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Big Ten Icons

Big Ten Icons

Big Ten Icons Presented by Discover is an original series spotlighting the great coaches in Big Ten history. Last season, we counted down the top 50 competitors in the conference’s rich history. The first 30 were released online and the final 20 names were featured in full episodes hosted by legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson.


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. All of Iowa was hit hard by the Great Depression and its aftermath, and Kinnick’s proud, hard-working

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. Bradley was known for his talent, work ethic and smarts during an All-America career at Princeton. Bird came in a larger package at Indiana State. Those same attributes distinguished Lucas, and they came in a solid 6-foot-8

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

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. “I don’t think Coach Knight was used to people standing up to him the way my mother did,”

Big Ten Icons: Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz swam as if something was chasing him. In a sense, something was, even and perhaps most notably during a four-year period of world domination. Just 18 when he qualified for the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, Spitz was already one of swimming’s most accomplished performers, his resume packed with age-group world records, AAU titles and Pan-American and Maccabiah Games medals. He was perceived as a bit boastful, but not totally unrealistic when he suggested he just might leave Mexico with six gold medals. He won two, and that segment of the swimming world that had been put off

Big Ten Icons: John Wooden

John Wooden cast such a giant shadow as a college basketball coach that his comparably impressive achievements as a player are easily overlooked. Indeed, when Wooden died at age 99 earlier this year, his incomparable run of 10 national championships over a 12-year stretch at UCLA led the tributes. Seven of those titles came in succession as the Bruins became the gold standard in the college game. The period also featured an 88-game winning streak, four undefeated seasons, a 38-game NCAA tournament winning streak and a 140-2 record at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s home court. There’s no question that John Wooden’s

Big Ten Icons: Otto Graham

Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf obviously had his Northwestern football team in mind when he spotted a strong-armed freshman throwing feathery-soft spirals in an NU  fraternity football league in the fall of 1940. Waldorf suggested the youngster might want to give the Wildcat varsity a try the following season. He did, and football’s gain was something of a loss for basketball, baseball and music. Otto Everett Graham Jr. was Waldorf’s discovery. Few athletes have ever been as accomplished, not to mention as versatile. Graham would win eight varsity letters in three sports at Northwestern and make All-America in football and basketball. He

Big Ten Icons: Dave Winfield

Dave Winfield had never played a down of college football at the University of Minnesota, but the Minnesota Vikings thought they knew an athlete when they saw one. They drafted Winfield in 1973, envisioning a pass-catching, stretch-the-field tight end. They also knew that signing Winfield might involve outbidding the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Stars of the rival ABA, who had seen enough of him on the basketball court to believe Winfield had a future at forward in the pro game. Winfield was a complementary player for the Gophers’ 1972 Big Ten champions, but Bill Musselman, his coach at

Big Ten Icons: John Cappelletti

Penn State being Penn State, it was inevitable that some of the records John Cappelletti set in his two remarkably productive seasons as the Nittany Lions’ starting tailback would fall as the assembly line kept churning out newer models. But the proud Italian kid from suburban Philadelphia remains the only Heisman Trophy winner in Penn State history. And the speech he gave when he accepted the award on Dec. 13, 1973 remains the most memorable in the Heisman’s 75-year history. Cappelletti dedicated the award to his younger brother Joey, then 11, whose entire life had been a struggle with the

Big Ten Icons: Steve Alford

Steve Alford may well have been the quintessential Indiana basketball player. He grew up in New Castle, a town that reveres the game, and learned it from his father, Sam Alford, a Hall of Fame high school coach at New Castle Chrysler. Under his father’s tutelage, Alford developed the fundamental skills, the shooting touch, the court sense and the toughness that constitute the preferred style of play in the land where basketball is king. A two-time all-state selection, Alford was the state’s leading scorer as a senior with 37.7 points per game and won the coveted title of Indiana’s Mr.