When it comes to athletes, we often judge them by a variety of factors that don’t always necessarily relate to how successful they are in their respective games. Some guys we judge by statistics, others by how many rings or trophies that they’ve won. But the one thing that we almost always consistently gauge our respect, admiration and often even hatred on is how “tough” an athlete is.
Does he or she play harder than the competition? Does he or she make up for talent with grit and fearlessness? Or is the athlete more of an imposing presence that intimidates and gets in the competition’s head, causing everyone on the field, court ice and canvas to change how they approach the game? Whichever one it is, it’s just a sign that these athletes play harder than anyone else.
Here are some of our favorite athletes who played hard. Share yours in the comments.
A lot of sports fans like to pretend that baseball players don’t play as hard as the other guys, while also complaining that the seasons are too long. But it’s in that fact, that each season lasts 162 games, that the legendary Baltimore Orioles shortstop and third baseman carved out his legacy as one of baseball’s hardest working and toughest players. Ripken owns arguably baseball’s most insurmountable record with 2,632 consecutive games played, and while people may say that Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak is harder to top, it will still be a long, long time before anyone comes close to the Iron Man.
Prince Fielder is currently the closest at 505 games.
Like Ripken in baseball, Favre was the NFL’s “Iron Man,” having set the record for the most consecutive starts at quarterback at an incredible 297 regular season games, and 321 games if you’re counting his playoff appearances (and we do count those). Sure, Favre’s legacy may have been tainted with text messages and retirement flip-flopping, and he didn’t do himself any favors in the toughness department by laying down for Michael Strahan, but we still can’t deny how hard the guy played to have survived as long as he did.
Jackie Robinson is best known for breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier and being forced to endure the endless taunts, insults and threats of ignorant fans and hate mongers from coast-to-coast. But when it came to the athlete himself, nobody in his era was as talented at a variety of sports as Jackie, as he lettered in football, track, basketball and baseball while he was a student at UCLA. Had he not spent two years serving in the Army, Robinson may have ended up as a star athlete in another sport, but fate did its thing and he went on to become one of the most important and celebrated icons in baseball and America’s history.
Having spent the majority of his professional career with the Philadelphia Flyers, goalie Ron Hextall will never be known as the best to ever play in the NHL, but he will always be known as one of the toughest and hardest-playing athletes to mind the net. Not only was Hexy ballsy enough to play the puck away from the net and actually take shots on his opponents’ empty nets, but he also (and much more famously) wasn’t afraid to get his knuckles dirty. He still holds the record for the most penalty minutes earned by a goalie in one season with 113.
The 26-year old UFC Women’s Champion did something that few MMA fighters have ever done – she made Dana White eat his words. The outspoken and unapologetic UFC President long maintained the stance that he’d never have women fighters in the UFC, but once he saw how hard Rousey busted her ass in Strikeforce, he had to go back on his word and open the doors to women. Rousey’s tough-as-nails attitude and equally abrasive attitude have made her one of the sport’s biggest love-or-hate icons.
Often thought of as one of the craziest and most dangerous men in the NBA, Metta World Peace has proved his toughness both in the most unfortunate way imaginable (“The Malice at the Palace”) and by being one of the hardest-working defenders on the court at any time. He has also busted his butt off the court to break through into the mainstream entertainment industry by being a rapper, music producer and standup comic. Although most people would probably tell him to stick to the NBA.
He’ll always be remembered as one of the best champions in the history of professional boxing, and he’ll forever be the man who beat Mike Tyson in back-to-back fights. But when it comes to showing how hard he’ll work and just how tough of a fighter he can be, the first thing that will come to anyone’s mind is the fact that Tyson bit a small hole in his ear and he wanted to keep on fighting. Amazingly, they’re friends today and have no problem telling that story… probably because it reminds us just how hard Holyfield played his game.
There are endless statistics, awards, honors and recognitions that we could list to prove why Michael Jordan was the greatest of all-time, and there are plenty of numbers and opinions out there that will make arguments for guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. But when it comes to reminding us how hard you have to work and how tough you have to be to become as great as Jordan was during his career, we’ll never have to look farther than the “Flu Game,” in which Jordan scored 38 points despite being reportedly very ill the night before.
Hockey players will always tell you that they’re the toughest of all athletes, and they’re never afraid to drop the gloves and go at it with each other in the middle of a game. So when the majority of the NHL’s players took a vote last season and named Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic the toughest guy in the league, that really has to count for the way he plays the game. Of course, just because he has his fellow players’ attention for his hard-hitting ways, it doesn’t mean that he’s the most popular. Guys like Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller might be inclined to call Lucic a few other names than just tough.
He may have forever tarnished his image by gambling on his sport, but Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose was never afraid to play harder and tougher than anyone else in baseball. It was his classic head-first attitude and that head-first slide that changed catcher Ray Fosse’s life forever in the 1970 All-Star Game, when Rose proved that he was willing to play harder than anyone, even when he didn’t have to.