From head to toe: The ultimate Detroit athlete

The hands of Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson are legendary.

The hands of Lions’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson are legendary.

What if we could construct the ultimate athlete from parts of Detroit superstars of the past and present?

Sound absurd? Perhaps, but as Willy Wonka famously said, “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest of men.”

Don’t wait for a steaming cauldron in a dark-lit laboratory and a bolt of lightning. I have engineered a Frankenstein-esque scenario to devise the perfect athlete made from the best features of Detroit’s greatest.

Feet: Ty Cobb
As an observer once stated, Cobb seemed to “have feet in his brains.” The master of navigating the basepaths and evading the tag, Cobb was not naturally speedy – he was quick. The clever Cobb chose his steps wisely, perfecting the art of baserunning. One of his former teammates once asked Cobb why he had been so superstitious during his career, noting that Ty habitually tapped the bag from behind whenever he was on base. “That wasn’t superstition,” Cobb shot back, “I knew the bags were a little loose and I was nudging them an inch or two closer to the next one.”

Big Toe (Right Foot): Jason Hanson
We can’t have three feet on our ultimate athlete, but we need to have at least the big piggy from Hanson’s right foot. The Lions’ longtime placekicker is one of the greatest to ever boot the pigskin.

Calves: Dennis Rodman
If you need “mad hops” you could use Rodman’s rubbery calves. The undersized forward seemed to be playing on a pogo stick during his Hall of Fame career in the NBA.

Knees: Gordie Howe
How do you play 34 years at the highest level of pro hockey and still keep your body together on the hard ice? You have remarkable legs and knees. Howe is probably the greatest physical specimen to ever play a team sport in Detroit. Al Kaline once remarked that Howe was “the best athlete I ever saw, [he] could star in any sport he tried to play.” Gordie was still skating around and scoring goals when he was 52 years old.

Thighs: Billy Sims
A thick, muscular, rugged runner who was also gifted with speed. Sims had a meteoric career before suffering career-ending knee injuries, but when he was healthy he was a great running back. A rare power runner who could outrun defenders.

Hips: Barry Sanders
While Sims’ style was to run over defenders, Barry made the tacklers miss him. Rarely ever taking a big hit, Sanders had the shake and shimmy of a ballroom dancer. He could somehow seem to be running in four directions at once, and the defense couldn’t get their arms around his waist in any of them.

Gut: Roger Brown
The first NFL lineman to regularly top the 300-pound mark, Brown proved that larger didn’t have to mean slower. The defensive tackle will forever be remembered for his titanic performance on Thanksgiving against the Packers in 1962, when he sacked Bart Starr six times. Fittingly for this category, Brown later owned a few McDonalds stores and other restaurants.

Right Arm: Justin Verlander
A great pitcher in the prime of his career, when it’s all said and done, JV’s right arm will make him the greatest pitcher in Tiger history. Other great right “wings” belonged to Bobby Layne and Al Kaline.

Left Arm: Mickey Lolich
When you throw the ball in the low-90s and can log more than 300 innings per season, while also missing only one start in 17 seasons, you have an amazing arm. Lolich only became a left-hander because a motorcyle fell on his left arm when he was a toddler and the injury forced him to strengthen that side through exercise. Detroit fans are thankful for that accident!

Wrists: Sergei Fedorov
The Russian once slapped a wrister at more than 105 miles per hour. Fedorov also had amazing agility and remarkable control of his feet and ankles.

Fists: Joe Louis
The Brown Bomber is the greatest boxer to ever lace on the gloves. His fists were as hard as iron, and of course, a sculpture of his right fist serves as an iconic landmark in Detroit.

Hands: Calvin Johnson
One gets the feeling that if an anvil was dropped from a crain and Johnson happened to be walking by, he’d snatch the object from the sky with ease. Megatron’s grip is amazing – he rarely ever bobbles or mishandles the football. His mitts are a large part of his mastery as the best wide receiver in the game.

Chest: Lance Parrish
When he was squatting behind the plate as an All-Star catcher for the Tigs in the 1980s, Lance Parrish was a new breed of player – a chiseled, muscular specimen who was the darling of many female fans. He had bulging chest, shoulders, and arms.

Shoulders: Joe Schmidt
The most ferocious player in Lions’ history, Schmidt wasn’t a large player, but he had a triangle-shaped upper body that he threw at the ball carrier to make many spine-rattling tackles.

Neck: Chris Spielman
One of those football players who had a neck that looked like it was trying to swallow their skull.

Jaw: Tommy Hearns
Do yourself a favor and watch the Hagler/Hearns fight – all 8 minutes of it. It’s on YouTube in its entirety. Tommy Hearns may have had wobbly legs and a terrible perm, but he was a monster in the ring. He hit hard, fought smart, and could take a punch. For a guy who rarely ever got hit that hard, in the Hagler fight Hearns takes all Marvelous Marvin could dish out. “Motor City Cobra,” indeed.

Smile: Isiah Thomas
Could it be anyone else? Isiah’s charming smile concealed a dagger that he would thrust into the heart of anyone who got in his way. Perfect example of a guy with “little man syndrome,” Zeke smiled like an angel but fought you like the devil.

Mustache: Dave Bing
Thin, ultra-cool facial hair that rested above his pursed lips as he stroked jumper after jumper that found nothing but net. The Mayor still wears the stache.

Nose: Terry Sawchuk
Frequently fractured, Sawchuk’s beak lived in the middle of a face that looked like it came out of a horror film. The real horror was felt by opposing teams who felt the sting of Sawchuk’s play in the net as the NHL’s greatest goalie.

Eyes: Steve Yzerman
Behind his sharp, focused eyes was a fire that burned to compete, and that’s what Stevie Y did as well as anyone who ever represented the city of Detroit. For the ladies, his hazel eyes were pretty dreamy too.

Brain: Nicklas Lidstrom
The future Hall of Famer wasn’t one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history because of his physical attributes, though he was gifted. No, #5 was smarter than everyone else on the ice. He used his knowledge to stay a step ahead of the opponent. He also made sure to live to fight another day – he only got physical when he needed to, and as a result he rarely ever got injured. Widely respected as one of the greatest to ever play the game, Lidstrom’s brain is the perfect organ to control all of the parts of our ultimate Detroit athlete.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.