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25 Toughest Athletes (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday April 1, 2008 2:22PM; Updated: Tuesday April 8, 2008 12:45PM
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11 Chris Chelios

What makes him tough: Like prime beef or an intransigent in-law, he just gets tougher with age. The 46-year-old Red Wings defenseman still leads the NHL in sheer bloody-mindedness. In his nearly quarter century in the game, there is no contemporary defenseman -- not Raymond Bourque, Nicklas Lidstrom, anybody -- you would prefer defending your zone with a one-goal lead in the final minute.

Defining moment: Maybe it's riding the bike after the game -- in the sauna - or openly lobbying coach Mike Babcock for more power play time, or taking on the leadership of the players association -- at a time when most players were simply shrugging -- and bringing down executive director Ted Saskin. Maybe it's his willingness to do anything it takes to win. Pick one.

Old school match: Eddie Shore, the legendary, leathery Bruins defenseman.

SI VAULT:Franz Lidz on Chelios (04.30.07)

12 Olin Kreutz

What makes him tough: The Bears' center, 30, has made six consecutive Pro Bowls, and he's nasty -- once breaking the jaw of a teammate (Fred Miller) who was five inches and 25 pounds bigger. "I doubt anyone in this locker room is afraid of anyone else," Bears defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek told CBS Sportsline last year. "But I will say that Olin is the last guy I'd want to fight."

Defining moment: Cedric Benson running 12 yards through a hole blasted by Kreutz to put the Bears up by 18 on their way to winning the 2007 NFC Championship.

Old school match: Jim Langer, the Hall of Famer who anchored the line for Don Shula's great Dolphins teams of the '70s.

13 Kobe Bryant

What makes him tough: He's impervious to outside distractions and plays with a single-mindedness that is seen in few athletes. Night after night, despite being the main focus of his opponents, Bryant, 29, puts up big numbers. He's also been winning without Shaq, shredding the perception that he was merely a second banana.

Defining moment: Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals. With Shaq on the bench after fouling out, Bryant scored eight points in OT to lift L.A. to a 120-118 win over Indiana. They later won the title in six games.

Old school match: Michael Jordan, who sits at the top of the list of close-out players.

14 Marion Barber

What makes him tough: His nicknames - The Beast, Marian The Barbarian - tell you all you need to know about his punishing style. His determination in short-yardage situations brings to mind a truck with four-wheel drive and gas pedal stuck to the floor. Shuckin', divin', piledrivin', spinnin' and stiff-armin' his way through tacklers, it takes a nation of millions of bring this guy down.

Defining moment: On first and 20 against the Patriots last October, Barber took a handoff on his own five yard line and was promptly pushed back into the Cowboys' end zone. Seemingly buried, he furiously escaped and eluded six tacklers behind the goal line before sprinting to safety up the right side. When the dust settled, some observers were calling it the greatest two-yard gain in NFL history.

Old school match: Sam "Bam" Cunningham, the Patriots' cannonball short yardage specialist from 1973-82.

15 Kelly Pavlik

What makes him tough: The 25-year-old middleweight champ has knocked out opponents in nine of his last 10 fights and could soon hold all four major middleweight titles by beating IBF champ Arthur Abra and WBA belt-holder Felix Sturm.

Defining moment: Pavlik was down and nearly out in the second round against then-champ Jermain Taylor - and down on all scorecards -- before rallying for a seventh-round KO and the middleweight championship. He also beat Taylor in the rematch.

Old school match: Jake LaMotta, who had one of the best chins in the history of boxing.

16 Trevor Brazile

What makes him tough: Yeah, he doesn't manhandle 1,800 pounds of angry beef like a bullrider does, but he travels to 90-100 rodeos each year to compete in more than one event, and has the stamina and skills (particularly hand-eye coordination) to win five PRCA All-Around world titles, including three in a row (2002-04). Last year, Brazile, 31, became first Triple Crown winner (all-around, tie-down roping,steer roping ) in 24 years.

Defining moment: Won his fifth all-around title last year on several borrowed horses because his main rope horse was injured.

Old school match: Ty Murray, the all-time all-around king with seven titles.

17 Aaron Rowand

What makes him tough: Possessed with an all-out desire to win and a linebacker's mentality, he's never met a wall he wasn't afraid to know intimately, not even the cinderblock variety, which he proved while playing at Cal State-Fullerton.

Defining moment: In a 2006 game against the Mets at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, Rowand chased a bases-loaded fly by Xavier Nady into the centerfield fence, breaking his nose and bones in his cheeks. Naturally, he held on to the ball. "I didn't want to go into the wall for nothing," he later explained.

Old school match: Len Dykstra, another former Phillies centerfielder who was known as Nails for his hellbent for leather style.

18 Ron Artest

What makes him tough: Defense is about toughness, and when he's healthy, Artest, 28, is the NBA's ultimate shutdown defender. The Kings' forward draws their opponent's best perimeter scorer, and despite his bulk, manages to stay in front of speedy dribblers. Artest plays on both ends and feeds off an opposing arena's dislike of him. Yes, he's a little crazy, too.

Defining moment: In one of the NBA's uglier moments, Artest and Stephen Jackson, then members of the Pacers, charged into the stands and fought with fans in the final minute of a game at Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills in Nov. 2004.

Old school match: Dennis Rodman, although Artest has not been seen in a wedding gown.

19 Kelly Gregg

What makes him tough: "He's tough, strong, coachable, durable, dependable, you name it," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan told reporters last year. The undersized nose tackle (6-feet, 310) is the foundation of Baltimore's defense, manning a position many believe is the most physically demanding in football. Nicknamed Buddy Lee after the character in the Lee jeans commercials, Gregg was a three-time state heavyweight wrestling champion in Oklahoma.

Defining moment: Just about every play. Over the past five years, Gregg has led all NFL interior defensive linemen in tackles.

Old school match: Fred Smerlas, a tough-as-nails but underappreciated nose tackle for the Bills of the '80s.

20 Hayley Wickenheiser

What makes her tough: No player in women's hockey drives to the net with such purpose and fury. Wickenheiser has grown from teen phenom to grande dame of Canadian hockey, carrying the weight of her country and game every time on the ice. Sadly, she isn't allowed to body check.

Defining moment: She played pro hockey against men in Finland as a way of challenging herself. Sure, Kirkkonummi Salamat was a second-division club, but in 23 games, Wickenheiser acquitted herself well.

Old school match: Angela James, a forward who starred for Canada in the '90s, or possibly tennis legend Billie Jean King. Wickenheiser is really new school.

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