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Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Updated: December 28, 10:58 AM ET
ESPN25: 100 Best Seasons

By David Schoenfield
Page 2

As ESPN celebrates the past 25 years in sports, Page 2 celebrates those athletes who transcended their teams and sports, who amazed us with the greatest individual seasons over the past 25 years.

The concept? Simple. Which athlete had the best season? We spent hours checking the numbers, analyzing their value, adjusting for the context of their stats (for example, NBA games see fewer points scored now than in the 1980s while baseball games see more home runs and higher ERAs). We factored in playoff heroics as merited. We jigged and jimmied, knocked a few athletes off at the last minute and added more deserving candidates.

And we arrived at our list of the 100 greatest individual seasons of the past 100 years.

Enjoy -- and let the debate begin.

(Note: Sports considered include NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college football, college basketball, golf, tennis and NASCAR. One rule: no athlete could have more than three seasons on the list.)

Complete list: 1-25| 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100

ESPN25: 100 GREATEST INDIVIDUAL SEASONS
100
ERIC GAGNE, 2003, Los Angeles Dodgers
Eric Gagne
2-3, 1.20 ERA, 55/55 saves, 82.1 IP, 37 H, 20 BB, 137 K's
So dominating, he had to be included, even if he is a relief pitcher. Gagne was not only perfect in save chances, but allowed opponents a .133 average and fanned an incredible 14.98 batters per nine innings.
99
ALLEN IVERSON, 2001, Philadelphia 76ers
31.1 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.8 rpg, NBA MVP (32.9 ppg, 6.1 apg in playoffs)
The 42 percent shooting is mediocre, but Iverson was a one-man show in leading an undermanned Sixers team to the NBA Finals. He twice topped 50 points in a playoff win over Toronto and torched the Lakers for 48 in the Finals.
98
TOM WATSON, 1980
Won 7 tournaments, one major (British Open), POY
He won just one major, but only Tiger Woods has won more tournaments in one year during the ESPN era than Watson's seven.
97
KEN GRIFFEY JR., 1997, Seattle Mariners
Ken Griffey Jr.
.304, 56 HR, 147 RBI, .646 SLG, Gold Glove, MVP
Sadly, it appears we'll never see this version of Griffey again. Junior was the unanimous MVP, leading the AL in HR, RBI, runs, slugging percentage, total bases and extra-base hits.
96
DARRELL WALTRIP, 1981
12 wins in 31 races, overall points title
After Petty and before Earnhardt, Waltrip was the NASCAR king for a few years. He won the first of his three points totals by winning 12 races and starting from the pole 11 times.
95
EMMITT SMITH, 1995, Dallas Cowboys
1,773 yards, 4.7 per carry, 25 TDs
The yardage total isn't historically spectacular, but Smith is here for finding the end zone 31 times -- 25 times in the regular season and six more in the playoffs as the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
94
BRIAN LEETCH, 1994, New York Rangers
79 points, playoff MVP (34 points in 23 games)
One of the NHL's premier defensemen of the past 25 years, Leetch earns a top-100 spot due to a spectacular Stanley Cup playoffs when he tallied 11 goals and 23 assists as the Rangers ended their 54-year Cup drought.
93
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, 1991, Louisiana State
27.6 ppg, 14.7 rpg, 5.0 bpg
You may think Ewing, Sampson or Olajuwon was college basketball's most dominating big man of recent vintage, but none of them approached Shaq's 27 points per game.
92
SERENA WILLIAMS, 2002
Serena Williams
3 Grand Slam wins, won 8 of 13 tournaments, 56-5 record
Williams would complete the "Serena Slam" early in 2003 when she beat sister Venus in the Australian Open. And she may have won the Grand Slam in '02, but she didn't enter the Australian.
91
RANDY JOHNSON, 2002, Arizona Diamondbacks
24-5, 2.32 ERA, 260 IP, 197 H, 71 BB, 334 K's
Before turning 30, he was just one game above .500 in his career. And then he learned to pitch. Still overpowering at age 38, the Big Unit captured his fourth straight Cy Young Award with a career-high 24 wins.
90
LARRY BIRD, 1987, Boston Celtics
28.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 7.6 asp, 52.5 FG%
Larry Legend had his best all-around numbers in '87, even if his three-year reign as NBA MVP ended. Downgraded for losing the NBA Finals, when he shot a combined 20 for 53 the final three games.
89
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW, 1998, Tennessee
23.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.8 spg, 39-0 record
The first women's college basketball player to win back-to-back AP player of the year honors, Holdsclaw led the Lady Vols to a perfect season in 1998.
88
HERSCHEL WALKER, 1982, Georgia
Herschel Walker
1,855 rushing yards, 5.1 per carry, 18 TDs, Heisman
The Bulldogs went 33-3 in Walker's three years and some call him the greatest college player ever. Walker recovered from a broken thumb in the opener to rush over 200 yards three times.
87
STEVE YZERMAN, 1989, Detroit Red Wings
65 goals, 90 assists, 155 points
How good was Yzerman? Before he joined the Red Wings, they had made the playoffs once in 13 seasons. His fellow players voted Yzerman the best player in '89, when he established his career-high in points, goals and assists.
86
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, 1995, Orlando Magic
Shaq

