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Sunday, August 29, 2004
Updated: September 2, 3:59 PM ET
ESPN25: 100 Best Seasons

By David Schoenfield
Page 2

As ESPN celebrates the past 25 years in sports, Page 2 celebrates those athletes who transcended their teams and sports, who amazed us with the greatest individual seasons over the past 25 years.

The concept? Simple. Which athlete had the best season? We spent hours checking the numbers, analyzing their value, adjusting for the context of their stats (for example, NBA games see fewer points scored now than in the 1980s while baseball games see more home runs and higher ERAs). We factored in playoff heroics as merited. We jigged and jimmied, knocked a few athletes off at the last minute and added more deserving candidates.

And we arrived at our list of the 100 greatest individual seasons of the past 100 years.

Enjoy -- and let the debate begin.

(Note: Sports considered include NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college football, college basketball, golf, tennis and NASCAR. One rule: no athlete could have more than three seasons on the list.)

Complete list: 1-25| 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100

ESPN25: 100 GREATEST INDIVIDUAL SEASONS
75
LADAINIAN TOMLINSON, 2003, San Diego Chargers
1,645 rushing yards, 5.3 ypa, 725 receiving, 17 TDs
Tomlinson's 2,370 combined rushing/receiving yards rank second all time, behind Marshall Faulk's 2,429 in 1999.
74
PRIEST HOLMES, 2002, Kansas City Chiefs
Priest Holmes
1,615 rushing yards, 5.2 ypa, 672 receiving, 24 TDs
From backup in Baltimore to MVP candidate in Kansas City. One of the great all-purpose seasons in NFL history, but like Tomlinson's Chargers, the Chiefs didn't make the playoffs.
73
MIKE SCHMIDT, 1980, Philadelphia Phillies
.286, 48 HR, 121 RBI, .624 SLG., MVP, World Series MVP
How many home runs would Schmidt hit in today's game? He led the NL in homers, ribbies, slugging, total bases, OPS, extra-base hits, won a Gold Glove and then hit .381 with 7 RBI as the Phillies won their only World Series.
72
GLEN RICE, 1989, Michigan
Glen Rice
25.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 30.7 ppg in NCAA Tournament
Rice shot himself onto the list with an out-of-this world long-range shooting display when he led Michigan to the NCAA title. He scored 28 in the national semis and then 31 in Michigan's OT win over Seton Hall.
71
RICKEY HENDERSON, 1990, Oakland A's
.325, 28 HR, 119 runs, 65 SB, .439 OBP, .577 SLG, MVP
How great was Rickey? He finished second in the AL in slugging percentage as a leadoff hitter -- and led the league in runs, on-base percentage, stolen bases and OPS. The greatest leadoff hitter ever was never greater than in '90.
70
MARTINA NAVRATILOVA, 1984
3 Grand Slam wins, won 13 of 15 tournaments, 78-2 record
Pool all of history's greatest tennis players and who are you going to take to win one match? This vote goes to Navratilova.
69
GEORGE BRETT, 1980, Kansas City Royals
George Brett
.390, 24 HR, 118 RBI, .454 OBP, .664 SLG, AL MVP
Brett's sweet stroke had him hitting .400 as late as Sept. 19. Throw in a memorable blast off Goose Gossage in the ALCS and a .375 average in the World Series. He'd rank higher, but injuries that year limited him to just 117 games.
68
LAWRENCE TAYLOR, 1986, New York Giants
20.5 sacks, NFL MVP
How good was LT in '86? He's the only defensive player to make the list. Ask opposing linemen if he deserves to be here.
67
MIKE ROZIER, 1983, Nebraska
2,148 yards rushing, 7.8 per carry, 29 TDs, Heisman winner
Rozier's eye-popping totals are just too huge ignore. His rushing total remains the fifth-highest of all time and his 7.8 yards per carry the best ever for a minimum 200 carries.
66
CHARLES BARKLEY, 1993, Phoenix Suns
Charles Barkley
25.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, MVP (26.6 ppg in playoffs)
After coming over in a trade from Philadelphia, Sir Charles led the Suns to the NBA Finals. OK, so maybe MJ deserved the MVP that year. And perhaps MJ had a little grudge to show in the Finals, outscoring Barkley 41.0 to 27.3.
