Jerry West leads state's bevy of sports stars
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I heard about the Gazette's sesquicentennial tribute to West Virginia, I advised that the sports section cover simply be of the NBA logo. Over it could have been this simple, yet cocky headline: "Our guy."
In regard to athletics, the Mountain State doesn't need anything more than Jerry West, a native of Chelyan. Our favorite sports son lit up WVU. He lit up the NBA. His shadow is in the NBA logo. He is the logo.
In order to show humility to other states, we probably should just stop there. If you check out the list of West Virginia's sports stars and compare it to those of other states - at least on a per capita basis - we rock, plain and simple.
It's truly an embarrassment of riches. Yet, hey, it's birthday No. 150, right? Time to celebrate, right?
In sports we can look back at the excellence we've produced. And not only has there been excellence, but pizzazz. Our stars do things with flair.
The only man to ever win the NBA Finals MVP award from a losing team is West. And the only man to be named the Super Bowl MVP from a losing team is Wheeling native and WVU grad Chuck Howley.
Sometimes I wonder what the rest of the country would have done without our stars to liven things up.
Farmington native and WVU star Sam Huff jump-started the NFL with his "violent world."
Rand native Randy Moss has been shaking up the league for years.
Consider what Fairmont native Mary Lou Retton did for the sport of gymnastics.
Charleston's own Anne White wasn't a tennis player on the level of Serena Williams, but no one at Wimbledon will forget her spandex white body suit. Ever.
Golf? Despite the protests of Hot Springs, Va., we're claiming Sam Snead. No one had more flair than Slammin' Sam.
In hoops, we had not one, but two of the top 50 all-time NBA players in West and Hal Greer. We gave the NBA flashy players like Hot Rod Hundley, Jason "White Chocolate" Williams and O.J. Mayo.
It's almost not fair to the other states to list all. Greenbrier East standout Bimbo Coles played on the 1988 Olympic team. I'll briefly mention Tamar Slay, Patrick Patterson and Bill Walker.
Princeton's Rod Thorn nearly ran the NBA. Buckhannon's Chris Wallace was the general manager of the Boston Celtics and is now with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Oh, and the guy that coaches Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers? Mike D'Antoni? He's from Mullens.
This is a state, folks, where legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden couldn't make the grade. (Remember, though, his sons, coaches Terry and Tommy Bowden, grew up here.)
Apparently, Florida State liked the Mountain State connection because Clarksburg's Jimbo Fisher is the football coach there now.
So many coaches. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez went to school at North Marion High. And (I guess here is where I pull out the big ace in the hole), we can claim Alabama coach Nick Saban. He went to school at Monongah High, just outside of Fairmont.
Ex-Notre Dame coach and TV personality Lou Holtz was born in Follansbee.
The list just never seems to end. Pineville's Curt Warner was one of the NFL's finest running backs. The Kanawha Valley's Renee Montgomery and Alexis Hornbuckle were college hoops stars and are WNBA players. Charles Town's James Jett was an Olympic sprinter and Oakland Raider. South Charleston's Carl Lee was an all-pro defensive back.
In track, it was also St. Albans' Randy Barnes who won an Olympic gold medal. In women's boxing, Mullens' native Christy Martin was a pioneer.
I know I'm running out of room. But I must throw out a few baseball names - like Hall of Famer George Brett, born in Glen Dale. Current Cleveland Indian and ex-New York Yankee Nick Swisher is from Parkersburg. Cross Lanes resident Gary Kolb pinch-ran for Stan Musial after the legend's last at-bat.
And then there was Nitro product Lew Burdette, who seems to symbolize all of the above.
Burdette was the MVP of the 1957 World Series after throwing three complete games. He was also the winning pitcher on May 26, 1959, when the Pittsburgh Pirates' Harvey Haddix tossed a perfect game against the Milwaukee Braves through 12 innings - and lost in the 13th.
"I'm the greatest pitcher that ever lived," Burdette joked afterward. "The greatest game ever pitched in baseball wasn't good enough to beat me. So I've got to be the greatest!"
Just like the state of West Virginia.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.