Numbers don't lie, but letters sometimes stretch the truth. KFC now pretends, in commercials, to stand for Kitchen Fresh Chicken, and it can't be long before we see the similar re-branding of Fatburger (to Fitburger) and IHOP (as in, I'll Have Oatmeal, Please). Worse, San Francisco Giants rookie David Aardsma is now, alphabetically speaking, the first surname in baseball, supplanting Hank Aaron at the front of the game's alltime roll call, in the way that AAA Locksmith weasels its way to the front of the business listings, line-jumping worthier tradesmen like Aardvark Tamers and Abacus Salesmen.
Though the Giants recently demoted Aardsma—to Triple A, aptly enough—the fact remains: In sports, the letter A will always belong to Aaron. Or will it? To avoid future confusion, we hereby award 26 letter jackets, assigning each letter of the alphabet to the greatest sportsman whose surname begins with that letter, thus answering the question I hear most often in sports: Who's the biggest A you've ever met? (Polite answer: Muhammad Ali.)
B's a bee-yotch. How to choose among Barry Bonds, Larry Bird and David Beckham? Easy. They're B-listers, bowing down before Jim Brown, who never missed a game in nine seasons.
For their success at stud, Citation and Wilt Chamberlain vie for the C, but not even Bob Cousy or Roger Clemens can compete with Ty Cobb, cantankerous cuss. D is a death match between Joe DiMaggio and Babe Didrikson. The winner had a sweet swing, a celebrity spouse and a famous nickname. The loser sold Mr. Coffees. Sport's biggest E's were Andy Etchebarren's eyebrows, but they—and Erving, Earnhardt and Evert—lose, on a last-second drive, to Elway.
F: If boxing, baseball and football really are chess matches, then Bobby Fischer is a better athlete than Joe Frazier, Bob Feller and Brett Favre. G: The Great Gretzky, more than Red Grange, Lou Gehrig or Steffi Graf, dwarfed all others in his sport, as did Ben Hogan—H—in his.
I is the exclusive isle of Allen Iverson, whose thin competition- Michael Irvin? Monte Irvin?—was voted off that island early, leaving AI to cannibalize his cofinalists, Dane and Garth Iorg.
Michael Jordan shot (and earned) the J. Sandy Koufax threw—and drew—our K, with Evel Knievel (again) falling short by inches. The cursive L sewn to the baby-blue sweater of Laverne, on Laverne & Shirley, would not look as divine on Joe Louis or Carl Lewis as it does on Vince Lombardi. Diego Maradona was a better footballer than Joe Montana and Dan Marino combined. Rocky Marciano never lost, Man o' War was beaten once, but none of these M's—nor Musial, nor Mantle—was Willie Mays.
N? Nicklaus. Next!
Had Bobby Orr beaten Hitler with his headlong goal in the '70 Stanley Cup, had Shaquille O'Neal head-faked the F�hrer in the '02 Finals, either might own the O now worn, like a halo, by Jesse Owens.
Palmer? Payton? Petty? Puh-lease. P is Pel�, period.