He was far from the biggest bass ever caught--that was the 22-pound, four-ouncer reeled in by Georgia farmer George Washington Perry in 1932--but six-pound, seven-ounce Leroy Brown was surely the smartest. When bass-fishing great Tom Mann pulled him out of Lake Eufaula in '73, he said he noticed the fish's "intelligent eyes." He put Brown in a tank at his Eufaula, Ala., bait shop and the fish learned to jump through a hoop above the water. Mann said Brown was so brainy he never bit a test hook and bumped other fish so they wouldn't either; he was also so caring, or so in denial, that he pushed dead fish back down when they began to float. Hundreds came daily to see Brown, and his funeral, in '81, drew 700 mourners. The sculpture erected in his honor in Eufaula is inscribed: Most Bass/Are Just Fish/But Leroy Brown/Was Something Special.
In 1952 and '53 he outlasted hundreds of dogs over scores of competitions to win consecutive National Retriever Championships--a feat not duplicated for more than 40 years. "The first really famous retriever," as he's called by American Kennel Club retriever expert Bill Speck, was honored on the '59 federal duck stamp, the only dog to ever to appear on one. All for a retriever who weighed just 60 pounds, 20 pounds less than many others. "He was a little boy," says Speck, "but he had a big heart."
LITTLE YELLOW JACKET
The 1,750-pound Brangus bull, part-owned by Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin, won an unprecedented third straight Bull of the Year title on the Pro Bullriders' tour in 2004--at the ripe old age of eight. "It's like he's a 40-year-old linebacker," says Cody Lambert, the PBR's vice president. Little Yellow Jacket began his career in 1999, and riders have stayed on him for the full eight seconds only 12 times in 86 career trips. "You're talking about a true athlete," says '97 PBR champion Michael Gaffney. "He had a hop-skip and a quick switchback, and he'd mix it up. He adapted to each rider. And when he threw you off, you knew he loved it. Before rodeos they'd take the trailer out to the pasture, and he'd run to get in because he loved going to the next event."
The world's most famous pigeon (its preserved body is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American history in Washington) has only one leg. The other was shot off in 1918 while Cher Ami was successfully carrying his 12th and final message some 25 miles to American troops in Verdun, France, during World War I. The note, which the carrier pigeon delivered despite also taking a German bullet through the breast, alerted U.S. forces to the location of the 77th Infantry's "Lost Battalion." Soldiers were therefore able to locate more than 200 soldiers and to return them safely behind American lines. Cher Ami, who died the following year of his injuries, received the French Croix de Guerre and in 1931 he was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame for his bravery.
Before Texas' Bevo, before Colorado's Ralphie, before LSU's Mike the Tiger and long before Georgia's UGA, there was Handsome Dan of Yale. The nation's longest-running live-animal mascot line welcomed its 16th member earlier this year. The first Handsome Dan, whose stuffed body is on view in the school's Payne Whitney Gymnasium (left) was purchased by a student for five dollars in 1889. That inaugural Dan helped guide the Elis to 125 victories in 131 games, inspiring Cole Porter (class of 1913) to write the song Bull Dog. The ninth Handsome Dan made SI's cover in '56, two years after nearly drowning in the Housatonic River while attending a crew race; the 12th might have been named Handsome Danielle--she was the line's only female--and the 13th lunched with a certain alumnus: the elder President Bush.
Many dolphins played the role of the 7'8", 300-pound TV and film star. One became an original Miami Dolphin. Patrolling a 16,500-gallon tank behind the east end zone at the Orange Bowl, he would jump into the air and do backflips after each Miami score. "Everyone cheered for Flipper more than for anyone else," recalls former Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian, seen here shaking Flipper's fin in 1972. Adds former Miami quarterback Bob Griese, "When a guy kicked an extra point at that end of the field a lot of times the ball would go in Flipper's tank. The wet football sometimes got back in the game, and if there was a lot of scoring it could get a little waterlogged." Flipper lost his job in '72 (he was removed to make room for more seats), but his spirit was revived in the '94 Jim Carrey vehicle, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in which Snowflake, a thinly veiled version of Flipper, is stolen from a tank at the football stadium.
CH. MY OWN BRUCIE
"The Michael Jordan of the dog world," says Bill Gorodner, co-author of The World of the Cocker Spaniel. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y.--bred Brucie won best-in-show at Westminster in 1940 and '41, defeating more than 14,000 dogs. In an era in which most champions were European, he helped make the cocker spaniel the most popular breed in America through the '40s. During four years of competition he was never beaten in his breed, and his animated performances alongside owner Herman Mellenthin made him a bankable star. Brucie did ads for Hunter Fine Blended Whiskey, in which he was billed as the "Greatest Show-Dog of All Time." When he died of kidney trouble in '43, his obituary appeared in The New York Times and said in part, "He was brilliant in the ring, a beautiful showman and was the idol of the dog-show public."
MICK THE MILLER
Upon Mick's retirement, in 1931, London's Sunday Despatch wrote, "Mick the Miller was not the first, and it is certain he will not be the last animal hero of the British public, but there will be none greater." The Irish-born greyhound's astounding career--chronicled in the 2004 book The Legend of Mick the Miller, Sporting Icon of the Depression--included wins in the English Derby in 1929 and '30. He had an unheard-of 19-race winning streak before starring in the '34 film Wild Boy, in which he escapes kidnappers to win the derby. His body stands at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire.
