Sports Heroes And Villains: Muhammad Ali

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They're the best of the best, exemplifying all the courage and nobility and genius and hard work and modesty and ambition and humility and grace that can be displayed in modern American sports. They're the ones we really want to be like when the going gets tough, they're the ones we want to show our sons and daughters and say, "See? See?" They all had flaws, we know -- they were, despite some signs to the contrary, human. And they're Page 2's greatest sports heroes of all time.


Page 2's Sports Heroes & Villains
It's Heroes & Villains Week all week at Page 2. Here's what we have featured:
Caple: For every hero, we need a villain
Page 2 writers' heroes
Readers' heroes
Greatest sports villains, sports movie heroes
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During the turbulent 1960s, he became a symbol of all that was right with the old-fashioned, "square" ways. A tough guy, an emotional man, one who inspired great loyalty among his players. Quite simply, the best boss there ever was.

Muhammad Ali

4. Muhammad Ali
Ali was "The Greatest" during his boxing career, but it was after his boxing days were done that he secured his legend as a great American man. Was there ever a more moving moment in sports than when he lit the flame to open the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta? Ailing with Parkinson's, Ali has faced his long physical decline with the kind of courage and grace and humor that have made him not just admired, but truly beloved. Said Pres. Bill Clinton to Ali after the torch-lighting ceremony, "They didn't tell me who would light the flame, but when I saw it was you, I cried.'"

5. Johnny Unitas
A great quarterback, we all know. The greatest ever, probably. But more simply, an admirable man who honored the sports world by being part of it. "He was the kind of man," said Cardinal William H. Keeler at Unitas' funeral, "who would shake the hand of a homeless person and say to that person it was an honor to shake his
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Magic Johnson and Larry Bird
These men made their pro basketball homes on opposite coasts -- one in glamorous L.A., the other in old, work-a-day Beantown, but the 3,000 miles didn't separate them in our minds. Take your pick -- Magic's infectious good humor and enthusiasm and, when it all came crashing down, courage. Larry's hard-scrabble, Midwest, get-it-done can-do everyman attitude. It's impossible. They're heroes bound together by time, and by a sport, and by exhibiting complementary qualities that added up to greatness both on and off the court.

8. Joe DiMaggio
"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you … " Would any other player, in any sport, have worked in that great line from Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson"? No way. Even though lots of ugly things about Joe's life have come out lately, his fame and heroic stature may be equaled, but never topped. DiMaggio, wrote Page 2's David Halberstam in "Summer of '49, " was "the perfect Hemingway hero, for Hemingway in his novels romanticized the man who exhibited grace under pressure, who withheld any emotion lest it soil the purer statement of his

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