Today we discuss the four greatest players – the Mount Rushmore – of three of the most storied franchises in professional sports history.
One of the few small-town teams in pro sports, the Green Bay Packers are community-owned. The immensely-popular Packers have won an NFL-best 13 championships and the Green and Gold have sent 24 men to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bart Starr is the winningest player ever to wear a Packer uniform. He embodied Titletown USA, winning five championships between 1961 and 1967, including the first two Super Bowls, both of which Starr was named MVP. Don Hutson revolutionized football, virtually inventing the wide receiver position. Like Babe Ruth, Hutson dominated his position like few other athletes. A charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hutson led the league in touchdowns, receptions and yardage five times and won three NFL titles.
Reggie White was the “Minister of Defense.” A ten-time First Team All-Pro and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, White was dominant. He was a key to the Pack’s resurgence, leading the NFL’s best defense to a Super Bowl title in 1996. One of the toughest hombres ever to play the game, Brett Favre revitalized football in Green Bay, leading the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1996 and 1997 . Favre is the NFL’s “Iron Man,” having started a record 297 games. An 11-time Pro Bowler and three-time MVP, Favre holds nearly every passing record in the history of the Green and Gold.
Honorable mention: Aaron Rodgers, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderly.
As a percentage of championships won, the Boston Celtics are the most successful franchise in the annals of professional American sports. A charter member of the NBA, the Celtics have won 17 championships, 21 Conference titles, and 22 Division crowns. The NBA’s marquis franchise has sent 40 men to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and has retired 21 numbers, more than any team in any sport.
With 11 championships in 13 years, including eight in a row between 1959 and 1966, Bill Russell is the most decorated player in NBA history. The game’s greatest shot-blocker, “Russ” pioneered the concept of team defense. A heady player and tenacious rebounder, Russell became the first African-American coach in any U.S. pro sport. From 1966 to 1969, he served as Celtics’ player-coach, guiding Boston to two NBA titles. Russell also captained Team USA to a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics and led the University of San Francisco to NCAA titles in both 1955 and 1956. Possessing solid fundamentals and gritty determination, Larry Bird led the Celts to five NBA Finals, winning three. “Larry Legend” could shoot, pass, rebound and defend. A fierce competitor, Bird had an unparalleled basketball IQ and, together with Magic Johnson, saved the NBA from extinction. John Havlicek helped bring eight championships to Boston. Superbly conditioned, “Hondo” would run opponents into the ground by game’s end. A model of consistency, Havlicek is the Celtics’ franchise leader in points and games played. Bob Cousy was the floor general of Celtics teams that won six NBA titles. The “Houdini of the Hardwood” led the league in assists for eight straight seasons. In 13 seasons with Boston, Cousy averaged 18 points, five rebounds and eight assists per game.
Honorable mention: Paul Pierce, Robert Parrish, Dave Cowens, K.C. Jones.
Established in 1883 in Brooklyn, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season. The franchise has won six World Series titles, 21 National League pennants and produced 11 NL MVP award winners. Eight Cy Young Award winners have pitched for the Dodgers, and the club has produced 17 Rookie-of-the-Year recipients, including five straight from 1992 to 1996.
Many people say that the greatest pitcher in baseball history is Sandy Koufax on four days’ rest. The second greatest? Sandy Koufax on three days’ rest. Koufax won three Cy Young Awards in four seasons and was the first to win by unanimous vote. He tossed four no-hitters, including a perfect game, and led Los Angeles to two World Series titles. As spectacular as he was, Koufax may not even be the best lefty in Dodgers history. That honor could very well go to Clayton Kershaw, who is the best hurler in the game today. Kershaw has earned three Cy Youngs and four league ERA titles. In 2014, the Dodger lefty was named NL MVP, the first time a pitcher has garnered that award in 46 years. Only 29, Kershaw has compiled 126 wins in his first nine big league seasons. Baseball statistician and historian Bill James lists Jackie Robinson as the fourth-best second baseman in history. “He was the greatest competitor I’ve ever seen,” said former teammate and baseball hall of famer Duke Snider. “I’ve seen him beat a team with his bat, his ball, his glove, his feet, and with his mouth.” A superb athlete legendary for breaking major league baseball’s color barrier, Robinson is the only player in history to have his number retired by MLB. The best right-hander in Dodgers history is Don Drysdale. “Big D” led MLB in wins in 1962 en route to winning the Cy Young Award. The nine-time all-star led the NL in strikeouts in three seasons and guided the Dodgers to three World Championships. In 1968, Drysdale threw six straight shutouts and 58-and-two-thirds consecutive scoreless innings, both MLB records. Twenty years later, fellow Dodger Orel Hershiser threw 59 consecutive scoreless innings to surpass Big D’s hallowed mark.
Honorable mention: Maury Wills, Duke Snider, Orel Hershiser, Willie Davis, Gil Hodges.