Thursday, September 20, 2018
Sports

Who is the Tiger Woods of other sports?

Want to get folks riled up in a hurry?

Proclaim someone "the greatest'' in their profession. I did that the other day, calling Tiger Woods "one of the most famous people on the planet'' and the most famous athlete to ever come to Tampa Bay. That got some push back.

So did calling Tiger, "arguably, the greatest golfer'' of all time.

But I'll stand by each of those remarks, including picking Tiger as the best golfer of all time. Yep, even better than Jack Nicklaus.

So, with Tiger coming to Tampa Bay this week to play in the Valspar Championship — 6:50 a.m. Wednesday tee time in the Valspar pro-am — it got us thinking. Who is the Tiger Woods of the other sports?

That is, who are the athletes who transcended their sports? Who are the stars who have Q-ratings that enable them to sell us anything from sports drinks to shoes to roach motels. (I'll explain the roach motel thing in a bit.)

Anyway, taking into account fame as well as talent, here are some of the other sports and the Tiger Woods of those sports.

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

This is a no-brainer: Babe Ruth. He has been dead nearly 70 years. His last game was in 1935. Yet, he remains a household name in pretty much every American household. While others are famous (Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle), there is only one Babe. And just to show how strong Babe's popularity is, when I said Tiger was the most famous athlete to come to Tampa Bay, e-mails poured in, asking, "Didn't Babe Ruth spring train in St. Petersburg? (he did, from 1925-35)'' Today's Tiger: Mike Trout.

New York Yankees’ Babe Ruth clouts a towering home run in this undated photo. San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds moved within one home run of tying Babe Ruth on baseball’s career home run list at 714. Hank Aaron holds the all-time record with 755 home runs. (AP Photo)

NFL

I still say Jerry Rice is the greatest football player I ever saw. Older generations will swear by Jim Brown. Younger generations will take Tom Brady. You can't go wrong with any of those guys. But, again, we're talking fame, not just talent. That means you start thinking about names such as Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning. The nod goes to Manning, who has said yes to hosting Saturday Night Live and has never said no to doing a commercial. Today's Tiger: Brady.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) talks with Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Ronde Barber (20) after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, in Denver. Manning passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the second most completions all-time during the game. Denver won 31-23 and clinched the AFC West division. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

NBA

Another no-brainer. Michael Jordan hasn't played a game in 15 years (let that sink in for a minute), yet still shows up consistently on annual polls of the most famous athletes. You know how you know a guy is famous? Nike still sells shoes named after him. Today's Tiger: LeBron James, the most famous active athlete.

The Michael Jordan logo is seen on the outside of the Niketown Store Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003, in Portland, Ore. Nike Inc. announces earnings for its second quarter, just before it officially releases a new shoe designed to reflect the personality of LeBron James, who is expected to gradually replace Michael Jordan as the marquee name for basketball. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

NHL

For starters, anyone called "The Great One'' must be great. Wayne Gretzky is, by far, the greatest player in the history of his sport. In fact, the gap between him and the next-best player is greater than the gap between the top two athletes in any sport. Gretzky played a sport that isn't generally followed by most Americans (sorry, hockey fans, I love hockey, but it's still kind of a niche sport), yet most Americans know exactly who he is. Today's Tiger: Sidney Crosby.

New York Rangers’ Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky ponders a question during a news conference following his last practice Saturday, April 17, 1999, in Rye, N.Y. Gretzky announced his retirement from the NHL Friday and will play his final game on Sunday. ( NHL Hockey ) (AP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson)

NASCAR

No one intimidated golfers like Tiger and no one intimidated an entire sport quite like Dale Earnhardt Sr. But when you're nickname is "The King'' that makes you, well, the king. So Richard Petty is the winner. Although, the popularity Dale Earnhardt Jr. shouldn't be overlooked. Today's Tiger: Jimmie Johnson.

