Who is the G.O.A.T.? There’s no debate.
Hey, wait a minute. There is always a debate.
Now, I’ll admit. It’s becoming nearly impossible to argue against Tom Brady being the Greatest of All-Time in the quarterback department. I’d like to continue pushing Joe Montana or Dan Marino, but the record seems to be virtually settled. What Brady did in 2021 without Bill Belichick pretty much puts the exclamation point on it.
But the confidence by which the self-proclaimed “experts” proclaim the best-ever is misplaced. Years ago, you weren’t allowed to say Michael Jordan wasn’t the greatest basketball player ever, but now those same MJ worshippers are wondering if perhaps LeBron James has taken him over.
You can make a case for it, of course. Heck, being the stubborn guy that I am, I still like Wilt Chamberlain.
That’s the beauty of G.O.A.T. judging. It’s a subjective exercise, based on opinion, influenced by the personal feelings of each one of us.
In some sports, choosing a greatest-ever is more difficult than for other sports. In men’s tennis I’d say it’s Roger Federer, but his contemporary, Rafael Nadal could be the odds-on choice before his career is done. In swimming, do you favor Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps? Gymnastics? Nadia Comaneci, I’d say; but some are now favoring Simone Biles, who in 2019 became the winningest female gymnast ever.
We could go on and on, sport by sport, athlete by athlete.
It makes me think of my 40 years of covering high school athletics, and all the truly great athletes I’ve written stories about. In girls basketball it would be hard to top Janet Karvonen of New York Mills or Pat Burns of Heron Lake-Okabena. In wrestling there were Pat Dorn of Adrian, Jason Reitmeier of Worthington, Nate Baker of Jackson, and so many more. I could put Jackson’s Wade Wacker in a category by himself, I suppose, in either basketball, football or baseball. I could go north to Westbrook in the early 1980s and conjure up the exploits of half a dozen Wildcat boys -- Boeck, Elzenga, Comnick, Weiske, Mischke, to name a few.
When judging the greatest athletes, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for. Are you celebrating the greatest athletes or the greatest in their particular sports? If it’s the athlete you’re looking for, forget about Brady. He probably couldn’t out-run you on one of your bad days, and he probably couldn’t do half as many pull-ups as your seventh-grade sister. But put a football in his hand, and he has no peer. If we were making a list of the most intelligent and savvy athletes of all time, he might be on top.
If you were to research the subject of greatest-ever athletes -- I mean real athletes -- some have suggested Muhammed Ali. Well, he proclaimed himself the greatest, and maybe he was. But he might not have been the greatest in his own sport of boxing. Someone like Joe Louis comes to mind.
Other popular choices are Bo Jackson, Jim Thorpe, Jim Brown, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Pele. Other lists have Jordan, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Willilams and Deion Sanders represented (I’m not saying so; I’m just reporting).
Personally, I tend to favor Jackson, Thorpe and Brown, and not necessarily in that order. Jackson was so athletically-blessed, it was unreal. Thorpe was formally voted the best American athlete of the 20th century. Brown earns his accolades as an NFL running back, but did you know he earned 13 letters in high school and achieved All-American status at Syracuse in not only football, but lacrosse?
Seriously, he was a world-class lacrosse player. He, himself, once said he was better in lacrosse than he was in football. As a Syracuse senior, he was a first-team All-American and scored 43 goals in just 10 games. Some have said he was the best lacrosse player of all time.
Few of us here in southwest Minnesota know very much about lacrosse. But that shouldn’t count against him, right?