JIM THE WONDER DOG
Born in Missouri in 1925, the black and white Llewellyn setter was not only a terrific hunter--he led his owner, the hotelier Samuel Van Arsdale, to some 5,000 birds--he was also thought to be psychic. He picked the winners of 1936 World Series and seven consecutive Kentucky Derbys. Jim gave performances across his home state and baffled professors at the University of Missouri by following commands in several languages, picking out cars by their license plates and identifying types of trees. Jim died in '37. In '99 his hometown of Marshall [pop. 12,017] opened the Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden, which surrounds the statue above. "You can't go by it without seeing someone in there," says mayor Connie Latimer. "Everybody in Marshall knows who he is."
On Aug. 28, 1947, the 30-year-old torero Manuel Rodriguez--"Manolete"--entered the bullring in Linares, Spain. He was the world's greatest matador and his opponent was a 1,000-pound bull, Islero, of the fierce Miura breed. The animal immediately proved a difficult test. As LIFE reported, "The bull refused to follow the matador's cape, stopping short after each charge to glare at Manolete." After a long battle, Manolete went for the kill, "plunging the sword so far in that he wet his fingers in Islero's blood," according to one account. But with his horn, Islero opened a long, ragged gash in the matador's groin, before collapsing dead. In the infirmary Manolete accepted Islero's ears and tail as a trophy, but 10 hours and four blood transfusions later, the bullfighter died. "If Charlie Chaplin and Babe Ruth and General MacArthur all died at once, Americans would not feel the loss as poignantly as millions of Spaniards and their cousins felt the death of Manolete," wrote TIME. Islero made headlines again in the late '60s, when Lamborghini produced a limited edition sports car named in his honor.
BALTO AND TOGO
The annual Iditarod sled race commemorates these courageous Siberian huskies, who in February of 1925 led dog teams on the famous Serum Run that went through 674 miles of stormy Alaskan wilderness and saved the city of Nome from a diphtheria outbreak. The 3-year-old Balto (right) led driver Gunnar Kaasen's team on the final 53-mile leg through an 80-mile-per-hour blizzard, and has been lionized with a bronze statue in New York City's Central Park as well as a three-part animated film series. Togo (below), though less celebrated, performed the more yeomanly feat, guiding musher Leonhard Seppala and his team for 260 miles despite his advanced age (12) and his small size (48 pounds, about 12 pounds less than his peers).
CARICATURE'S COLIN POWELL
When Sig and Sharyn Hauck of Connecticut began breeding ink-black, shorthaired Bombay cats in 1997, they named them after African-American leaders. "The Bombay was almost endangered. We wanted to not only bring it back but give it some meaning," Sig says. Colin, the son of Isaac Hayes and Jamaica Kincaid, was born on Sept. 11, 2002 and went on to beat a record 22,700 competitors to win the Cat Fancier Association's 2004 Cat of the Year. He met his namesake last year. Powell played with Colin, and accepted an offer to christen his first kitten, born July 4, 2004. He named him Ralph Bunche, after the diplomat who was the first black American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The rambunctious barrel racer won 10 straight world titles from 1984 to '93 and is the only barrel horse in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
All thoroughbred horses descend from one of three Arabian stallions brought from the Middle East to England between 1689 and 1730. Famous for their stamina, the Arabians begat a breed able to sustain speed over extended distances. Later, thoroughbreds were crossed to create other breeds meant for sport. Below, a few branches of their sprawling family tree. BY GENE MENEZ
Named for Capt. Robert Byerley, who captured the horse from the Turks in 1688. He was the captain's mount in the Battle of Boyne in 1690.
Bought from a Syrian tribe by consul Thomas Darley in 1704. Sired, among many others, Bulle Rock, the first thoroughbred brought to the U.S.
Brought to Paris then to England in about 1730 by Edward Coake, then acquired by the Earl of Godolphin, who put him to stud.
The undersized colt upset Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a 1938 match race and lifted a nation's spirits in the Depression. Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit has sold seven million copies and spawned a movie.
Big Red transcended racing: He was on the covers of SI, TIME and Newsweek in '73. Then he crushed the Belmont field by 31 lengths to win the Triple Crown. His heart was, literally, twice normal size.
The filly was never beaten--nor even headed--in 10 starts. In July '75 she led a battle-of-the-sexes match race with Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, when she shattered her right foreleg and was put down.
With his owners donating some of his earnings to cancer research, the nimble bay raced into fans' hearts this year. He won the Preakness despite a scary stumble, then took the Belmont by seven lengths.
DASH FOR CASH
The Texas-bred won 21 of 25 starts--including Champion of Champions in '76 and '77. He sired 1,370 foals, who won more than $39 million.
The high-stepping hackney is called the "aristocrat of the show ring," and he was probably the best ever, winning three world titles ('99, '00, '03).
A century ago no athlete was more popular. The harness champ lowered the mile record, won all 73 of his races and made millions endorsing products.
A failure on the racetrack, he switched to show jumping and became America's best, winning 31 grand prix, including three in '83, at age 21.