Great athletes tend to have skill sets that would translate into success in multiple sports. A strong arm is a strong arm, no matter what kind of ball you throw. Speed can be a powerful weapon whether you're running the fast break, rounding third, or streaking towards the end zone. The Yankees, in their never-ending pursuit of the best talent available, are keenly aware of this and have drafted many athletes that went on to great success in sports other than baseball. Most of those guys plied their trade on the gridiron, so on this Super Bowl Sunday morning, let's take a look back at some of the most notable would-be Yankees.
Charlie Ward - Yankees' 18th round pick in 1994
The 1993 Heisman Trophy winner and college football National Champion did not even play baseball at Florida State University. However, he was so impressive as a quarterback that he was drafted as a pitching prospect first by the Brewers in 1993 then by the Yankees a year later. Deemed too small to be an NFL quarterback, Ward wasn't selected in the NFL draft out of college, but he had another option besides baseball. He was a four-year letterman in basketball as a point guard while at FSU and was selected in the first round of 1994's NBA draft by the Knicks. Ward went on to have a solid, if unspectacular, 11-year career in the NBA. Thanks to the sorry state of the Giants and Jets during most of his Knicks career, the running joke was that he was the best quarterback in New York.
Deion Sanders - Yankees' 30th round pick in 1988
One of only two men on this list to actually don the pinstripes was also a product of Florida State University. There he was a star cornerback and kick returner on the football field and outfielder on the baseball diamond with speed as his greatest asset. Sanders played in parts of the 1989 and 1990 seasons with the Yankees. The only real highlight was a thrilling inside the park home run in a game that featured another famous athlete on this list. With the Yankees not convinced that he was committed to baseball, he was released that year but went on to spend seven more seasons in the big leagues with limited success. His real calling was football where, as a defensive back, he shied away from contact, but dominated the game in other ways. As a ball-hawk and kick returner with unparalleled breakaway speed, he was an eight-time All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion during his Hall of Fame career.
Daunte Culpepper - Yankees' 26th round pick in 1995
At 6' 4 and 265 pounds, Culpepper was a physical specimen that could seemingly succeed in any sport he chose. He was a three-sport star in high school and, despite being drafted by the Yankees as an outfielder, chose not to sign with them. Instead, he attended college at the University of Central Florida where he focused solely on football. There he was a four-year starter at quarterback and wrote himself into the NCAA record books by exceeding 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in his career. He was drafted in the first round by the Vikings he was every bit the lethal weapon that Cam Newton is considered to be right now. In his first five seasons as a starting quarterback, he was named to the Pro Bowl three times, but a knee injury derailed his career in 2005 and he was done as an effective player at just 28 years old.
Drew Henson - Yankees' 3rd round pick in 1998
As one of the most hyped players on this list, Henson certainly became the most disappointing when it came to a professional career. Drafted out of high school as a third baseman by the Yankees, he signed a whopping $17 million dollar contract that stipulated he would not play in the NFL. Still, he attended Michigan University where he played football as a quarterback. In his first two seasons there he split time with Tom Brady before becoming the full-time starter in his junior year. Meanwhile, he toiled in the lower levels of the Yankees minor league system with mixed results. In 2000, the Yankees included him as part of the deal that brought Denny Neagle to the Bronx, but he was traded back less than a year later. Between 2002 and 2003 he played in a total of eight major league games before officially retiring as a baseball player in order to pursue a career in the NFL. That environment proved to be no different for him as he failed to break through as a starter in stints with the Cowboys, Vikings, and Lions across five seasons.
John Elway - Yankees' 2nd round pick in 1981
John Elway the football player was a rare dual threat. He had a rocket for a right arm and the ability to scramble with the best of them, which made him an ideal quarterback. That also made him an ideal baseball player as he could both pitch and play the outfield. He was drafted by the Royals out of high school in 1979, but chose not to sign and was again drafted by the Yankees in 1981. By that time he was a star quarterback at Stanford University, but still found time to show a lot of promise as a baseball player. He spent the summer of 1982 playing for the low-A Oneonta Yankees, posting a .318/.432/.464 slash line with eight assists from the outfield in just 42 games. When he was chosen as the number one overall pick by the Baltimore Colts in the 1983 NFL draft, Elway used the Yankees as leverage to negotiate a trade out of Baltimore to the Denver Broncos. It's hard to argue he didn't make the right choice. He played in five Super Bowls with the Broncos and won two of them back-to-back to close out his Hall of Fame playing career. He's now their general manager as they look to add a third Lombardi Trophy tonight.
Bo Jackson - Yankees' 2nd round pick in 1982
The argument can be made that Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete of all time. The perfect storm of pure power and blazing speed, he could run through defenders as easily as he could run past them. He could also hit a baseball a country mile with relative ease. For that reason, the Yankees drafted him out of high school early in the 1982 draft, but he had his heart set on attending Auburn University. During his four years at Auburn, he was a dominant force as an outfielder, running back, and a decathlete. After college, Jackson was drafted by the Royals in the MLB Draft and by the Buccaneers in the NFL draft. He controversially chose to focus on baseball before his football rights eventually landed with the Raiders in 1987. From that point, he became a legendary dual-sport athlete. In 1989, he was named the MLB All-Star game MVP during a season in which he drove in over 100 runs and crushed over 30 long balls. A year later he was named to the NFL Pro Bowl after averaging well over five yards per carry. However, his assault on the sports world came to a screeching halt in that season's first playoff game. A seemingly innocent play resulted in a serious hip injury for Jackson. He would never play football again and could only muster two more part-time seasons of baseball. Luckily for those who still have Nintendo, his legend lives on via Tecmo Super Bowl.