On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. That means come Monday, football season will be in the rearview mirror and baseball season will finally be in clear sight.
Before we cross that bridge though, we thought it might be fun to acknowledge some athletes who actually excelled at both football and baseball. It’s a pretty short list, at least in terms of athletes who succeeded in both at the highest level, but we found that it’s long enough to put together a pretty full baseball roster just made of players who have made a mark in football.
The big names like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are here. But so too are many football stars you may have forgotten were drafted by MLB teams before the NFL came calling, and some baseball players who could have had futures in the NFL if they chose that park. It begins with a man you’ll see participating in his record eighth Super Bowl on Sunday.
Catcher – Tom Brady: Believe it or not, Brady may have been a more highly touted baseball prospect than football prospect while attending Junipero Serra High School in California. (Yes, that’s the same high school Barry Bonds attended.) Well regarded for his leadership, game-management skills and throwing arm as a catcher, Brady was an 18th round pick by the Montreal Expos in 1995. It’s said he would have gone much higher had he not intended to play football at Michigan.
First Base – Todd Helton: The Rockies all-time leader in games, hits, home runs, RBIs and total bases will be an interesting newcomer to the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot next year. Not far behind him, Helton’s one-time backup quarterback at the University of Tennessee will be eligible for the National Football Hall of Fame. Of course, we’re speaking of Peyton Manning. A knee injury pushing Helton toward baseball exclusively, and we’d say that worked out wonderfully for all involved.
Second Base – Jackie Robinson: Before breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Robinson was a four-sport star (baseball, football, basketball and track) from high school through his time at UCLA. During his senior season in college, Robinson led the Bruins in passing, rushing, scoring and punt returns. In other words, he might have been a Hall of Fame football player.
Shortstop – Johnny Manziel: When looking for a shortstop, we might be forced to call on Johnny Football. Known mostly for winning the Heisman Trophy in his freshman year at Texas A&M — and then flaming out in dramatic fashion in the NFL — Manziel has a baseball past too. Perhaps it was more marketing than anything, but the Padres did select the former high school shortstop in the 28th round of the 2014 MLB draft.
Third Base – Chuck Dressen: Dressen might not be familiar to modern fans, but he was one of the original two-sports stars going back to 1920. He played in the NFL first, serving as the backup quarterback on the Decatur Staleys, who would later become the Chicago Bears. In 1925, Dressen reached the major leagues and spent three seasons playing third base for the Cincinnati Reds. He also managed the Brooklyn Dodgers to pennant-winning seasons in 1952 and 1953.
Utilityman – Russell Wilson: Seattle’s Super Bowl-winning quarterback was once drafted by the Orioles and Rockies, and even briefly played in the minors as a second baseman. Now his rights are owned by the Texas Rangers. Though certainly a well-rounded athlete, football is where he belongs.
Left Field – Bo Jackson: At his peak, it could be argued that Bo Jackson was the most dynamic player in both baseball and football. Known for his ridiculous speed, power and a throwing arm matched by few, Jackson was a highlight waiting to happen. Unfortunately, a hip injury during the 1991 season ended his NFL career. Though Jackson did earn MLB Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1993, he was never quite the same on the baseball diamond either. That leaves us to wonder what could have been had he stayed healthy, or even just focused on baseball.
Center Field – Deion Sanders: Sanders is the only athlete to play in a World Series and a Super Bowl. He suited up for the Atlanta Braves during the 1992 World Series, famously going back and forth between the Braves and Atlanta Falcons. Down the road, Sanders would win Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. Sanders was a Hall of Famer on the gridiron, but also a strong contributor in baseball. He’s also the only athlete to hit a home run and score a touchdown during the same week.
Right Field – Brian Jordan: Jordan was the St. Louis Cardinals first-round pick in the 1988 MLB draft, but he wouldn’t make it to the majors until 1992. In between, he juggled developing as a minor league prospect while playing for the Atlanta Falcons. Once he committed to baseball, his career took off. Over 15 MLB seasons, he accumulated 1,454 hits, 184 home runs and 119 stolen bases. Beyond that, he earned nearly $52 million. That’s the highest anyone on this make-believe team earned in baseball.
Fourth outfielder – Jim Thorpe: With apologies on John Elway, Dave Winfield, Darin Erstad and Tim Tebow, the fourth outfielder spot must go to arguably the greatest all-around athlete of all time. In addition to starring at the college and professional level in football and spending seven seasons with three different MLB teams during the 1920s, Thorpe won Olympic gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon.
Designated Hitter – Frank Thomas: The “Big Hurt” proved easier to defend on the football field than he was to pitch to during his Hall of Fame baseball career. Thomas was briefly a tight end at Auburn, making three catches before he put his full attention on baseball. With his incredible size and strength, he always seemed built to run over linebackers rather than hit curveballs. Obviously, he did the latter extremely well.
Colin Kaepernick: Armed with a blazing fastball, Kaepernick had the option of pursuing a career as a pitcher. The big right-hander was a 43rd round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2009, and the team was ready to offer a big signing bonus. Instead, Kaepernick elected to play football at the University of Nevada, which brought him to the San Francisco 49ers, for whom he started the 2013 Super Bowl.
Jeff Samardzija: If you saw Samardzija catching passes at Notre Dame, you had to believe he was headed for a big career in the NFL. In the end, he chose baseball, and that decision paid off when he inked a five-year, $90 million deal with the Giants in 2016.
Ernie Nevers: Nevers was a three-sport star at Stanford in the early 20s before embarking on a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. He once posted 40 points in a single game after scoring six touchdowns and kicking four extra points. On the baseball diamond, Nevers made 44 appearances as a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Browns between 1926-28. His claim to fame there was allowing two home runs to Babe Ruth during a game in 1927.
Jameis Winston: A two-sport star at Florida State, Jameis is most famous for being the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner before going on to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the 2015 NFL draft. He was also developing into a solid baseball prospect. Though primarily a switch-hitting right fielder, Winston also posted a 3.00 ERA over 60 innings in college. This team needs pitchers, so that’s good enough.
Dan Marino: The Kansas City Royals drafted two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in 1979. One was John Elway, who was an outfielder and an 18th round selection. The other was Marino, who actually went in the fourth round. That says a lot about the pitching prowess of Marino during his high school days. Of course, both would stick to football and go on to be first-round picks in the loaded 1983 NFL draft.
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