Top 10 Texas Born Athletes of All Time


Texas, the second-largest state in the United States, boasts a wealth of reasons to be admired. It’s not only a haven for rodeo enthusiasts and country music fans, but also a vibrant hub for sports. In fact, Texas is a state with a rich sporting culture. From professional football and basketball to hockey, Texas has been breeding sports players since it came into existence. Each of these players has one way or the other, contributed their share to make Texas as famous as we see it today. So let’s take a look at some legends that Texas has created.

1. Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith

Emmitt James Smith III, an iconic American professional football player, made his mark in the National Football League (NFL) as a running back for 15 seasons, primarily during the 1990s and 2000s. He’s best known for his time with the Dallas Cowboys, where he became a three-time Super Bowl champion and the league’s all-time leading rusher. A standout achievement that sets him apart from other Texas-born football greats is his first-round selection in the 1990 NFL Draft.

Throughout his career, Smith amassed an impressive 18,355 rushing yards, surpassing Walter Payton’s record. He remains the only running back to ever win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award in a single season.

Smith’s playing style was effective, if not flashy. While he wasn’t the fastest or most elusive, his ability to follow blockers made him unstoppable. Known for his powerful legs, exceptional balance, and excellent vision, Emmitt Smith was a true force on the football field.

2. George Foreman

George Foreman, when he was young

George Foreman, known as “Big George,” is a renowned American professional boxer famed for his formidable prowess in the ring. With his powerful hands, Foreman achieved an impressive record, losing only five bouts in his career. He not only clinched the world heavyweight championship twice but also secured an Olympic gold medal. Despite a challenging childhood, Foreman’s journey in boxing is one of remarkable triumph.

His amateur boxing career peaked at the 1968 Summer Olympics, where he won his first and only gold medal. Turning professional the following year, he famously defeated the undefeated Joe Frazier in a world heavyweight bout, securing a stunning second-round knockout. Foreman successfully defended his title twice before facing a professional defeat in the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” match against Muhammad Ali in 1974.

Throughout his career, Foreman earned numerous accolades, including being ranked among the top 10 heavyweights 17 times, the third-most in history, and his induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame. After a loss to Jimmy Young in 1977, he retired from boxing and has since found success as a prosperous entrepreneur.

3. Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan, a celebrated former pitcher in American Major League Baseball, played for the New York Mets, Houston Astros, California Angels, and Texas Rangers over an impressive 27-year career. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, Ryan was renowned for his formidable right-handed pitches, consistently clocking in over 100 miles per hour. Remarkably, he maintained this velocity throughout his entire career. With a lifetime record of 324-292, Ryan was also an eight-time MLB All-Star.

Notably, Ryan is the only player in modern Major League history to have played more seasons than anyone else. He holds the record for the most strikeouts and no-hitters and ranks first for the fewest hits allowed per nine innings. Additionally, he’s fifth in innings pitched, seventh in shutouts, and tied for 14th in wins. While critics have debated his performance, balancing his positive and negative statistics, Ryan’s extraordinary achievements and on-field prowess ultimately overshadowed any perceived shortcomings, earning him recognition as one of the best pitchers of his time.

4. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong, a former professional road racing cyclist, is known for his remarkable feat of winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times, a record that once made him the most successful cyclist in the world. His remarkable recovery from testicular cancer added to his respect in the professional cycling community.

However, Armstrong’s legacy was significantly marred by a doping scandal, casting doubt on his achievements from 1998 onwards, including his Tour de France titles. Despite his successful career, doping allegations constantly surrounded him. The situation escalated with revelations from his former teammate, Floyd Landis, whose 2006 Tour de France victory was nullified. Landis implicated several cyclists, including Armstrong, in using performance-enhancing drugs.

Physiologically, Armstrong was notable for his anaerobic capacity, recorded at 83.8 mL/kg/min. While this is significantly higher than the average person, it was lower compared to other Tour de France winners. At his peak, Armstrong’s resting heart rate was an extraordinarily low 32-34 beats per minute, and his maximum heart rate reached 201 bpm.

5. Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan, an American professional golfer, is celebrated as one of the greatest players in golf history. He is renowned for his significant influence on golf swing theory and his exceptional ball-striking ability. Over his career, Hogan clinched nine major championships, tying with Gary Player for the fourth all-time highest. He is also one of only five players to have won all four major tournaments: the PGA Championship, the Masters Tournament, The Open, and the U.S. Open.

