Sunday, April 30, 2017

Top 10 Athletes From Louisiana

April 30, 1812: Louisiana is admitted to the Union as the 18th State.

Top 10 Athletes from Louisiana

We think of Louisiana as a football State, but, so far, they've only produced 2 Heisman Trophy winners, and 1 Pro Football Hall-of-Famer -- and it wasn't either of the Heisman winners.

In contrast, they've got 4, nearly 5, of the NBA's official 50 Greatest Players. And that's not counting Bill Russell, who was born there, but not raised there; or Pete Maravich, who went to Louisiana State University, but didn't grow up in Louisiana.

They've also produced 2 Baseball Hall-of-Famers, and that's not counting Bill Dickey, who was born there but lived most of his life in neighboring Arkansas.

Honorable Mention to Karl Malone of Summerfield. He was a 14-time NBA All-Star, a 2-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and a 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist: On perhaps the greatest amateur team ever assembled, the 1984 U.S. team; and perhaps the greatest team ever assembled in any sport, the 1992 U.S. "Dream Team."

His Number 32 was retired by Louisiana Tech and the Utah Jazz. Basketball Hall of Fame. He was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. He has a statue outside the EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.

Honorable Mention to Ron Guidry of Lafayette, who helped the Yankees win the 1977 World Series, and without whose incredible season the Yankees would not have won it again in 1978.

Honorable Mention to Chad Gaudin of the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, who helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series.

Honorable Mention to Doug Williams of Zachary. I don't know what's more miraculous: Getting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to within 9 points of a Super Bowl berth, losing the 1979 NFC Championship Game; or turning a 10-0 deficit into a 42-10 victory, with 5 touchdowns, including 4 touchdown passes, in a span of only 13 minutes, leading the Washington Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXII in 1988. He was the 1st black quarterback to win an NFL Championship.

Honorable Mention to Joe Dumars of Natichitoches. The franchise now known as the Detroit Pistons hasn't won a championship, in any league, without him being involved since 1945. He was the defensive leader of their 1989 and 1990 NBA Champions, winning the Finals MVP in 1989, and the general manager of their 2004 NBA Champions.

Honorable Mention to Joe Brown of Baton Rouge. The Lightweight Champion of the World from 1956 to 1962, he was named The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year in 1961.

Honorable Mention to John David Crow of Springhill. The running back led Texas A&M to the 1956 Southwest Conference Championship. In 1957, he became the 1st player from the school to be awarded the Heisman Trophy, the only Heisman winner ever coached by Bear Bryant.

He played for the Cardinals, including during their 1960 move from Chicago to St. Louis. He was a 4-time Pro Bowler, and was named to the NFL's 1960s All-Decade Team. He later returned to Texas A&M as their athletic director. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Billy Cannon of Baton Rouge. The running back led Louisiana State University to the 1958 National Championship, and won the 1959 Heisman Trophy. He was the 1st-ever pick in the 1st-ever American Football League Draft. He justified that by helping the Houston Oilers win the 1960 and 1961 AFL Championships -- still the only time the Oilers/Titans franchise has gone as far as the rules of the time have allowed them to go.

He won another AFL Championship with the 1967 Oakland Raiders. His Number 20 was retired by LSU, and he is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Like another 1960s sports hero, 1967 American League Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg of the Boston Red Sox, he became a dentist.

Unfortunately, like yet another 1960s sports hero, 1968 AL Most Valuable Player Denny McLain, he got involved in something he shouldn't have, and went to prison. Based on those 2 facts, upon his release, he was given a job as the head dentist for the State penal system, a job he still holds.

Honorable Mention to Marshall Faulk of New Orleans. A star at San Diego State University, he made 7 Pro Bowls, and was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1994 and Most Valuable Player in 2000. At the turn of the 21st Century, he was probably the NFL's best all-around player, helping the St. Louis Rams reach Super Bowls XXXIV (won) and XXXVI (lost).

