Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning: these names are synonymous with individual greatness and consistent MVP-worthy performances. Sometimes, predicting who will be the most valuable player is easy and the choice can appear to be a foregone conclusion. But the ones who comprise this list were never supposed to be at the top (at least when they won their award). Some of them would go on to legendary careers and have their names enshrined in their sport’s respective Hall of Fame. Others would be one-hit wonders. In each case, almost no one could have foreseen them shining through at the perfect moment, if even for the briefest of moments.
This list considers only the MVP awards for the four major North American sports leagues during the playoffs: Super Bowl MVP for football, World Series MVP & the Babe Ruth Award for baseball, the Conn Smythe Trophy for Hockey and the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award for basketball. Regular season stats determine the playoffs; but the playoffs determine the athletic heroes.
The great Muhammad Ali once declared, “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them- a desire, a dream, a vision.” The lesser-known Anson Dorrance, an American female soccer coach, stated that, “The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.” Both of them are making the same point with different words. A real champion is one whose work is done almost exclusively away from the spotlight so that when they are bathed in the warm limelight, they know they truly deserve it.
15 15. Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins: Super Bowl VII
14 14. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets: 1994
13 13: Luis Tiant, Boston Red Sox: 1975
12 12. Bob Gainey, Montreal Canadiens: 1979
11 11. Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers: Super Bowl XXXI
10 10: Paul Molitor, Toronto Blue Jays: 1993
Paul Molitor, affectionately known as “Molly” and “The Ignitor”, was a central component to the Toronto Blue Jays’ second consecutive World Series’ Title in 1993, but he was never even supposed to be there in the first place. Molitor wanted to stay with his beloved Milwaukee Brewers, but sold out when the reigning champion Jays offered him a significantly more substantial contract during the off-season.
9 9. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Mighty Ducks: 2003
J.S. Giguere’s playoff debut foreshadowed the incredible cup run he was about to embark on. In the Ducks’ 2-1 triple overtime victory over the high-powered Red Wings, Giguere set an NHL record with 63 saves. Even more astonishing is Giguere’s playoff OT shutout streak, which stands at 168:27. With that in mind, maybe the Avalanche should've played Giguere in overtime of Game 7 last year against Minnesota.
8 8. Bobby Richardson, New York Yankees: 1960
7 7. Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers: 1969
6 6: Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys: Super Bowl V
5 5. Brian Leetch, New York Rangers: 1994
4 4: Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers: 1980
3 3. Dick Green, Oakland Athletics: 1974
2 2. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes: 2006
1 1. Joe Namath, New York Jets: Super Bowl III
Before there was the modern day NFL, there were two leagues that competed for the Super Bowl: the NFL and the AFL (American Football League), which was absolutely ridiculed by the NFL. And in 1968, the NFL’s Baltimore Colts were predicted to absolutely demolish Joe Namath and the AFL’s New York Jets. Many sports writers at the time contended that it would be several years before any AFL team could be competitive with an NFL team and one NFL superstar even claimed that Super Bowl III would be Namath’s “first professional football game.” While no one at the time would have even predicted a Jets’ victory, the brash Namath famously “guaranteed” a victory against the Colts, who were then referred to as “the greatest team in history.” The AFL gained some much-needed legitimacy and Broadway Joe’s bold prediction became legendary (and likely swayed MVP voting).
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