric Neel
To: David Schoenfield
Subject: Clemens vs. Rice

Jerry Rice
I've got no beef with Rice over Roger on your list. On mine, it came down to this: Great as he was/is, Jerry was also the product of a system and an offensive ensemble full of other weapons. Roger on the other hand was/is the lone man in the arena. Granted, he's been backed up by defense and run support, but he's also remained a very powerful power pitcher who's been mowing 'em down at a steady clip for a long, long time.


David Schoenfield
To: Eric Neel
Subject: Nice No. 1 in Armstrong, however

I do applaud you for the gutsy pick of Armstrong over MJ. Jordan is the easy pick and I'm sure the pick of our readers, but Lance gets extra credit for all the obvious reasons and for winning the hardest damn race in the world five straight times. Jordan hitting a clutch shot with an upset stomach? Sorry, that is boys' work compared to what Armstrong does each year.

Heck, in my book Gretzky dominated his sport more than Jordan ... as they say, you could look it up. (I'll throw out one stat: Gretzky has nine MVP trophies, MJ five.)


Eric Neel
To: David Schoenfield
Subject: Armstrong over MJ

Lance Armstrong
Thanks, D. It actually felt like an easy call. The Tour's the most daunting event in sports and he's won it five times, in a row, after being halfway through death's door. Everyone else, including MJ, is second.


Eric Adelson
To: Neel and Schoenfield
Subject: This Armstrong craziness

Calm down, fellas. Everybody loves Lance, but this one isn't even close. MJ changed everything about sports. I don't see anyone lacing up their old school Lance Armstrongs.

And again, Eric, you're missing it. "Most Daunting Event in Sports?" I'd rather ride my bike all over Europe for a month than get into a footrace with an unfocused giraffe.


Eric Neel
To: Eric Adelson
Subject: This Armstrong craziness

Everything about sports? Don't think so small. Lance changed everything about what people think might be possible, in and out of sports. Never mind a fad like retro sneaks. Let's talk about the people -- cancer survivors and others -- who walk around with a renewed sense of hope.

As for the unfocused giraffe, are we talking about MJ's harrowing tilts with Greg Ostertag?


Melanie Jackson
To: Eric & Eric
Subject: Armstrong over MJ? C'mon ...

I'm with Eric with a C ... Adelson, that is.

Armstrong over MJ is gutsy? I disagree. I think Armstrong's the easy pick because of all his recent achievements.

Michael Jordan
You need a winner on your team and this guy's put in a few Ws.

Last year's lasting impression of Armstrong: overcoming a clash with the pavement -- not to mention cancer -- to win his record-tying fifth straight Tour De France title in the most gueling sport out there. MJ last year? An aging superstar playing for a team where wins were too hard to come by and a front office that let him go at season's end.

It would have been a gutsier call to pick Jordan No. 1 and remind us all of the days when MJ ruled, when he revolutionized sports -- from how you played it to the fans it attracted.

Ah, Eric (Neel). We see eye-to-eye on so many other things, from Al Green to Martina Navratilova (nice going at No. 9, by the way). But I gotta disagree on Armstrong at No. 1.


Steve Wulf
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Yes, but can Lance handle NYC?

Here's my problem with putting Lance Armstrong above all: He couldn't do what New York City's most impressive cyclists do: deliver General Tso's chicken to your door in under five minutes. When they announce a Tour de Hunans, I'll start following cycling.


Eric Neel
To: Steve Wulf
Subject: Yes, but can Lance handle NYC?

I'm a California kid. I've heard of these guys you speak of, but I figured they were just mythical figures; part of the whole "New York is the greatest city in the world" propaganda machine. But if you're saying they're real, and if they really bring the Tso's in under five, my whole list is shot to hell. Only one thing could cheer me up now -- you have a number for the General?


Patrick Hruby
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Lance vs. MJ

Ahem, let me know when Lance Armstrong co-stars with Bugs Bunny in a major theatrical release.

Roger Clemens

No offense, Eric, since I know you enjoy getting paid and all, but does the world even need yet another SuperDuperGreatest of All Time Top Insert-Number-Here list? I mean, don't we get enough of those on the E! Network?

Is Jerry Rice less skilled at catching footballs because Roger Clemens throws baseballs really, really fast? Is Michael Jordan's leaping ability less impressive because he can't ride a bicycle as far as Lance Armstrong?

Must everything be placed into some sort of Great Chain of Athletic Being? Isn't it enough to watch and appreciate without needing to rank everything?

Look, nobody's handing out cash prizes. Or bribing a French judge. The E! network isn't even doing a red carpet special.

I appreciate an excuse to argue as much as the next guy -- and probably more, since that's a big part of my job. But in this case, I'm not feeling it.

That said, I'll take Hunan chicken over General Tso's any day of the week. And so would you, Steve, if you had any sense.


Eric Neel
To: Patrick Hruby
Subject: Back at you

This is good, P. Not your best, though. Nowhere near the Tagliabue-is-overrated shot you took a few weeks back. I'd put it, I don't maybe No. 9 on the list of All-Time Hruby Rips.


Patrick Hruby
To: Eric Neel
Subject: Back at you

I think I'm gonna go have an argument with myself now. Just to stay sharp.


Eric Neel
To: Eric Adelson
Subject: Back at you

Seriously, you're right, all lists like this are a little forced, born of some other event or anniversary (this one's pegged to the ESPN 25th anniversary). Still, if they work, they're a chance to debate the stuff that matters to us. Like where and how to get good Chinese.


Jim Caple
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Eric Neel's list of greatest athletes

Cripes, I just woke up.

And where's Roy Hobbs?