The (Sports) World According to Rik

Here are my picks for the best players & games I’ve ever seen…




Best Hitter: I’ve been fortunate to have seen a lot of great hitters in my day. Rod Carew, George Brett, and Wade Boggs immediately come to mind. But I’d have to say that Tony Gwynn is the best pure hitter I’ve ever watched. If Boggs had hit like he did in Boston for his whole career, he might get my vote, but leaving really showed that his swing was tailor made for Fenway Park.

Best Pitcher: This one is really a tough call, but I’m going to say Greg Maddox. However, if Pedro Martinez stays consistent as he’s been, he may change my vote in a few years. Some people may argue Clemens, but I lived through the “lean years” – his last 4 years in Boston, and seen him pitch his worst in big games (most notably the playoffs). Over the years I’ve noticed that he only pitches his best when he’s motivated or pissed off.  

Best World Series: Call me crazy, but the one I enjoyed watching most was in 1982 between the Milwaukee Brewers and St Louis Cardinals. The Brew crew had a great team that year, loaded with talent and personalities – Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas (He of the muttonchops…). But the Cards had some players of their own, and I remember watching Bob Forsch pitch a couple big games when they needed it. All in all, that was the best series I ever watched. I even had to sneak out of bed to watch all of Game 7, but it was worth it. I will, however, give the ’88 series between the A’s and Dodgers an honorable mention. Kirk Gibson’s famous home run alone puts it near the top. Plus, I hated the A’s back then (they beat the Red Sox in the ALCS after all), so it was great to see them lose.




Best Quarterback: It’s a pretty close call between Dan Marino and Joe Montana, but I give the nod to Montana. Marino’s stats were second to none, and if he’d had a decent RB at any point in his career, he would probably have won at least one or two Superbowls and be considered the best ever (John Elway anyone?). Unfortunately for him he didn’t, so we’ll never know. But the reality is that Montana was the best I ever saw. His game had no weaknesses. A lot of people said he was a product of some talent-laden teams in SF, which made him seem better than he was, but the truth is that he got it done. For me, I was convinced once and for all after watching him lead the Chiefs over the highly favored Oilers back in the early 90’s. Nobody gave them a chance (including me), but Montana somehow pulled it off. He’s the greatest QB I’ve ever seen.   

Best Running Back: No contest. Barry Sanders. I’m still pissed off at him for retiring early and depriving us of at least 5 or 6 more years of watching greatness. A back like him only comes along once in a lifetime.

Best Receiver: Another no contest – Jerry Rice. Not only did he have great hands, I never saw any receiver do what he could do after the catch. He was like a running back once he got the ball.

Best Inside Linebacker: Pepper Johnson. He never seemed to get any credit, but this guy did it everywhere he went. Not very fast, but I never saw anyone who could stuff the run from the inside spot like him. And with Lawrence Taylor forcing the play inside constantly, that’s saying a lot. Mike Singletary was pretty damned good too.

Best Outside Linebacker: Lawrence Taylor. 

Best Defensive Lineman: I’ve seen some good ones, but the best I ever saw was Reggie White. He was just unstoppable. I remember one play in Superbowl XXXI against (-sigh-) the Patriots where he just threw his blocker aside with one arm and dropped the QB. Now that’s power. A close second is Bruce Smith however. That guy was unblockable.

Best Superbowl: OK, call me a homer, I don’t care. The best Superbowl I ever saw was Superbowl XXXVI, when my beloved Patriots upset the heavily favored Rams 20-17. Nobody can deny that this was one of the best SB games ever. And the dramatic ending had to be the best ever. Tom Brady, after starting only about 10 games in his career, leads an unbelievable 50-something yard drive with barely a minute left after John Madden himself was saying that the right thing to do was play for overtime. I don’t care what anybody says – the Pats were the best team that day and they proved it on the field.




Best Quarterback: It’s hard to judge, because some guys only play a couple years, but I’d have to say Ty Detmer. I know what you’re thinking, but forget about his Pro career, look solely at his 4 years at BYU, and you can understand why I say he’s the best I ever saw in the college game. I can remember watching him play, thinking that he was going to be the next great QB product to come out BYU, but it never materialized. However, that doesn’t minimize the amazing college career he had.

Best Running Back: Marshall Faulk. If you watched him in college, you have to agree.

