Earlier this month, SEC Country selected the greatest athlete in each school’s history. Now, in the spirit of March Madness, we’ve put together a 14-player bracket, and we’re almost ready to declare a champion.
Our setup mirrors the SEC basketball tournament, so this is the fourth of five rounds. Today’s matchups include Georgia’s Herschel Walker vs. LSU’s “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and Auburn’s Bo Jackson vs. Tennessee’s Peyton Manning.
Let’s take a closer look:
Herschel Walker, Georgia running back
Walker is undoubtedly the best Georgia football player of all time. There also is a case to be made for Walker as the greatest college running back — and possibly greatest player — of all time.
In three seasons at Georgia (1980-82), Walker rushed for 5,259 yards, a school record that stands. As a freshman (my god, a freshman) he led Georgia football to the 1980 national title. He won SEC Player of the Year all three seasons at Georgia, was a consensus All-America selection all three seasons and won the 1982 Heisman Trophy.
In addition, Walker was a two-time All-America selection as a member of Georgia’s track team.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich, LSU point guard
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is most frequently cited as the most unbreakable record in sports. But Maravich’s 3,667 career points — the NCAA Division I scoring record — is even more unlikely to go down. The closest men’s competitor is Portland State’s Freeman Williams, who came up 418 points shy and graduated in 1978. …
Had he played all 4 years, the scoring record would be well north of 4,000 points — probably closer to 4,500. And had the 3-point shot existed in Maravich’s era, his career average of 44.3 points per game would most certainly be above 50. Former LSU coach Dale Brown once charted his shots and estimated Maravich would have averaged 57 points per game.
Here we have arguably the best football player vs. the best basketball player in SEC history. Walker helped rebrand the conference in the early 1980s, seemingly earning every accolade in existence along the way. Maravich was a showman who dazzled the country while dominating the rest of the Southeastern Conference. His career numbers are ridiculous, and likely will never be matched.
There’s no wrong answer here, but Walker — a world-class athlete excelling in the SEC’s signature sport — is slightly more deserving of a spot in this bracket’s championship round. The winner: Walker.
Bo Jackson, Auburn running back
On the football field, Jackson averaged more than 6.6 yards per carry and scored 45 total touchdowns in four seasons with the Tigers. That includes a 1984 junior season in which Jackson missed a substantial amount of time due to injury. He snapped a 9-game losing streak against Alabama with “Bo Over the Top” as a true freshman, and he unofficially recorded one of the fastest 40-yard dashes in NFL combine history.
In baseball, Jackson batted .401 as a junior and had four straight MLB seasons with 20-plus home runs. He played both baseball and football professionally from 1987 to 1990, winning the MLB All-Star Game MVP in 1989 and making it to the Pro Bowl in 1990. On top of all that, he was an accomplished track and field athlete at Auburn.
Peyton Manning, Tennessee quarterback
Tennessee’s all-time football great was 39-6 as the Vols’ quarterback, including a sterling 22-2 mark in Neyland Stadium under the direction of College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer and current Duke coach David Cutcliffe.
Accolades include: Tennessee all-time yards leader (11,020), Tennessee all-time TD passes leader (89), 1998 No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, 1997 Heisman Trophy runner-up, 1997 Consensus First Team All-American, 1997 SEC Player of the Year.
In Round 3, we posited the idea that Manning is the greatest college player who never won a Heisman or a national title. Well, Jackson won both, and he was a damn good baseball player, too. If pro careers were part of this criteria, we’d probably arrive at a different conclusion, but Manning never quite reached the mountaintop on Rocky Top; either individually or as part of a team. Jackson checks both of those boxes. The winner: Jackson.