The Pohory-list: Top 10 too early/too late DC athletes

By: Joe Pohoryles

When thinking about the greatest players in DC professional sports history, names like Darrell Green, Elvin Hayes and Alex Ovechkin come to mind. Each of these men, and many more, set records and won championships repping the District. They’ll be remembered as Redskins and Wizards/Bullets and Capitals (and as the franchise gets older, Nationals) for the rest of time.

But what about the all-time greats who achieved their success in other cities on other teams, but also played in Washington? Where DC served as merely a pitstop, a footnote in the story of their illustrious careers? In this completely unnecessary list, I observe the greatest players who were in DC either too early or too late in their careers, and are remembered for their play on other teams.

I’ll be ranking the 10 greatest athletes that fall under this category. They will not be ranked by their performance in DC, but rather their careers as a whole. I’ll admit, the order is somewhat arbitrary, as it’s difficult to compare the success of a football player to that of a basketball player, but I tried my best.

10. Dwight Howard (Career: 2004-present; Wizards: 2018-2019)

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Notable Accolades:

  • 8x All-Star
  • 5x First Team All-NBA
  • 1x Second Team, 2x Third Team
  • 3x Defensive POTY
  • 5x All-Defensive Team
  • 5x rebounding leader

The first overall pick of the 2004 NBA draft, Dwight Howard quickly became one of the biggest stars in the league with the Orlando Magic. His success in Orlando culminated in an NBA Finals appearance in 2009, defeating the reigning champion Boston Celtics and LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the way. They fell short against a Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers squad, but Howard’s dominance signaled more greatness to come. 

That never came to be, as a fallout with coach Stan Van Gundy in 2012 led to a trade to the Lakers, and he’s been bouncing around the league ever since. He played in just nine games for the Wizards in the 2018-19 season, suffering from back issues for most of the year. While it has been nearly a decade since we have seen a peak Dwight Howard, his prime is rivaled by few.

9. Sergei Fedorov (NHL Career: 1990-2009; Capitals: 2008-2009)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Notable Accolades:

  • 6x All-Star
  • 1994 First All-Star Team
  • 1994 Hart Trophy
  • 1994 Pearson Award
  • 2x Selke Trophy
  • 3x Stanley Cup Champion
  • Hall of Fame (2015)

Fedorov gained his fame for his unique playing style with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1990s and early-2000s. He played 1,248 NHL games, notching 1,179 career points, and became the first European-trained player to win the Hart Trophy (MVP) in 1994. The versatile Soviet was primarily a center, but also spent time at the wing and defense, something you never see at the professional level, and was revered as an all-time great postseason performer.

Fedorov played just 70 games in Washington, after a 2008 deadline trade. He would set the record for goals scored by a Russian in NHL history, finishing at 483, (before the record was smashed by Ovi back in 2015). Playing in DC from age 38-39, his best years were far behind him, which included three Stanley Cups in Detroit, but he managed to score a Game 7 game-winner vs. the Rangers in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.

8. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (MLB career: 1991-2011; Nationals: 2010-2011)

Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Notable Accolades:

  • 14x All-Star
  • 1999 AL MVP
  • 2003 NLCS MVP, World Series Champion
  • 13x Gold Glove Award
  • 7x Silver Slugger Award
  • Hall of Fame (2017)

The only National on this list is also the only Hall of Famer to wear the curly W, but he earned his first-ballot ticket to Cooperstown long before 2010. He finished just 156 hits shy of 3,000 on his career, and had 311 home runs to go with 1,332 RBI. Looking beyond the plate, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. 

Like Fedorov, he spent the last couple years of his long career in DC, playing 155 games in two seasons. Despite a .296 career batting average, the late-30s Pudge hit just .255 in his two seasons, and jacked just six home runs. One interesting fact is he caught for Stephen Strasburg’s legendary MLB debut, who may one day join Rodriguez in the Hall.

