20 Best Duos in the History of Sports

By Mike Gibson

The 20 Best Duos in Sports History

Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe,
Getty Images

Whether it is a double play combination or a couple of bitter rivals, there’s nothing that generates interest in sports like a pair of great teammates, great rivals or even great broadcasters. No team in NBA history has ever won a title without at least two great players. A great quarterback to wide receiver combination can win a Super Bowl or two.

Here are 20 of the best sports duos of all time.

20. Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick

Nicknamed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Csonka and Kiick are first and fourth respectively on the Miami Dolphins' career rushing list and are members of the NFL's only perfect season team — the 1972 Dolphins. Csonka was the hard-running fullback, and Kiick was the elusive halfback.

19. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin

Aikman, the quarterback from the West Coast (UCLA), and Irvin, the wide receiver from the East Coast (Miami), led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles. The pair also benefited from an association with a great running back, Emmitt Smith, and a great coach in Jimmy Johnson.

18. Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker

On Sept. 13, 1995, at Tiger Stadium, the shortstop and second base double play combination set a new major league record by appearing together in a game for the 1,915th time. The milestone eclipsed the former record held by a couple of other infielders — George Brett and Frank White of the Kansas City Royals. It’s a terrific record by the longest-tenured double play combination in the history of baseball.

17. Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann

In his four Super Bowl appearances, all victories, Bradshaw threw nine touchdown passes, including one in the fourth quarter of each game, and five of those touchdowns were to Swann. One of Swann’s catches was considered the greatest of all time.

16. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley

If anyone breaks the record of a shortstop and second baseman who have played the most together, it will be Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. All they have to do is play through next year and they will be the longest double play combination in history. Both are borderline Hall of Famers.

15. Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn

No local baseball broadcasting duo lasted longer together than Kalas and Ashburn, as Kalas joined the Philadelphia Phillies’ broadcast team in 1971 and was paired with his partner until 2007 when Ashburn passed away. No two were ever funnier and that humor led to a lot of tears at both funerals attended by thousands of grieving fans.

14. Pat Summerall and John Madden

As good as the broadcast pair of Kalas and Ashburn were locally, that’s how good Summerall and Madden were nationally on the NFL. No two guys could frame a game on an intro as well as Summerall and Madden and both having been players offered their own unique and complementary perspectives.

13. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle

Maris and Mantle, two New York Yankee icons, spent the magical summer of 1961 chasing another Yankee icon, Babe Ruth, and the 60-homer mark. Maris surpassed it with 61 on the last day of the season, and Mantle, who was ahead most of the year, finished with 54 — incredibly impressive numbers in the pre-steroid era.

12. Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver

Carlton was traded to the Phillies from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972 and immediately had one of the greatest seasons of any pitcher in history — 27 wins, 10 losses for a 59-win team. His catcher early on was McCarver, and from that year on, Carlton insisted McCarver catch all of his games.

11. Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe

Nothing bolstered what had been sagging tennis ratings more than a good old-fashioned rivalry, and both Connors and McEnroe highlighted the greatest era of tennis in the United States with their healthy dislike of the other. Now, of course, both are good friends.

10. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer

Nicklaus and Palmer dominated golf in the 1960s, and Sunday was must-see TV when both were on the leaderboard, which was often. With their combined 25 majors and unforgettable playoff duel in the 1962 U.S. Open, Nicklaus and Palmer will forever remain the top golf rivalry of all time.

9. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade

Now broken up, the pair silenced doubters by winning two championships together. The elusive combo could always elevate their game in the fourth quarters. Now the rest of the nation will be watching the careers of both as they have split apart and may never reach the heights alone they did together.

8. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Magic Johnson spent 13 years in the NBA and managed to have one of the most illustrious careers of any player. Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made a trip to the NBA finals in eight of their 10 years together, winning five championships. Johnson won three MVP awards while Jabbar was MVP once.

7. Bill Russell and Bob Cousy

At 6-foot-9, Russell won nine championships and often played the 7-foot-1 Wilt Chamberlain to a standstill. Cousy was a great ball handler and passer, and with Russell, they won the NBA title in six of their seven years together, including a remarkable five in a row.

6. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale

No two pitchers were ever as dominant in a four-year period as Koufax and Drysdale were for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early 1960s. The two shared four Cy Young Awards in a four-year period, a feat that will probably never be duplicated by pitchers on the same team again.

5. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier

Messier played with Gretzky for nine seasons in Edmonton, where they won four Stanley Cups together and then joined forces again in New York to play for the Rangers. Messier is eight days older than Gretzky, and the two meshed together well in both places to make one of the all-time great sports commercials together (above).

4. Joe Montana to Jerry Rice

In 2010, Rice and Montana were named Nos. 1 and 4 on the list of all-time great NFL players. Their careers overlapped 10 years, and eight of those years they were teammates on the San Francisco 49ers. From 1985-90, the two combined for 55 touchdowns.

3. Walt Frazier and Willis Reed

Frazier and Reed, teammates on the New York Knicks, beat the Los Angeles Lakers in two of three finals matchups. Reed’s mid-range jump shot was deadly, and Frazier could both handle the ball and shoot from distance. Both were the first to get their teammates involved but also could have their way on offense. The two won two championships and had four 50-plus win seasons in six years.

2. Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali

Their three legendary bouts were a fight fan's dream, beginning with the "Fight of the Century" at Madison Square Garden in which Frazier sent Ali to the canvas with a vicious left hook. The trilogy of terror ended in the "Thrilla in Manila" after Frazier's trainer mercifully wouldn't let him back in the ring for the 15th round. Each boxer won one fight convincingly, and Ali took another close decision.

1. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen

Jordan and Pippen were unmatched and still hold the NBA record for most regular-season wins at 72, but more impressively, they never lost in the NBA finals nor even reached a Game 7 of any finals. The pair were able to pull off not one but two three-peats and six championships in 10 years.

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