He finished his career with 12,280 rushing yards and an even 100 rushing touchdowns; and 767 catches for 6,875 yards and 36 touchdowns. The Indianapolis Colts, with whom he started, named him to their Ring of Honor. San Diego State and the Rams both retired Number 28 for him. He was elected to both the College and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2010, the NFL Network listed him 70th on their list of the NFL's 100 Greatest Players.

Honorable Mention to Kevin Faulk of New Orleans. Marshall's cousin played at LSU, and rushed for a relatively modest 3,607 in his career, for the New England Patriots, but beat Marshall's Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. He also was with them when they won Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX. The Patriots named him to their team Hall of Fame and their 50th Anniversary Team, as a kick return specialist.

But neither Crow, nor Cannon, nor either of the Faulks is the greatest running back from Louisiana.

10. Bob Pettit of Baton Rouge. He was an 11-time NBA All-Star, a 2-time NBA MVP, and the 1st NBA player to score 20,000 points. (This wouldn't be a big deal today. It was a huge deal then, in 1965.) He won the 1958 NBA Championship with the St. Louis Hawks. After they moved to Atlanta, they retired his Number 9. He was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

9. Robert Parish of Shreveport. He was a 9-time NBA All-Star, and while he never won an MVP, the Boston Celtics would not have won the 1981, 1984 and 1986 NBA Championships without him. He won another title as a backup on the 1997 Chicago Bulls -- making him the only man to win the NBA with both Boston and Chicago.

He played in more games than anyone in NBA history, and was long believed to be the league's oldest player ever before someone rediscovered an older one in the league's early days. The Celtics retired his Number 00, and he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

8. Steve Van Buren of New Orleans. He was born in the Central American nation of Honduras, to an American father and a native mother, but was orphaned at age 10, and sent to live with his father's family in New Orleans.

Bernie Moore, the coach who brought him to LSU, said, "He was probably the greatest running back in Southeastern Conference history." The SEC has since seen Cannon, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith, Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. But Van Buren may have been the best through the 1944 Orange Bowl, in which he led LSU to a 19-14 win over Texas A&M, responsible for all the Tigers' points: He ran for 2 touchdowns, threw for 1, and kicked an extra point.

"Moving Van" then starred for the Philadelphia Eagles, making 6 Pro Bowls, and getting them to 3 straight NFL Championship Games, as the best running back in the NFL, and as a deadly tackler as a defensive back.

They lost to the Chicago Cardinals in 1947. Then "Supersonic Steve" braved the elements. The day of the 1948 Championship Game, 10 inches of snow fell on Philadelphia, and he almost didn't get to Shibe Park. Somehow, he got through the snow outside, and the snow inside, scoring the game's only touchdown to get the Eagles their 1st World Championship. In 1949, the weather struck again. A rare Southern California rainstorm hit the Los Angeles Coliseum, but he led the Eagles to victory over the Rams. To put it another way: In those 2 seasons, the Eagles won 2 titles; it would take them another 69 years to win another 2.

Injuries forced him to retire after playing his last game in 1951, with 5,860 rushing yards and 69 rushing touchdowns, both records at the time. He was the 1st Eagles player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 1965 -- making him the 1st Hispanic player elected to any of the "big four" sports' Halls. He was named to the NFL's 1940s All-Decade and 75th Anniversary Team. The Eagles retired his Number 15, and named him to their Hall of Fame and their 75th Anniversary Team.

In 1999, he came in 77th on The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players. Somehow, by 2010, he had grown in the estimation of football historians, because the NFL Network raised his ranking to 58th.

7. Elvin Hayes of Rayville. The Big E reached the 1968 NCAA Final Four with the University of Houston. He was a 12-time NBA All-Star, and helped the Washington Bullets, the team now known as the Washington Wizards, reach the NBA Finals 3 times, winning the 1978 NBA Championship.

His Number 44 was retired by UH, and his Number 11 retired by the Wizards. He was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame. and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

6. Eli Manning of New Orleans. Since he immediately followed his brother Peyton, the comparison to their father Archie wasn't nearly as prominent, so he could go to Archie's alma mater, the University of Mississippi, and just play ball.

