In the 2000 Olympics, unknown pudgy American wrestler Rulon Gardner came out of nowhere to beat the Russian who was favored to win the gold (the Russian won the gold at the last three Olympics and hadn't lost a match in the last 13 years). Comparisons to Rocky IV are tempting, but the matchup was less Rockyish, but more like John Candy versus the giant Grizzly bear in The Great Outdoors; if the bear was a menacingly stoic communist, which we assume most bears are.
All of this happened despite the fact the universe clearly wants Gardner dead.
As inspirational as it was, a single Olympic win by itself wouldn't be enough to classify a Mormon dairy farmer as a true badass. And the fact that he only won a bronze medal in the next Olympics might seem like a bit of a letdown, until you consider that by then he had a toe amputated due to frostbite. And that leads us to the meat of Gardner's badass credentials.
We're just at the tip of the ice-toe-berg.
The aforementioned amputated toe was a result of frostbite from being stranded on a wilderness trip after his snowmobile broke down. Years before, in grade school, he was impaled by an arrow during a show-and-tell incident (but badass props of his own to the nine-year-old that brought a crossbow for show-and-tell.). In 2004, he was hit by a car while he was on his motorcycle.
Most Badass Act:
Death's most recent (and spectacular) attempt on Rulon's life came in 2007, when he survived a fucking airplane crash. Gardner and two others were onboard when the Cirrus SR-22 crashed into a lake. After impact, the trio swam over an hour in 44-degree water (finally shedding the Unbreakable comparisons by showing that water obviously wasn't his kryptonite) and then endured overnight without fire or shelter in below freezing temperature.
Then he fought a man on the Great Wall of China.
We're not sure if the constant string of disasters prove that God is out to get him, or if his survival shows that Mormonism is the one true religion.
Simply put, Ted Williams may very well have been the most manly American ever. He wanted to be the greatest hitter who ever played baseball, and refused to let anything, including two separate wars, get in the way. He cursed like a sailor, refused to wear a necktie and included his hotel number on autographed baseballs signed for beautiful women.
"Neckties are just maxi pads for your throat." - Ted Williams
On the final day of the 1941 season, he refused to sit, even though he had a .39955 batting average that would have been rounded up to an even .400--a mark no one had reached in years. But Williams rejected the idea of sitting out and played in both games of a doubleheader. He went six for eight, and finished the season at .406. No one has hit .400 since.
Williams career was interrupted by war not once, but twice. During WWII, despite being classified 3-A and at no risk to be drafted, he voluntarily joined the military.
But how else was he going to legally kill foreigners?
Williams could have received an easy assignment playing on the service baseball team, but instead, he joined the V-5 program to become a Naval aviator. He would miss almost four years of his baseball prime while serving.
Eight years later, he would be recalled into the Marines. Again refusing a comfortable "goodwill" job playing baseball, Williams flew into 39 combat missions, survived a crash landing and was good enough to spend part of the war as John Glenn's wingman. Yes, the same John Glenn who was a good enough pilot to later move beyond planes and start flying into space.
Space, like most women, was just steps away from being slam-fucked by Ted Williams.
After retirement, having mastered baseball, war and (presumably) lesbian twin menage-a-trois, Williams decided to complete the holy trinity of first half of the century manly acts by becoming one of the greatest deep sea fishermen of all-time. He became so good that he was named to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame alongside Ernest Hemingway and S. Kip Farrington. Yep, THE S. Kip Harrington.
Couldn't find a picture of S. Kip Harrington. Here's Kip Winger. Make it work. - Photo Research Department
Most Badass Act:
Even though he died in 2002, Williams's most badass moment may be yet to come. That's because shortly after his death, his body, or at least his head, was cryogenically frozen. For "The Splendid Splinter," death, like war, might be nothing more than a temporary annoyance. It's entirely possible that when all is said and done, Teddy Ballgame's most badass act will be returning to save the world from the Alien Zombie Invasion of 2546.
Just in time for Boston to win its next championship.
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For more athletes who couldn't be bothered to give even 1/100th of a damn, check out 11 Baseball Legends Who Were Legendary Assholes and 7 Great Sports Moments (That Might Have Been Fixed).
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 4.09.10) to see our how to be like Jack Johnson guide.