Two-sport studs: Famous MLB players to star in football
There have been some incredible athletes on the baseball diamond, but not many two-sport stars. With the sports world focused on the Super Bowl, it got us thinking: Who are some famous MLB players to play in the NFL -- or at least be good enough to have a shot at making it?
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Dunn was a standout quarterback at New Caney High School near Houston, in addition to being an excellent baseball player. The Reds drafted him out of high school in the second round, and he committed to playing football for the University of Texas. The Reds agreed to allow Dunn to play baseball in the minors and play football at Texas in August. After redshirting his freshman season and serving as a backup to Major Applewhite, Dunn was asked to move to tight end from quarterback. He instead left football to focus on his career in the Reds organization.
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Known as a great fielder during his 14-year career with the Angels, White Sox and Astros, Erstad won three Gold Gloves (two in the outfield, one at first base). Before he helped the Angels win the World Series in 2002, Erstad was the starting punter for the University of Nebraska and part of the 1994 National Championship team for the Cornhuskers.
Gibson was an All-American wide receiver at Michigan State University, setting school and conference receiving records. He led the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten title in 1978. At the suggestion of his football coach, Gibson played one season of college baseball, hitting .390 with 16 home runs, 21 stolen bases and 52 RBI in 48 games. He was drafted by both the Detroit Tigers in the first round and the St. Louis Cardinals football team in the seventh round. He chose baseball and went on to an excellent 17-year career with the Tigers, Dodgers, Royals and Pirates.
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In a parallel universe, maybe Todd Helton would be an NFL Hall of Fame-worthy quarterback. At the University of Tennessee, Helton was famously ahead of Peyton Manning on the depth chart in his junior year. He was made the starter a few weeks into the season but succumbed to a knee issue, allowing freshman Peyton to assume a role he wouldn't relent. A two-sport star, Helton was named Gatorade Player of the Year for his efforts at Tennessee.
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It's possible -- probable even -- that Bo Jackson is the best athlete baseball has ever seen. He was a two-sport star at Auburn, hitting .401 with 17 homers in 42 games in 1985 before going on to win the Heisman Trophy that same year. The Buccaneers held the first overall pick in 1986 and flew him out for a visit during baseball season, but that violated NCAA rules. The Bucs told Jackson that they cleared it when they didn't, and he had to sit out the remainder of the baseball season. Because of this, Jackson didn't sign when the Bucs drafted him, opting to play baseball for the Royals. He got his chance in the NFL when the LA Raiders drafted him the following season, and he played both sports from 1987 to 1990. He was the first athlete to be an All-Star in both MLB and the NFL.
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Jackson was a tailback in high school and earned a football scholarship to Arizona State University, despite offers from the Dodgers and Twins. After his freshman season, Jackson quit the football team after being asked to switch to defense and turned his focus solely to baseball. The move turned out to be the right decision as Jackson had a Hall of Fame career with the Athletics, Orioles, Angels and Yankees.
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Jordan played for the Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rangers, but his major-league career didn't begin until after he gave up football. He was a defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons from 1989-1991, but then signed a big deal with the St. Louis Cardinals that made him a full-time baseball player. It was a smart move: Jordan hit 184 home runs, batted .282 duing his 15-season MLB career and was an All-Star in 1999 with the Braves.
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Mauer was a three-sport star in high school, but was elite in football and baseball. After a two-year football career that saw him pass for 5,528 yards and 73 touchdowns, Mauer was considered the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2001 and the Gatorade National Player of the Year. That same year, he was also selected as the Gatorade National Player of the Year for baseball -- the only athlete to ever accomplish both. Mauer committed to Florida State as a two-way athlete, but became the No. 1 pick in the 2001 MLB Draft. During this 12 seasons with the Twins, he's been an MVP and a three-time batting champion. Fun fact about Mauer: He hit .605 his senior year of high school and struck out once in four years of high school baseball.
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Before Robinson revolutionized the sport of baseball, he also made a name for himself with his multi-sport talents at UCLA. He was the first athlete in school history to receive varsity letters in baseball, football, track and basketball. His involvement in the Bruins' football team was noteworthy, too, since he was one of only four African-American players on the roster in 1939.
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When Samardzija was at Notre Dame, there was a ton of debate about which sport he should focus on and pursue professionally. He was a raw pitching prospect, but a more polished wide receiver. As a junion in 2005, he set single-season records at Notre Dame for receiving touchdowns and receptions. When he finished his career in 2006, he was atop Fighting Irish's all-time receiving yards list with 2,593. The plan was to play both MLB and NFL, but after being drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round, he gave up his football career. And it's paid off. Earlier this offseason, Samardzija inked a five-year, $90 million contract with the Giants.
Put simply, Sanders was ridiculous. He was a three-sport star at Florida State -- a two-time All-American in football while also excelling in baseball and track. Sanders was absolutely dynamic on the football field during his 14-year NFL career, winning Super Bowl rings with the 49ers and Cowboys in back-to-back seasons. He also enjoyed a nine-year, part-time MLB career with four teams. Most notably, he hit .304 with 14 triples in just 97 games with the Braves in 1992, appearing in the World Series that season. He's the only player to ever appear in a Super Bowl and World Series.
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Along with being offered a scholarship to play baseball for Tulane, Stanton received offers from UCLA and UNLV to play football. He was a standout receiver and cornerback for his high school in California, averaging better than 26 yards per reception in two seasons. He also was his high school’s leading scorer and rebounder in basketball his senior year. While he excelled in three sports, Stanton made the right choice. He has developed into a star for the Marlins, earning the richest contract ($325 million) in sports North American sports history.