For some stars, chasing their childhood idol becomes a legendary pursuit. For example, Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record for career majors. But what once seemed a certainty is now speculative at best, with Woods’ game a mess and his pursuit stuck on 14 — four shy of Nicklaus — since the summer of 2008. However, other sporting greats have passed their heroes in the record books while blazing their own trail to greatness. Here are some of sports’ most famous childhood-idol takedowns.
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Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
Bryant and Jordan have been tied together seemingly since the day Bryant entered the league as an 18-year-old in 1996. The two played in the NBA together four seasons, and their eight matchups (plus a couple All-Star Games) always seemed to bring out the best in Bryant (check out their head-to-head numbers). Even MJ has conceded that Kobe's the only player who warrants a comparison to him. Bryant's pursuit of Jordan’s six rings is well documented (Bryant is stuck on five). And now, with this being Bryant's final season and the Lakers one of the saddest teams in the league, it looks like Kobe will have to settle for passing His Airness as the greatest-scoring guard in league history as his No. 1 claim over Jordan.
AFP/Getty ImagesVINCENT LAFORET
Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton
Smith grew up idolizing Payton, the preeminent running back in the NFL from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, admiring everything from Payton’s stature to his class on and off the field. On Oct. 27, 2002, almost three years to the day after Payton died of cancer, Smith surpassed his idol as pro football’s most prolific running back with an 11-yard run against Seattle. 'That was a bittersweet moment,' Smith later said. 'The bitter part of it is that he wasn't there to share it with me, or (that) we could share it with one another.' After taking down Payton’s mark of 16,726 yards on the ground, Smith would run for more than 1,500 more, finishing with 18,355.
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Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe
The way The Great One stormed onto the NHL scene in 1979, it was clear early on that Howe’s records were going down; it was just a matter of when. The when came several times: In 1988 Gretzky took down Howe’s mark for career assists. In 1989 he eclipsed Howe for most career points. And in 1994 Gretzky passed Howe for most goals scored in league history. Howe played in the NHL until he was 52 years old; Gretzky had all three records at age 33.
Getty ImagesB Bennett
Barry Bonds and Willie Mays
Bonds’ relationship with Mays goes well beyond admiring a hero from afar. Bonds’ father Bobby was Mays’ teammate in San Francisco in the 1960s and early ’70s and the two became good friends. When Barry was born in 1964, Bobby asked Mays to be Barry’s godfather. Nearly 40 years later, Barry passed Mays on the career home run chart, hitting blast No. 661 off Milwaukee’s Ben Ford in April 2004.
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Tom Brady and Joe Montana
Finally, after two failed attempts and a decade of chasing, Brady equaled his football hero in the two biggest areas of all. With the Patriots’ 28-24 win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady tied Montana (and Terry Bradshaw) for most Super Bowl wins by a starting QB with four. And in taking home MVP of the game, Brady joined Montana as the only three-time winners of the award. Brady grew up in Northern California in the 49ers’ glory days of the 1980s, and was even in attendance at Candlestick Park to witness 'The Catch.' Since Brady exploded onto the scene in the 2001 season, Brady has built a very Montana-esque career: Beyond the Super Bowls, Brady’s biggest notch in his belt was TD pass No. 274 in October 2011, which surpassed Montana on that list.
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Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy
Brodeur was born in Montreal in 1972 and grew up playing goalie. Roy became the Canadiens’ goalie in 1985 and won his first Stanley Cup a year later. Any idea whose poster Brodeur had in his room as a teen? Roy retired in 2003 as the NHL’s all-time leader in wins by a goalie with 551. In 2009, Brodeur took down his idol’s mark en route to 600 wins, and finished with 691 -- 140 more than Roy more than 250 better than any active goalie.
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Jimmie Johnson and Cale Yarborough
For more than 30 years, Yarborough held a mark that many believed unbreakable: three consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup championships. But that was the 1970s. The 2000s in NASCAR are different. There’s a Chase, it’s called the Sprint Cup and now the consecutive-championships mark sits at five, thanks to Jimmie Johnson. Johnson grew up a Yarborough fan, sometimes telling the story of his devastation as an 8-year-old when, during his family’s trip to Oklahoma from their home in Southern California, he expected to meet Yarborough during a stop at Hardee’s — the burger chain which sponsored Yarborough back then but did not have franchises in SoCal — but instead had to settle for just a burger.