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