Barry Sanders (1997)
Barry Sanders accomplished a massive feat during the 1997 campaign. By that point, Sanders had already established himself as one of the game’s best. However, his claim as the one of the great running backs of all-time was stamped with a jaw-dropping string of 14 consecutive 100-yard performances. Sanders rushed for just 33 and 20 yards in his first two games, but then scampered for 2000 yards over the final 14 contests.
A running back being able to stay healthy over a course of 16 games is difficult enough. To be productive 14 weeks in a row to that degree is a near impossible task. Sanders stayed healthy despite receiving a massive work load, and proceeded to gash defenses on a weekly basis.
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LaDainian Tomlinson (2006)
With NFL teams looking to pass more and more, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for running backs to dominate games like they once did. LaDainian Tomlinson was among the league’s best from the moment he entered the league in 2001. With that said, he stamped his name in the record books with a historic 2006 campaign.
In that season, Tomlinson was unstoppable on the ground as he rushed for 1,815 and a record-breaking 28 rushing touchdowns. The longtime Charger added three receiving touchdowns to run his scoring total to 31, a mark which passed the previous record — 28 by Shaun Alexander — which was set the previous season.
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John Stockton (1990-91)
The all-time assist and steal King will likely live on in record books for quite sometime. Stockton paces NBA history with a 15,806 dimes and 3,265 swipes. He had his best overall year in 1991. The longtime Jazz guard finished the year with 1,164 assists — 30 clear of his second-best effort. In fact, Stockton is responsible for the top-four assist seasons ever.
Some hoop fans may think today’s high-scoring game could produce a near 1,200-assist contributor. But, since 2000 the closest any player has gotten to Stockton’s mark was Chris Paul in 2008 — and he didn’t even finish within 200 of the record (925). Additionally, Stockton’s longevity helped play a role in his accolades. Stockton played all 82 games in ’91, and missed just four contests total (all in 1990) through his first 12 years in the league.
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Barry Bonds (2004)
With baseball relying on the long ball more and more each year, perhaps one day a slugger could approach Bonds’ single-season home run record. In 2001, Bonds smashed a league-record 73 home runs, shattering the previous record set by Mark McGwire (70) three years prior. Perhaps 73 is too high of a number to match, but obviously McGwire wasn’t too far off. Recently we’ve seen Aaron Judge (62) and Giancarlo Stanton (59) put up big home run totals over the last few years. Instead, the one Bonds season that absolutely no other player has a chance to replicate is his 2004 campaign. The patient hitter drew an absurd 232 base on-balls.
Following the 73-HR season, teams were absolutely terrified of the Giants outfielder. Often times, pitchers refused to throw him any strikes. As a result, Bonds was walked 232 times — 120 of which were intentional. In a four-year span, Bonds recorded the three highest single-season BB marks in league history. You have to go back to the Babe Ruth’s 1923 season to find a player who even walked 170 times.
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George Blanda (1962)
Not every unmatchable season has to be a positive one. Fans of all-time great Chicago Bear George Blanda can rest assured that nobody will ever match the QB’s historic 1962 campaign. In that season, the three-time AFL Champion tossed a record 42 interceptions from the quarterback position. Blanda was picked off on 10-percent of his pass attempts. Perhaps most stunning, the QB managed to be named a Pro Bowler that season despite his lofty turnover numbers.
Matching this number today would be next to impossible. For one, quarterbacks are just far too skilled today to record that many giveaways. In the event a player is throwing a high number of interceptions, in all likelihood they’ll be benched for another option. Former Bucs QB Jameis Winston did throw 30 picks back in ’19, but he threw the ball over 200 more times than Blanda and still would have needed to have a dozen more INT’s.
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Wilt Chamberlain (1962)
Hundreds of years from now, historians will look back at old NBA statistics and wonder why Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t widely considered as the greatest basketball player of all-time. Chamberlain’s career numbers are like something out of a video game. In his second season, Chamberlain set a record which likely never be broken when he snagged 2,149 rebounds in 78 games (27.2 per game).
The very next season, Chamberlain averaged an unfathomable 50.4 PPG and 25.7 RPG. Over 80 games, Chamberlain scored over 4,000 points and grabbed over 2,000 rebounds. To understand how impossible that is to replicate, consider the last time a player grabbed even 1,500 rebounds was in 1992 (Dennis Rodman, 1,530). Michael Jordan has the highest non-Chamberlain scoring season of all-time (3,041 in ’88), and still came up 1,000 points short of the record. You could combine Rodman’s rebounding with Jordan’s scoring and they still didn’t come close to just Chamberlain on his own.
Oh, and Wilt also averaged 48.5 MPG that year because he played nearly every single minute of every game plus overtime (he sat for eight minutes the entire season).
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Wayne Gretzky (1981-82)
Wayne Gretzky’s name completely dominates the NHL record books. His 1982 campaign was unlike anything the sport had seen to that point. In just his third full season in the league, Gretzky netted a record 92 goals. The four-time Cup winner recorded 10 games with at least three goals, including a four-goal and five-goal performance in consecutive games.
He finished the year with 212 points, and failed to crack the score-sheet in just eight games. Gretzky was particularly dominant in that season. By that point, he was clearly well on the path to becoming the greatest hockey player of all-time.
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Wayne Gretzky (1985-86)
Back to “The Great One.” Not only does Gretzky hold the NHL record for most points in a season, but he claims the top-four spots all-time. In fact, he has nine of the top 11 spots on said list, with Mario Lemieux owning the other two.
Gretzky is also the only player in NHL history to post at least 200 points in a season (which he’s done twice). ’86 marked the third year in a row Gretzky would lead the league in points — a feat he would go on to accomplish for eight consecutive years from ’80-’87.
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Devin Hester (2006)
Former University of Miami standout Devin Hester hit the ground running in his rookie season. As a first-year player in 2006, Hester was primarily used as a return specialist where his speed, vision and elusiveness could best be utilized. Hester registered six touchdowns on the year — none of which came on offense. He returned three kickoffs, two punts, and a missed field goal for a touchdown. The electric sprinter added a 7th special teams when he returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts.
Hester’s 2006 was no ordinary season from a special teamer. Playing for a Bears team which struggled mightily on offense and relied heavily on a star-studded defense, there were times when Hester’s returning ability was Chicago’s most potent plan of attack. He flipped more than a number of games, and even gained some MVP buzz for his contributions. We may never see a player who does not specialize on offense or defense accomplish such a feat again.
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Ted Williams (1941)
Ted Williams was named an All-Star 19 times in his career, and took home two MVP trophies. However, his most famed season came in 1941 when he became the last player to hit over .400 over the course of a full year. Williams was always a great hitter, but notching a .406 batting average is difficult to maintain for a single week — let alone an entire MLB season.
That year, Williams led the league in average, on-base, and slugging percentage while hitting a league-high 37 home runs. He finished second in MVP voting behind a guy who put together a 56-game hitting streak (more on him in a bit).
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Jerry Rice (1987)
The current record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season belongs to Randy Moss. He put up 23 scores in his first year with the Patriots. With the season being stretched to 17 games, we could see Moss’ record go down at some point over the next few years. However, the most impressive season a receiver has had in the NFL may belong to Jerry Rice in his 1987 campaign.
In his third year in the league, Rice caught 22 touchdowns passes…in 12 games. Rice caught three touchdowns on three different occasions, and scored 16 times over San Francisco’s final seven contests. Rice’s all-time records seem unattainable at this point, but his efficiency during a time where passing was not a premium cannot be overlooked.
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Cam Newton (2010)
We may never see a college football player as dominant as Cam Newton ever again. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve seen plenty of college quarterbacks who have put up gaudy numbers. Just a couple of years ago, Joe Burrow led a high-powered LSU attack with 60 passing touchdowns. Former Heisman winners like Tim Tebow, Lamar Jackson, Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota all enjoyed tremendous seasons and careers. However, nobody did it like Cam did in 2010.
Newton played just one year at Auburn, and led the Tigers to a 14-0 record (including a National Championship victory over Oregon). Newton did it all for the Tigers, throwing for 30 passing touchdowns and rushing in 20 scores on his own. The bruising QB was able to accomplish this while having next to no other NFL talent on the offensive side of the ball. It was truly a one-man show at Auburn, and nobody had a chance of stopping Newton that year.
