Top 5 Tuesday: Most Polarizing Athletes

Athletes have long transcended sports. As cultural icons, they are loved and hated, idolized and vilified. Many fit this description, but we here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s most polarizing figures.

5. Tim Tebow

As a college standout at Florida, Tebow was a member of two national title teams and became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. As a pro, he has proven his ability to win. Rooted in his strong evangelical faith, Tebow seems to do everything right.  However, many sports fans simply cannot stand him. Overexposure has led many spectators to detract from his accomplishments. His atypical throwing motion and exuberant personality may deter common sports fans, but until he falters, we are left to conclude that Tebow is indeed God’s quarterback.

4. Shoeless Joe Jackson

With a .356 career batting average, Shoeless Joe’s career accomplishments rank him among the best of the early twentieth century. His talented play puts him in the same conversation as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and the other greats of baseball’s infancy, yet one of history’s finest will never have his name read at Cooperstown. Because of his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Shoeless Joe was banned from baseball. Jackson admits to early involvement but has refuted the idea that he helped throw the 1919 World Series. Many point to his twelve hits and .375 average as proof, but his poor fielding performance does not help his case. Even if he is acquitted by the MLB, it will be difficult for Jackson’s legacy to become disassociated with the scandal with which its long been intertwined.

3. Barry Bonds

With one swing of the bat, Barry Bonds launched a ball over the right-center field wall. The home run was his 756th, breaking Hank Aaron’s record for the most homers in baseball history. A fierce debate started soon thereafter. Many believed the Giants’ slugger had not broken the home record — he stole it. Bonds’ reported steroid use is up for heated discussion. He is a central figure in baseball’s steroid scandal, and his alleged involvement leaves many unwilling to recognize his accomplishments. In addition, his brash, insolent personality when dealing with both the media and his teammates leave few rooting for Bonds outside of the Bay area.

2. O.J. Simpson

At his peak, O.J. was a near unstoppable running back. At USC, Simpson won the Heisman by one of the largest margins in the award’s storied history. In the NFL, O.J. garnered six Pro Bowl selections and four NFL rushing titles, but perhaps his greatest feat was in 1983 when the Buffalo Bills back rushed for over 2,000 yards in a fourteen-game season. After he retired from football,  Simpson remained in the public eye. He delighted audiences with his appearances on The Naked Gun and Monday Night Football, but in the summer of 1994, public perception quickly changed. O.J. was charged with deaths of his Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman but was later acquitted in part due to his marquee defense counsel anchored by Robert Kardashian. Since his acquittal, many have questioned O.J.’s innocence until  2007 when he was sentenced up to thirty-three years for his involvement in a Las Vegas robbery case.

1. Muhammad Ali

Perhaps the greatest athlete of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali is a true cultural icon. Long know for his unorthodox fighting style, Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee en route to becoming the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion. In 1967, however, the man formerly known as Cassius Clay made headlines with his refusal to be drafted into the United States military. His refusal to serve in Vietnam was well-documented. He notably remarked, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me n*****.” His statement echoed the sentiment of many at the time but his remark came before widespread Vietnam protests had begun. Ali’s stance on Vietnam exemplified his willingness to voice his mind. As a boxer, Ali was known for his profuse trash talk and unwillingness to back down from a challenge.

Now in his seventies, “The Louisville Lip” has picked up a different fight. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, Ali turned to the role of activist, spreading awareness of the affliction while remaining one of America’s most notable public figures.

* Photos Courtesy of Red Clear Sports, ESPNInquistr

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Aldon Smith Stabbed

Sources confirm that San Francisco 49ers’ outside linebacker Aldon Smith was stabbed early Saturday at a house party in Santa Clara. The team has since confirmed the incident. Law enforcement reported to the scene after complaints of gunshot fire. After their arrival, officers found two individuals suffering from gun shot inflicted injuries and one suffering from stab wounds. All three were taken to the hospital and treated for non-life threatening injuries.

This is not the first time Aldon Smith’s off-the-field actions have made headlines. In January, Smith received a DUI in Miami Beach. His blood-alcohol level charted .194 and .176 after he was arrested at 4:33 a.m, well over the legal limit. According to the police report, other vehicles were forced to break heavily to avoid collisions with Smith, who was swerving in and out of traffic.

