The Best Replacements in Sports History
Sometimes a legendary act isn't so tough to follow.
Stars, legends and iconic sports figures leave a lasting impression that resonate with fans for years after their departure, which makes it pretty darn hard for the guy who has to follow.
What we have here is a brief list of some sports figures who did a fantastic job in filling some ridiculously large shoes. Although, this isn't to say the athletes following were better, because that is a debate for another day.
This is merely to serve as a reminder that saying goodbye to one star athlete, owner or coach isn't a bad thing, because success can most certainly come in different forms.
It's remarkable at how rare a great following act is in sports, so we would love to hear which you might find missing along the way.
Aaron Rodgers Follows Brett Favre
Brett Favre didn't exactly leave the NFL gracefully. No, it was essentially the equivalent of someone storming out of the house after fight and having to come back a few times for forgotten items.
Favre's love affair with retirement started, as ESPN reminds, back in 2007: "Favre retired after the 2007 season, only to unretire that offseason, in July 2008. However, the Packers already had moved forward with Rodgers as their quarterback of the future. A rift developed between Favre and the organization, and the Packers eventually traded him to the New York Jets."
It's a bit easier to romanticize Favre's legacy now, years removed from the tumultuous breakup. This is the same quarterback who played 16 seasons of football, never taking a day off and garnering a Super Bowl victory.
As luck would have it, Packers fans get to enjoy the second coming of the gunslinger in the form of Aaron Rodgers, who also has a Super Bowl ring to go along with his three Pro Bowl nods.
Tommy Lasorda Follows Walter Alston
Tommy Lasorda wasn't just following a successful manager; he was following a beloved icon who managed the club for 23 years, garnering four World Series titles.
In a strange twist, Walter Alston's successor would become just as beloved for entirely different reasons. Lasorda was the bombastic skipper whose interviews were as memorable as his slow sprints out to meet an umpire with one of his complaints.
In 1988, he seemed to have juiced every last drop of talent from a seemingly lackluster roster to take the second of his managerial World Series titles.
To Dodgers faithful, Lasorda's name goes right up there next to Alston's, which speaks volumes to his prolific career as manager.
Steve Young Follows Joe Montana
Joe Montana had led the 49ers to four Super Bowl Championships during an illustrious 13 seasons in San Francisco.
As we know, all great things must soon come to an end. Fortunately for 49ers faithful, the team had a budding star waiting in the wings, willing to step up the minute Montana went down with injury.
Montana spoke out about Young taking over his job in San Francisco last October, via Mercury News:
You ever had anybody try to take your job? (Laughs, applause ensues). It's a team game but it all starts with individual efforts. So my job with Steve was basically to make sure he stayed behind me. The game is not the same when you stand on the sideline with your uniform on. After you experience that, you don't want to be anywhere else. We had a working relationship. But it was one of those things where I didn't care if it was Steve Young, Steve Bono, Steve DeBerg -- I had a whole bunch of Steves -- it didn't matter who it was for me. It was my job that I felt I had to make sure they stayed over there watching me as long as possible. But it's a competitive relationship. ... I didn't feel bad for him.
Young pushed Montana, and Montana—or perhaps the shadow that loomed overhead—pushed Young after his departure.
The real winners were Niners fans who then enjoyed a Super Bowl XXIX triumph with Young featuring as the game's MVP.
Jerry Buss Follows Jack Kent Cooke
For most, the Lakers have had just one owner who really mattered: Jerry Buss. However, that would greatly ignore Jack Kent Cooke, the man who actually brought the team to Los Angeles, gave them purple and gold fashion and collected its first Southern California Championship.
In writing for Sports Illustrated in 1991 about the Redskins owner, Cooke, Rick Reilly offered, "The Kings franchise might never have been granted to L.A. without Cooke, and lord knows, the Lakers wouldn't be the same without him. For one thing, it was Cooke who kicked the press from courtside to make room for the legendary leers and celebrity cleavage that populate it now."
Of course, that success was greatly overshadowed by Buss who would bring Magic, Showtime and a wealth of championships to Los Angeles.
With 10 titles to his name, the deceased Buss will go down as one of the greatest owners in sports history.
Andrew Luck Follows Peyton Manning
To be fair, it's extremely early in the Andrew Luck chapter of the Colts history book, but we have to say things aren't exactly gloomy in Indianapolis since Peyton Manning departed to Denver.
While the Broncos nearly pulled off a Super Bowl win last season, the Colts have made measured strides in returning the franchise back to glory.
Luck now has two strong seasons under center to point to, garnering over 8,000 yards and 46 touchdowns in his early career.