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Lawrence Taylor (1986)
Lawrence Taylor is among the greatest defensive players in NFL history, and is arguably the greatest football player — regardless of position — ever. Taylor was a menace rushing off the edge, and struck fear in opposing quarterbacks due to his speed, strength, and penchant for contact. In 1986, Taylor put together one of the most dominant seasons for a defender the league had ever seen.
That year, Taylor notched a league-high 20.5 sacks for a Giants team which finished 14-2. Not only did Taylor win the Defensive Player of the Year award in a landslide, the outside linebacker was also awarded the league MVP — an award normally reserved for top offensive players. Taylor is one of just two players who primarily played defense to win the award (Alan Page, 1971). He went on to help the Giants win the Super Bowl that year.
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Lew Alcindor (1967)
Basketball fans remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his patented sky-hook as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar is revered as one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, and is certainly a strong candidate to be considered the greatest center in league history. However, the 7-foot-2 big man was even more dominant during his college days.
While on campus at UCLA, no other team could compete with Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and the Bruins. In his first year with the team, Alcindor averaged 29.0 PPG and 15.5 RPG while leading UCLA to an undefeated season and a National Championship. Following the conclusion of the 1967 campaign, the NCAA decided to outlaw the slam dunk while deeming “dunking does not display basketball skill – only height advantage”. Alcindor was so dominant they had to make up rules to try and stop him. To no avail as UCLA would go on to win the next two National Championships before Alcindor left for the NBA.
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Bobby Jones (1930)
In 1930, golfer Bobby Jones accomplished a feat never to be matched. Jones won the “original” Grand Slam which consisted of winning four tournaments in the same year — U.S. Amateur and Open plus the The Open Championship and Amateur Championship. A handful of golfers — including Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus — completed the “modern” Grand Slam which includes winning The Masters and the PGA Championship.
Perhaps most impressive about Jones’ feat was that he was never officially a “professional” golfer. He accomplished everything during that famed 1930 season while under the distinction of “amateur”. At the time, Jones was a full-time lawyer who played golf on the side. The amateur golfer retired from the game at 28 years old following his memorable year.
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Richard Petty (1967)
Famed NASCAR driver Richard Petty inked his name in the record books in 1967. Over the course of that year, Petty entered 48 races and won 27 of them. To put that number into perspective, the NASCAR Cup has been running for 70 years and there are only 30 people with more than 27 wins over their entire careers.
Petty’s ’67 campaign would rank 31st all-time in NASCAR victories alone (Petty collected 200 wins total over his career, 95 more than second-place all-time). 10 of those wins came in consecutive fashion as he completely dominated the competition all year long.
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Pedro Martinez (2000)
Pedro Martinez was lights out in 2000. He had already collected two Cy Youngs with the Red Sox by that point, but his third Cy campaign was his greatest feat to date. In that season, Martinez finished with a 1.74 ERA. The second-best ERA mark for a pitcher that season was Roger Clemens at 3.70. Martinez’ WHIP was a 0.737 (a record that still stands). The league’s second best Mike Mussina’s 1.187 mark.
Martinez routinely diced up lineups which featured some of the greatest sluggers in league history. While the league was scoring runs and hitting homers at an astronomical pace, Martinez was preventing hits and punching out batters at a record rate.
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Byron Nelson (1945)
Some may have never heard this name before, but Byron Nelson is responsible for one of the great runs in golf history. In 1945, Nelson won 18 events which includes a streak of 11 straight wins. At the time, the record for most consecutive PGA wins was three. That stretch also included one major victory, at the PGA Championship. Nelson reportedly earned $30,250 in winning those 11 straight matches.
We did see Tiger Woods put up a similarly impressive campaign in 2000 as he stakes his claim as the greatest golfer of all-time. In that season, Woods won nine out of 20 events, while setting multiple course records. Still, Nelson’s achievements for the time remain unmatched and serve as a pillar of greatness in the sport.
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Steffi Graf (1988)
Steffi Graf was just 19 years old when she put together arguably the greatest season by a tennis player — man or woman — in the sport’s history. In 1988, Graf accomplished the Golden Slam which includes winning every major tournament in a single year in addition to the Olympics. Graf started her run by winning the Australian Open without losing a set. Next came the French Open which saw Graf collect her second major of the year.