7. Adrian Peterson (Career: 2007-present; Redskins: 2018-present)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 7x Pro Bowl
  • 4x First Team All-Pro
  • 3x Second Team
  • 2012 MVP, Offensive POTY
  • 2x Bert Bell Award
  • 3x rushing champion
  • 2x rushing touchdowns leader

“All Day” is one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, and indisputably the best of his generation. The longtime Vikings star currently sits in the top 10 for career rushing yards and touchdowns, and has sustained success even as a Redskin, notching his eighth 1,000-yard season of his career in 2018.

Peterson finished just seven yards shy of the single-season rushing record during his 2012 MVP campaign, which unbelievably came after a torn ACL from late in 2011 (against the Redskins).

He also owns the single-game record with 296 yards. AP almost wasn’t a Redskin at all, as he was signed to a minimum deal only after rookie Derrius Guice tore his ACL in the preseason. Luckily, fans in Washington have been blessed to see a future Hall of Famer flash signs of his former MVP self in burgundy and gold. That’s all fans can really be excited about these days.

6. Deacon Jones (Career: 1961-1974; Redskins: 1974)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 8x Pro Bowl
  • 5x First Team All-Pro
  • 3x Second Team
  • 2x Defensive POTY
  • NFL 100 All-Time Team
  • Hall of Fame (1980)

Jones headlined the “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1960s, one of the best units in history. Jones himself revolutionized the defensive end position, with his speed and aggression often proving too much for opponents to handle. He is credited for coining the term “sack,” and while quarterback sacks never became an official statistic until 1982, it is reported Jones totaled 173 ½  sacks over his career, which would be the record at his retirement, and currently third behind Bruce Smith and Reggie White.

Jones recorded just three of those sacks with the Redskins, following a successful two year stint with the San Diego Chargers, long after he recorded 18+ sacks in five straight seasons from 1964-1968 with the Rams, including a would-be record 22 in 14 games (achieved twice, in ‘64 and ‘68). His best days may have been behind him, but it can always be said that the “Secretary of Defense,” was a Redskin, at least briefly.

5. Deion Sanders (NFL Career: 1989-2000, 2004-2005; Redskins: 2000)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 8x Pro Bowl
  • 11x First Team All-Pro (nine as CB, one each at KR and PR)
  • 1994 Defensive POTY
  • 2x Super Bowl Champion
  • NFL 100 All-Time Team
  • Part-time MLB player
  • Hall of Fame (2011)

“Prime Time” was among the most flamboyant and talented characters in professional sports through the 1990s, but it was at the turn of the millenium that owner Dan Snyder decided to make a splashy move, signing a 32-year-old Sanders to a seven-year/$56 million deal, but Sanders retired abruptly after just one season. Before that, Sanders developed a reputation as one of the best pass-defenders (and athletes) in the history of the game. He would even line up at wide receiver occasionally, becoming the first two-way starter since Roy Green and Chuck Bednarik.

He recorded 41 tackles (his fifth-highest single season total) and four interceptions in his lone season in DC, and later came out of retirement in 2004 to play for the Baltimore Ravens for two seasons. Sanders will be remembered more as an Atlanta Brave than a Redskin, and baseball was his second sport, but he was still one of the greatest players to come through Washington.

4. Jaromir Jagr (NHL Career: 1990-2018; Capitals: 2001-2004)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 13x All-Star
  • 7x NHL First All-Star Team
  • 1x Second All-Star
  • 5x Art Ross Trophy
  • 1999 Hart Trophy
  • 3x Pearson Award
  • 2016 Masterson Trophy
  • 2x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 2nd all-time point scorer in NHL history (1,921)

The 47-year-old Czech is still going strong for his hometown team, HC Kladno, but through the 1990s was a star for the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups while developing into one of the great point scorers in the league. After 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, he signed with the Caps in the largest deal in league history at the time (seven years/$77 million), but stuck around for just two-and-a-half seasons, unable to get to 40 goals or 50 assists in any season despite totaling 121 points in his final year in Pittsburgh. 

Jagr was able to get back to the 100-point threshold, totaling 123 in 2005-06 at age 33 with the New York Rangers, and after a three-and-a-half season stint there, bounced around the league until playing his final NHL game with the Calgary Flames at age 45 in the 2017-18 season. Jagr was a big disappointment in the District given the size of his contract, but was still one of the greatest players to wear the red sweaters.