A first-round pick out of Missouri, Aldon Smith shined as a rookie, charting 14 sacks and two forced fumbles. This fall, he will be entering his second year with the San Francisco 49ers.

* Photo Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner

Top 5 Tuesday: All-Time NFL Running Backs

On Monday, longtime San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson signed a one-day contract to retire with the team that drafted him. His announcement marks the end of one the NFL’s most prolific running back careers, but did he do enough to crack the top five? As the debate rages on, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s finest.

5. Marshall Faulk

With his rushing accolades alone, the Rams hall of famer is a near lock for this list, but his receiving prowess sets him apart. Long regarded as the NFL’s top receiving back, Faulk averaged an unheard of 64 receptions a year. He remains the only back to ever accumulate over 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 yards receiving in a career. Faulk proved instrumental in the success of history’s most explosive offense, “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Under his leadership, the Rams blossomed. With the addition of two-time MVP Kurt Warner, the dynamic duo revitalized 1998’s 3-13 squad, culminating in a Super Bowl XXXIV victory.

4. Emmitt Smith

Statistically speaking, Emmitt Smith is NFL history’s most decorated back. In his 14-year career, Smith broke the NFL records for most rushing yards, rushing touchdowns,  and 100-yard rushing games. He remains one of two non-kickers to score more than 1,000 points in a career. With eleven straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Smith cemented himself as one of the ’90s top backs. In addition, his well-documented chemistry with quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin put Dallas in the limelight. As “The Triplets” lit up the scoreboard, the Cowboys surged to three Super Bowl titles.

3. Jim Brown

In the pre-Super Bowl era, no back compares to the legendary Jim Brown. A star in Cleveland, Brown’s combination of size and speed dominated the field. In nine NFL seasons, Brown was an nine-time Pro Bowler while leading the league in rushing a record eight times. Without missing a single game, Brown gained notoriety for his punishing style of play. When describing the Cleveland back, Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey remarked, “He told me, ‘Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts.’ He lived by that philosophy, and I always followed that advice.”

2. Walter Payton

On the field and off the field, Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton made a difference. In his illustrious career, Payton broke the NFL records for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, all-purpose yards, yards from scrimmage, and many more. “Sweetness” rewrote the record books and was a member of the storied ’85 Bears team. Off the field, Payton’s impact resonated far beyond the game of football. Diagnosed with a rare, aggressive liver disease, Walter turned to the role of activist. In his final months, Payton spread national awareness for the need for organ transplants even though it was no longer a viable option for himself. Today, Payton is commemorated annually by the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, an honor bestowed by the NFL upon a player displaying excellence in accomplishing humanitarian goals.

1. Barry Sanders

Throughout NFL history, no man was harder to bring down than the elusive Barry Sanders. With a low center of gravity and legs like tree trunks, Sanders darted through defenses, averaging over 1,500 yards a season. A Pro Bowler in every season, Sanders single-handedly carried the Lions throughout the ’90s. This precisely is what separates Sanders from the rest of history’s greatest. All other running backs had at least one other reliable weapon to lean upon. Faulk had Warner. Emmitt had Aikman. Tomlinson had Sproles. Barry had himself. Opposing defenses knew the ball would land in his hands and strategized accordingly, but time and time again, Barry would do what Barry did best — break tackles, make plays, and run the football.

* Photos Courtesy of 6 Magazine, Emmitt SmithBarry Me Please

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

NFL’s Least Improved Teams

In last week’s article, THE SPORTS DISPENCER took a look at the NFL’s most improved teams. Today, we turn the table and see who has done the least to better their squad this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers offseason consisted primarily of roster clearing. Pittsburgh bid adieu to former Super Bowl starters Hines Ward, Bryant McFadden, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior. The Steelers’ draft did bring in quality young talent. The additions of Mike Adams and David DeCastro will shore up the offensive line, but their aging lineup will struggle to keep pace in the highly competitive AFC North. Expect the surging Bengals to drop the Steelers to third in the division.