At Wimbledon, Graf took on six-time champion Martina Navratilova and put together an impressive come-from-behind victory. Graf then won the U.S. Open before embarking on an Olympic journey. At Seoul, Graf defatted Garbiela Sabatini of Argentina to complete the Golden Slam.
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Deion Sanders (1992)
We can all but guarantee that we don’t see another athlete replicate Deion Sanders’ 1992 campaign. By the early 90’s, every sports fan knew who ‘Primetime’ was. The boisterous Florida State alum had already established himself as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, equipped with sprinter speed, elite anticipation, and all-time great trash talking skills.
However, Sanders wasn’t nearly established on the baseball diamond as he continued his pursuits as a two-sport athlete. It all came together in 1992. Sanders excelled on both the gridiron and the diamond. As a baseball player, Sanders hit .304 in ’92 for the Atlanta Braves and led the league with 14 triples. In football, Sanders was named first-team All-Pro and led the league in kick return yardage and touchdowns. On one October night that year, Sanders lived every kid’s dream by playing in both an NFL and MLB game on the same day.
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Joe DiMaggio (1941)
Among baseball’s most prized records is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak which occurred in the 1941 MLB season. That year, DiMaggio went over two months without going hitless in a game. The streak began on May 15 and spanned all the way until September 16. That level of consistency and tenacity has been unmatched in the history of baseball.
56 games seems impossible for a number of reasons. Hitters often sell out for power in today’s game, and would rather focus on the ‘three true outcomes’ (a homerun, walk, or strikeout) than collecting base hits. The last time a player even reached a 30-game hit streak was in 2019 by former Kansas City Royal Whit Merrifield. Merrifield’s streak ended at 31 games.
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Steph Curry (2016)
The only player who has a chance of matching Steph Curry’s 2016 season is the man himself. Curry was named MVP the year prior, but somehow took his game to another level in a mesmerizing ’16 campaign. The Warriors sharpshooter stormed out of the gate and never looked back. Consider this: before Curry entered the league the record for most threes in a single season was 269 set by famed marksman Ray Allen. Curry broke the record in 2013 when he nailed 272 triples, and again two years later when he connected on 286 threes during his first MVP season.
In 2016, Curry made 402 threes. He broke his own record by 116 made threes. Nobody is touching that mark for quite sometime. James Harden made 378 in ’19, but it took him over 200 more attempts. Even with the reliance on the three-point shot in today’s game, Curry’s mark is safe and sound.
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Michael Phelps (2008 Beijing Olympics)
This one is not even close. And, we’re not sure when, or if, somebody will catch the legendary swimmer. During the 2008 Olympics, US swimmer Michael Phelps earned the Gold medal in the 200 meter freestyle, 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter medley, 200 meter butterfly, 400 meter medley, 4×100 meter freestyle, 4×200 meter freestyle, and the 4×100 meter medley for a total of eight Gold medals. Phelps was already an accomplished Olympian by then, but this run put him in a league of his own.
Perhaps most impressive about Phelps’ resume is that the Baltimore native has collected 28 Gold Medals overall. It’s difficult to imagine anybody challenging Phelps’ 2008 run at this point. We may never see a swimmer as dominant as Phelps ever again.
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Lionel Messi (2012)
Lionel Messi’s 2012 season was something for the ages and still one of the great individual performances in any sport. Playing for Barcelona and Argentina’s national team, Messi netted 91 goals over a calendar year. He broke the record set by Germany and Bayern Munich star Gerd Muller (85 in 1972). The 35-year-old was at his physical peak by this point, and would often make defenders and goalkeepers silly with his deft touch and playmaking ability.
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Hugh Nicol (1887)
Stolen bases are becoming a lost art in baseball. It seems like every year the amount of base steals continues to dwindle. Teams seemingly would rather swing for the fences with baserunners rather than take the risk of running into an out.
As such, it feels like Hugh Nicol’s record of 138 stolen bases will remain untouched for years to come. Rickey Henderson nearly snapped the record in 1982 when the speedster stole 130 bags, but nobody has been with even 60 of Nicol since 2000.
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