Hogan stood out as an extraordinary ball striker, a skill that eclipsed even his impressive record of 64 PGA Tour victories. His relentless practice regimen set him apart from his competitors, and he was famously dedicated to perfecting his craft, often spending hours hitting balls. Hogan’s swing, considered one of the best of his time, was the result of tireless experimentation with various theories and techniques, culminating in his most successful period.

6. Mike Modano

Mike Modano

Mike Modano, a celebrated American former professional ice hockey player, holds the record for the most goals and points by an American-born player in NHL history. He played a pivotal role in popularizing hockey in Texas and was rightfully inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2017, he was honored as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.

Modano’s impressive career spanned about 20 years, predominantly with Dallas, where he not only showcased his skill but also helped secure a Stanley Cup victory. He achieved the remarkable feat of scoring over 1000 points throughout his career. Modano announced his retirement from hockey in 2011 during a press conference in Dallas. Today, he is fondly remembered as the finest hockey player to emerge from or make a mark in Texas.

7. Shawn Michaels

Shawn Michaels

Michael Shawn Hickenbottom, better known by his ring name Shawn Michaels, is a celebrated American retired professional wrestler. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers in history, Michaels had a noteworthy career in the WWF but retired in 1998 due to a back injury. Throughout his career, he received numerous accolades for his performances, earning high praise from critics.

His memorable match against Ric Flair was honored as the Match of the Decade by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Known for his exceptional performances at WrestleMania, he earned the nickname “Mr. WrestleMania.” Michaels was also famous for his rivalry with Bret Hart, who was considered one of the greatest in WWE history. After an eight-year hiatus, he made a return to the ring, which drew significant criticism from fans and media alike.

Today, Michaels contributes to the wrestling world by running a wrestling academy and has authored several books related to wrestling. His illustrious career includes being a two-time AWA World Tag Team Champion, four-time World Champion, three-time WWF Champion, and World Heavyweight Champion, among other titles.

8. Earl Campbell

Campbell rushing the ball early

Texas has always been a breeding ground for some of the greatest football players in history, and Earl Campbell stands as a prime example. Throughout his career, from high school to the professional leagues, he consistently demonstrated both class and excellence. At John Tyler High School, Campbell not only led the team to a state championship but also earned the title of national high school player of the year.

During his tenure at the University of Texas, Campbell’s stellar performance culminated in winning the Heisman Trophy in his senior year, and he was subsequently chosen as the No.1 NFL draft pick. His professional accolades include being a five-time Pro Bowler and earning the league MVP title twice. Beyond his records and accolades, Campbell was renowned for his tough, physically dominant playing style, which set him apart on the field.

9. A.J. Foyt

A.J. Foyt, born on January 16, 1935, in Houston, is a legendary auto-racing figure known for his extraordinary versatility. Foyt’s talent was so remarkable that he could win a race in his pickup truck if necessary. He achieved first-place finishes in a variety of vehicles, including open-wheel cars, midget cars, sprint cars, and stock cars.

Foyt holds the unique distinction of being the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (which he claimed four times), the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is also the only racer to have won the Indy 500 in front and rear-engine cars. He also holds the record for the most victories under the U.S. Auto Club. In recognition of his unparalleled achievements, the Associated Press named him alongside Mario Andretti, the Co-Driver of the Century, in 1999.

10. Trevor Brazile

Trevor Brazile stands as a towering figure in the world of rodeo, especially in Texas. He set an impressive record with his 25th PRCA world champion title in 2019, the most in history. Brazile also holds an unmatched record of 14 World All-Around Cowboy Championship titles. In 2008, he marked another milestone by becoming the first PRCA cowboy to surpass $3 million in career earnings. Among Texas athletes, none have come close to matching the remarkable achievements of Brazile in his illustrious career.

Final Word

This wraps up our roundup of the top 10 Texas-born athletes of all time. Looking at these remarkable individuals, from Emmitt Smith to George Foreman, it’s clear that Texas has a rich legacy of nurturing and producing exceptional talent across various sports. This state has truly made a significant mark in the world of athletics.

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