Editor's note: YCN contributor John Cannon has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Washington. Alex Ovechkin pulled away from Walter Johnson for the No. 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are on the upper right side of the page.
The Statesmen became the Senators after one season, but the Senators folded in 1899 after eight years of mediocrity. Another Senators team took the field in 1901 and would prove more enduring, playing in the American League until the team was shipped north in 1960 to become the Minnesota Twins.
In 1937, Washington gained a football team when the Boston Redskins moved south and won a championship in their first year. In 1973, the city landed an NBA team when it convinced the Baltimore Bullets to relocate, and it brought in an NHL franchise through expansion the next year. With the return of baseball in 2005, Washington had, for the first time, a team from all four major sports.
With many triumphant and forgettable seasons surely ahead, this list is a quick look back at some of the greatest and most beloved athletes in Washington history.
In alphabetical order, here are the top 10 professional athletes in Washington D.C. history:
Sammy Baugh (Redskins, 1937-1952)
Baugh came to Washington the same year the Redskins moved to the city from Boston. He was in some ways the first modern quarterback, helping to turn the forward pass from a novelty into an integral part of the game. In addition to quarterback, Baugh played as a defensive back and punter, still holding the single-season record for yards per punt. To this day, Baugh's No. 33 jersey is the only number retired by the Redskins.
Darrell Green (Redskins, 1983-2002)
A phenomenal athlete who combined speed and durability, Green was a former track star who spent all 20 years of his NFL career in Washington. He is the Redskins' all-time leader in tackles (1,159), interceptions (54) and games played (295). Undoubtedly one of the best cornerbacks to ever play, Green was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
Elvin Hayes (Bullets, 1972-1981)
Joining the Bullets in their final season as the Baltimore Bullets, Hayes spent nine seasons with the team and was one of the best power forwards in the game during that time. He was a remarkably durable player who never played fewer than 80 games in a season and averaged 21.3 points and 12.7 rebounds per game in his time with the Bullets. Playing alongside Wes Unseld, Hayes helped lead the Bullets to three appearances in the NBA Finals and a championship in 1978.
Walter Johnson (Senators, 1907-1927)
Arguably the greatest pitcher of his time, Johnson spent his 21-year career in Washington and helped bring the city its lone World Series title. In spite of the fact that he often played on losing teams, Johnson won 417 games in his career and had a dozen 20-win seasons. He also had a 2.17 career ERA and was the all-time leader in strikeouts until Nolan Ryan broke his record in 1983 -- more than half a century after Johnson retired.
Sonny Jurgensen (Redskins, 1964-74)
Though a case can be made for Joe Theismann, who guided the Redskins to consecutive Super Bowl appearances and one win, Jurgensen is more widely regarded as one of the franchise's greatest players. The five-time Pro Bowler led the league in passing yards three times and TD passes once while with the Redskins, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Art Monk (Redskins, 1980-1993)
One of the greatest receivers of all time, Monk caught 888 of his 940 career receptions in a Redskins uniform and was the all-time leader in that category for several years before being overtaken by Jerry Rice. He also played on some of the greatest Redskins teams of all time, helping lead the team to four Super Bowl appearances and three rings. Inexplicably left out of the Hall of Fame year after year, Monk finally made the cut in 2008.
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals, 2005-present)
Although he's only 27, Ovechkin has already established himself as the best player to ever wear a Capitals uniform. With three Hart Trophies on his shelf, Ovechkin only needs postseason success to fully cement his legacy. Fortunately, for the Caps, he's under contract until 2021.
Sam Rice (Senators, 1915-1933)
Undoubtedly the least-known player on the list, Rice was quietly the most prolific offensive player in the history of Washington baseball. He amassed 2,889 hits and a .323 average over 19 seasons with the Senators and, along with Walter Johnson, was a key component on the Senators' 1924 World Series title team. Rice was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1963 and has the dubious distinction of having the most career hits (2,987) of any player to not join the 3,000-hit club.
John Riggins (Redskins, 1976-85)
The Redskins' all-time leader in rushing yards (7,472) and rushing touchdowns (79), Riggins is perhaps best remembered for his 166-yard performance in Super Bowl XVII. The year after his Super Bowl heroics, he rushed for a then-record 24 touchdowns. In spite of a rocky relationship that included a yearlong holdout in 1980, Riggins' Super Bowl performance and franchise records secure his legacy in Washington.
Wes Unseld (Bullets, 1968-81)
Playing alongside Elvin Hayes, Unseld was the other key contributor during Washington's most successful years of basketball. He remains the franchise's all-time leader in rebounds (13,769) and assists (3,822). He spent his entire career with the Bullets (although they played in Baltimore until 1973) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.
John Cannon is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Washington Nationals.
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