Wilt Chamberlain, Most Rebounds in a Basketball Game (55)
Usually when Chamberlain is on a list like this, it’s for the seemingly untouchable 100-point game in 1962. Though only Kobe Bryant has come close in recent years (81 points in 2006), we can envision a future when some three-point slinging, euro-stepping, baseline-driving wunderkind breaks that record—especially if the NBA keeps passing rules under which a defender can practically earn a foul just by breathing heavy on a player. But someone snatching more than 55 rebounds in a game? Don’t see that happening.
Jerry Rice, Football’s Most Career Receiving Yards (22,895)
Rice has a few NFL records that will probably never be reached—career touchdown receptions (197) and consecutive games with a reception (274) among them. To put Rice’s receiving yards record in perspective, the player in second place is Terrell Owens with 15,934. Tony Gonzalez, who was the closest active player before he retired this past season, has a career total of 15,127. The next active player, Reggie Wayne, has 13,566 career yards.
Edwin Moses, Most Consecutive Wins in a Track Event (122)
From Aug. 26, 1977, to June 4, 1987—that’s nine years, nine months and nine days—400m hurdler Moses did not lose a race. That’s right. In an event where men leap more than 10 3-foot-high hurdles in a row—an event that requires not only speed but stamina—Moses came in first every single time for 122 consecutive races. That’s 107 finals and 15 preliminaries. Over his career, he won two Olympic gold medals and likely would have won three in a row if not for the U.S. Olympic boycott in 1980.
Joe Louis, Longest-Reigning Heavyweight Boxing Champion
Louis held the heavyweight championship title for 11 years, eight months and eight days. Of all the records on this list, this one is most in danger of being eclipsed; current heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, 37, is headed into his eighth year as heavyweight champion with no real challengers to the title. And modern-day boxing, with its alphabet soup of titles—WBO, WBA, IBF, IBO (which didn’t exist in Louis’ day)—gives Klitschko more opportunities to hold some claim to the title. But three years is a long time. Good luck, Wladimir.
Dick “Night Train” Lane, Most Interceptions in a Football Season (14)
“Night Train” Lane was one of football’s mostfearsome tacklers. His signature move, the “Night Train Necktie”—essentially a clothesline tackle—was so dangerous, it was banned by the NFL. When he wasn’t trying to rip the heads off receivers, he was busy picking off quarterbacks. In 1952, his rookie season, Lane intercepted 14 passes—at a time when NFL teams played just 12 regular-season games. Even though today’s NFL teams play 16 regular-season games and are more pass-centric, this record has endured and will likely endure for all eternity.
Hank Aaron, Most Baseball All-Star Games Selections (25)
How good was Hammerin’ Hank Aaron? He only played 23 years in the Major Leagues and yet was selected for 25 All-Star games. (Granted, there were several years when the league played more than one All-Star game in a season, but still. Also Aaron missed playing in the 1962 game because of injury.) To match that record today, a player would have to play 25 years in the league and then be good enough in each one of those years to be chosen for the All-Star game roster. Nobody will ever be that good for that long again.
Bill Russell, Most Championship Rings as a Basketball Player (11)
Russell is the only NBA player to have more championship rings than fingers. The only other players to come close to having that many rings are Russell’s teammates, who helped turn the Boston Celtics into a dynasty in the ’50s and ’60s. As much as we love Michael Jordan (six rings), Kobe (five) and LeBron (two), Russell is the real lord of the rings.
Barry Bonds, Most Home Runs in a Baseball Season (73)
Whether you believe Bonds cheated his way to this record by using performance-enhancing drugs, the fact remains that he still had the natural ability to determine, with blazing accuracy, whether a pitch was hittable while also avoiding striking out, something no amount of drugs could help (other likely untouchable records held by Bonds: most walks (2,558), most intentional walks (688) and most career home runs (762)). Put an asterisk next to this record if you like, but it’s on the books and will likely stand forever.
Oscar Robertson, Average a Triple Double for a Basketball Season
To excel at the triple double—commonly defined as reaching double digits in points, rebounds and assists in a game—a player needs to possess the ability to dish the ball to teammates and have the skill to score when an assist just won’t do. The “Big O” was such a supremely gifted all-around player that he is the standard by which all other all-around players are judged. During the 1961-1962 NBA season, Robertson’s per-game average was 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, the first and only time an NBA player averaged a triple double for an entire season.
Rickey Henderson, Baseball’s Most Career Stolen Bases (1,406)
What made Henderson so great was that even though pitchers and catchers knew he was going to steal the minute he got on base, they still couldn’t stop him from breaking Lou Brock’s previous record of 938 stolen bases. Some claim that “Moneyball” is killing the art of the stolen base, but even without sabermetrics, we doubt any player will run off with this record.
Florence Griffith Joyner, 100m World Record (10.49 seconds)
No one did it with as much flash and style as Flo Jo, who remains the fastest woman ever after setting this record in 1988. The record comes with a bit of controversy: Some say it was likely wind-aided and there were the persistent rumors—particularly after her early death—that she used performance-enhancing drugs, even though she never failed a test. Though the men’s 100m records fall on a regular basis—thanks, Usain Bolt!—no one’s going to sprint past Flo Jo.
Tiger Woods, Winning the 1997 Masters by 12 Strokes
At the peak of his career, Woods was like a man playing among boys. At the 1997 Masters in Augusta, Ga., Woods crushed the world’s best golfers on a course that didn’t even allow black men as members until 1990 (women weren’t allowed until 2012). While Woods has won a major by a larger margin (15 stokes at the 2000 U.S. Open), putting his mark on place that had only allowed black men to serve as caddies was doubly sweet.
Emmitt Smith, Football’s Most Career Rushing Yards (18,355)
The NFL’s current obsession with quarterbacks who run as well as pass makes it unlikely that a running back will get the ball enough—Smith also holds the career record for most carries (4,409)—to catch Smith. Doubt this? The highest ranked active player on the career rushing list is St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson at 10,678 yards. One of the league’s most explosive running backs, Adrian Peterson, is 27th on the list with 10,115 yards.
Archie Moore, Boxing’s Most Career Knockouts (131)
To understand how boxer Moore achieved this record, you first need to know that he fought an insane 219 fights. Moore, who won 185 of those bouts (131 by knockout), had one of the longest professional boxing careers in history. Given what we now know about the effects of brain injury and head trauma, we can’t imagine anyone—with any sense in his head—challenging this record.
Derrick Thomas, Most Sacks in a Football Game (7)
To think, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Thomas was legally allowed—paid, even—to victimize Seattle Seahawks QB David Krieg. If Thomas were just a guy on the street, he would have been arrested for assault and battery for what he did to Krieg on Nov. 11, 1990. As epic as this record is, Thomas should have had eight—Krieg managed to slip through Thomas’ grasp at the end of the game to throw a touchdown that gave his team a one-point victory. Bigger offensive linemen and more elusive quarterbacks make approaching this record nearly impossible.