March 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Hardwood Stars

Like nature, sports is very much an evolutionary entity. As sports has evolved, the multi-sport star athlete has become nearly as extinct as the dinosaur. To excel, today’s athlete can no longer afford to spend time and energy in multiple athletic endeavors.

With March upon us, it is worth noting there are many College Football Hall of Famers who also excelled in basketball. Few of these have done so in recent years. The most contemporary two-sport star among Hall of Fame members would be 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward of Florida State. Ward played four years of football and basketball at FSU, although in two of those seasons the length of the football season shortened his time with the basketball team. As a first round NBA draft choice, Ward gave up football and pursued a pro basketball career that lasted for 12 seasons.

Another Hall of Famer who played professionally in a major basketball league was Otto Graham of Northwestern. He played for the Rochester Royals in 1946 before beginning his pro football career with the Cleveland Browns that fall. The Royals won the National Basketball League title that winter and the Browns won the All-America Football Conference championship that fall. Graham may be the only athlete to have won professional championships in two sports in the same year.

Other Heisman winners such as Navy’s Roger Staubach and Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung also played basketball for a brief period in their collegiate careers. But Terry Baker, the 1962 Heisman winner from Oregon State, was far more than a part-time player, as he was a starter on the Beavers Final Four team of 1963.

The greatest basketball player in the College Football Hall of Fame is Vic Hanson of Syracuse. Vic is the only player to be a member of both the College Football and Basketball Halls of Fame. Hanson was a three-time basketball All-America (1925-26-27), Player of the Year in 1926, and a consensus All-America football player as a end (1926). In an era when basketball scores were extremely low scoring affairs Hanson still averaged over 14 point per game. Vic also played minor league baseball.

In addition to Graham and Hanson there are 12 other College Football Hall of Famers who were also basketball All-America players. The most recent of those 12 was Ron Kramer of Michigan who became a two sport All-America in 1957. The first to accomplish this feat was Elmer Oliphant who was a basketball All-America at Purdue in 1914 and 1915.

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