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15 Biggest Sports Heroes in American History

15 American Sports Heroes

Ted Williams
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For a number of reasons, there are various athletes in a number of sports who live on in the hearts and minds of fans across the country. Whether it be an entire body of work or one particular thing they did to capture the imagination of the nation, they impacted all of us in some way. Here are the 15 biggest sports heroes in American history.

15. Joe Namath

3rd Annual NFL Honors
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15. Joe Namath

3rd Annual NFL Honors
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Namath taught us very early on that it was okay to root for the underdog. His New York Jets were heavy underdogs against the powerhouse Colts in Super Bowl III, but he guaranteed a win anyway. Oh, and he delivered on that promise.

14. Wayne Gretzky

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14. Wayne Gretzky

F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Qualifying
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Okay, so Gretzky isn't American. He didn't even play most of his games in the states. However, he impacted hockey by being the most dominant player of all time. If he hadn't been as good as he was, hockey may not be as big as it still is in America.

13. Ernie Davis

Ernie Davis
New York Daily News

13. Ernie Davis

Ernie Davis
New York Daily News

Ernie Davis' perseverance is what makes him an American sports hero. He became the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner as a running back for Syracuse, but never played in an NFL game. He was diagnosed with leukemia and never got to play alongside his hero Jim Brown on the Browns.

12. Mickey Mantle

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees
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12. Mickey Mantle

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees
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Mantle allowed the nation to increase their imaginations. His play on the field was unmatched even though he didn't have that long of a career. Like several other Yankees before and after, he captured the attention of the nation playing in a gigantic market.

11. Ted Williams

Ted Williams
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11. Ted Williams

Ted Williams
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Ted Williams is one of the most beloved baseball players to ever live and for good reason. He played the game the right way, served in wars during his playing career and did it all with class. Had he not lost all of those years to fighting in wars for his country, he could've eclipsed even more records during his illustrious career.

10. Magic Johnson

The 2014 Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation Gala Presented By Coca-Cola - Show
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10. Magic Johnson

The 2014 Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation Gala Presented By Coca-Cola - Show
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Magic along with Larry Bird actually saved basketball. Its popularity was going downhill toward the end of the 1970s, but their classic national championship game in 1979 between Michigan State and Indiana State revived basketball going into a new era.

9. Larry Bird

2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
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9. Larry Bird

2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
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Bird, as described before, helped to save the game of basketball. He and Magic set the stage for the new era of basketball, which is one that closely resembles the game still played today.

8. Lou Gehrig

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees
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8. Lou Gehrig

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees
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Gehrig was one of the real class acts in all of sports. Not only did he play in over 2,000 consecutive games, but he handled his diagnosis with ALS with class and dignity. That's just part of the reason the disease is now known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

7. Stan Musial

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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7. Stan Musial

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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"Stan the Man" is another baseball player who is loved by most fans of the sport. He played with such grace on the field and was one of the best in the game for almost a quarter of a century.

6. Michael Jordan

Utah Jazz v Chicago Bulls
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6. Michael Jordan

Utah Jazz v Chicago Bulls
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MJ was certainly the best to ever play the game of basketball and kept up the momentum that Bird and Magic created for the sport before he came along. By pushing the sport into an even higher popularity, he really helped change the game into what it is today.

5. Babe Ruth

2010 Baseball Hall of Fame Preview
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5. Babe Ruth

2010 Baseball Hall of Fame Preview
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Ruth was baseball's first superstar and really one of the first superstars in any American sport. As such, he was the first to be looked up to by much of the nation's youth.

4. Mike Eruzione

OLY Opening Ceremony X
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4. Mike Eruzione

OLY Opening Ceremony X
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As the captain of the Team USA team that defeated the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, Eruzione is no doubt an American hero. Leading a group of teenagers against the hockey powerhouse of the world, he showed that preparation and a strong belief in one's self can go a long way.

3. Roberto Clemente

World Series Game 3: Boston Red Sox v. St. Louis Cardinals
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3. Roberto Clemente

World Series Game 3: Boston Red Sox v. St. Louis Cardinals
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Clemente perhaps had the most humility of any baseball legend ever. Even though he had one of the best throwing arms in the game's history and a considerable amount of power, he never talked trash. Along with Gehrig, he's one of two players to ever be inducted to the Hall of Fame less than five years after retirement. He was killed in a helicopter crash when he was trying to fly supplies to Nicaragua.

2. Jackie Robinson

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2. Jackie Robinson

New York Yankees Unveil Plaque of Nelson Mandela in Monument Park
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By breaking baseball's color barrier, Robinson set the stage for radical changes in sports and in American society. While it was symbolic of future changes, Robinson's move really helped inspire an entire section of America's population.

1. Pat Tillman

Former NFL Player Pat Tillman Killed In Afganinstan
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1. Pat Tillman

Former NFL Player Pat Tillman Killed In Afganinstan
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Tillman is sports' true American hero. He was a very good safety in the NFL, but after the events of 9/11, he decided that he had a higher calling. After turning down a three-year, $3.6 million contract extension, he joined the army. He was later killed in action, but his acts of valor far outweigh anything he ever did on the football field.