Goalkeeping star Jimmy Montgomery and business leader John Hays were given the Freedom of the City in a special ceremony today.
The pair were bestowed with the honour by Sunderland City Council this afternoon.
The council can give the honour to notable citizens of the city who have made significant contributions to the wellbeing and community spirit of Sunderland.
Both men spoke of their pride at being chosen by their home city to be given such a top accolade.
John, who started Hays Travel from the read of his mother's shop in Seaham and built it to now employing more than 1,000 people, said this was the best honour he could imagine.
The Oxford graduate, who was raised in Southwick, said he couldn't believe it when he got an email from the council asking him if he would accept the accolade.
He said: "It is such a huge, huge honour. It is the proudest moment of my life, to be recognised in such a way by my home city.
"Over the years I have been given lots of awards from the travel industry, including being placed in the tourism hall of fame, and they have all taken place posh London hotels. But, if I put them all together, they don't mean as much to me as this does."
Jimmy, fondly known as Monty, was born in Hendon and joined Sunderland AFC in 1960.
He went on to make a record 627 appearances for Sunderland and is famed for his 1973 FA Cup Final double save to seal a 1-0 win. It was considered by many to be the greatest goalkeeping save of all time.
The sporting hero said: "It is difficult to put into words. This is just indescribable, I am absolutely thrilled to bits.
"To get this support from my home town and from my home people, is incredible."
The last freedom to be awarded was two years in March 2014 for Nissan's chief performance officer Trevor Mann. In 2013, freedoms were awarded to former Sunderland AFC player Niall Quinn MBE and Joël Batteux the Mayor of Sunderland's twin-town St Nazaire.
Other freedoms of Sunderland include television reporter Kate Adie,