In the world of professional sports, fans have long memories when it comes to failure. Just ask any Boston Red Sox follower about their feelings for Bill Buckner or a Buffalo Bills fan about Scott Norwood. A word to the wise, you might want to stand back and cover your ears when you do. However, sustained sporting success at a very high level sometimes seems to fall by the wayside too as far as fans are concerned. Sure, we think we all remember the Hall of Famers. We all remember the champions. But what if Michael Jordan hadn’t won all those championships? Remember, there was a time in the late ‘80s and early 90s, believe it or not, when it seemed like Jordan would never carry his teams past the Celtics of Larry Legend or the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons of Detroit. Would we remember him as the NBA’s G.O.A.T. or just a supremely-talented star of the league who eventually faded into the stat books of time? Of course, Jordan eventually did accomplish his “Double Three-peat” and the rest is, as they say, history.
It’s not just championships that make stardom endure, though. A lot of the players listed below won titles. It’s not ‘color’ or eccentricity either. You’ll find more than one name on this list who, in his time, was just as well known for his antics (both between and outside the lines) as his superior play. Maybe it’s just the fickle nature of fans to always be obsessed with the next championship, the next greatest thing, the next sure-fire HOFer who will save a franchise, a league or a sport. Whatever the reason the fifteen athletes listed here were among the very best of the best in their 90s heyday and deserve a quick trip down memory lane for all that they accomplished.
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15 Eric Cantona, FIFA: Manchester United
The eccentric French Striker helped make Man U into the international powerhouse it is today by his stunning play in the early days of the Premiership. Between 1992-97, he had 64 goals in 143 appearances for the Red Devils. More importantly, he led the squad to four titles in five seasons (’92, ’93, ’95, ‘96). Before Cantona’s arrival Manchester United hadn’t hoisted a first division trophy since 1967. He also scored three times in two FA Cup Final victories (’94, ’96) and was the first non-English player to be a FA Cup winning captain.
14 John Randle, NFL: Minnesota Vikings
Every list needs a crazy-a** defensive lineman and John Randle’s just the guy for this one. Maybe playing in Minnesota for the majority of his career didn’t help him but nobody talks about this Hall of Famer with 137.5 career sacks to his name. He averaged double figures in sacks between 1992-99 (and missed it in ’91 by half a sack), which puts him seven all-time, and made the Pro Bowl every year between 1993-98. He actually played in 10 playoff games for the Vikes over the course of the 90s, but even Minnesota fans don’t want to remember those games.
13 Monica Seles, WTA
She became most famous when she was stabbed by a psychotic fan during a match with Steffi Graf, but back in the day Seles was a heck of a player as well. She was the youngest player ever to be ranked #1 (in 1991) and won 53 singles titles. Nine of those titles were Grand Slams. From 1991-93 she absolutely owned her sport, winning 33 of 34 matches and six Grand Slam titles in that time-span. It’s also only fair to note that every female player who feels comfortable enough to grunt on the court nowadays owes Seles a debt as well.
12 Thurman Thomas, NFL: Buffalo Bills
In a list of forgotten superstars of the 90s, it probably wouldn’t be right to not include a running back. Those guys are the fireworks of the NFL, whose careers shine brightly for a few moments and then fade all too quickly. Thomas joins teammate and fellow HOFer Jim Kelly on this list (he'll appear shortly) because he was NFL MVP in 1991, is 14th all-time in career rushing yards with 12,074 and had at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage every year from 1989-96. That’s right, he was a pretty good receiver too.
11 Greg Maddux, MLB: Atlanta Braves
Maybe it’s because he looked so unprepossessing but the “The Professor,” even after being elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014, doesn’t get the props he should. This is a guy whose career stats are littered with black ink. He owned the NL Cy Young between 1992-95. He’s 8th all-time with 355 wins. His Braves won the NL East eight times in the 90s, went to five World Series and won it all in ’95, though he only came into the fold in 1993. Sure, another couple guys no one talks about anymore named Glavine and Smoltz had something to do with that, but Maddux kept his franchise at the top for over a decade.
10 Mia Hamm, FIFA: U.S. Women’s National Team
With last year’s Women’s World Cup victory, the ongoing evolution of Alex Morgan as a superstar and the recent retirement of all-time great Abby Wambach, it’s easy to forget what a big star Mia was. She was the original “It” girl of U.S. soccer, leading the national team to World Cup victories in 1991 and 1999, Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004 and retiring as the top goal scorer in international women’s soccer history (Wambach would break her record in 2013). She made headlines by marrying Nomar Garciaparra (who we'll see soon) in 2003, but certainly doesn’t enjoy the reputation she once did.
9 Mats Sundin, NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs
Mats Sundin began his NHL career in Quebec in 1990, but his glory years were as a Maple Leaf from 1994 on. He played in four All-Star games for the Leafs in the 90s (’96-’99) and scored 193 goals for them between 1994-2000. The big Swede’s 564 career goals are 22nd all-time and his 785 assists rank 34th. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012 but never really came close to winning a cup. But, hey, remember, he played for the Leafs- no one comes close to winning a cup there, don’t ya know?
