20 Most Underrated Athletes of All-Time

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Staff Writer


1. Curtis Martin
Martin was one of those running backs that you took for granted, because he didn’t do anything great, but did everything well. He had decent speed, good cutting ability and was a tough runner after contact. But his quiet personality and lack of look-at-me type of behavior probably made him easy to forget. He rushed for 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons in the NFL, and played in the 1996 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. He retired as the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history.

2. Dennis Johnson
Johnson was one of the best defensive guards in the NBA during the 1980s, but because he played on some of the best Boston Celtics’ teams of all time, he got lost in the dazzling light of all-time greats such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. But Johnson was the defensive glue that held those Celtics championship teams together, and without his grit, focus and consistency, it’s doubtful the Celtics would have prevailed against their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.

3. Frank Thomas
Thomas was the definition of the adage, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’ In the 16 years he starred for the Chicago White Sox, Thomas let his game do all the talking, and it spoke very loudly. He earned five all-star appearances, won the AL MVP twice and finally won a cherished World Series in 2005, even though he sat out that post-season with an injury.

4. Dennis Rodman
Yes, he was crazy and unpredictable and often plain out of control, but Rodman’s antics shouldn’t detract from what was a fantastic NBA career. This was a guy who used to guard the other team’s tallest and biggest player, while often given up more than 50 pounds and five to six inches of size. And yet, Rodman was one of the most tenacious defenders in NBA history, and at only six feet, nine inches, lead the league in rebounds per game for seven consecutive years. He was also a key member of five NBA championship teams, including two with the Detroit Pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls.

5. Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez
Rodriguez was one of the finest catchers of his era, and in his 21-year career, he played in two World Series and was one of the most reliable players in the game. He was a 14-time all-star who also earned a Gold Glove on 13 occasions, and yet his name isn’t on the short list of great catchers, even though he has better stats than more celebrated players such as Mike Piazza. Maybe the lack of a truly transcendent season is held against him, but Rodriguez belongs on the list of all-time greats.

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6. Frank Robinson
Is it possible to be underrated when you’re in the Hall of Fame? The answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ and Robinson is Exhibit A. The outfielder who starred for five teams during his 21-year career, made the all-star team 14 times, won MVP in both the AL and the NL, and added the Triple Crown in 1966. Robinson even won a World Series in 1966 and 1970.

7. Marvin Harrison
Harrison, who played his entire career for the Indianapolis Colts, teamed with Peyton Manning to form one of the most devastating QB to receiver combos in NFL history. Harrison still holds the record for most receptions in a single season, 143, which he set in 2002. He is the only receiver in NFL history to rack up eight consecutive seasons catching at least 10 touchdowns, and he won a Super Bowl in 2007. But his quiet demeanor and distinct lacks of a media presence has relegated Harrison to second-tier status when it comes to all-time greatness.

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8. Moses Malone
Malone was the prototypical center in the old-school version of the NBA. He was 6’10”, weighed 230 pounds and was a low-post demon who was nigh unstoppable in his prime. Malone’s game wasn’t based on brute strength, but relied on feints and olds man smarts to outwit larger, more skilled defenders. Malone played for 22 seasons, averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds a game and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. For all his achievements, he is still not mentioned as one of the five greatest centers of all time, but he should be on any short list.

9. Scottie Pippen
Pippen was the ultimate ‘Robin’ to Michael Jordan’s ‘Batman,’ and in the years they played together, the most dynamic duo in NBA history won six championships and stamped their names into sports history. Without Pippen, Jordan couldn’t win, and once Pippen realized his full potential, the Chicago Bulls became a dynasty. But despite his Hall of Fame credentials, Pippen often gets left off discussions of the 20 greatest players in NBA history. He earned 10 NBA All-Defensive Team honors, eight of which were on the first team, made the All-Star team seven times and was the NBA steals leader in 1995.

10. Franco Harris
Harris is the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back who was as steady a player as you will ever see in the NFL. Harris never had a flashy moves, nor was he was a speed demon, but he was sure-handed, tough and hard to tackle after contact. But perhaps because he was surrounded by a bevy of Hall of Famers with the Steelers dynasty, Harris doesn’t get the same accolades as Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and the Steel Curtain defense. Harris ran for more than 12,000 yards and had 4.1 yards-per-rush.