Best Linebacker: I’m going to surprise some people here and say Percy Snow, Michigan St. He had a mediocre pro career, but he was a monster at MSU. I mean he seemed to be in on every single play. His last 2 years, he just terrorized Notre Dame, almost winning the game single handedly both years. I remember watching one game where he called defensive audibles on seemingly every play, and every one seemed to be the right one. I really thought he was going to be great in the pros. Some guys just don’t have it I guess. Next to Snow, I’d have to say either Marvin Jones or Derrick Brooks (Both from Florida State).  

Best Bowl Game: Fiesta Bowl, January 4, 2003. Ohio St. upsets Miami in the greatest college bowl game I ever saw. I wasn’t even planning on watching it, because it came on at 2 o’clock in the morning here in Italy, but I woke up at 01:30 and couldn’t sleep, so I turned it on. Once it started, I couldn’t turn it off. From start to spectacular finish (in overtime), it was fantastic. 

Most Undeserved Heisman Trophy Winner: Gino Toretta is usually the first one that comes to everyone’s mind (inexplicably beating out Marshall Faulk that year), but I don’t see how that could compare to the injustice of Eric Crouch winning it a couple years ago. As the starting QB for Nebraska, this guy threw for less than 2,000 yards, and actually threw a lot more interceptions than touchdowns, yet he wins the Heisman. The argument is that he won it for his rushing stats, which I admit were very impressive for a quarterback (what did he have? Like 1500 yards or something?) – but if they’re gonna give the award based on rushing stats, then there were a whoooole lotta running backs with much better rushing stats than his. Besides, if his rushing stats alone justify him getting the Heisman, then why wasn’t Chance Harridge from Air Force even mentioned in the voting last year? After all, he had comparable rushing stats and he was also a quarterback. Less than 2,000 and more interceptions than touchdowns, and he was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback!




Best Shooter: Larry Bird. Of course I’m bias. I watched him night in, night out, and have never seen a better shooter.

Best Defender: I guess I’d have to say Michael Jordan. Dennis Rodman was right up there though.

Best Center: I only watched Kareem his last 7 or 8 years in the league, so I can’t say him. I’d have to go with Hakeem Olajuwon. He gave you points, rebounds, and defense. And, he wasn’t a liability at the line like a lot of centers are. Many people might argue for Shaq, but I don’t think it’s any contest. Besides, Hakeem usually got the best of him when they played – including the one time they met in the NBA finals. There are no more great true centers in the NBA anymore (Todd McCullough anyone?), so who do you measure him against?

Best Point Guard: Although he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a point guard, I don’t think anyone can argue that Magic is the best that I’ve seen in my lifetime so far. Nobody directed traffic like him. I have to say that Jason Kidd is pretty special at the point as well. And you can’t overlook Stockton. But nobody compares to Magic.




Best Goalie: The 3 that immediately come to mind for me are Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, and Martin Brodeur. Personally, I think it really is a toss up between Hasek and Brodeur. But if you put a gun to my head, I’d say Hasek, only because Brodeur has always had the luxury of playing on a defense-first team. 

Best Goal Scorer:

Best Defenseman: Ray Bourque. Sure, Niklas Lidstrom is the best defenseman playing today, but Bourque was still the best I ever saw. I’m a little too young to have watched Bobby Orr, otherwise I would probably say him. Bourque was the consummate defenseman. He could score, he could carry the play, he could direct the power play from the point like few others could…and he could play a little defense too. 

Best All Around: Wayne Gretzky. I started watching hockey right around the time he landed in the NHL, and what a joy he was to watch. He was from another planet altogether. 92 goals in one season? 212 points in one season? Those are records that will stand up for many years, if not forever - especially with the “clutch and grab” era so en vogue nowadays.




Best Goaltender: Peter Schmeichel. He made his mark with Manchester United, but few true fans will ever forget him leading Denmark’s improbable run towards the European Championship in 1992. Nobody set up his defenders better than him. He always played his angles perfectly as well. David Seamen is up there too, but he’s made too many costly gaffes in big games. As far as saving penalty kicks however, Seamen is definitely the best.

