Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The greatest 'couples' in sports

They 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 our favorite dynamic duos in sports.

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."

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The greatest 'couples' in sports 11/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 13, 2010 5:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: Secret to Alex Colome's success is staying cool, calm, collected


    The ninth inning couldn't have started much worse for Rays closer Alex Colome on Tuesday, who took over with a 6-4 lead and quickly allowed a single and a double to bring the tying run to the plate.

  2. How will former USF assistant Tom Allen fare at Indiana?


    Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo doesn't sound particularly optimistic about Tom Allen's chances of keeping Indiana competitive in his first year as the Hoosiers' head coach.

    "He has some challenges," DiNardo said.

  3. ESPN cites safety in removing Robert Lee from UVA broadcast due to name (w/video)


    ESPN has removed an announcer from its broadcast of the University of Virginia's first football game next month because he has the same name as a Confederate general memorialized in statues that are being taken down across the country.

    Louisville lines up for a play against Virginia during an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., in 2016 ESPN broadcaster Robert Lee will not work Virginia's season opener because of recent violence in Charlottesville sparked by the decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A spokeswoman for ESPN says Lee has been moved to Youngstown State's game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network on Sept. 2. The network says the decision was made "as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name." [Associated Press]
  4. Celtics were only team in position to deal for Kyrie Irving


    The Cavaliers found themselves in a seemingly impossible situation when it came to trading Kyrie Irving. Not only did Cleveland need to try to extract the kind of price a team looks to get to trade its star — some combination of cap relief, young players and draft picks — it also needed to acquire talent to …

    Kyrie Irving, left, is guarded by Stephen Curry during the NBA Finals last season. [Associated Press]
  5. Browns, who visit Bucs this week, take a courageous step toward social change


    CLEVELAND — The laughingstock of the league during a 1-15 season in 2016, the Browns took a dramatic step forward Monday night.

    Browns players kneel as others stand to support their circle during the national anthem before Monday night's preseason game against the Giants. [Associated Press]