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11. Stan Musial
Although he has the great moniker of ‘Stan the Man,’ Musial was probably too quiet and too unassuming to become as well known a superstar as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle. Musial, however, was one of the most consistently great baseball players of all time, playing 22 seasons and earning All-Star honors in 20 of those seasons. He was also MVP three times and won seven batting titles.

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12. Rod Laver
Laver, one of the most talented tennis players of all time, was by all standards in the top three of greatest players, but his name is not mentioned with modern-era players such as Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and John McEnroe. Laver was smaller and less powerful than his foes, but he used outstanding placement and angles to overwhelm opponents. He won 11 Grand Slam titles and won the annual Grand Slam twice, in which he won all four majors in the same calendar year.

13. Ray Guy
When it comes to the greatest pure football players, Guy should be much higher on the list. But because he was a punter, many football fans underrate or dismiss his achievements. He averaged 42 yards per punt, never suffered a blocked punt and was also the Oakland Raiders’ emergency quarterback, which demonstrated his athletic ability. Guy is also the first punter in NFL history to make the Hall of Fame, earning that honor in 2014.

14. Steve Largent
Largent was a fantastic receiver, but he never got his due because he played for the Seattle Seahawks, and because sports fans weren’t used to watching a white receiver show such speed, grace and talent. Largent made seven Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995, but he hardly ever gets mentioned as one of the top five receivers in NFL history.

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15. Adrian Dantley
Dantley was a prolific scorer who played 15 years and made six All-Star teams. His low post scoring prowess allowed him to average 24 points a game, and he was also Rookie of the Year in 1977. But Dantley never won an NBA title, and was famously traded from the Detroit Pistons in 1989, just before they went on to won two consecutive championships. When it comes to pure scorers, Dantley deserves more respect among NBA fans.

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16. Carl Lewis
Lewis was an Olympic star that dominated the 1980s and early 90s, and was a combination of power, grace, speed and elegance. But in the era of steroids, Lewis has faded from consideration as the greatest Olympic sprinter of all time. Although superstar Usain Bolt excels at sprinting, Lewis was also one of the greatest long jumpers of all time, which is why more respect is due.

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17. Sterling Sharpe
Sharpe, a former wide receiver, is not even the most famous Sharpe in his family, that honor belonging to his little brother Shannon, who is in the Hall of Fame. Sharpe’s NFL career was cut short after only seven years due to injury. Sharpe has 595 receptions for 8,134 yards and 65 TDs. But Sharpe’s sullen personality and the fact that he didn’t get to fulfill his potential has shortchanged him when it comes to recognition.

18. Tim Brown
Brown is cursed by consistency without having a breakout year. He maintained a high level of excellence for most of his 17 years in the NFL as a receiver, but he played in the same era as Randy Moss who had much gaudier stats, and the fact that Brown was quiet and didn’t toot his own horn, probably hurt his reputation. Brown is fourth in all-time receptions, third in receiving yards and was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

19. Kurt Warner
Warner is the poster boy for quarterbacks who weren’t drafted and had to enter the NFL by first playing for other professional organizations. Warner won a Super Bowl in 2000 with the St. Louis Rams, and led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl in 2009, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Warner threw for 208 TDs and more than 32,000 yards and had a lifetime passer rating of 93.7. Warner deserves more mention as of one of the best quarterbacks of the past 25 years, having made four Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro teams and throwing for 100 TDs for two different teams.

20. Tim Duncan
For a five-time NBA champion, Duncan still manages to remain underrated. The Big Fundamental as he is known, has a 20-point, 11 rebound average over an 18 year career, and has played his entire career for the San Antonio Spurs. But Duncan’s quiet demeanor has made him one of the most unappreciated superstars in sports history, but his achievements place him in the top 10 greatest players in NBA history. Duncan has won three NBA Finals MVP trophies, earned 15 NBA All-Star appearances, made 10 All-NBA First Teams and was an eight-time member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team.