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Tom Jones' Two Cents

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Dymanic duos of sports



ali.jpgThey are sports dynamic duos. When you think of one, you think of the other. Maybe they were rivals. Maybe they were teammates. But there is no question each of them was made better by the other and made more famous because of their simpatico relationship with each other. Perhaps they went together like hand and glove or even oil and water, but they walked through history together and will forever be linked together. Here are my favorite dynamic duos in sports.

Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell
Ali was the mouth that roared, and Cosell was the one who amplified it. At a time when most of white America was frightened and angered by Ali's actions (conversion to Islam, refusal to fight in Vietnam), Cosell supported Ali by giving him a platform. This odd relationship and respect between a young African-American boxer and a middle-aged white broadcaster helped turn both into sports icons and two of the most important figures in sports history.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert
Perhaps the two greatest female tennis players of all time. But without each other, Martina and Chrissie would be thought of probably in the same light as, say, Steffi Graf or Serena Williams. It was the rivalry between the two -- they met 80 times, with Navratilova winning 43 -- that pushed both of them on the court and into icon status.

bird.Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
The two saved the NBA before they even arrived in the NBA. After meeting in the 1979 NCAA final, the two carried their respectful rivalry into the NBA during the 1980s. One was white and the other was black, but they had a common bond: basketball. Their fierce rivalry on the court developed into a close friendship off the court, and if you are playing Sports Password and get the word "Magic,'' your first guess would be "Bird.''

Pat Summerall and John Madden
The greatest broadcasting team in sports history. Summerall was the straight-forward baritone who chose the less-is-more approach to calling a game, while Madden was the excitable analyst who made up words and phrases and grunts. Together they were perfect, calling games for 21 years, first for CBS and then with Fox, including eight Super Bowls.

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson
The headstrong owner and the stubborn coach couldn't last long together. Their marriage in Dallas survived only five years. But before Johnson, Jones was just another NFL owner best known for getting rid of legendary coach Tom Landry. Before Jones, Johnson was just a good college coach. Together, they rebuilt the Cowboys into a team that won three more Super Bowls (one came after Johnson left). Looking back, the two never had more success than when they were together.

agassi.Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi
In the post-McEnroe-Borg-Connors era, men's tennis continued to thrive because of these two. Sampras was the quiet, humble, All-American kid; Agassi was trumpeted the brash, image-is-everthing personality. The two traded the No. 1 ranking during the 1990s and met 34 times, with Sampras winning 20.

George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin
Can't live with him, can't live without him. Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner, hired and fired Martin, the scrappy manager, five times in a 13-year span and probably would have done it a few more times had Martin's life not been cut short by a car crash on Christmas Day  1989. Their bizarre working relationship became so well-known that it made its way into pop culture with a beer commercial that had to be re-edited every time Martin was hired and fired.

russell.Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain
The greatest big-man rivalry in NBA history. The two centers faced each other an incredible 142 times during their 10-year rivalry. Chamberlain usually posted the better individual numbers with Russell’s Celtics usually coming out on top. Just like all great rivalries, fans were either Chamberlain guys or Russell guys, and the debate carries on about who was better -- the man who put up better individual numbers or the man who won more often?

Bobby Thomson  and Ralph Branca
Perhaps, the most famous homer in baseball history from the man who hit it (Thomson) and the man who served it up (Branca). Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World off Branca in 1951 not only gave the N.Y. Giants the National League pennant over the Dodgers but linked the two through history. Even more remarkable is how Branca handled himself in the following years and formed a friendship with Thomson to help commemorate one the most famous moments in baseball.

Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes
These two college football coaches were the stars of one of the greatest rivalries in sports. For 10 years, from 1969 to 1978, Woody's Ohio State Buckeyes and Bo's Michigan Wolverines dominated the Big Ten, splitting eight conference titles and finishing second eight times. Schembechler, who once was a Hayes assistant, won the head-to-head matchup 5-4-1, but it was that rivalry that made the two icons in their sport.

maris.Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle
They were teammates but oddly viewed as rivals by the public. It was because of the 1961 season when the two Yankee stars chased Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. Much of the public was pulling for Mantle, who was seen as the better player, while many rooted against Maris, a quiet man who, unlike Mantle, wasn't comfortable in the media glare of New York. Maris was the one who broke Ruth's record, but you can't think of "1961'' without thinking of both Mantle and Maris.

Marvin Miller and Curt Flood
Flood was a good, not great outfielder, mostly during the 1960s, but his name is legendary because he challenged baseball's reserve clause and paved the way for free agency. Miller was the head of the players union when it fought and won the right for free agency. Their names are tied together for changing not only baseball but all sports.

nicklaus.Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer
It should be pointed out that Palmer is 11 years older and was on the PGA Tour six years before Nicklaus. Still, this is generally regarded as the greatest rivalry in the history of golf. Their most famous duel might have been at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Pa., which was basically Palmer's home course. Nicklaus overcame a three-shot deficit on Sunday and knocked off Palmer by three shots in an 18-hole playoff.

Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed
These two fought the two greatest heavyweight championship fights in history. So what if it was all fictional. The classic braggart against the unknown underdog is the blueprint for most movies of the past 30 years.

mcgwire.Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa
These two sluggers captured the attention of the country in 1998 when they blasted their way toward Roger Maris' single-season home run record. Each day, fans across the nation asked, "Did Big Mac hit one today? What did Sammy do?'' Sadly, today, they continue to be linked together, not because of their home run chase but because of questions that they might have taken steroids to hit all those homers.

Best of the rest
John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski. Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard. Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.

[Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 10:34am]


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