While it obviously didn’t end the way local sports fans hoped, we experienced the joy of witnessing one of the greatest seasons in local sports history thanks to the Baltimore Ravens. And at the heart of the Ravens’ 2019 season was one of the greatest individual seasons in local sports history — an MVP campaign from quarterback Lamar Jackson.
With that in mind, we offer The 15 “Greatest Individual Seasons In Baltimore Sports History.” For the sake of narrowing the net we would be forced to cast, only major pro sports and Division I basketball, football and lacrosse athletes were considered. So apologies to Stan Stamenkovic (1983-84 Baltimore Blast), Mike Pringle (1995 Baltimore Stallions) and a slew of other deserving college and high school athletes who had incredible seasons. If this were “The 1,500,” we could have included all of you. We already had to cheat a little to make this list happen as is. (In alphabetical order.)
1. Maryland Attacker Jen Adams (2001), UMBC Attackman Steve Marohl (1992) And Loyola Attackman Pat Spencer (2019)
Now the head coach at Loyola, Adams was the first-ever winner of the women’s Tewaaraton Trophy, posting an NCAA-record 148 points while leading the Terps to an undefeated season and national championship as a senior. Meanwhile Marohl (South River) and Spencer (Boys’ Latin) each tallied a staggering 114 points during their respective senior seasons, both top-10 seasons for points in the history of the sport.
2. Navy Halfback Joe Bellino (1960) And Quarterbacks Malcolm Perry (2019), Keenan Reynolds (2015) And Roger Staubach (1963)
How do you possibly differentiate the respective seasons of these great Midshipmen? Bellino and Staubach were Heisman Trophy winners. Perry set the single-season rushing record for a quarterback in NCAA history. And Reynolds finished fifth in Heisman voting during his senior season. Considering how significantly the landscape had changed for service academies in college football, Reynolds’ fifth-place finish might have been an equally incredible achievement as Bellino’s or Staubach’s wins.
3. Maryland Guard Juan Dixon (2001-02) And Forward Joe Smith (1994-95)
While Len Bias might be the greatest player in Maryland basketball history, these two had the greatest seasons in Terps history. Smith is the only National Player of the Year in school history, winning the Naismith Award as a sophomore. Meanwhile Dixon (Calvert Hall) was the ACC Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American as a senior while most importantly becoming the only player in school history to be the Most Outstanding Player of a Final Four.
4. Ravens Quarterback Lamar Jackson (2019)
Not only did the second-year signal-caller break the record for the most single-season rushing yards as a quarterback, he also claimed the Ravens’ single-season passing touchdown record as well. If he had won the Super Bowl, he might have been the no-brainer choice for the best individual season in Baltimore sports history, period.
5. Colts Quarterback Bert Jones (1976)
In the 1970s, only three NFL quarterbacks had seasons with a 100-plus passer rating. Two were Hall of Famers (Staubach and Ken Stabler). The third was “The Ruston Rifle,” who led Baltimore to the AFC East title while throwing for more than 3,000 yards for the first time in his career. He was named Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP for his efforts.
6. Ravens Running Back Jamal Lewis (2003)
Going into the final game of the 2003 season, Lewis had a viable chance to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. While he came up short, Lewis’ 2,066 yards remain the third most in NFL history. His 2,271 yards from scrimmage are among the 15 most in a single season in league history. He won Offensive Player of the Year honors and carried the Ravens to the AFC North title, pun totally intended.
7. Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis (2000)
Ironically, the Hall of Famer had seasons during which he finished with more tackles, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles than 2000. Statistically speaking, it wasn’t his greatest season. But it was the season during which he was an overwhelming emotional force who turned a franchise that hadn’t had a winning season into a Super Bowl champion. He was awarded his first Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP in the process.
8. Orioles Pitcher Jim Palmer (1975)
The second of Palmer’s three Cy Young Award seasons, 1975 was his most dominant. He pitched to a career-best 2.09 ERA and 1.031 WHIP. He posted an 8.4 WAR, according to Baseball Reference, the best single-season mark by any Orioles pitcher. None of the Orioles’ other Cy Young winners (Steve Stone, Mike Flanagan, Mike Cuellar) had even a 7.0 WAR in a single season. Mike Mussina’s 8.2 in 1992 was the second best.
9. Orioles First Baseman Boog Powell (1970)
The slugger’s 35 home runs and 114 RBIs in 1970 led to him being named AL MVP, but perhaps even more importantly, he hit .355 in the postseason en route to the Orioles’ second World Series title.
10. Ravens Safety Ed Reed (2004)
Not only did Reed come up with nine interceptions (and a career-high 358 return yards) in 2004, he also forced three fumbles (recovering two) and had a career-high 17 pass breakups and two sacks en route to his only NFL Defensive Player of Year award.
11. Orioles Shortstop Cal Ripken (1991)
You probably remember that Ripken’s 1991 season was so good that he managed to win his second AL MVP despite the Orioles finishing 28 games UNDER .500. You might not realize just how good the 1991 season was, though, for the Aberdeen High graduate. The following is the ENTIRE list of players who have had at least one season with a WAR higher than Ripken’s 11.5 in ’91: Babe Ruth, Carl Yastrzemski, Rogers Hornsby, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, end of list.
12. Orioles Third Baseman Brooks Robinson (1964)
While Robinson was always a great defensive player — arguably the greatest defensive third baseman in baseball history — he had no offensive season comparable to 1964. His offensive numbers were all career highs: a .317/.368/.521 slash line, 28 home runs, 118 RBIs. It marked his only MVP season and the first MVP season in Orioles history.
13. Orioles Outfielder Frank Robinson (1966)
With all due respect to Jackson’s magical season, Robinson’s first campaign in Charm City completely changed the course of the franchise and is probably the singular best season in Baltimore sports history. Not only was he the only Oriole to win a Triple Crown (hitting or pitching), he was also American League MVP and most importantly World Series MVP, leading the Birds to the first of their three titles.
14. Colts Quarterback Johnny Unitas (1959)
The first of three MVP seasons, Unitas had career highs in completions, passing yards and touchdowns in ‘59. He also threw for a pair of touchdowns in the 1959 NFL championship game, marking the only time a major Baltimore pro sports team has won consecutive titles and also the only time a Baltimore NFL team has won a title at home.
15. Bullets Center Wes Unseld (1968-69)
Unseld’s arrival in 1968 turned a last-place Bullets team the year before into Eastern Division champions. Not only did he win Rookie of the Year by averaging 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds per game, he also won NBA MVP honors. He and Wilt Chamberlain remain the only players to claim both honors in a single season in league history.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox