By Steve Rushin
August 07, 2012

"What's in a name?" asked William Shakespeare, who remains the best William of all time (just ahead of Shatner) and the second best Shakespeare ever (after the late Miami Hurricanes receiver Stanley Shakespeare). Answer: Names contain multitudes. Names connect people (and non-people) of wildly different talents, be they Mickeys (Mantle, Mouse) or Rickys (Rubio, Ricardo). The following power index, which will appear at regular intervals, is a definitive ranking of people who share the same first or last name. It is almost entirely serious and thoroughly pseudoscientific. It is arbitrary and inarguable and above all fair-weather, reflecting the subjects' status this very week, preferably this very hour.

This week, to mark the XXX Olympics, anchored by NBC's Bob Costas, we rank history's Top Bobs. These are Bobs only, so don't complain about the missing Bobbys (Orr, Hull, Thomson, Clarke, Fischer, Brady), Robs (Gronkowski, Zombie), Roberts (DeNiro, Frost, Downey Jr.), Robertos (Clemente, Alomar, Kelly) Robbys (Benson), Robbies (Robertson), Robins (Roberts, Ventura), Bobos (Newsom) or Bobcats (Goldthwait).


Probably the greatest songwriter of all time and possibly the most celebrated native of Hibbing, Minn., though it certainly depends who you ask. The former Robert Zimmerman remains a much better musician than -- but a vastly inferior post player to -- his fellow Hibbingite Kevin McHale.

A child prodigy like Mozart or the Olsen twins, the flamethrowing righthander left Van Meter, Iowa, for the big leagues at age 17, enlisted in the Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor and served as Chief Petty Officer Feller aboard the USS Alabama before doing the unthinkable in 1948 -- leading the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. He was called the best pitcher of his era by two minor authorities on the subject: Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

Reggae god, Rastafarian, dreadlocked juggler of soccer balls in his dressing room, wearer of adidas boots and alleged supporter of Tottenham Hotspur, he provided an excellent guide to daily living with the line, "Woke up this morning, smiled at the rising sun ..."

Mazy-dribbling ghost of our black-and-white dreams, winner of six NBA titles, Cousy married Globetrotter skills to Hickory High fundamentals while rocking a surname synonymous with keeping your beer cold, all of which gives him the nod as basketball's Top Bob over three worthy aspirants: Bobs Pettit, McAdoo and Lanier.

He was so disturbingly dominant that baseball lowered the mound following the 1968 season, when Gibson's 1.12 ERA set a new record for the live-ball era. He struck out 17 batters in Game 1 of the World Series that year, aided by his terrifying reputation: Gibson would famously throw at your grandmother if she dug in against him at the plate, though why she would do this is anybody's guess. As a bonus, Gibson was occasionally caught in an All-Bob Battery by this man ...

As a player (for the Braves, Cards and Phillies), broadcaster (Brewers), spokesman (most memorably for Miller Lite) and sportswriter (on the sitcom Mr. Belvedere), Uecker hit for the sports cycle. Paradoxically became famous by talking about what a nobody he is. "I didn't get a lot of awards as a player," went his routine. "But they did have a 'Bob Uecker Day Off' for me in Philadelphia."

His 902 wins are second-most in NCAA basketball history, after his former player at West Point, Mike Krzyzewski. That achievement is sometimes obscured by the sheer force of his chair tossing and sweater-wearing -- the ampersand-and-asterisk cloud of cartoon profanity that seemed to follow him everywhere. Relatively late in life he became a convert to Bob-ism, after decades as a Bobby.

Ski-jump-nosed entertainer of countless GIs, host of innumerable NBC specials, road-trip buddy of Bing Crosby and rat-a-tat teller of golf jokes: "If you think golf is relaxing you're not playing it right."

Long before his starring roles in the TV shows that bore his name, his Kalahari-dry wit was featured on the seminal comedy album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop album chart and featured Nobody Will Ever Play Baseball, a routine about Abner Doubleday trying to sell the National Pastime to a modern board game company.

Has anyone ever sung more poignantly about the ever-turning hamster-wheel that is the human brain at 3 a.m.?: Woke last night to the sound of thunder/How far off I sat and wondered. Or: Later in the evening as you lie awake in bed/With the echoes of the amplifiers ringin' in your head ... Among his many fans is fellow Bob-from-Michigan Bob Ritchie, a.k.a. Kid Rock.

The genial general contractor -- in stark contrast to the one you hired to finish your basement -- "gets the job done," almost always with the help of Scoop, Muck and Dizzy. His indefatigable spirit -- "Can we fix it? Yes we can!" -- makes him the best-loved and most famous fictional British Bob since Bob Cratchit, wronged employee of Ebenezer Scrooge and father to Tiny Tim.

Hall of Fame defensive tackle and linchpin of the Cowboys Doomsday Defense, in Super Bowl VI he set a record by sacking the Dolphins quarterback for a 29-yard loss. This was a collision of two titanic Bobs, for the quarterback in question was, of course ...

He lost that Super Bowl, but won the next two en route to Canton.

A year before Neil Armstrong did it, Beamon made one giant leap for mankind at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. His gold-medal-winning long jump of 29 feet, 2 ½ inches broke the previous world record by nearly two feet and would stand for the next 23 years as an inspiration to anyone looking, in a very short time, to improve in their chosen field by leaps and bounds, as it were.

He played fullback for Stanford in the 1952 Rose Bowl and won the decathlon gold medal in that year's Olympics in Helsinki. Not a bad few months. It was Mathias's second decathlon gold, by the way: He'd won it in London four years earlier -- at age 17.

The face of NBC's prime time Olympic coverage, with its tape-delayed triumphs and time-shifted heartbreaks, leading many to complain that Costas delayed is Costas denied. He belongs on a Mount Rushmore of Television Bobs, beside Bob Barker, Bob Keeshan and Bob Denver, a monument we ought to start chiseling soon, here in our United States of Bob.

Other Bobs Receiving Votes: Bob Allison, Bob Vila, Bob Arum, Bob Backlund, Bob Boone, Bob Brenly, Bob Evans, Bob Saget, Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Bob Woodward, Bob Weir, Bob Dole, Bob Horner, Bob Lemon, Bob Brown, Bob Ross, Bob Hayes.

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