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, so this is the second of five rounds. Tonight’s matchups include Texas A&M’s Von Miller vs. Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, LSU’s “Pistol” Pete Maravich vs. Kentucky’s Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, Missouri’s Kellen Winslow vs. Mississippi State’s Rafael Palmeiro, and Alabama’s Joe Namath vs. South Carolina’s George Rogers.
Let’s get started.
Von Miller, Texas A&M linebacker
Miller, a Dallas native, contributed in his first 2 seasons at Texas A&M in 2007 and 2008. But his career took off in his junior season when he moved to a defensive lineman/linebacker hybrid position, or “Jack.”
Speed and quickness allowed Miller to ring up 27.5 sacks in his final 2 college seasons — both All-American campaigns.
Miller’s 4.53 40-yard dash time and his record-breaking 11.15 shuttle run at the combine boosted his already-high NFL Draft stock. The Denver Broncos made him the second overall pick in 2011.
Darren McFadden, Arkansas running back
McFadden still owns the two greatest single-season rushing performances in Arkansas history, the ones from his sophomore and junior seasons. No one in school history has run the ball as many times he has (785), ran for as many 100-yard games as he has (22) or finished more highly-decorated.
In all, McFadden had two second-place finishes for the Heisman, two SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards, two first-team All-American honors, three All-SEC honors and is the second-leading rusher in SEC history behind only Herschel Walker. …
It’s not an overstatement to suggest Arkansas may never see another player like him.
While Miller is well on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame thanks to his work at the NFL level, this bracket revolves around players’ amateur accomplishments. That’s not to say Miller was unimpressive at Texas A&M; he was a force. But he wasn’t McFadden. The former Razorbacks star dominated SEC defenses en route to a pair of Doak Walker awards and Heisman near-misses. There’s Herschel and Bo. Then, there’s Darren. The winner: McFadden.
“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.
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 both 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 jersey retired in both basketball and football.
Jones’ all-around résumé is the most impressive of any player on this bracket. Compared to Pistol Pete, though, Jones was simply a jack of all trades. Maravich was the basketball master, and is still considered one of the best players in NCAA history. The man averaged 44.3 points as a jump-shooter without a 3-point line. Did he walk on water, too? The winner: Maravich.
Kellen Winslow, Missouri tight end
Winslow played a part in revolutionizing the role of the tight end as a deep threat and is among the NFL’s all-time greats at the position. That’s testament to his inclusion in both the Pro Football and College Football halls of fame.
It all began at the University of Missouri — quite literally as Winslow began playing football during his senior year in high school. Winslow went on to consensus All-America status as the Tigers upset top-5-ranked Notre Dame and Nebraska during the 1978 season.
Rafael Palmeiro, Mississippi State first baseman
Born in Havana, Palmeiro played his high school baseball in Miami and was drafted in the eighth round as a senior in high school. He decided to attend Mississippi State instead, and proceeded to have a monster career.
In 1984, he became the only SEC player to win the triple crown, leading the conference in batting average (.415), home runs (29) and RBI (94). He hit .372 during his time in Starkville while hitting 67 home runs and was chosen 22nd overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 1985 MLB Draft.
Palmeiro — this bracket’s lone baseball-only inclusion — was basically the SEC’s Ted Williams. He was the first Southeastern Conference hitter to win the Triple Crown, and no one has joined him in the past 33 years. Winslow was an amazing tight end and a big part of Missouri’s history, but he played an inessential position on a team that never threatened to win its conference. The winner: Palmeiro.
Joe Namath, Alabama quarterback
Namath is respected in all circles for his play, his bravado and magnetic personality. He commands every stage he’s on, and is seen as one of the dignitaries of the sport.
But let’s not forget how good of an athlete Namath was as well. Under the direction of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Namath helped Alabama to the national championship in 1964.
After finishing his college football days, Namath had interest from multiple Major League Baseball teams, and likely would have been a top pick had there been a draft back then.
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.
Quick question: If Namath had not successfully guaranteed a victory in Super Bowl III, would younger generations of football fans know his name? Probably not. But he was an all-star talent in Tuscaloosa – Bear Bryant called him “the greatest athlete I’ve ever coached” — who won nearly 30 games in an era where that figure was still mighty impressive.
On the other hand, Rogers has a Heisman attached to his name. He accomplished much, much more as an individual college player than Namath, and was talented enough to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft. It’s a tough call. But when in doubt, it’s best to side with The Bear. The winner: Namath.
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