The Best SEC Athlete of All Time: Round 1
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 ready to declare a champion.
Our setup mirrors the SEC basketball tournament. This is the first round, so we have No. 11-seeded George Rogers of South Carolina vs. No. 14-seeded Clyde Lee of Vanderbilt in one contest and No. 12-seeded Archie Manning of Ole Miss vs. No. 13-seeded Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones of Kentucky in the other.
George Rogers, South Carolina running back
When the road in front of a stadium is named after you, you tend to be rather important to the history of a football program. Oh, and there’s a statue.
Rogers is that. He’s the definition of South Carolina football. He’s the school’s all-time leading rusher by a long shot with 5,204 yards. He ran for 31 touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry, with three seasons among the top-10 single seasons in USC history. Then there’s that trophy he won. Rogers is the only Gamecock to win the Heisman Trophy, which he did in 1980 after rushing for 1,781 yards to lead the nation.
Clyde Lee, Vanderbilt power forward
Lee was the SEC Player of the Year during the 1964-65 season, when he led the Commodores to an SEC championship. He earned All-American honors the following season. Lee went on to become an NBA All-Star with the San Francisco (later Golden State) Warriors and also spent time with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers. Vanderbilt wasted no time in honoring Lee, inducting him into its inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2008. He’s known in Commodore lore, however, by the second and third tiers of Memorial Gym, which became affectionately known as the “balconies that Clyde built.”
While this is a tough call, a Heisman is a Heisman. As much as Lee — a hometown hero — meant to Vanderbilt and Nashville, he did not reach the level of individual accomplishment that his counterpart did. Rogers not only won college football’s top individual honor but was so good that South Carolina retired his number before his final home game. The winner: Rogers.
Archie Manning, Ole Miss quarterback
He didn’t have the gaudy stats or championships won by sons Peyton and Eli, but Archie Manning surpassed them both in terms of sheer athleticism.
Despite playing on teams that were largely mediocre, Manning finished in the top 5 in the Heisman Trophy voting after his junior and senior seasons. In his career, he threw for 4,753 yards and 31 touchdowns while rushing for 823 yards and 25 TDs.
Manning is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame. His No. 18 is retired at Ole Miss. If you’re driving on campus, 18 mph is the speed limit, and that’s in his honor, too.
Wallace ‘Wah Wah’ Jones, Kentucky three-sport star
A 6-foot-4, 225-pound specimen from Harlan, Ky., he was a two-time All-SEC pick in football and a three-time All-American in basketball, playing for Paul “Bear” Bryant and Adolph Rupp in the 1940s. All of that after setting a national scoring record in high school basketball.
Jones was a member of Rupp’s “Fabulous Five,” which won NCAA titles in 1948 and 1949 — and Olympic gold in ’48.
He is the only Kentucky athlete with his number retired in basketball and football.
If we’re concerned with star power, this choice is easy: Manning was the SEC’s golden boy and the star of ABC’s first-ever prime-time college football broadcast (fittingly, his average Rebels team lost a thriller to Alabama). He also fathered a pair of quarterbacks who kept national attention on the conference in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a résumé to match Wallace’s. A guy who played for Bryant and Rupp? An all-conference football player and a dominant basketball star? A high jumper on the track and field team and a baseball player good enough to be offered a pro contract? Manning is a household name, but he’s not the better choice here. The pick: Wallace.
The Best SEC Athlete of All Time: What’s next?
- Thursday A.M.: Round 1
- Thursday P.M.: Round 2
- Friday: Round 3
- Saturday: Round 4
- Sunday: Championship