Monday, July 10, 2017

Top 10 Athletes from Wyoming

July 10, 1890: Wyoming is admitted to the Union as the 44th State.

Top 10 Athletes from Wyoming

Honorable Mention to Curt Gowdy of Cheyenne. A 3-time letterwinner in both basketball and tennis at the University of Wyoming, a back injury while in the U.S. Army Air Force ended his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Instead, he became one of the greatest sportscasters who ever lived.

He spent 15 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, including calling Ted Williams' last home run and Tony Conigliaro's 1st. For NBC, he called 10 World Series; Super Bowls I, III, V, VII, IX, XI and XIII; the "Heidi Bowl" and its rematch, the 1968 AFL Championship Game; the Christmas 1971 Playoff game between Miami and Kansas City that remains the NFL's longest game, the Immaculate Reception, Hank Aaron's 715th home run, the Sea of Hands, 14 Rose Bowls, 24 NCAA Final Fours, and, due to his friendship with ABC boss Roone Arledge, he was allowed to cross over from NBC and do 8 Olympics.

His syndicated TV series The Way It Was and The American Sportsman are classics. The Basketball Hall of Fame's media award is named for him.

10. Jim Crawford of Greybull. "Cowboy" Crawford (so nicknamed because the University of Wyoming's teams are called the Cowboys) led the nation in rushing in his senior year, 1959, outrushing that year's Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon of Louisiana State; the next year's, Joe Bellino of the Naval Academy; and the next year's, Ernie Davis of National Champion Syracuse. (As you might guess, Wyoming has never produced a Heisman winner.) He played 5 years in the AFL as an original member of the team then known as the Boston Patriots.

9. Floyd Volker of Casper. A member of the University of Wyoming's 1943 National Champion basketball team, he played in the early NBA, including for the 1st team named the Denver Nuggets -- until the Denver Broncos came along in 1960, the closest thing Wyoming had to a "nearby" major league team in any sport.

8. Mike Devereaux of Casper. An outfielder, he reached the postseason with the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers (won the World Series), nearly with the 1989 Baltimore Orioles, with the 1995 Atlanta Braves (awarded the Most Valuable Player award of the National League Championship Series, on the way to winning the World Series) and the 1996 Baltimore Orioles (lost the American League Championship Series to the Yankees)

7. Mike Lansing of Casper. A 2nd baseman, he was a member of the Montreal Expos team that had the best record in baseball when the Strike of '94 hit. The minor-league baseball stadium in Casper is now named Mike Lansing Field.

Lansing and Volker are both graduates of Natrona County High School in Casper. Its other graduates include former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, and Matthew Shepard, one of the martyrs of the gay rights movement, whose murder in 1998 inspired Jason Collins, the NBA's 1st openly gay player, to wear uniform Number 98.

6. Jerry Hill of Lingle. A running back, he was named the University of Wyoming's Football Player of the Century. He played 10 years for the Baltimore Colts, losing the 1964 NFL Championship Game, a playoff for the 1965 NFL Western Division title, and Super Bowl III, before closing his career by winning Super Bowl V in the 1970-71 season.

5. Kenny Sailors of Laramie. The University of Wyoming's greatest basketball player, he led them to the 1943 National Championship, winning the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and had his Number 4 retired. His pro career wasn't much, though, as he played for 7 different teams in the NBA's 1st 5 seasons -- the only 2 of which that still exist are the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors and the Boston Celtics. Like Volker, he played on the original Nuggets.

4. Tom Browning of Casper. There have been 16 men born in Wyoming who have played Major League Baseball (including current Met outfielder Brandon Nimmo of Cheyenne), and Browning is easily the best. He went 123-90 as a major league pitcher, including a perfect game in 1988. He was a member of the Cincinnati Reds' 1990 World Champions, and has been elected to their team Hall of Fame.

His career was limited to 12 years by a freak occurrence, breaking his arm in mid-pitch, or else he might have racked up Hall of Fame-worthy stats. The Reds made the Playoffs in 1995 and 1999, and sure could have used a pitcher like him.

3. Tom Wilkinson of Greybull. He might be the greatest football player you've never heard of. That's because, after quarterbacking the University of Wyoming, he played in the Canadian Football League. He won the 1974 CFL Most Outstanding Player award, and won 5 Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos, tutoring the young Warren Moon. He is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Edmonton Eskimos Wall of Honour.

2. Rulon Gardner of Aton. This guy is so tough! (How tough is he?) He's so tough, he survived an arrow to the abdomen and a snowmobile crash (both accidental), the latter leading to being stranded, and, when found, the amputation of a toe due to frostbite.

And still he managed to defeat Aleksandr Karelin, a Russian who hadn't lost a match for 13 years, in the 130-kilogram (about 287 pounds) weight class in Greco-Roman wrestling in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. That year, the Amateur Athletic Union gave him its annual James E. Sullivan Memorial Award for America's best amateur athlete.

He also won a Bronze Medal in Athens, Greece in the 2004 Olympics. And survived a plane crash in 2007. And people said Karelin "wasn't human."

1. Boyd Dowler of Cheyenne. The receiver was the 1959 NFL Rookie of the Year, a 1965 and 1967 Pro Bowler, and won 5 NFL Championships with the Green Bay Packers, including the 1st 2 Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. (Unfortunately for him, he was a victim of the most famous Packer game of them all, suffering a concussion as his head, despite his helmet, hitting "the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" early in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, a.k.a. "the Ice Bowl.")
He was named to the NFL's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, and the Packers Hall of Fame.

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