Almost all athletes who reach the professional level in team sports were likely great athletes when they were younger. More than that, it’s almost certain that they played several team sports as they grew up, even through college.
The website baseball-almanac.com has an amazing list of 68 players who have played both Major League Baseball and football in the NFL. Twenty-four of those players starred in games in overlapping seasons between the leagues.
Here’s a list of several players who played on the diamond and the gridiron at the highest level:
Named the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe made a name for himself primarily as a track star and Olympian, and afterward as a professional football player. He played for six NFL teams during his lifetime, starting with the Canton Bulldogs three years after the 1912 Olympics. But before playing in the NFL, Thorpe played on the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox from 1913 to 1916. His best season was 1919, when he batted .327.
About the only thing most fans don’t know about Bo Jackson is his real name. Most football and baseball fans alike know that Jackson was probably one of the greatest athletes of all time, in the mold of Jim Thorpe. He is the only player to achieve All-Star status in both sports. He was a beast in football, winning the Heisman Trophy in college and playing multiple seasons for the L.A. Raiders from 1987 to 1990. He injured his hip in a playoff game in 1991, ending his football career. He also made his mark on the diamond, playing eight Major League seasons in the outfield, mostly with the Kansas City Royals. He’s remembered for throwing out Harold Reynolds with a dart to home plate from the warning track; hitting a 448-foot home run during the 1989 All-Star Game and belting four consecutive home runs in one game. His best season was 1989, when he hit 32 home runs with 105 RBIs. On November 30, 1987, a few months after wrapping up a 22-home-run season with the Royals, Jackson ran for 221 yards against Seattle on Monday Night Football: It’s still the single-game MNF rushing record. And in case you didn’t know, Bo Jackson’s real name is Vincent Edward Jackson.
“Neon” Deion Sanders, who played Major League Baseball for the Yankees, Braves, Reds and Giants over a 12-year baseball career, is the only athlete to have played in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. He often jumped between sports during the season and missed the 1992 baseball playoffs with the Braves to help the Atlanta Falcons instead. He also missed three MLB seasons to concentrate only on football. His best season was 1992, when he hit .304 and stole 26 bases. In the NFL, he played for the Redskins and Ravens and was on two Super Bowl-winning teams, the Cowboys and the 49ers. He was quoted as saying, “I’m married to football; but baseball is my girlfriend.” He’s the only player in NFL history to score a touchdown six different ways (regular and postseason): kickoff return, punt return, interception return, fumble recovery, receiving, and rushing. He played in the 1992 World Series, batting .533, and in 1989 became the first player in history to hit a home run in the Majors and score an NFL touchdown in the same week.
Brian Jordan. He didn’t stand out for his colorful personality or his brawn, but Brian Jones had a successful 15-year Major League career primarily with the Cardinals and Braves. He accumulated a decent lifetime average of .282 and hit 182 home runs, and he was an All-Star in 1999. He joined the Majors only after wrapping up a three-year career with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, where he played safety and returned punts and kickoffs. He led the Falcons in tackles in 1994 and was voted an alternate to the Pro Bowl team. But a good contract from the St. Louis Cardinals with a huge bonus to quit football…ended his football career.
D.J. Dozier. Yes, his football career was longer, more successful and certainly more memorable than his baseball career, but Dozier did play in both the NFL and Major Leagues. He played five seasons as a running back, with the Vikings and the Lions, and fumbled only once during his career. Upon leaving football, he became a member of the New York Mets for the ’92 season at the age of 26, after some time in the Minors. He played in only 25 games for the Mets.
Honorable mentions who almost made the list:
• John Elway (NFL quarterback legend) hit .318 with 25 home runs for the New York Yankees Minor League team in 1981, but he decided to stay with football.
• Russell Wilson (current quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks) was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles out of high school, decided to go to college, and then was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010. He chose the NFL.
• Chris Weinke (most recently a coach for the L.A. Rams) played six seasons of Minor League ball for the Toronto Blue Jays, and afterward (1997) played college football for Florida State, where he won the Heisman Trophy at age 28. He made it to the NFL, playing six seasons from 2001 to 2007, primarily with the Carolina Panthers.
• Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodger and MLB legend) is probably, along with Thorpe, the most gifted multisport athlete ever to grace a field. He was an All-American everything at UCLA, lettering in basketball, baseball, football and track. Baseball may not have even been his strongest sport and he didn’t play in the NFL, but he was the first African-American to play in the Majors in 1947 and was named Rookie of the Year.