3. Moses Malone (Career: 1974-1995; Bullets: 1986-1988)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 12x All-Star, 1x ABA All-Star
  • 4x First Team All-NBA
  • 4x Second Team
  • 3x MVP
  • 1983 NBA Champion, Finals MVP
  • 2x All-Defensive Team
  • 6x rebounding leader
  • Hall of Fame (2001)

The late, great “Chairman of the Boards” played two All-Star seasons in Washington, but he’ll be remembered more as a 76er and Rocket. He sits ninth all-time in career points and third all-time in rebounds, and he has the most combined ABA/NBA offensive rebounds by a wide margin. After a start in the ABA, Malone became one of the greatest players in NBA history after the merger, wearing down opponents with physicality and an unmatched motor.

Malone’s stint in Washington was still impressive, earning All-NBA Second Team honors his first season while finishing ninth in the league in points and rebounds. The next year, he recorded 55 triple-doubles in 76 games. Malone and the Bullets made the playoffs during both of his seasons, but could never make it past the first round, to no fault of Malone, who averaged 20.7 and 18.6 points along with 12.7 and 11.2 rebounds in the two series, respectively.

2. Bruce Smith (Career: 1985-2003; Redskins: 2000-2003)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 11x Pro Bowl
  • 8x First Team All-Pro
  • 2x Second Team
  • 2x Defensive POTY
  • 4x AFC Defensive POTY
  • 4x AFC Champion
  • NFL 100 All-Time Team
  • NFL Sack Record (200)
  • Hall of Fame (2009)

The Norfolk, Virginia native was selected first overall in the 1985 draft by the Buffalo Bills, and instantly became a force on the defensive line. “The Sack Man” played a key role in the Bills’ four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early-1990s. In 279 games, Smith totaled a record 200 sacks, and is considered one of the greatest players in NFL history.

Signed alongside Sanders at 37 years old, Smith stuck around for four seasons, playing in all 16 games three times, including his final age-40 season in 2003. Despite his older age, Smith was able to register 10 sacks in 2000, and nine in 2002, adding more evidence to his greatness. Smith will always be a Bill, but his late-30s stint with the Redskins was impressive in its own, less significant right.

1. Michael Jordan (Career: 1984-1993, 1995-1998, 2001-2003; Wizards: 2001-2003)

Photo Credit:

Notable Accolades:

  • 14x All-Star
  • 10x First Team All-NBA
  • 1x Second Team
  • 5x MVP
  • 6x NBA Champion, Finals MVP
  • 1988 Defensive POTY
  • 9x All-Defensive Team
  • 10x Scoring Champion
  • 3x Steals Leader
  • Hall of Fame (2009)

This one is obvious, and probably the first name you thought of when you read the headline. MJ is, by most accounts, the greatest basketball player of all time (although LeBron James has been added to the debate in recent years), and likely the most recognized/marketed athlete in history. His success in the NBA exclusively came with the Chicago Bulls, “three-peating” twice to win six NBA championships in the 1990s. I could go on and on about his greatness, but you likely know all there is to know.

Looking back on his time in DC, “His Airness” joined the organization not as a player, but a part-owner during the 1999-2000 season, taking over basketball operations. He infamously selected Kwame Brown, among the biggest busts in history, with the first overall pick in 2001. He soon joined Brown and the team in his second comeback at the start of the 2001-02 season, leading the team in scoring with 22.9 points per game at the age of 38. His final season he played all 82 games, averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. All of the Wizards’ home games were sold out, and they were the second-most watched team of the season. A falling out with owner Abe Pollin prevented him from returning to his front office job in DC, but he later became the Charlotte owner, and the ever-growing popularity of his Jordan shoe brand has made him a billionaire.

Also considered: Champ Bailey (Redskins), Phil Housley (Capitals), Paul Pierce (Wizards), Mitch Richmond (Wizards), Alfonso Soriano (Nationals)

Looking back at these great players, it’s unfortunate they could not have spent their primes in Washington. While we’ll always appreciate the contributions of Green, Hayes and Ovi, it’s nice to at least have some claim to the guys on this list. 

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