More importantly, the team has put together back-to-back playoff appearances. Granted, we are a long way away from dubbing Luck the next Manning, but there is more than enough to be optimistic about.
Sidney Crosby Follows Mario Lemieux
In one of the more adorable changing of the guards, Sidney Crosby once lived with Mario Lemieux, getting far more than prized tutelage from one of the game's greats.
While friendly, there is no doubt an ongoing debate among Penguins faithful as to the Kid's budding legacy.
Bleacher Report's Adrian Dater brought some thoughts to a torch that, while passed, still has some glowing embers lighting Lemieux's name.
Crosby is the biggest star in the NHL and has been since the ping-pong balls announced his arrival to Pittsburgh in 2005. That is likely to be the case until he retires—which should be a long time in coming with Crosby still just 26 years old. But he is unlikely to ever be the most beloved and biggest hockey star in Pittsburgh history.
Not only was Lemieux an incredible talent, generally considered one of the top five players of all time, but he was also the city’s savior of hockey.
As Dater notes and fans undoubtedly understand, Crosby's career is far from finished, which means his legacy is largely unwritten.
Fortunately, the guy before him gave something of a helping hand.
James Harrison Follows Joey Porter
ESPN's Scott Brown reminds why the Steelers chose to make room for James Harrison towards then end of Joey Porter's reign at linebacker for the Steelers, citing financial as well as locker room reasons:
The Steelers saved $6 million by releasing Porter, and they had James Harrison ready to play right outside linebacker at a significantly lower price. But what also sealed Porter’s playing fate in Pittsburgh is that a 34-year-old first-time head coach probably needed to get Porter out of the Steelers’ locker room to make it his own.
That is how dominant of a personality Porter was when he played for the Steelers.
As Brown indicates, the Steelers are welcoming back the bombastic former player as an assistant coach, hoping a bit of the passion rubs off on its defense.
The return is nearly as smooth as that transition on defense in 2007. The team said goodbye to a man who garnered three Pro Bowl nods playing in Pittsburgh, welcoming a brash player that would win five.
Maybe in time Harrison will work his way back to the place he dominated. With Porter back, anything is possible.
Tom Brady Replaces Drew Bledsoe
Losing your $100 million quarterback to an injury is never a good thing, unless you have a Tom Brady just hanging around to lead the franchise to three Super Bowl titles.
CBS DC reminds that Drew Bledsoe received a handsome sum before the 2001 season but ultimately saw his season cut short after suffering a "sheared blood vessel in his chest."
In Jan. 2013, he remembered what it was like losing his job: "It was really hard man, I got to be honest. When you go through eight years of giving everything you have for an organization and when you get hurt some other guy comes in and plays well, and all of a sudden when you come back your job’s not there for you anymore."
Though there are no hard feeling, as Brady later joked, "I remind Brady all the time that I taught him everything he knows and he’d be nothing without me."
That's some legendary tutelage, Bledsoe.
Steven Jackson Replaces Marshall Faulk
Bum knees and a budding star may have forced Marshall Faulk's hand and made the decision to retire far easier.
Whatever the reason, Faulk's successor in Steven Jackson served admirably. Faulk is as beloved a name in Rams circle as any, helping the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV and collecting four Pro Bowls during his tenure.
Jackson might not have the ring, but he has the talent, rushing for over 10,000 yards for the team and collecting over 50 touchdowns and three Pro Bowls.
While Faulk has had some pointed views of Jackson in the past, revealing that the necessary "hunger" Jackson had for the position did lead to friction.
Faulk continues to Fox 2 Now that "it was never anything personal. It was about making the team better."
Mickey Mantle Follows Joe DiMaggio
While this list is hardly exhaustive, we couldn't leave off one of the more remarkable following acts in sports. Just imagine trying to take over Joe DiMaggio's spot in center and then combine that with incessant boos and bum knees and you have Mickey Mantle's plight.
ESPN's Larry Schwartz paints a poignant picture of Mantle:
He replaced Joe DiMaggio in centerfield, but not in the hearts of the fans, and was booed for much of the first half of his career. He won the Triple Crown and the fans clamored for more. He had two MVP seasons before he was 26, and it still wasn't enough.
It's not easy becoming a legend. But, in time, that's where Mickey Mantle's path took him.
DiMaggio left the game a fan favorite in 1951, hitting 361 career home runs and batting .321 over 13 seasons. Mantle would follow that with 18 years in Yankees pinstripes, clubbing 536 home runs with a career .298 batting average.
And that, my friends, is how you follow a class act.
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