1 JIM BROWN
JIM BROWN WOULD BE the greatest runner in NFL history, but a single word—arguably—keeps tripping him up. The word precedes his hard-earned credentials often enough to make one wonder: Who else is arguably better than the 6'2", 232-pound Hall of Fame fullback who in nine seasons, from 1957 through '65—all of them with the Browns—never missed a game, never missed the Pro Bowl and never met a would-be tackler he couldn't torch, stun or level? He won the NFL rushing title every year but one, '62, and that year he played with an injured wrist and finished fourth. The following season Brown played with a broken toe, yet rushed for a career-high 1,863 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. When he ended his career, he'd won the league's MVP honor four times ('57, '58, '63 and '65) and averaged 5.2 yards per rush. No featured runner has come close to approaching that mark since Brown, who at just 30 years old hung up his cleats and tried his hand at Hollywood full time in the summer of '66.
Brown set theretofore unequaled standards for rushing yards (12,312) and points (756) and, arguably, retirement announcements. When he declared himself finally finished with the NFL, he did so from the Elstree, England, movie lot of The Dirty Dozen, clad in army fatigues while seated in front of a tank. The news, coming right before the start of the '66 season, crushed the spirits of Browns fans who just two seasons earlier had celebrated their fourth NFL championship and were counting on Brown to deliver a fifth. The rest of the league, meanwhile, cried a collective huzzah!
2 LEBRON JAMES
SINCE BEFORE HE was drafted by a 17-win Cavaliers team in 2003, LeBron James has been witness to his share of hype, but so far the 22-year-old Akron native has delivered on every breathless promise. In 2007—after notching his third straight All-Star appearance and becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average at least 27 points, six rebounds and six assists in three consecutive seasons—the versatile forward carried the Cavs to their first Eastern Conference finals in 15 years and, after almost single-handedly beating the Detroit Pistons, the franchise's only NBA Finals appearance.
3 BOB FELLER
BOB FELLER PLAYED his entire 18-year career in Cleveland and set franchise marks for wins (266) and strikeouts (2,581)—totals that would've been much higher had his career not been interrupted for almost four seasons by Naval service during World War II. The 6-foot, 185-pound eight-time All-Star led the league in strikeouts seven times, thanks in large part to a white-hot fastball. In 1946 Army ordinance equipment used to measure artillery shell velocity clocked Feller's fastest pitch at 98.6 mph crossing home plate.
4 OTTO GRAHAM
THERE ARE PLENTY of winning quarterbacks whose bronze busts populate the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but none who can claim Otto Graham's astounding track record: 10 championship game appearances in 10 seasons. A five-time MVP and nine-time all-league selection, the 6'1", 196-pound Graham led the Browns to a 105-17-4 record and brought singular flair to coach Paul Brown's T formation with his pinpoint passes. He capped his professional career with a four-touchdown performance that netted the franchise a seventh championship in 1955.
5 EARL AVERILL
AFTER A BRIEF STINT in semipro ball and the Pacific Coast League, Earl Averill broke into the big leagues with the Indians as a 27-year-old rookie in 1929, then spent the next 10 seasons breaking just about every record in their book. The Hall of Fame centerfielder was one of the Dead Ball era's most prolific hitters, setting club marks in total bases (3,200), runs batted in (1,084), runs (1,154) and triples (121) that stand to this day. Averill hit over .300 in each of his first six seasons. In the '37 All-Star Game he famously hit a line drive that broke Dizzy Dean's left big toe.
6 OZZIE NEWSOME
OZZIE NEWSOME was a football rarity. At 6'2" and 232 pounds he was too big to be covered by a defensive back, too fast for a linebacker and too good at catching the ball. A first-round pick of the Browns in 1978, the tight end was the team's offensive player of the year as a rookie after hauling in 38 catches for 589 yards, marking the first time in 25 years a Browns first-year player was so honored. After helping Cleveland to three AFC Championship Games in the late '80s, the three-time Pro Bowler retired after the '90 season with the fourth-most catches of all time (662) and most among tight ends.
7 TRIS SPEAKER
THOUGH HE WAS overshadowed by Detroit's Ty Cobb for most of his 11-year Indians career, Tris Speaker is considered by many to be one of the most gifted centerfielders ever. Baseball's alltime leader in outfield assists (450), Speaker retired after the 1928 season with 3,514 hits and a major league-record 792 doubles. On nine occasions the Hubbard, Texas, native finished with a batting average over .350. In '16 Speaker finally ended Cobb's run of nine consecutive American League batting titles, hitting .386 to Cobb's .371.
8 NAP LAJOIE
CLEVELAND FANS SO loved player-manager Nap (short for Napoleon) Lajoie that they called the local baseball team the Naps for all 12 seasons (1903-14) he played there. One of the game's greatest second basemen, Lajoie won two of his three batting titles in Cleveland and hit .338 in a prodigious career that at the time rivaled the great Ty Cobb's.