5 Hall of Fame Players Who Needed Great Supporting Casts to Succeed

NFL | April 11, 2021

Sports lore is filled with players who could singlehandedly dominate a game. Michael Jordan, for instance, put the 1990s Chicago Bulls on his back as the roster around him became less and less reliable. Brett Hull once scored 86 goals for a St. Louis Blues club that only won six playoff games. Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders are just two NFL running backs to rank with the all-time greats despite playing on any number of lousy teams in their careers.

But there’s another brand of legendary athlete, those superstars who have needed fine supporting casts to realize their full potential. It doesn’t mean that they’re not equally great. In fact, you’ll find that some of the Hall-of-Fame names on our list below are the most decorated in their sport’s history. Some exceptional players have skill-sets that simply don’t work all that well as a solo act, but when surrounded by the right cast, they’re virtually unstoppable.

Read ahead for five transcendent sports performers who were only at their best when playing on great teams.

Wayne Gretzky

NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, known as “The Great One,” scored nearly 900 goals in his long career. But Gretzky was ultimately a play-maker and a passing specialist who was at his best when surrounded by snipers. For instance, an aging Gretzky wrapped-up his pro career by scoring less than a point per-game for the mediocre New York Rangers. In contrast, while playing on a line with “Finnish Flash” Jari Kurri for the Edmonton Oilers, “Gretz” scored 200+ points in three consecutive seasons and set one of his many all-time records with 163 assists in 1985-86. Gretzky also compiled 18 assists in only a handful of games skating for Team Canada in the 1988 Canada Cup.

Larry Fitzgerald

NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is as notable for the things he can’t do as the things he can do. Fitzgerald isn’t very fast or elusive, and is often held in check when his team is struggling. Larry wasn’t a natural route-runner coming out of college, and had to learn the mechanics of the NFL game step by step. But in addition to his tremendous leaping ability, and an insane work ethic, Fitzgerald possesses the greatest set of catching hands ever seen in the modern game. When surrounded by the right teammates and a strong-armed QB, Fitzgerald can render any defense helpless and turn an NFL contender into a champion, such as in this memorable playoff game from 2008.

Joe Montana

NFL quarterback historians like to focus on the 1983 draft, in which Dan Marino and John Elway first arrived on the scene. Joe Montana of the world champion San Francisco 49ers is strangely overlooked by many historical pigskin tomes, maybe because his average arm strength wasn’t capable of great production on its own. Montana threw 15 TD passes and 9 INTs while winning just twice in his first year as a starter. Once head coach Bill Walsh surrounded Joe Cool with the right blockers and WRs, the QB’s technique of throwing “balloons at darts” become synonymous with Super Bowl success. San Francisco won four Super Bowls in Montana’s tenure at the helm.

Greg Maddux

No MLB pitcher can consistently win without a run-scoring offense to back him up. It’s even better if there’s one or two other legendary hurlers in the starting rotation. Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves won four consecutive Cy Young awards in the 1990s while partnered with John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, also considered among the greatest pitchers ever to step onto a diamond. All three Braves aces became first-ballot Hall-of-Famers, having accomplished far more with a terrific club than they could have working alone.

Franz Beckenbauer

Footballers who play striker, forward, winger, or even midfield positions are capable of taking over matches on their own. Defenders aren’t even allowed to attack an opposing box unless the club’s manager decides to bring forward numbers. Still, the best defenders have been able to patiently ward-off opposing forwards while countering expertly whenever the opportunity arises.

Franz Beckenbauer of Bayern Munich scored 44 goals in Bundesliga while cementing a legacy as one of the greatest defending backs in history. As is usually the case, it helped Beckenbauer to play on legendary teams. His German national team won the World Cup in 1974 while Bayern Munich was beginning a streak of three consecutive European titles.

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Kurt Boyer

Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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