New York Jets

Rex Ryan lives on drama, so it does not come as a shock that the Jets would opt to bring in one of the league’s most polarizing players — Tim Tebow. The arrival of Tebow creates an instant quarterback controversy in the Big Apple. In a media hub like New York, incumbent QB Mark Sanchez will be scrutinized for every move he makes and play in fear that one poor performance will set off Tebow’s legion of devoted followers. Drama like this does not bode well for any team, especially one that stumbled to an 8-8 record in 2011.

Oakland Raiders

When judging a team’s offseason progress, analysts typically look first at draft success. Unfortunately for Oakland, the Raiders were without a pick until their compensatory selection in the late third round. The result of spending their first three picks to acquire quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders simply did not have enough picks to fill their many holes, and the incoming talent will not be enough to account for the losses of Michael Bush and Stanford Routt.

New Orleans Saints

In the wake of the now infamous bounty scandal, New Orleans has lost more than any  other team this offseason. Sanctions against the coaching and front-office staffs were levied March 21, and effective April 1, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012-13 season. The first ever suspension of its kind in modern NFL history. Then on May 2, the Saints lost linebacker John Vilma and defensive end Will Smith for their roles in the bounty program.  Any team facing these sort of sanctions is bound to struggle. Throw in Drew Brees’ holdout and the loss of guard Carl Nicks, and it could be a rough year for Who Dat nation.

* Photos Courtesy of ESPN, Washington Post

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Most Improved NFL Teams

Training camp is still two months away, but as rosters begin to take shape, THE SPORTS DISPENCER takes an inside look at what teams have made the largest leaps and bounds this offseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After closing out the Raheem Morris era in Tampa, former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano hopes to turn around the Bucs from a disappointing 4-12 campaign. Schiano will have a quality core to work with in 2012. The offseason additions of top-tier guard Carl Nicks and receiver Vincent Jackson bolster the offense and supply Josh Freeman with the talent necessary to return him to his 2010 form. The Bucs will rely heavily on rookie selections Mark Barron and Lavonte David to perform well against the elite offenses of the NFC South, and if they do so, Schiano may find himself a permanent home in Tampa.

Kansas City Chiefs

What could go wrong did go wrong for the Chiefs. Kansas City quickly lost its top offensive and defensive players to season-ending knee injuries, and without Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, tensions began to mount. Head coach Todd Haley lost the locker room and was let go soon thereafter. The Chiefs then turned to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to lead the way, and in his first game as interim head coach, Kansas City defeated the undefeated and heavily favored Green Bay Packers, Green Bay’s only loss of the season. With key players returning and a new staff in place, Kansas City has nowhere to go but up in 2012.

Philadelphia Eagles

Last year the Eagles had the talent to contend but stumbled to a measly 8-8 record. An offensive core of Vick, McCoy, and Jackson provides Philly with the offensive firepower to keep games close, but they lacked the defensive presence to shut down games. The Eagles first had to address the glaring need at defensive tackle, and with the 12th overall selection in this year’s draft, they did. Ole Miss standout Fletcher Cox was thought by many to be the top defensive lineman in this year’s class. His furious pass rushing ability will slow offenses and give Philadelphia the defensive intensity necessary to close out games late.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams’ organization digressed in 2011. The injury bug halted progress and sent quarterback Sam Bradford spiraling into a sophomore slump. After a last-place finish in the NFC West, the Rams cleaned house and hired head coach Jeff Fisher to assist GM Sam Snead in the rebuilding process. After trading back, the Rams found themselves in possession of three second-round picks and additional first-round picks in 2012 and 2013. Snead’s active negotiating helped the Rams garner one of the league’s strongest drafts. First-round selection Michael Brockers fills up the hole at defensive tackle and provides the Rams with an elite run-stopping force. In the second round, St. Louis rolled the dice with troubled North Alabama cornerback Jenoris Jenkins. He will be paired with free agent pickup Cortland Finnegan to form one of the league’s top cornerback duos. Question marks still remain at outside linebacker, but the Rams’ newly found defensive prowess could lead Jeff Fisher to another playoff birth.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Bleacher Report, Philly.com