29.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 58.3 FG%
He was a force of nature from his rookie year. Shaq was just 22 years old and in his third season in '95 when he led the NBA in scoring, ranked third in rebounding and led the Magic into the NBA Finals.
85
MIKE PIAZZA, 1997, Los Angeles Dodgers
40 HRs, 124 RBI, .362 average, .431 OBP, .638 SLG
Piazza had the greatest hitting year ever for a catcher and somehow finished second in the MVP vote to Larry Walker. Let's get a recount.
84
EDDIE GEORGE, 1995, Ohio State
1,927 yards, 5.9 per carry, 25 TDs, 47 catches, Heisman winner
Also included in George's spectacular season: a school-record 314 yards against Illinois and 200-yard games in wins over ranked opponents Washington and Notre Dame.
83
EARL CAMPBELL, 1980, Houston Oilers
Earl Campbell

1,934 yards, 5.2 per carry, 13 TDs
If you're too young to remember Earl Campbell, you missed something special. His NFL career was cut short after years of dragging five tacklers around his immense thighs. Was there ever a tougher guy to haul down? He missed a game in '80 and his season total still ranks sixth all time.
82
NICK PRICE, 1994
6 tournament wins, two majors (British Open, PGA), POY
The greatest PGA tour year by a golfer not named "Tiger."
81
KARL MALONE, 1997, Utah Jazz
27.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 4.5 asp, 55.0 FG%, MVP (26.0 ppg in playoffs)
After 10 straight years of averaging more than 25 points per game, the Mailman was finally rewarded with an MVP in '97 as the Jazz made the Finals for the first time.
80
JOE MONTANA, 1989, San Francisco 49ers
Joe Montana
3,521 yards, 26 TDs, 8 INT, 9.1 ypa, 112.4 QB rating, MVP
Montana set career highs in yards per attempt, QB rating and completion percentage (70.2%) ... oh, and he threw 11 TD passes and no picks in three playoff games, including 5 TDs in the Super Bowl, when he won his third Super Bowl MVP award.
79
MARK MESSIER, 1990, Edmonton Oilers
45 goals, 84 assists, 129 points, MVP (31 points in 22 playoff games)
Who needed Gretzky? Not Messier, who proved he was one of hockey's greatest players of all time by being named the NHL's MVP and leading the surprising Oilers -- sans the Great One -- to the Stanley Cup championship.
78
STEFFI GRAF, 1989
3 Grand Slam wins, won 14 of 16 tournaments, 86-2 record
At her peak in from 1988 to 1990, Graf reached the finals of 11 of 12 Grand Slam events and won eight of them.
77
MOSES MALONE, 1982, Houston Rockets
31.1 ppg, 14.7 rpg, NBA MVP
Do you kids out there know Moses Malone? Know that he was a three-time MVP? That he was one of the most tenacious rebounders ever? That he was The Man there for a couple of years?
76
JIM MCMAHON, 1980, Brigham Young
4,571 yards, 47 TDs, 18 INT, 6 rushing TDs
Collegiate QBs put up gaudy numbers these days, but McMahon was the trend-setter (the first to throw for 4,000 yards and those 47 TDs still rank second all time). Amazingly, he finished just fifth in the Heisman balloting.