Big Ten Icons: Archie Griffin

It stands to reason that running backs would be distinguished citizens at Ohio State University, where “three yards and a cloud of dust” was the unquestioned football mantra through the storied Woody Hayes Era and for at least a few years on either side of it. Archie Griffin is the most distinguished of those citizens.

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Big Ten Icons: Tom Harmon

Tom Harmon transcends the overused term “football hero.” He was a hero in most every sense of the word. Seventy years after he last performed as a single-wing tailback for the University of Michigan, “Old 98” is still remembered as perhaps the most talented player in Wolverines history, a true triple threat on offense and a standout on defense. He was also the punter and the place-kicker. He probably would have taped ankles and passed out the orange slices at halftime had he been asked.

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Big Ten Icons: Dick Butkus

In the history of sport, it’s doubtful there has ever been a more ideal melding of game, player and position than football, Dick Butkus and middle linebacker. It’s as if he were born to play the position, or the position were invented with Butkus in mind.

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Big Ten Icons: Nile Kinnick

Truth, we are told, can be stranger than fiction. In Nile Kinnick’s case it was also more impressive. The spellbinding exploits of Frank Merriwell and Jack Armstrong and other fictional sports heroes of the early 20th century had nothing on the real-life accomplishments of Kinnick, who with his fellow Ironmen pretty much rescued University of Iowa football during a magical 1939 season that still stirs the imagination 71 years after it took place. There’s a reason the Hawkeyes’ home field bears Kinnick’s name.

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Big Ten Icons: Jerry Lucas

In an era of no Internet, very limited television and no recruiting services to turn teenage athletes into national celebrities, how does a kid from small-town Middle America become the most famous high school basketball player in the nation? By being as talented and as well-rounded as Jerry Lucas. Before there was Bill Bradley, before there was Larry Bird,  there was Jerry Lucas.

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Big Ten Icons: Rick Mount

Sinatra had his voice, Hendrix had his guitar, and Rick Mount had his jump shot. Sinatra’s smooth-as-velvet singing and Hendrix’s pyrotechnic playing likely generated more worldwide fame and fortune, but it’s doubtful either man had more mastery of his instrument than Mount did any time he had a basketball in his hands, anywhere in a gym. He averaged 32.3 points per game and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor over his three varsity seasons at Purdue from 1967-70. If there was a layup among his 910 career buckets, no one readily remembers. And this was before the advent of the three-point line.

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Big Ten Icons: Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas was one of the most heavily recruited basketball players the Chicago area has ever produced. Bob Knight landed him by winning over the person who exerted the strongest influence in Thomas’ life: his mother. Mary Thomas was an incredibly strong-willed woman who raised her own nine children and helped with scores of neighborhood kids in the notoriously tough “K-Town” area of the city’s West Side. Once she decided Indiana was the best place for her youngest, the battle was over.

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