Alex Ovechkin’s latest assault on the NHL’s record book again has locals talking about where he fits on the list of greatest Washington pro athletes. My answer: somewhere in the top three, depending on how you rank modern achievements vs. ones that happened in black and white, when there wasn’t blogging or sports radio or people who loved making lists.
I’ve been down this road before, but I’m not above recycling content based on current events.
* We’re talking about pro baseball, basketball, hockey and football. I know, that doesn’t include your favorite sport. Life isn’t fair.
* We’re talking about pros, not people who grew up in D.C., or went to college here. Sorry.
* Coaches don’t count.
* We’re talking about people who would be immediately identified with this town, which disqualifies Jaromir Jagr, Michael Jordan and Ray King.
So here, in no particular order, are the seven greatest D.C. pro athletes.
He’s the first and only Washington hockey player to reach 1,000 points. He’s the 24th fastest NHL player to do so, in a non-offensive era. He’s the fifth-fastest to 500 goals, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Brett Hull. Barring something really bad happening, he’ll move into the top 20 in goals scored by next season, the top 15 the year after that, and should finish a great deal higher before he quits. Plus we wouldn’t be doing this if he weren’t on the list.
He had 11 seasons with an ERA less than 2.00, 531 complete games, and was acknowledged the “fastest ball pitcher in history of game,” according to his Hall of Fame plaque. He remained baseball’s strikeout king until 1983, and still leads baseball in all-time shutouts with 110, 20 more than anyone else. That record will never be broken. His 531 complete games
shutouts are behind only Cy Young among players whose careers were not primarily in the 19th century. He got the win in Game 7 of Washington’s only World Series.
He helped revolutionize pro football with his forward passing, leading the league in passing yardage six times. He was also one of the best punters in the game, and led the league in interceptions, passing and punting in the same season. He retired as the league’s all-time passing leader, and had 187 passing touchdowns when he retired — 50 more than anyone else. He also helped the Redskins win two NFL championships.
He retired with the fourth-most rushing yards in NFL history, behind just Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Franco Harris. He was the MVP of Washington’s first Super Bowl win, played in back-to-back Super Bowls, and had what remains the most iconic play in franchise history, that clinching 43-yard touchdown run. He also set a record with 24 rushing touchdowns in 1983 and retired with the second-most rushing touchdowns in league history, behind only Brown.
He played 20 seasons at a position that values youth and set a record with at least one interception in 19 straight seasons. He was part of four NFC title games and three Super Bowls, was a four-time all-pro, had 54 interceptions, and was the most beloved defensive player from the best era in franchise history. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
He was the second player, after Wilt Chamberlain, to earn rookie of the year and MVP honors in the same season. He was seventh in career rebounds when he retired, and remains 13th on that list. And he led Washington to its only NBA title, earning Finals MVP honors.
Maybe the most overlooked on this list, but he helped lead the Bullets to three NBA Finals, made the list of 50 greatest NBA players in 1996, and remains one of the greatest rebounders in the history of the sport. He left Washington as the active leader in rebounds. He also finished in the top 10 of MVP voting six times in seven years, with a fifth and two third-place finishes.
Feel free to take issue with this top seven. You’d be wrong, though.