What If Wednesday: The Colts Drafted Ryan Leaf

With the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. He was followed by standout Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf. Manning became an All-Pro, Super Bowl champion, and future hall of famer. Leaf, on the other hand, struggled in four NFL seasons and has recently been charged with felony drug possession.  The Colts’ front office made the right decision, but what if they opted for Leaf instead? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Failure in Indianapolis

Lack of production from the quarterback position crippled the Colts in 1997. In order to succeed, NFL offenses require instinctive and well-displined signal callers. Ryan Leaf posseses neither of these qualities. His rookie season was filled with poor performances and off-the-field problems. After four NFL seasons, Leaf left the NFL with a career quarterback rating of 50.0 and more than double as many interceptions as touchdowns. Leaf’s inabilty to succed would do little to improve upon the Colts’ 3-13 record in 1997.

A Dynamic Duo

After drafting LaDainian Tomlinson with the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, the Chargers would have paired two of the decade’s most explosive offensive players in one of history’s most dynamic pairings. No defense at the time was equipped to handle two first-ballot hall of famers. The Manning-Tomlinson combo would create mismatches, open recievers, and better the Chargers all over the field.

A Lombardi Trophy in San Diego

Without Manning, San Diego still manged to develop the pieces necessary to contend for a title. The Chargers’  playoff runs reached their furthest in 2008 when they fell to New England 21-12 in the AFC Championship Game. The addition of Peyton to the roster would provide an instant upgrade at the quarterback position and have helped the Chargers to get over the hump and make a Super Bowl. Their dynamic offense and game-changing defense would have at some point culminated into a long-awaited championship in San Diego.

Eli’s Relocation

In 2004, the Chargers drafted Eli Manning first overall before dealing him to the Giants for Phillip Rivers and three other picks. Had Peyton fallen to the Chargers in 1998, they would not have been in position to draft the Ole Miss star atop the ’04 draft. Instead Eli would have landed with a quarterback-needy team. In a role reversal, the Colts may have been in position to draft him, changing the face of pro football forever.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Sports Illustrated, Wikipedia, NFL

Athletes as The Avengers

After topping the box-office for the second straight week, Marvel Studios’ The Avengers has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. The story tells of an elite group of six superheroes teaming together to save humanity from certain destruction. Rave reviews from fans and critics continue to bode well for the film’s commercial success and has caught the eye of us here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER. Based on the skill sets of Marvel’s finest, we assembled our own team of the sports world’s premier talents.

Drew Brees as Hawkeye

Quarterback Drew Brees fills the role of the sharp-shooting super spy Hawkeye. After leading the NFL last season in completion percentage and passing yards, no doubt remains over Brees’ deadly accuracy.

Shawn Johnson as Black Widow

Known throughout the sports world for her daring acrobatics and unquestioned skill, four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson is the obvious choice to represent Black Widow in The Sports Avengers.

Henrik Zetterberg as Thor

Nordic roots? Check. Master of a single handheld weapon? Check. Flowing mane of hair? Check. Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg meets all the qualifications necessary to personify the hammer-wielding god of thunder.

Rick Monday as Captain America

Captain America is an embodiment of stars, stripes, and the American way, and no ball player represents these ideals more than former Marine and ex-Chicago Cubs center fielder Rick Monday. A two-time All-Star, Rick Monday is perhaps best known for stopping two protesters from burning an American flag in a play dubbed “the greatest in baseball.”

Kurt Bush as Iron Man

Every team has its egos, and eccentric billionaire Tony Stark’s is one of the largest. In the sports world, few athletes have the attitude problems to rival Kurt Bush, who was booted from Penske Racing in 2011. Both Bush and Stark live lavish lives, operate pricey machines, and posses the personalities to prove it.

LaRon Landry as Hulk

No being in the universe has the physique to match the invincible mound of muscle that is the Hulk, but NFL strong saftey LaRon Landry comes close. Landry recieved instant fame for pictures he posted on Twitter that revealed his garagantuan size.

What do you think? How did we do? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Photos Courtesy of Guys NationThe Front Office, Chud.com, The Halo Bender, Offbeatworlds.com, Wikipedia, Movie Fanatic, 1973 Topps, Bad Haven, The Inquisitr, Word of the Nerd, The Washington Post, Collider