Monday was the 40th anniversary of one of the previous century’s most amazing, mind-blowing moments. On July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon. When Armstrong stepped off the Eagle’s stairwell, he uttered those famous words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Renowned author Tom Wolfe wrote a terrific op-ed piece over the weekend on the importance of the Moon landing and the future of the space program.
But as my boss told me recently, “This is sports, it’s not rocket science.”
So on the anniversary of this great day in history, we bring you the top 10 space names in the universe of sports.
10. Marcel Shipp
This former All-American running back at UMass played six seasons the Arizona Cardinals, rushing for over 800 yards in both 2002 and 2003. Though built like a truck (or perhaps a "spaceshipp") at 5-foot-11, 224 pounds, he was cut prior to the start of the 2008 season.
9. Mars Blackmon
"It's gotta be the shoes!" He may have been a Knicks fan, but Spike Lee’s character helped sell "Air" Jordans all around the world — and even all the way out to Mars — during the late '80s and early '90s.
8. Tshimanga Biakabutuka
This former star running back at Michigan — whose name sounds like something a Martian might say when he has to use the bathroom — ran for 313 yards in 1995 against a previously unbeaten Ohio State team. Thankfully nicknamed Tim, he played six injury plagued years in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers. (Other names also acceptable in the alien dialect category: Boubacar Cissoko, Makhtar Ndiaye and Mookie Blaylock.)
7. Apollo Creed
Rocky Balboa’s opponent in the first two “Rocky” films, Apollo, played by the ridiculously talented and versatile Carl Weathers, was nicknamed The Master of Disaster, The King of Sting and — my favorite — The Count of Monte Fisto. The character’s name, which comes from the Greek god of music, poetry and oracles (if you’re wondering), was also used as the name of the space program’s missions from 1961-75.
6. Bill "Spaceman" Lee
Lee played for the Red Sox from 1969-78, set the team record for all-time appearances by a left-hander and earned his nickname for his eccentric and often otherworldly personality. "I realized that it’s the ultimate compliment," he said. "Everybody thinks they’re earthlings, but in actuality we’re only here for a brief moment, and the cinder that we’re on is moving as Spaceship Earth, so we’re all space travelers." He was outspoken in the press, practiced yoga, touted the benefits of marijuana and was never afraid to talk to the press about problems with his team’s management. Lee still lives in New England, currently owns a lumber company and produces baseball bats for several players, including David Ortiz.
5. Mercury Morris
A longtime member of the Miami Dolphins, Morris got his nickname as a child for his "mercurial quickness when running with the ball." A two-time Super Bowl champ and three-time Pro Bowler, he was also a member of the undefeated Dolphins team of 1972. He got a significant amount of press for a series of rants toward the end of the 2007 NFL season during which he kept noting the differences between his unbeaten team and that season’s New England Patriots, who made it to 18-0 before falling to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
4. Warren Moon
The Hall of Fame quarterback with a rocket for an arm played most of his NFL career for the Houston Oilers, but also starred for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League. A nine-time Pro Bowl performer, Moon held the pro football records for most pass completions, most attempts, most passing yards and most touchdowns when he retired in 2000. (Also acceptable in the "Moon" category: Jamario Moon, Archie "Moonlight" Graham and Soleil Moon Frye.)
3. Venus Williams
Not only is the elder Williams sister named after the second-closest planet to the Sun, but her full name is Venus Ebony Starr Williams. Seriously. Since joining the pro tennis tour in 1994, she’s won 57 tournament titles, including 18 Grand Slams (seven at singles), has won three Olympic gold medals and became the top ranked player in the world in 2002, the first African-American player to reach No. 1 since the computer rankings began. She also tied the mark for the fastest recorded serve by a female, reaching 130 mph in 2008.
2. "Rocket Man" Roger Clemens
The performance-enhancing drug allegations have hit the Rocket’s legacy hard, but he's still one of baseball's all-time best right-handers. An 11-time All-Star and seven-time Cy Young Award winner, he spent 13 memorable seasons with the Red Sox before leaving and winning World Series titles with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. His 354 career wins place him ninth all time and his 4,672 strikeouts are third behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. (Also acceptable: Raghib "Rocket" Ismail.)
1. Lance Armstrong
The seven-time Tour de France champion is riding the race again this summer at the age of 37. But he’s much more than just a sports star, having survived testicular cancer in the mid-'90s before becoming one of cycling's all-time greats. Lance is not related to Neil, but it kind of makes you wonder why Neil, for all his worldwide acclaim following the 1969 moonwalk, never came out with his own astronaut version of the Livestrong bracelet.