Sunday, April 07, 2002

Icons: 5 men sacred to city

Five 'venerated as sacred' to city

By John Erardi,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You can quibble about whether University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins is bound for “icon status” in Cincinnati. But there is no disagreement among the Enquirer and the experts we consulted about this town's sports icons.

VOTE: Who do you think is a Cincinnati sports icon?
| VOTE |
        Pete Rose.

        Oscar Robertson.

        Paul Brown.

        Johnny Bench.

        Anthony Munoz.

        Those five are a consensus.

        For all of his faults, Rose is (with most people) sacred in this town ... Robertson is, at worst, the second-greatest basketball player of all-time ... Brown was already a northern Ohio icon when he founded the Bengals here in 1968 and fully maintained that heady status ... Munoz is widely regarded as the greatest offensive lineman ever ... and Bench merely revolutionized the position of catcher and remains the gold standard.

        We didn't restrict our experts to any specific parameters in determining who is a Cincinnati sports icon, except to mention the following partial definition from Webster's dictionary: “icon — venerated as sacred.”

        The people who are venerated as sacred are those who accomplish their feats while leading or playing for Cincinnati teams. Many of their greatest moments were accomplished on our hallowed ground.

        The three experts who chose the legends to be carved onto our mythical Mount Rushmore were Kevin Grace, sports historian at UC; Jim Schottelkotte, sports historian and former Enquirer sports editor, and Steve Wolter, owner of Sports Investment Inc. in Montgomery.

        Here were their unanimous choices:

        • Rose — Although Rose is baseball's all-time hit leader, it's those 746 doubles that best defined him. Why? Because so many of those doubles would have been singles to ordinary men. Where other men saw a turn, Rose saw only temptation — 90 feet of it. And the last 20 of it was usually a cloud of dust. Born and raised here, Charlie Hustle broke into the Reds lineup at second base by Opening Day 1963. He kicked off the 1970s with his famous collision with catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati; tumbled in the dirt with New York Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson in 1973 at Shea Stadium; broke up a double play in Game7 of the 1975 World Series that gave Tony Perez the opportunity to come up and hit a critical two-run home run; and in August 1984, he hit the dirt again upon his return as a Red and helped resurrect an entire franchise.

        • Robertson — The Indianapolis native arrived on campus in 1956 and soon had UC basketball on the national map like never before. As a sophomore in 1958, he scored 56 points at Madison Square Garden and paved the way for the school's national championships of 1961 and 1962 after his graduation. In three varsity seasons at UC, he scored a record 2,973 points; nobody since has come close. He is also the school's all-time leading rebounder. He was the first player to lead the NCAA in scoring for three straight seasons and was a three-time consensus national player of the year. He played 14 years in the NBA, most of them with the Cincinnati Royals in the 1960s. The 9-foot bronze statue outside Shoemaker Center bespeaks his singularity as a basketball player, a 6-foot-5 guard who rebounded like a forward and handled the ball like a point guard. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan. He was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1961; in his second year as a pro (1961-62), he averaged a triple-double (30.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 11.3 assists).

        • Brown — By the time he came here as the patriarch of pro football in Cincinnati (he founded the Bengals as an expansion franchise in 1968), Brown was already an icon in northern and central Ohio (Massillon High, Ohio State, founder of Cleveland Browns) as a coach and innovator. He was already in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. His success as a Bengals head coach in the early years only added to his legacy, as did helping guide the Bengals to two Super Bowls as general manager.

        • Bench — We quote to you the Hall of Fame plaque: “Redefined standards by which catchers are measured, during 17 seasons with "Big Red Machine.' Controlled game on both sides of plate with his hitting (389 homers — record 327 as a catcher, 1,376 RBI), throwing out opposing baserunners, calling pitches and blocking home plate. NL MVP, 1970 and 1972. Won 10 Gold Gloves. Last game, 9th-inning homer led to 1972 pennant.” He was the first-team catcher on the All-Century team. He made 14 All-Star teams and was the World Series MVP in 1976. He had an unfathomable flair for the dramatic. At the time he was elected to the Hall of Fame, only two players in history had out-polled him — Ty Cobb and Henry Aaron. Many fans of Pete Rose don't like him, because he has been critical of Rose's gambling associations that got Rose banned from baseball. But say this for Bench: He's honest and doesn't back off his beliefs.

        • Munoz — He's widely regarded as the greatest offensive lineman in history. He is one of only three offensive tackles on the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team and is only the third offensive tackle to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was the first inductee in Canton primarily of Hispanic descent and earned 11 consecutive Pro Bowl selections. As was once written about him, “What set (Munoz) apart was that he was the first football behemoth to demonstrate the grace of a ballet dancer. He was a bear with the feet of a feline.” But perhaps the best thing ever said about him was by his son, Michael, after the big man had been honored in his hometown of Ontario, Calif. Michael noticed that Pop's classmates and friends all had basically the same thing to say about him. They said that “everybody knew who the big man on campus was. Except for one person. That was him.”


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