Assuming “sports figure” means “coaches, owners and/or athletes,” a few names jump out to me. Joe Gibbs, because he made the Redskins a national power to the extent no other team from this city has ever been. Jack Kent Cooke, for the same reason. John Riggins, for authoring the single greatest play in team history. Sammy Baugh and Walter Johnson, because old people say so. Wes Unseld, for being a league most valuable player and world champion. John Thompson Jr., for being one of the most important figures in college basketball history.
That’s seven. There are plenty more names you could argue into the top 10, but to me, the single greatest sports figure in this town’s history comes from that list.
"Who would you name as the greatest sports figure in D.C. history?"
Obviously, though, reasonable people can disagree. Leonard Shapiro and Andy Pollin did a list of the 100 greatest athletes in D.C. sports history in their 2008 book of Washington D.C. Sports Lists, and their top 10 went like this, from bottom to top: Randy White, Sonny Jurgensen, Ken Houston, Elgin Baylor, John Riggins, Sugar Ray Leonard, Wes Unseld, Darrell Green, Sammy Baugh, Walter Johnson. (No coaches were included, obviously.)
When ESPN ran its Sports Century series about the 100 greatest North American athletes of the 20th century, only a few D.C. folks made the list: Elgin Baylor at 58, Walter Johnson at 60 and Sammy Baugh at 64. (No, I’m not counting Jordan, Deion or Johnny U., and you can’t make me.)
And The Post’s final question during its recent survey of D.C. sports fans had a significantly different response. Fans were asked an open-ended question to name the greatest sports figure in D.C. history; 31 percent had no opinion. Here were the leading responses:
Joe Gibbs 9 percent
John Riggins 8 percent
Sonny Jurgensen 6 percent
Alex Ovechkin 6 percent
Joe Theismann 5 percent
Darrell Green 5 percent
Doug Williams 3 percent
Walter Johnson 2 percent
Michael Jordan 2 percent
Art Monk 2 percent
No other figure received more than 1 percent.
As with all things, there are significant racial differences. Among white sports fans, Gibbs received 12 percent, followed by Riggins and Jurgensen with 10 percent, Ovechkin with 8 percent, Theismann with 7 percent and Green with 4 percent. Among black sports fans, Doug Williams received 10 percent, followed by Gibbs and Green with 6 percent, Riggins and Theismann with 5 percent, and Jordan with 4 percent.
So, who would you name as the greatest sports figure in D.C. history? Post your answer and your reasoning in the comments below and/or click on “Recommend” on the submissions you think are best.