On the back of Harlequins installing a model bear at their HQ, Matt Jones looks at the best tributes paid to legendary players and coaches
New Harlequins director of rugby Paul Gustard isn’t the only new sight at the club’s Twickenham Stoop ground this summer, with a 6ft 3in model bear having appeared at the club’s headquarters in a bid to create a new era of aggressive defence.
The new feature was revealed by South African fly-half Demetri Catrakilis, who lifted the lid on the first big left-field move of Gustard’s reign – the man was after all responsible for Saracens’ ‘Wolfpack’ defensive system, which at one point saw him take a real wolf to training.
And now the 42-year-old and has provided Quins with their very own spirit animal.
That got us to thinking. What are some of the best or wackiest statues built outside sports grounds or in memory of famous former players down the years?
Here are our top five best tributes to some legendary athletes and coaches.
They may be somewhat in the doldrums now, but Manchester United are one of the most successful and recognised teams in world football. Many will put that down to Sir Alex Ferguson’s sublime 26-year reign that ended in 2013 – ushering in the recent years of slight decline.
But United’s swashbuckling football and glittering rise to prominence was actually sparked by Sir Matt Busby in the 1950s.
The club’s three greatest players of Busby’s era – and three of the best ever – were George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, who now greet fans as they enter Old Trafford.
Throughout the 1960s all three would be voted as the winner of the Ballon d’Or. Law won it in 1964, Charlton in 1966 and Best in 1968.
Since then only Cristiano Ronaldo has won it while wearing red, in 2008. Combined, the players scored 665 goals in 1,633 games.
The Spirit was commissioned in honor of Jordan’s three-peat championship legacy, leading the Chicago Bulls to a trio of NBA Championships from 1991-93.
The statue was commissioned in response to his original retirement announcement in October ’93. It was unveiled in November 1994 outside the United Center in Chicago.
The exact pose of Jordan in mid-flight is left for artistic interpretation, but speculations include his 63-point performance against Boston in the 1986 NBA playoffs and his jumpman logo that has been on Jordan branded Nike products since the 80s.
Its black granite base includes an inscription from the movie A River Runs Through It, which reads: “At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection. He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.”
The fact the trophy earned by Super Bowl winners is called the Vince Lombardi Trophy should tell you all you need to know about the esteem in which this legend of American football is held.
Iconic Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, is where you’ll find the 14-foot statue of the great Lombardi. The former coach of the Packers is one of the most successful and revered coaches in NFL history.
He was the head coach and general manager of the Packers from 1959 to 1967 where he led the team to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years, but his list of accomplishments goes way past championships and Super Bowl victories.
He was an innovator in his field that was not only respected by his peers, but football enthusiasts around the world.
Williams played his entire 19-year Major League Baseball career for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960, only interrupted by service time during World War II and the Korean War.
‘The Kid’ as he was known was an All-Star for all of 19 years and is renowned as one of the sport’s greatest players, but his frequent visits to children at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are what inspired Franc Talarico’s creation that stands outside Gate B of the famous Fenway Park.
The eight-and-a-half-foot-tall statue is of Williams holding a baseball bat and placing a hat on the head of a young boy who adoringly looks up at him. It was sculpted in honor of Williams after his death in 2002.
Nicknamed ‘the Iceman’ or ‘Ice’, not because of his legendary coolness under pressure but because of the number of icepacks he needed for his various injuries, Michael Jones is enshrined at the home of New Zealand rugby – Eden Park – in bronze.
And he is revered as one of All Blacks rugby’s true greats. Now among a stellar list that includes the likes of Colin Meads, Richie McCaw, Sean Fitzpatrick and Wayne Shelford, that is some feat. The back row forward was named Rugby World magazine’s third best All Black of the 20th century after Meads and Fitzpatrick, while former coach John Hart called him “almost the perfect rugby player”.
Jones is captured outside Eden Park scoring the first try of the 1987 Rugby World Cup. The likeness of him diving for the tryline for the first touchdown of the tournament graces rugby HQ in Auckland.