In this Oct. 6, 1999 file photo, seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty, of Level Cross, N.C., smiles as he talks in the garage area at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. NASCAR legend Richard Petty says after “accumulating stuff” for 80 years, it’s time to sell some of his most famous cars, trophies and other items. Petty’s iconic day-glow red and Petty blue 1974 Dodge Charger is going on sale at an auction on May 12, 2018, at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, along with other cars, his 1981 Daytona 500 trophy and other items. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

WOMEN’S GOLF

Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright won more LPGA titles than anyone, but this is about star power and most people don't remember Whitworth and Wright, partly because they played at a time (the 1960s and 1970s) when women's golf didn't get the respect it deserved. And while 10-time major winner Annika Sorenstam certainly is well known, she doesn't have the same cache as Nancy Lopez once did. Lopez's star blew up when she won nine times as a rookie, landing her on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1978. The headline: "The Name of the Game.'' That says it all. Today's Tiger: Michelle Wie.

In this Aug. 16, 2017, file photo, United States’ Michelle Wie walks off the 18th tee during practice for the Solheim Cup golf tournament in West Des Moines, Iowa. Michelle Wie sunk a lengthy putt from off the green on the final hole to win the LPGA’s Women’s World Championship by one stroke on Sunday, March 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) TKMY101

TENNIS

Tennis had big names in the past: John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Rod Laver, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Andre Agassi and on and on. Today's crop of players are big deals, too. But Serena Williams is as close to Tiger as there is. She owns her sport. She is not liked by everyone (and, in some cases, it's because of race). And she is recognizable even to those who don't know how to keep score in tennis. The all-time and today's Tiger of tennis is one and the same: Serena Williams.

Serena Williams of the United States reacts as a call goes against her and to opponent Zhang Shuai of China during the Tie Break Tens tournament at Madison Square Garden, Monday, March 5, 2018 in New York. Zhang defeated Williams to advance to the final round in the tournament but was defeated by Elina Svitolina. The Tie Break Tens’ New York event is a one-day day exhibition tournament featuring eight female players competing for a $250,000 winner’s prize. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

SOCCER

One word: Pele. Today's Tiger: Lionel Messi.

Brazilian football legend Pele kisses a ball, 08 december 2005 during a presentation in Leipzig on the eve of the final draw of the Fifa football World Cup 2006. Football legends Pele and Johan Cruyff are among the stars who will make the draw for the 2006 World Cup here on 09 December 2005 in a glitzy show that will be broadcast to more than 140 countries. AFP PHOTO FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

BOXING

Is there a more famous athlete in the history of the world than Muhammad Ali? Uh, no is the answer. Yet, fun and odd fact: back in the day, the "Greatest'' was a pitchman for d-CON roach killer. The catchphrase: "I don't want you livin' with roaches!'' Can you imagine? Still, no one ever had the star power of Ali. Today's Tiger: Sadly, boxing doesn't have one.

Swimmer Janet Evans looks on as Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in Atlanta, in this July 19, 1996, file photo. Ali’s hometown of Louisville is ready to unveil a museum celebrating the life of one of the 20th century’s most recognizable figures. The Muhammad Ali Center is to open Nov. 21 chronicling the life of “The Greatest” inside and outside the ring, emphasizing his peaceful values and vision of global tolerance, and setting the record straight about that infamous gold medal. (AP Photo/Michael Probst/FILE)

MMA

Again, we're talking about transcending their sports and while MMA fans might disagree, no one was a bigger name outside of the octagon among the casual sports fan than Ronda Rousey. Today's Tiger: With Rousey jumping to wrestling, Conor McGregor.

In this July 4, 2014, file photo, Ronda Rousey stands on the scale during a weigh-in for the UFC 175 mixed martial arts event at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. U.S. soccer hero Carli Lloyd, UFC star Rousey and three-time winner Serena Williams were the top three vote-getters for The Associated Press 2015 Female Athlete of the Year award. The AP announced the three leading candidates Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. The winner will be announced Friday. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
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