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Twenty for Twenty

The 20 Greatest Acts of Sport Since 1992
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013

(continued from page 1)

3. Tiger Woods
A Career in Two Acts

Since 1997, Tiger Woods has won 14 majors. Runner-up Phil Mickelson, as tiny as a bug speck in Woods’ rearview mirror, has four since 1997. That said, the “Is Woods back?” query is fatuous.  

Consider: He seemed a lock to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ Ruthian standard of 18. In Act Two he hasn’t won any of the last 18 majors played. By the 2013 Masters, his 17th professional season, he will be 37 and five years removed from his last major win.

Even before his drought I found the “athletic” praise given to a practitioner of cow pasture pool to be excessive. “He is the greatest athlete of any kind in any era,” a gushing Jim Nantz once said to Don Imus. Greatest athlete? No. Whenever one thinks of the greatest athletes ever, how can you skip over Jordan and Gretzky, Jimmy Brown and Babe Ruth and go straight to the guy who hits a ball lying still?

Reasons abound as to why Woods is major-less since the Bush Administration. Personal distractions. Age. Inconsistent play. Yet Woods ranks as the second greatest who ever toted clubs—thus joining the company of other second greats: Ted Williams, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mario Lemieux. Tell me, what’s wrong with that?

4. The Yankees
A Dominant Dynasty

The Yankees’ sixth dynasty included four World Series won between 1996 and 2000—the most dominant act in baseball since Oakland’s three straight from ’72 to ’74. This wasn’t success hatched from payroll excess; it was homegrown. Most valuable were Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. Only O’Neill arrived via trade. Rivera, the greatest reliever ever to draw breath, and Jeter are Hall of Famers; the other four multiple All-Stars. Jeter stands—behind Honus Wagner, but with Ernie Banks, Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr.—as one of the five greatest shortstops.

5. Dallas Cowboys
Peerless Balance in the '90s

The last Cowboys dynasty boasted the “Triplets”—Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. That constellation of preternatural Hall of Fame talent gave Dallas the firepower to win the Super Bowl three times between 1992 and 1995.
Another Hall of Famer was Jimmy Johnson—the first coach to win a NCCA championship and a pro title. During a galling 1–15 season in 1989, Johnson, on a morning jog, brainstormed about which players were expendable. He chose Herschel Walker, a risky move since he had been the dismal team’s leader in yards from scrimmage for three years. The Vikings wanted Walker and received four draft picks, while Dallas grabbed six—used to pick Smith, Darren Woodson, and defensive standout Russell Maryland. Known as “The Great Train Robbery,” the largest deal in NFL history involved 18 players.

Just three years later, the Cowboys crushed Buffalo 52–17 in Super Bowl XXVII, 30–13 the next, and took Pittsburgh two years later. They won the three by a comically lopsided score of 119 to 47. Besides quick strike and ground-it-out offense, Dallas’ defenders included Ken Norton Jr., Maryland, Jim Jeffcoat, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert and Woodson.

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