Best Goal Scorer: This is perhaps the toughest call of all. I’ve watched so many great goal scorers through the years – Klinsmen, Bergkamp, Romario, Baggio, Ronaldo, Vieri to name a few. But I’d have to rank Gabriel Batistuta as the best. Ronaldo is indeed a magician with the ball, but his career has been up and down due to injuries. Bergkamp and Klinsmen both scored goals that didn’t seem possible, but didn’t score them often enough to get my vote. Baggio is the sentimental favorite (he is my neighbor after all…), but he’s not quite the best. I will say this though – if they continue at their present pace, both Christian Vieri and Ruud Van Nistelroy will probably be considered the best I’ve ever seen before too long. Those guys are just amazing. But over the years, I used to watch Italian league highlights just to see the goals that he scored. He just had a knack for putting the bulge in the onion bag. (NOTE: Of course, I haven’t forgotten about Maradonna. He was indeed legendary, but after the mysterious “Hand of God” goal and the years of drug problems, I can’t say list him as the best, although he does warrant consideration).

Best Defender: Paolo Maldini. I remember when he was younger, you could tell he was a special player. He won the World Soccer player of the year one year as a defender, which is pretty rare. He solidified his status as the best in the world during World Cup 94 in the US and never looked back. Even now, as he’s in the twilight of his career, he’s not as fast as he used to be, but he’s made up for it with his smarts. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. 

Best Midfielder: Zinedine Zidane. Anyone who has watched him – I mean really watched him – has to agree that he’s the best. I’ve never seen any other midfielder dictate and direct the flow of the game like him. He’s so big and strong that once he gets the ball, it’s nearly impossible to dispossess him. They were stacked at every position, but Zidane was the engine that made the France juggernaut go.

Best All Around: Zidane. The way he completely dominates the direction of the game on the field is something to see. I watched him do it with France, but also with his club teams – Juventus and Real Madrid. He can also score the big goal when it’s needed (Final, World Cup 98).

Best Match: Most people will be shocked at this one, but the best match I ever saw was the first round match up in World Cup 94 between Bolivia and South Korea. It was just one of those rare moments where everything fell into place and the stars were aligned properly. It was the last match of the first round, and they both needed a win to have a chance at qualifying for the second round (something neither country had ever done), so they were both throwing everything at each other from the opening kickoff. Anyone who has watched Bolivia and South Korea in the past 10 years knows that they both play a fast paced, wide-open style. And this match was exactly that – times 10. It was end to end, back and forth, with no let up by either side. It was some of the most beautiful football I’ve ever seen. There were a total of about 786 shots by each team, and it seemed like every other one hit the post, missed the net by a half inch, or ended with a spectacular save. Fittingly, the match actually ended in a nil-nil draw. After the match, the look on the face of Marco Etcheverry (“El Diablo”) said it all. He looked like a man possessed - and that’s the way both teams played. I needed a few days to calm down from that match. Unfortunately, I can never recapture the magic of that match. What made it so great was the outcome was undecided. To watch it again on video would probably be a disappointment. But, to this day, it’s the best match I’ve ever watched.

Best World Cup: I enjoyed World Cup 98 more than any other simply because I was living in Europe at the time (and because Brazil didn’t win). The atmosphere was intoxicating. Everywhere I went I was able to watch the matches with fanatic European fans. I was even able to watch France’s dramatic shootout victory in the quarterfinals versus Italy in a small bar in downtown Strasbourg with a bunch of boisterous locals. And the final between France and Brazil was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. I told everyone in the local German bar that France was going to win (in fact, I guaranteed it), and everyone said I was a crazy American (what did I know about soccer, right?). But they all had to apologize by the end of the night – and I collected a lot of free drinks! After that, they all took me seriously…

Best Goal: OK, the best goal I’ve ever seen (so far…) is the now-famous goal that Roberto Carlos of Brazil scored against France in some generic tournament about 3 or 4 years ago. Soccer aficionados know exactly the goal I’m referring to. It was taken from a free kick just outside the penalty area. But this was no ordinary free kick goal. You had to see it from behind to appreciate it. Carlos bent it about 3 feet. It looked like it was going well right of the net, then magically curved just inside the post. It was superhuman.



Well, there you have it. I’m sure anyone who reads this list will disagree with most of it, but that’s the beauty of watching sports – everyone sees a different game. And remember, this list is compiled of stuff that I’ve seen personally, not stuff that I’ve only read about or seen highlights of. Feel free to weigh in or, if you’d like, suggest some other categories for me to include…

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