Some of the great names in sports are often lost to those of the modern lexicon. They either play second fiddle to someone better, fizzle away in the later years of an athlete’s career, or fail to gain traction in popular culture. Here are five of the greatest unsung heroes in sports history.
Perhaps one of the less conventional athletes, Justify is a former American racehorse that competed in the Triple Crown – an annual three-part race consisting of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. A colt is declared the Triple Crown winner for finishing first in each of the three legs – a rare feat that has only been achieved by 13 horses since the steeplechase was first inaugurated in 1919. Prior to his victory in 2017, Justify’s stablemate, American Pharoah, had just ended a 37-year champion drought in 2015. Considering that Pharoah had won just two years before him, Justify didn’t receive the same hype or acknowledgment that his name suggests he was entitled to. And though horse racing may not be at the forefront of modern American sports discussion, that doesn’t mean these four-legged athletes are any less deserving of meaningful accolades.
4. Cody Allen
Cleveland Indians pitcher Cody Allen might not be the prized flashy player Indians fans vaunt and venerate, but simply put, he does his job and he does it well. During the American League playoffs, Allen struck out the final hitters to close the AL Divisional Series and the ALCS while also making five saves. Allen even surrendered his role as closer in several games to reliever Andrew Miller, who did go on to become a cherished name in 2016, procuring MVP honors. Allen meanwhile was incidentally pushed to the background, but the noble Indians pitcher merits more credit than he has received.
3. Ron Francis
Ron Francis has some of the most impressive stats in the NHL, ranking second in career assists and fourth in career points. Unfortunately for Francis, the greatness of his name was lost amid the tail end of his career, which he spent with the lesser-known Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes. However, as the prearranged head coach for Seattle’s upcoming pro team, Francis may yet claw his way back into the spotlight.
2. Steve Largent
Steve Largent played for the Seattle Seahawks between 1976 and 1989 and was perhaps one of the greatest wide receivers of his time if not throughout all of NFL history. During his career, Largent appeared seven times in the Pro Bowl and in 1980, he was named to the All-Decade Team. Largent ended his career having scored a grand total of 100 touchdowns and racking up a whopping 13,089 yards. Though his name isn’t tossed around as frequently as Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, or Larry Fitzgerald, Largent is no less deserving of the same recognition.
1. Scottie Pippen
Though he is widely considered one of the best small forwards in NBA history, Scottie Pippen is simultaneously one of the most underappreciated players in the association, mostly due to the fact that he played on the Chicago Bulls during the same era as Michael Jordan. As former team-mates, Pippen was and is often cast in the shadow of Jordan’s legacy. For this reason, Pippen’s talent will sadly never be appreciated for as much as it’s worth. It’s a classic instance of greatness in the right place at the wrong time.