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Ten greatest athletes in Atlanta sports history

Yahoo Contributor Network
Holyfield, Sanders and Aaron. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.

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Evander Holyfield, Deion Sanders and Hank Aaron. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.

Editor's note: YCN contributor Anthony Schreiber has alphabetically compiled his list of the 10 greatest professional athletes for Atlanta. In a runaway, Hank Aaron was voted No. 1 by the users. See poll results to the right.

[Vote for No. 1: Los Angeles | Oakland | San Diego | San Francisco | Complete series]

Perhaps overshadowed by being the birthplace of Coca-Cola and the headquarters of CNN, Atlanta is rarely thought of as a sports mecca. However, it should.

Without any professional franchises in neighboring states, Atlanta served as the unofficial capital of sports in the Southeastern United States for many decades. Subsequently, fans have been given front-row seats to the careers of many legendary stars.

To comb through the laundry list of deserving Atlanta athletes, those qualified to make the cut needed to have great careers while simultaneously being good ambassadors for their sport -- sorry, Michael Vick.

This list could easily be a top 50, but the line had to be drawn somewhere. The fact that Dale Murphy, Pete Maravich and Jessie Tuggle were unable to crack their way in underscores just how many truly transcendent athletes have come through Atlanta over the years.

Who are the 10 best to ever roam their way down Peachtree Street?

In alphabetical order:

Hank Aaron (Braves, 1966-1974)

The Braves currently play home games at 755 Hank Aaron Drive -- need I say more?

"Hammerin' Hank" is an icon in Atlanta and holds nearly every franchise record the Braves have. The true home run king of Major League Baseball played 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves' franchise, but only nine of them came after the club's move to Atlanta in 1966. His MVP and World Series title came as a member of the Milwaukee Braves. Geographical semantics aside, Aaron hit 335 homers while playing in Atlanta, including recording-breaking No. 715.

Tom Glavine Braves (1987-2002, 2008)

With 305 career wins and two Cy Young Awards, Glavine was a Braves legend, even though he made the very misguided decision to sign with the hated New York Mets in 2003. Glavine returned to the fold to retire with Atlanta in 2008, and he has now been welcomed back as Chip Caray's part-time voice of reason during Sunday home games.

Evander Holyfield (44 wins, 10 losses, 29 TKO, 2 draws)

When discussing all-time great Atlanta athletes, it is always nice to be able to include one of the city's native sons. Holyfield grew up in Atlanta, and, in 1996, he was given the honor of representing the entire city by carrying the Olympic torch into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Games.

Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield remains the only fighter in history to be named Heavyweight Champion of the World five times in his career.

Chipper Jones (Braves, 1993-2012)

On a list of Atlanta athletes, Chipper is one of the greatest. Certain players achieve such meteoric success that only one name is required. There is no mistaking Babe (Ruth), Mickey (Mantle) or Cal (Ripken Jr.) -- just as people are not going to confuse the Braves' legendary third baseman with another "Chipper." Chipper had a career .303 batting average while playing all of his 19 seasons in Atlanta.

Greg Maddux (Braves, 1993-2003)

Maddux earned four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1992-1995. There have been Atlanta athletes more beloved, but maybe none more respected than Maddux. In an era where pitching devolved into a position of throwers, "The Professor" was every ounce the thinking-man's pitcher.

With a Rolodex-like steel-trap of a mind for the tendencies of every hitter he faced, Maddux out-maneuvered batters with the deftness of a chess grandmaster. Even after his fastball velocity fell to just 83 mph in his final few seasons, Maddux could still get professional hitters out by being the same laser-sighted target-striker who earned 355 career victories.

Dikembe Mutombo (Hawks, 1996-2001)

Mutombo earns his spot as much for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it. The four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and creator of the -- now banned -- post-block finger wag, is also the same man who donated $15 million of his own money to build a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mutombo has been mentioned by name in presidential speeches, while his foundation has been lauded for its humanitarian efforts around the world. Considering he also ranks No. 2 in NBA history in blocked shots (3,289), the basketball thing also worked out pretty well for "Mount Mutombo."

Matt Ryan (Falcons, 2008-present)

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Matt Ryan had the Falcons one step from a Super Bowl berth last season. (USA TODAY Sports)

After the 2013 season, "Matty Ice" will hold nearly every Falcons record for passing. Despite playing in only five seasons, Ryan sits just 4,513 yards and 27 touchdowns behind Steve Bartkowski for the "Dirty Bird's" top spot.

With No. 2 under center, the Falcons have turned into perennial Super Bowl contenders. However, Ryan's playoff record of 1-5 will need to change -- winning the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history would certainly help.

Deion Sanders (Falcons, 1989-1993; Braves, 1991-1994)

Even though the lights of "Prime Time" went out after only five seasons with the Falcons, Deion's legend still looms large in the state of Georgia. Not only does Sanders have his No. 21 retired in the Falcons' Ring of Honor, but he also upped his Atlanta status by heading over to the diamond to play baseball for the Braves. Sanders stole 19 bases and hit .276 in 1992 while helping the Braves reach the World Series.

John Smoltz (Braves, 1988-2008)

Few players are as adored by their hometown fans as "Smoltzie" is in Atlanta. During his 20 years with the Braves, the future Hall of Famer helped win a World Series title (1995) and scooped up a CY Young Award for himself (1996). He retired as the only player in MLB history with 200-plus wins and 150-plus saves. Smoltz also has a budding "stand-up comedy" career, which can be heard from the press box on select TBS and Peachtree TV telecasts.

Dominique Wilkins (Hawks, 1982-1994)

"The Human Highlight Film" gets lost in an era with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, yet Wilkins' mark of 24.83 points per game is only 0.67 points behind Kobe Bryant's career numbers.

His legacy will forever be tied to his dunking. Dominique won the NBA Dunk Contest in 1985 and 1990, and was a part of -- perhaps -- the greatest dunk-off in history when he went slam-for-slam with Jordan in 1988. We all know who really won that contest, had it not been held in Chicago.

Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.

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