Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top 10 Athletes From West Virginia

June 20, 1863: 55 Counties from the Confederate State of Virginia, having voted to secede from the State and rejoin the Union, are admitted to the Union as the 35th State, West Virginia. This was the only State to leave the Confederacy and rejoin the Union until the Civil War was over.

Top 10 Athletes from West Virginia

Honorable Mention to Randy Barnes of St. Albans. The current holder of the world records, both outdoor and indoor, for the shot put, over 75 feet, he won the Gold Medal in the event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Honorable Mention to Nick Swisher of Parkersburg. He helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series.

10. Lew Burdette of Nitro. In 1951, the Yankees put him in a trade package to the Boston Braves to get Johnny Sain. This is has been regarded as one of the worst trades in Yankee history, because of what Burdette went on to do to them. In fact, Sain was a key factor on the pitching staff that won the 1951, '52 and '53 World Series for the Yankees.

But Burdette became a really good pitcher after the Braves moved to Milwaukee, winning 203 games, losing just 144. A 2-time All-Star, he led the National League in ERA in 1956 and wins in 1959. He won 3 games against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series, being named the Series' Most Valuable Player. He won 2 more games against the Yankees in the 1958 World Series, before they came back and won Game 7, including lighting him up. He pitched a no-hitter in 1960.

9. Chuck Howley of Wheeling. No West Virginia native has won the Heisman Trophy, but the State has produced several football legends, including Howley. The Dallas Cowboys linebacker was a 6-time Pro Bowler, and reached 5 NFL or NFC Championship Games. In Super Bowl V, he became the 1st and still only player from a losing team to win the game's Most Valuable Player award. The Cowboys won Super Bowl VI.

He is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he probably should be. He is in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. The Cowboys do not retire numbers, and, as a result, his Number 54 would be worn by a later legend, Randy White.

8. Glenn Davis of Wellsburg. He won a the Gold Medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. In 1960, in Rome, he won that event again, and won another Gold Medal with the U.S. 4x400-meter relay team, making him one of the few people to win Gold Medals as both a sprinter and a hurdler. In between, in 1958, he won the Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete.

Nicknamed "Jeep," in 1960 and '61, he played for the Detroit Lions. His 2 seasons in the NFL matched those of Glenn Davis, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner from West Point. They were frequently confused for each other, and often received each other's mail, but despite both being famous for nearly 50 years, apparently, they never met. (The Heisman winner died in 2005, the Sullivan winner in 2009.)

7. Frank Gatski of Farmington. A 4-time All-Pro center, he was a member of the Cleveland Browns team that went to 10 straight league championship games: 4 in the All-America Football Conference (winning all 4: 1946, '47, '48 and '49), 6 in the NFL (winning in 1950, '54 and '55, losing in '51, '52 and '53). Those '52, '53 and '54 NFL Championship Games were against the Detroit Lions, and he went to the Lions in 1957, and closed his career going the other way, beating the Browns for his 4th NFL Championship, his 8th league title overall.

He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he's not even the greatest player ever from his hometown. The man at Number 2 is. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

6. Randy Moss of Rand. The Marshall University star, who was also a great basketball player in high school (playing both basketball and football with NBA star Jason "White Chocolate" Williams), may have been the most talented receiver in football history, even more than Jerry Rice.

Certainly, he got some results: 982 career receptions, over 15,000 receiving yards, 156 receiving touchdowns. He set records for receiving touchdowns by a rookie (17 in 1998) and any player (23 in 2007). He was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, made 6 Pro Bowls, and was named to the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team.

But he was an egomaniac and a disciplinary problem. And he never won a title. He got to the 1998 NFC Championship Game with the Minnesota Vikings, and Super Bowl XLII with the New England Patriots, and his teams' losses in those games were hardly his fault: Their opponents' good defenses shut more than him down.

He is now a studio analyst for ESPN. Next year, he will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Presuming he doesn't do something stupid, it's a matter of when he gets in, not if. His brother Eric was briefly a Vikings teammate, an offensive tackle. His son Thaddeus is a tight end at North Carolina State University, and his daughter Sydney plays basketball at a Division III school.

5. Hal Greer of Huntington. After starring at his hometown's Marshall University, he went to the NBA's Syracuse Nationals, and moved with them in 1963 to become the Philadelphia 76ers. He was a 10-time NBA All-Star, and a member of the 1967 76ers team that won the NBA Championship and is regarded by some as the greatest team in NBA history.

Unfortunately, he is best remembered for a game the Sixers lost, through little fault of his own: At the end of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals, he tried to inbound the ball so that the Sixers could score a game-winning basket, but, as Boston Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most said, "Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!"

