|The Top 10 Texas Athletes of All-time
We take our sports very seriously in Texas. While other states may look at athletics as nothing more than a recreational diversion, it is a passion for millions of Texans.
Perhaps that is one reason Texas has produced so many great athletes. With few exceptions, in every level of every sport, you will find numerous Texans among each game's elite.
With that in mind, I have undertaken the daunting (if not impossible) task of naming the 10 greatest Texas athletes of all-time. In putting this list together, I used the following criteria;
a. Only native born athletes were considered. (Otherwise, rodeo champion and Stephenville native Ty Murray would have made the list)
b. If an athlete played a sport which required a college career, such as football or basketball, and they chose to play in another state, that athlete was not considered. (Y.A. Tittle, Billy Simms and Adrian Peterson need to pay some type of price for leaving Texas)
c. An athlete's entire career, both amateur and professional, was considered. (Sorry, Vince Young)
Now that all the preliminaries and disclaimers are of the way, here are the choices;
1. Ben Hogan (Dublin) - In 292 career PGA Tour events, Hogan finished in the Top 3 in 47.6-percent of the time. He finished in the Top 10 241 times. He won 63 of those, including 4 U.S. Opens, 2 Masters, 2 PGA Championships and a British Open victory in the only one he ever entered. He was also Player of the year 4 times and never lost a Ryder Cup match.
In 1949, a horrific car accident almost took Hogan's life. His doctors said he might never walk again, let alone play golf. However, Hogan returned and won the U.S. Open the following year.
In 1953, Hogan put together what is still considered one of the greatest single season in professional golf, winning five of the six tournaments he entered and the first three major championships of the year (a feat known as the "Hogan Slam").
2. Lance Armstrong (Plano/Austin) — Armstrong won his first triathlon at the age of 13 — against adult competition. He won the first stage of the Tour De France in 1993 and was the top ranked cyclist in the world that year.
However, it is what happened after that point that made Armstrong a legend.
In 1996, at age 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. It had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. His doctor predicted that he had less than a 50% chance of surviving after undergoing radical surgery.
Armstrong not only survived, he thrived. He won the Tour de France a record-breaking seven consecutive years, from 1999 to 2005. He is the only person to win seven times, having broken the previous record of five wins.
3. Byron Nelson (Waxahachie/Fort Worth) - In 1945, Nelson had the greatest single season in the history of the PGA Tour.
He won 18 tournaments, including 11 in a row. (Nelson also finished second another 7 times) He set a tour record for scoring average (68.33), a record 18 hole score (62), and a record 72-hole score (259). With one exception, all those records still stand. (Tiger Woods recently had a lower season average).
He won 52 tournaments in his eleven year career. His record of 113 consecutive 'cuts made' is second only to Woods' 142. However, in Nelson's era, a golfer only made "the cut" if he placed in the top twenty and got paid. Thus, Nelson finished in the top twenty 113 straight times, a feat that is unheard of in this modern era of golf.
4. Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Port Arthur) — Zaharias may well be the best female athlete of all-time, having dominated three different sports. She was an all-American basketball player, and an Olympic champion in track-and —field, having won two gold medals in the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. (She also won a silver medal that same year).
She took up golf in 1935, and in 1938 she became the first woman to play in a men's tournament when she entered the Los Angeles Open.
As an amateur, she won 17 straight tournaments, a feat never equaled by anyone, including Tiger Woods. She turned professional in 1947, and by 1950, she had won every golf title available. Totaling both her amateur and professional victories, Zaharias won a total of 82 golf tournaments.
5. Sammy Baugh (Sweetwater/Rotan) — "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh is the man who made the forward pass an integral part of college football.
He was an All-American QB at TCU in 1935 and 1936, and led the Frogs a 3—2 victory over LSU in the 1936 Sugar Bowl, giving the school a piece of the mythical national title.
He was drafted by the Washington Redskins, and in 1937 started at three different positions — quarterback, defensive back and punter. He also led the Skins to the NFL championship that year.
He set 13 records during his pro career, two of which still stand: most seasons leading the league in passing (six; tied with Steve Young) and most seasons leading the league with the lowest interception percentage (five). As a punter, Baugh retired with the NFL record for highest punting average in a career (45.1 yards), and is still second all-time. As a defensive back, he was the first player in league history to intercept four passes in a game, and is the only player to lead the league in passing, punting, and interceptions in the same season.
6. Tris Speaker (Hubbard) — Widely regarded as the best defensive center fielder to ever play the game, Speaker could swing the bat as well, with a career average of .344 over 22 seasons.
He was the most prolific doubles hitter in history, and also holds major league marks for putouts and assists by an outfielder. Speaker set a major league record when he had three batting streaks of 20 or more games during the 1912 season.
One source (www.thebaseballpage.com) has him ranked as the sixth best centerfielder of all-time, trailing only Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
7. Nolan Ryan (Alvin) - Ryan played in a major league record 27 seasons, from 1966 to 1993. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Ryan was regularly clocked above 100 mph, even beyond the age of 40. He was an eight-time MLB All-Star, and his 5,714 career strikeouts rank first in baseball history. He is also the all-time leader in no-hitters with seven, three more than any other pitcher. His last one came in 1990, at the tender age of 44.
He is tied with Bob Feller for the most one-hitters, with 12. Ryan also pitched 18 two-hitters.
8. George Foreman (Marshall/Houston) — The two-time heavyweight champion of the world and Olympic gold medal winner may be the most colorful athlete to come out of Texas.
He burst onto the scene in the 1968 Olympics when he waved an American flag after each victory. He turned pro in 1969, and amassed a record of 32-0 before finally getting a title shot against Joe Frazier in 1973. Foreman won the belt by putting the heavily favored Frazier on the canvas six times before the fight was mercifully called in the third round.
He disappeared from view in 1974, after losing the crown to Muhammad Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle". In 1990, at the age of 38, Foreman made a comeback and lost two controversial title bouts to Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison. The third time proved a charm, as he won the belt for the second time with a 1994 decision over Michael Moorer.
9. Earl Campbell (Tyler) — We first became of Campbell in 1973, when he led Tyler John Tyler to the AAAA state football title. He then signed with the University of Texas and began a legendary college career that culminated with a Heisman Trophy in 1977.
After being taken by the Houston Oilers with the top pick in the 1978 NFL Draft, he won both the Rookie-of-the-Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He led the NFL in rushing in 1978-1980 and gained over 9,400 yards in his career. And he did it against defensive lines which were double stacked to stop him.
10. Bob Lilly (Throckmorton) — The Dallas Cowboys made Bob Lilly the first draft pick in franchise history when they selected the TCU product in the first round of the 1960 draft. You have to wonder what might have happened to "America's Team" if they had chosen differently.
Lilly is the best defensive football player in Texas history. He was strong, fast, agile and smart. He was a first team all-pro selection every year between 1964-1969, and then again in 1971. He also played in 11 Pro Bowls.
He is the first "original" Cowboy to be elected to Hall-of-Fame, and he was named to the first team NFL's 1960's all-decade team, 1970's all-decade team and the 75th anniversary team.
Honorable Mention: Bobbie Layne, Doak Walker, Kyle Rote, Ernie Banks, Davey O'Brien, Vince Young, Don Meredith, Raymond Berry, Eric Dickerson, Donny Anderson, Sheryl Swoops, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, A.J. Foyt, Clyde Drexler, Elvin Hayes, Darrell Green, Tommy Nobis Mike Singletary, John David Crow, Lance Berkman, Craig James