There’s nothing like a player who can bring it home when the game’s on the line. Whether it’s the fourth quarter, the third period or the ninth inning, having a player on your team who always performs in the clutch is an invaluable asset. With that in mind, the team here at Goliath wanted to take a look at some of sports history’s most inspired performers and pay homage to those athletes who always manage to come through when the team needs them most. They aren’t always the best players, mind you; no, these are guys who are defined by their ability to make the right play at the right moment, but they aren’t all stars. That said, they are all heroes to their respective franchises in some way, as they’ve all put the team on their back at some point or another and said “hey, let’s win this one.”
10. Derek Jeter
Major League Baseball witnessed the end of an era in 2014, as superstar shortstop Derek Jeter retired after a historic career. One of the most prolific players in the history of baseball, Jeter’s place on our list of most clutch professional athletes has been hard earned and is well-deserved. Jeter, who always produces in the postseason and has earned the nickname “Captain Clutch” for his efforts, has contributed mightily to the vast success the New York Yankees organization has experienced since drafting the shortstop in 1992 (they selected him right out of high school). The owner of a career .309 batting average in the playoffs (made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s the MLB record holder for career playoff games played), Jeter has performed remarkably with the game on the line, consistently producing hits and runs when the Yanks needed them most. Most impressively, Jeter has an outrageous .321 batting average in the World Series. Those are video game numbers, people.
9. Eli Manning
While big brother Peyton has amassed more regular season accolades than most any other quarterback in the history of football, he has a major habit of choking hard when the game is on the line. As luck would have it, his little brother Eli seems to be the exact opposite. Forever the younger Manning, Eli developed a habit of making boneheaded plays and poor throws during the regular season (most especially early in his career, less of late). However, when the Giants are playing games in January and February, look out. Eli, who has led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots while making clutch play after clutch play, remains one of the most potent playoff quarterbacks of all time, and his record in the postseason is made all the more impressive by his regular season shortcomings. Can you imagine if this guy could manage that level of play all year? Then he’d be the one doing Papa John commercials.
8. Reggie Jackson
The nickname “Mr. October” would seem irrelevant if one were unaware that Major League Baseball’s playoffs begin yearly in October. In that case, it could be inferred that most any player nicknamed “Mr. October” would be the kind of player who continually came through in the clutch. Reggie Jackson was just such a player. The former Major Leaguer, who played for the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees during his tenure in the MLB, was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. The winner of five World Series (and one World Series MVP trophy, in 1973), Jackson hit 563 home runs during his big league career, the most famous of them being the trio he hit during Game Six of the 1977 World Series.
7. Tiger Woods
It’s a shame that Tiger Woods’ once storied career has ended up where he is now. Once the world’s most dominant athlete, Tiger’s legacy has been marred by extensive personal scandal and poor play on the PGA Tour. That said, it’s impossible to deny that Tiger Woods (most especially in his prime) is one of the most clutch athletes of all time. The owner of an astounding 14 major championship wins, Tiger managed most all of them by making clutch shot after clutch shot. A man who was once so dominant that pundits wondered whether he was actually bad for his sport (there were concerns other professional golfers would get tired of playing for second place each week), Tiger Woods has earned a place on this list through his ability to dominate the back nine, and most especially the eighteenth hole.
6. Kobe Bryant
In 2015, NBA legend Kobe Bryant announced that the 2015-16 basketball season would be his last. And while this season may be his last, we’re damned certain that the legend of the Black Mamba will remain in the hearts and minds of NBA fans everywhere. One of the most prolific players in the history of the sport, Bryant was a dominant force with a noted specialty for making plays with the game on the line. A five-time NBA Champion and two-time Championship MVP, Bryant has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to take over a game and ensure his team the victory. The owner of innumerable NBA records (including the second highest single game point total ever, with 81), Bryant may be calling it quits at the end of this season, but we’re willing to bet it’ll be a long time before anyone stops talking about him.
5. Tom Brady
Say what you will about the man and his off-field controversies, but there’s no debating that Tom Brady, also known as “Tom Terrific,” is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. A paragon of success who worked his way up from the sixth round of the NFL draft to superstardom, Brady holds innumerable NFL records pertaining to his ability to perform when his team needed him the most. A four-time Super Bowl winner and three-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady is currently the NFL record holder in clutch categories such as most wins by a starting quarterback in the playoffs (21), most touchdowns thrown in the playoffs (53), and most NFL conference championship wins for an NFL quarterback (6). We could continue listing accolades, of course (Brady owns far more than what we’ve listed so far), but what’s the point? There’s simply no debating Brady’s status as one of professional sports’ most clutch players; he’s the guy you give the ball to with the game on the line.
4. Patrick Roy
When looking at potential NHL players to populate this list, we were as surprised as anyone to boil it down to a handful of skaters and one of hockey history’s most charismatic and outrageous goalies; when it all came down to it, how could we choose anyone but Patrick Roy to represent hockey players in the clutch? The former goalie, who spent time with the Montreal Canadians and Colorado Avalanche during his near 20 year playing career, is a four-time Stanley Cup Champion (winning two for each franchise he played for) and remains the only player in the history of the NHL to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (awarded annually to the player who performs best in the playoffs) three times. The ultimate playoff performer, Roy was also a pronounced personality and one of the most superstitious players in the history of the NHL (although given his success, we’re starting to wonder whether those superstitions were legitimate).
3. Adam Vinatieri
As clutch as Tom Brady is, his hand would be a whole lot emptier were it not for the leg of Adam Vinatieri, the long time New England Patriots kicker who has spent the latter half of his career with the Indianapolis Colts. The winner of four Super Bowls (three with the Patriots and one with the Colts), Vinatieri is often cited as the most clutch kicker in the history of professional football. Nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” and “Adam the Iceman,” Vinatieri has produced two Super Bowl-winning kicks in the final seconds of the championship game, and currently holds the NFL record for most game-winning overtime field goals in a career (10). The kicker, who remains the only player in NFL history to score 1,000 points with two different franchises, is currently the oldest active player in the league at 43.
2. Joe Montana
Look, you don’t earn yourself the nickname “Joe Cool” by panicking when the game’s on the line. The fact of the matter is, there’s nobody in the history of the National Football League who performed better in the clutch than Joe Montana, the storied quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs from 1979 to 1994. The winner of five Super Bowls (all with the Niners) and a laundry list of other accolades that we couldn’t list even if we tried, Montana is best remembered as a man who knew where to go with the football late in the game when his team needed a score. Montana, who is often cited as not only the most clutch quarterback of all time but quite simply the greatest to ever play the position, was also nicknamed “The Comeback Kid” for his ability to bring his team back from almost certain defeat. If that isn’t clutch, we don’t know what is.
1. Michael Jordan
What, you expected someone else to be here? Ain’t nobody but Number 23 who could’ve swooped in at the top of our most clutch professional athletes list, and we expect the majority of our readers understand why. Michael Jordan, who maintains a reputation as the greatest basketball player ever to set Nikes on hardwood, also happens to be the most clutch professional athlete of all time (funny how many of the most clutch athletes are considered the best, eh…); the owner of a perfect six for six record in the NBA Championship series (he earned the MVP trophy in each of those six series) and an astounding 22 game-winning shots over the course of his career, Jordan’s legacy remains one that suggests he was always able to perform with the buzzer ticking down and his team in desperate need of points. For evidence of this, look no further than “The Shot,” the series-winning basket Jordan scored in Game 5 of the 1989 NBA Championship (the bucket gave the Bulls the win over the Cleveland Cavaliers).