He did all right there, and was named Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2003. With the New York Giants, he's a 4-time Pro Bowler, and not only led them to 2 Super Bowl wins, both upsets of the cheating New England Patriots, but was named the MVP of both games. He is the greatest quarterback New York City has ever had. Don't tell me that Phil Simms was better. Don't tell me that Joe Namath's 1 Super Bowl was more important; even if that's true, that doesn't make him better.

Eli will easily get his Number 10 retired by the Giants, and, barring doing something massively stupid, will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And yet, he still doesn't make the Top 5. He's not even Number 1 within his own family.

5. Mel Ott of the New Orleans suburb of Gretna. The 1st great slugger in the National League in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era, he was the NL's all-time home run leader from 1937 until 1966, finishing his career with 511. Until 2001, he was the NL's all-time leader among lefthanded hitters. Due to the short right-field fence at the Polo Grounds, he hit 323, or 63 percent of his total, at home. This also means that he has more home runs hit in New York City than any other player – ahead of Mickey Mantle with 270 and Babe Ruth with 266.

He missed the 1st All-Star Game in 1933, but then making every one through 1944, for a total of 11. His lifetime batting average was .304, and he had 9 100-RBI seasons. He helped the New York Giants win 3 Pennants, and his home run won the clinching game of the 1933 World Series. The Giants retired his Number 4, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1999 was named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Baseball Players.

4. Lou Brock of Collinston, which isn't far from Hayes' hometown of Rayville. He led Southern University to the 1959 NAIA Championship (national championship for small schools). Based on this, and on his major league achievements, he was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

An 8-time MLB All-Star, he collected over 3,000 hits, and set records (which still stand, at least within the National League) for stolen bases in a season and a career. He led the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1964 (won), 1967 (won) and 1968 (lost) World Series. In 1967, he won the Babe Ruth Award, 1 of the 2 awards given to the Most Valuable Player of the World Series. (Bob Gibson got the better-known award, the Sport Magazine Award.)

The Cardinals retired his Number 20. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame and The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Baseball Players.

3. Peyton Manning of New Orleans. Putting aside the return of an allegation made against him in college, which, if true, would make him even less moral than his rival Tom Brady... So much has been made of the games Peyton has lost that we forget just what he has won.

He starred at the University of Tennessee, not winning the Heisman Trophy or the National Championship, but winning the 1997 Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete. He is a 14-time Pro Bowler, a 5-time NFL MVP, and the 2013 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

No quarterback has won more games, or thrown for more yards in a season or in a career, or has thrown more touchdown passes in a season or in a career. He went to 4 Super Bowls, and is 1 of only 2 quarterbacks to lead 2 different teams to an NFL Championship: The 2006 Indianapolis Colts (and he was named the Super Bowl XLI MVP) and the 2015 Denver Broncos. (The other is Norm Van Brocklin of the 1951 Los Angeles Rams and the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles.)

His Number 18 has been retired by the Colts. He was only in his 2nd season when The Sporting News named their 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999, but was named to the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team. Barring an epic calamity, he will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021. He was ranked 8th on the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010.

And yet, he still doesn't make the top 2. Maybe if Brady hadn't been a part of so much cheating...

2. Willis Reed of Bernice, which isn't far from Malone's hometown of Summerfield. May 8, 1970. That alone made him a legend. But that wasn't all he did. He was a 7-time NBA All-Star, captained the Knicks to the 1970 and 1973 NBA Championships, was named the Finals MVP both times, and remains the team's all-time greatest center. (Do I have to remind you that, while Patrick Ewing predicted titles, Willis actually won them?)

His Number 19 was the 1st retired by a New York basketball team, and he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

1. Terry Bradshaw of Shreveport. The "dummy" put up a very smart legacy. He was named to 3 Pro Bowls, and was NFL MVP in 1978. He shared Sports Illustrated's 1979 Sportsman of the Year award with another Pittsburgh icon who won a World Championship that year, Willie Stargell.
He got the Pittsburgh Steelers into 4 Super Bowls, won them all, and was named MVP in 2 of them. The Steelers don't retire numbers, but his Number 12 has never been given back out. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players (44th), and the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players (50th).

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