8 Anfernee Hardaway, NBA: Orlando Magic
This spot was a tough choice between the two Hardaway NBA superstars of the 90s, but “Penny” got the nod over Tim (no, they’re not related). Not because he was a better player, mind you, although he was pretty darn good. Tim actually had better career numbers overall. However, this talented four-time All-Star with career averages of 15.2 PPG, 5 APG and 4.5 RPG (he averaged over 20 PPG at his peak in Orlando from 1994-97) had one special thing going for him in the 90s. That’s right, his “Lil Penny” commercials for Nike. Not that anybody remembers now.
7 John Daly, PGA
This big hitter was notorious back in the day for more than his game. He easily transcended the confines of the golf-world in a way few others than Arnold, Jack and Tiger have. Although he turned pro in 1987, he didn’t make the PGA Tour until 1991. “Long John” gained instant fame when he won that year’s PGA Championship as an alternate. The 9th alternate. Unsurprisingly, he was also named 1991’s Rookie of the Year. In between that victory and his 1995 British Open triumph, he partied. He partied after the ’95 Open too. For all we know, he’s still partying.
6 Nomar Garciaparra, MLB: Boston Red Sox
Once considered a sure-fire, fast-track Hall of Famer, Garciaparra’s career was partially derailed by injuries. The AL Rookie of the Year (’97), two-time AL batting champion (’99, ’00) and six-time All-Star, holds a career .313 average. He was considered a fantastic defensive shortstop and as good a hitter as either Jeter or A-Rod (his peers at the position) in his prime with Boston between 1996-2003. His later career was marred by injuries and position changes. Unfortunately, Garciaparra is better known these days for being a Little League World Series announcer and husband to Mia Hamm (see #10 on this list).
5 Ronaldo, PSV/Barcelona/Brazilian National Team
Not that Ronaldo. While CR7 will go down in history as one of the greatest footballers ever, his 90s namesake was pretty special as well. Ronaldo is considered one of the great Brazilian players and it’s easy to see why. In four seasons at PSV and Barcelona (1994-97), the powerful striker amassed 76 goals in 80 games. He tacked on another 49 strikes at Inter Milan between 1997-2002. He also played in four World Cups (’94, ’98, ’02, ’06) for Brazil, winning two (’94, ’02), the Golden Ball in ’98, and retired as the leading World Cup goal-scorer with 15 (Germany’s Miroslav Klose now has 16). Too bad Ronaldo had to share his name.
4 Lennox Lewis, Boxing
Back when boxing still mattered (it was still huge in the 90s) and the Heavyweight division mattered the most, Lewis was a full-on stud. He was 41-2-1 in his career and retired as the “Last Undisputed Heavyweight Champ.” If he’s remembered at all these days, it’s for that one draw on his record, which occurred in his 1999 title fight at MSG against peer Evander Holyfield. To this day it’s considered one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history (which is saying a lot) with most observers believing Lewis won the fight. Lewis cleanly defeated Holyfield in their Vegas rematch later in the year to end the 90s on top of the boxing mountain.
3 Evander Holyfield, Boxing
The only undefeated undisputed Cruiserweight in history (he owned the WBA, WBC and IBF belts all at the same time), Holyfield comes in slightly ahead of his contemporary Lewis because he moved up to the Heavyweight division and became the champion there as well. That wasn’t a forgone conclusion as Holyfield was one of the smallest Heavyweight champions ever but he first won the title in 1990. His defeat of Mike Tyson (a guy everybody remembers) in 1996 was one of the “Fights of the Century.”
Their rematch, when the infamous Tyson was disqualified for biting off Holyfield’s ear? Not so much.
2 Jim Kelly, NFL: Buffalo Bills
He’s a Hall of Famer. He threw for over 35,000 career yards and 237 TDs. Went to five Pro Bowls. Was a member of the infamous ”QB Class of ‘83” along with a couple of guys named Marino and Elway. And… helped his team lose four straight Super Bowls between 1990-93. Each by a worse margin than the one before. Uh oh. There was a time when people talked about Kelly’s failure to grab a championship a lot more than they do now. That’s probably a good thing. At least for him.
1 Dennis Rodman, NBA: Detroit Pistons/Chicago Bulls
The Worm. Dennis The Menace. It’s hard to believe but nobody talks about Rodman anymore. Not even about his “acting” career, tell-all books or wedding gowns. This is a guy who actually stole the spotlight from Michael Jordan when he arrived in Chicago. But Rodman was always more than a one-man circus. He was also one of the best defensive players of any era and an absolutely ferocious rebounder. A two time All-Star with the Pistons (’90, ’92), he was twice the Defensive player of the Year (’90, ’91), a ten time All-Defensive team selection and led the league in rebounds between ’92-’98. Oh yeah, he also won five titles. But, still, that hair...
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