A lot of what sports is cannot be quantified by statistics. Becoming a legend is proof positive of this: One big moment, ad campaign from Nike, or playing on a talented team can elevate you to the status of certified legend. Look at David Tyree. The guy never had more than 211 receiving yards in a season, and he’s one of the most beloved players in Giants history thanks to one catch. He’ll be on Super Bowl highlight reels for the next 100 years. The opposite is true of Bill Buckner, who amassed over 2,700 hits and a batting title in 21 big-league seasons—but is remembered for one bad play.
Teams: Falcons, Eagles, Jets, Steelers
Career Stats: 61-51-1, 133 TDs, 88 INTs, 6,109 rushing yards
Hall of Fame Induction: None
Vick is sometimes considered as a quasi-legend—but will never wind up close to the Hall of Fame. The signal-caller was a monumental cultural figure before he went to jail, racking up monster jersey sales figures and appearing on the cover of Madden 04 (as the greatest player in Madden history). He also was honored by the Falcons at the last regular season game at the Georgia Dome.
Despite being an uber-exciting dual-threat quarterback with great speed and arm strength, Vick was a lackluster passer at best. He put up a 53.8 completion percentage in six years with the Falcons, and had a 56.2 mark for his career. Vick also turned the ball over 131 times in 143 games, and lead the league in fumbles twice.
Career Stats: 94-71 record, 165 TDs, 141 INTs, 61.5 completion percentage
Hall of Fame Induction: 2006
Yes, he has three rings. Yes, it is hard to compare quarterback stats from different eras. But even with these factors in consideration, Campbell is far from elite: He’s 54th all-time in passer rating, (Behind Neil O’Donnell and Jason Campbell, among others), and had more than 20 touchdowns in a season just once.
Other star quarterbacks of that era like Dan Marino, Steve Young, John Elway, and Brett Favre were far more dominant offensively than Aikman. He benefited strongly from having one of the most stacked rosters in NFL history. The Cowboys may have won more rings had they had Favre or Marino at quarterback.
Teams: Cowboys, Vikings, Eagles, Giants
Career Stats: 8,225 yards russhing, 5,462 yards receiving, 61 TDs
Hall of Fame Induction: None
Walker rushed for over 5,000 yards in three seasons at Georgia, making him perhaps the best running back in college football history. His NFL career, however, pales in comparison to his college success. Walker had just two 1,000-yard football seasons in his 12-year NFL career. Although he did rush for 5,562 yards in his three seasons playing on the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the USFL. So he can tell people that he worked for the President.
It’s pretty amazing that the Cowboys got as much back for Walker in a trade with the Vikings as they did, in what could easily be described as one of the greatest trades in sports history.
Career Stats: 336 receptions, 5,462 yards, 51 TDs
Hall of Fame Induction: 2001
Like most of the people probably reading this article, Lynn Swann played waaaay before my time. I had always heard stories of the great “Steel Curtain” Steelers, and always kind of assumed this mean that Swann put up top-tier stats.
Swann played nine seasons for the Steelers, and never recorded more than 880 yards receiving in a season. In fact, that was one of just two times he had more than 800 yards receiving. His 5,462 yards receiving for his career amounts to a 47.1 per game average. Basically, he’s a wide receiver No. 3 in fantasy. If being a Steelers wideout on a Super Bowl team gets you in the hall, then Santonio Holmes and Antwaan Randle-El should be there too.
Teams: Jets, Rams
Career Stats: 62-63-4 record, 173 TDs, 220 INTs, 50.1 completion percentage
Hall of Fame Induction: 1985
You’ve seen the iconic, grainy slo-mo shot of Namath raising one finger in the air after Super Bowl III. From that, you might deduct that Namath is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
If you just looked at his numbers though, you’d deduct something entirely different.
“Broadway Joe” had a solid four-year stretch from 1966-1969. This included the two things he’s most known for: Becoming the first NFL or AFL player with 4,000 yards passing in a season in 1967, and Super Bowl III in 1968.
Namath did little in pro football outside of that stretch. He was a far more significant cultural figure than he was an actual football legend, as he became football’s first true celebrity athlete and granted legitimacy to the AFL by winning the Super Bowl. If it weren’t for the cultural externals and the Super Bowl, he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. And to be quite honest, it’s pretty debatable as to if he should be there right now.
Teams: Raptors, Magic, Rockets, Knicks, Hawks, Spurs
Career Stats: 19.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.4 APG
Hall of Fame Induction: 2017
It’s not that “T-Mac” isn’t great. It’s not even that McGrady doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. It’s that some people put him in the same category as guys like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki when he belongs about a step down from there.
The advanced stats on McGrady also leave a lot to be desired for. He is just 88th all time in win shares, and 30th all time in value over replacement players; he’s behind Shawn Marion in the latter category. He put up Hall of Fame numbers, but they don’t put him in the same conversation as Kobe, Duncan or Shaq. His status is hampered even more by the fact that he made it out of the first round of the playoffs just once: With the Spurs in 2013, and he was a total non-factor with that team.
Career Stats: 19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG
Hall of Fame Induction: 2015
Yao had a far bigger cultural impact on the game—popularizing it in his native China—than he did on the court. He was dominant when he suited up for the Rockets—the only problem was that that didn’t take place nearly enough. He played more than 70 games in a season just four times during his eight seasons, and yet he is a Hall of Famer. There are far more deserving players from a stat standpoint than Yao.
Teams: Trail Blazers, Clippers, Celtics
Career Stats: 13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.2 BPG
Hall of Fame Induction: 1993
If this were a list of greatest college basketball players, Walton would be in the conversation for the No. 1 spot. But he wasn’t nearly that elite in the NBA; he only averaged 13 and 10 per game. Although Walton did lead the Blazers to their only championship in 1977, he was basically just the Rudy Gobert of his day from a stats standpoint.
Teams: Mets, Angels, Astros, Rangers
Career Stats: 324-292, 3.19 ERA, 5,714 strikeouts
Hall of Fame Induction: 1999
Ryan is often held up next to guys like Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson as one of the best pitchers of all time. He’s definitely an all-time talent, but his career record (324-292) is just slightly over .500. He also has an ERA+ of 112, indicating he’s just 12 percent better than the average pitcher. For context, Bartolo Colon has an ERA+ of 110—and nobody’s putting him in the same conversation as Koufax.
Teams: Red Sox
Career Stats: .298 average, 382 home runs, 1,451 RBIs
Hall of Fame Induction: 2009
Rice was a solid player, putting up 382 home runs in 16 seasons with the Red Sox. But for a power hitter to have that low of a home run total to be in the Hall of Fame is just asinine. Rice had just four 30-home run seasons in 16 years, making him perhaps the worst player in the Baseball Hall of Fame.