Nevertheless, Greer was a sensational ballhandler, and scored over 20,000 points at a time when that was something that hadn't been done by very many players. The Sixers retired his Number 15, and he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

4. Alfred Earle "Greasy" Neale of Parkersburg. An outfielder, he played 8 seasons in the major leagues, including winning the 1919 World Series with the Cincinnati Reds. But football was his main sport, and the 2-way end won Ohio League titles -- the closest thing professional football had to a "world championship" at the time -- with the Canton Bulldogs, led by Jim Thorpe, in 1917 and 1918.

He is better remembered as a coach. He began his coaching career at his alma mater, West Virginia Wesleyan, coached Marietta College of Ohio to an undefeated season in 1919, nearly did so again in 1920, and coached Pittsburgh-area school Washington & Jefferson to one in 1921, all while still playing Major League Baseball. He coached both Virginia and West Virginia, and led the Philadelphia Eagles to the 1948 and 1949 NFL Championships. He was elected as a coach to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

3. Mary Lou Retton of Fairmont. She's 4-foot-9 and a high school dropout, but she's world-famous. She had a good excuse for dropping out in her sophomore year: She got a lot of money from endorsements after winning the all-around women's gymnastics Gold Medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She also won 2 Silver Medals and 2 Bronze Medals.

Sports Illustrated divided its Sportspeople of the Year for 1984 between her and hurdler Edwin Moses. She became the 1st female athlete ever to be shown on the Wheaties cereal box, is a member of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, and became a motivational speaker and an analyst of TV broadcasts of gymnastics. She is married to real estate developer and former University of Texas quarterback Shawn Kelley.

2. Sam Huff of Farmington. As the NFL went to the 2-platoon system in the mid-1950s, meaning that players played on only 1 side of the ball, the West Virginia University star was not only the 1st great linebacker for the New York Giants, before Lawrence Taylor was even born, but the 1st defensive celebrity in football.

He led the Giant defense that steamrolled the NFL, winning the Championship in 1956, and reaching 5 more Championship Games (but losing them all). It was Huff leading the charge that also included Hall-of-Famers Andy Robustelli and Emlen Tunnell that first made fans chant, "De-fense! De-fense!"

In 1960, CBS Reports miked him up for a documentary, hosted by Walter Cronkite (not yet the anchor of The CBS Evening News), titled The Violent World of Sam Huff. Before NFL Films, this was the 1st time that people who never played the sport, even those who had gone to games and had front-row seats, could hear what playing football actually sounded like. How successful was it? A CBS executive wrote a letter, wrote only "Number 70" on it, and dropped it in a mailbox. Two days later, that letter ended up in Huff's locker at Yankee Stadium.

He was a 5-time Pro Bowler, 4 times for the Giants and once for the Washington Redskins. WVU retired his Number 75. Neither of his pro teams has retired his Number 70, but he has been elected to the New York Giants Ring of Honor, the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame, the NFL's 1950s All-Decade Team, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999, and the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010. He went on to a long broadcasting career for the Redskins, partnered with his Washington teammate, Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen.

1. Jerry West of Cheylan, just down the Kanawha River from Charleston, where Cabin Creek flows into it. Hence, he was known as "Zeke from Cabin Creek." But his performance as a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers got him nicknamed "Mr. Clutch."

He got West Virginia University into the NCAA Final Four in 1959, the U.S. team to the Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome (that entire team was collectively elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame), and the Lakers into the NBA Finals 9 times, although they only won once, in 1972. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 1969 Finals, even though the Lakers lost. He was a 14-time All-Star, and became known as one of the best shooters, and one of the best passers, in NBA history.

He's not the greatest player in NBA history, and not nicknamed "Mr. NBA" or "Mr. Basketball," but he is nicknamed "The Logo." In 1969, Alan Siegel, following up his design of the Major League Baseball logo that bears a resemblance to Harmon Killebrew, used a photograph by Wen Roberts, of West dribbling with his left hand, to design the NBA logo.
But his legacy was just getting warmed up. He was the Lakers' head coach from 1976 to 1979, chief scout from 1979 to 1982, and general manager from 1982 to 2002. He built the Laker dynasties of 1980-91 and 2002-10. He wanted a new challenge, and moved on to the Memphis Grizzlies. He had no luck there, retiring in 2007, but in 2011 he joined the board of the Golden State Warriors, who've now won 2 titles with him involved. He just returned to Los Angeles, with the Clippers.

After going 1-for-9 in the Finals as a player, he now has 12 rings as an executive -- his 13 titles the most of anybody in NBA history except for longtime Boston Celtics head coach, general manager and team president Red Auerbach, who won 16.

His Number 44 has been retired by both WVU and the Lakers, and statues of him are outside the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown and the Staples Center. He was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

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