65
KEVIN GARNETT, 2004, Minnesota Timberwolves
24.2 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.2 bpg, MVP
Does KG have to win a title to get consideration as one of the greatest all-around players ever? The numbers, especially in this era of lower scoring, are incredible. He just turned 28, so he still has a few peak years left.
64
ANNIKA SORENSTAM, 2003
Won 5 tournaments, including two majors
What made Sorenstam's year so amazing wasn't playing in a PGA event -- it was nearly pulling off the Grand Slam. She won two majors and finished one stroke back in the other two.
63
GREG MADDUX, 1995, Atlanta Braves
Greg Maddux
19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 147 H, 23 BB, 181 K's
How dominating was Maddux at his corner-painting peak? His 1994 and '95 ERAs, when adjusted for era and home park, ranked third- and fourth-best all time. In '95 he captured his fourth straight Cy Young Award and helped the Braves win the World Series.
62
JERRY RICE, 1987, San Francisco 49ers
65 catches, 1,078 yards, 23 TDs, 16.6 per catch
Rice caught a record 22 TD passes in '87 and rushed for another. Oh, and he did that it in only 12 games, due to the strike.
61
ERIC DICKERSON, 1984, Los Angeles Rams
2,105 yards rushing, 5.6 yards per carry, 14 TDs
You never hear Dickerson's name mentioned among the greatest running backs ever, but 20 years later and his single-season rushing record still survives.
60
BO JACKSON, Auburn, 1985
1,915 rushing yards, 6.2 per carry, 19 TDs, Heisman winner
Plus, he hit .401 with 17 home runs for the baseball team in the spring of '85.
59
LARRY BIRD, 1985, Boston Celtics
Larry Bird
28.7 ppg, 10.5 ppg, 6.6 apg, MVP (26.0 ppg in playoffs)
Maybe USA Basketball should have pulled Bird out of retirement for the Olympics. Here's guessing he can still drain those 3-pointers. Bird won the second of his three straight MVP awards in '85, although the Celtics lost in the Finals to the Lakers in six games.
58
CAL RIPKEN, 1991, Baltimore Orioles
.323, 34 HR, 114 RBI, 46 2B, .566 SLG, Gold Glove, MVP
How good was Ripken in '91? He was named AL MVP even though the Orioles finished in last place.
57
ROBIN YOUNT, 1982, Milwaukee Brewers
.331, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 129 runs, 46 2B, 12 3B, .578 SLG, Gold Glove, MVP
Yount's adjusted OPS -- that is, adjusted for the context of his era -- matches up with the best offensive years Alex Rodriguez has had. Speaking of ...
56
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, 2002, Texas Rangers
.300, 57 HR, 142 RBI, 125 runs, .623 SLG, Gold Glove
OK, we had a little fun ranking the three shortstops right next to each other. Which year do you like best?
55
MARIO LEMIEUX, 1992, Pittsburgh Penguins
44 goals, 87 assists, 131 points, playoff MVP (34 points in 15 games)
After scoring 131 points in 64 games in the regular season, Lemieux was even more incredible in the playoffs as the Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup.
54
BRETT FAVRE, 1996, Green Bay Packers
Brett Favre
3,899 yards, 7.2 ypa, 39 TD, 13 INT, 95.8 QB rating, MVP
Favre passed for more than 4,000 yards three other seasons, but he didn't win the Super Bowl those years. Not that there's anything wrong with his '96 performance -- only Dan Marino (twice) and Kurt Warner have thrown more TD passes in one season.
53
JERRY RICE, 1994, San Francisco 49ers
112 catches, 1,499 yards, 13.4 per catch, 15 TDs
Any number of Rice seasons could have made the list, but his 10-catch, 149-yard, 3-TD game in the Super Bowl puts '94 into the top 100.
52
ALBERT PUJOLS, 2003, St. Louis Cardinals
.359, 43 HR, 124 RBI, 137 runs, 51 2B, .439 OBP, .667 SLG
And he didn't even win the MVP Award. That's what happens when Barry Bonds is in your league.
51
RANDALL CUNNINGHAM, 1990, Philadelphia Eagles
3,466 yards passing, 30 TD, 13 INT, 942 yards rushing, 5 TD
How quickly they forget. When Michael Vick got everyone all worked up a couple years ago, it was like Cunningham's unmatched passing/rushing season never occured. Check those numbers. OK, check them again. They're real.