Since recently revealing the four faces on his Mount Rushmore for the NBA, LeBron James has reignited a long-standing debate in sports.
The league’s four-time MVP got me thinking about who would be on the University of Iowa’s Mount Rushmore for football and men’s basketball.
Nile Kinnick (in football) and Ronnie Lester (basketball) immediately came to mind, each a no-brainer pick.
Roy Marble didn’t make my Mount Rushmore for basketball despite being Iowa’s all-time leading scorer with 2,116 points.
Sedrick Shaw didn’t make it for football despite being Iowa’s all-time leading rusher with 4,156 yards.
Statistics played a significant role in carving out my four picks for each sport, but they hardly explain why legendary linemen Fred “Duke” Slater and Calvin Jones made the cut.
The stories about Slater controlling the trenches without wearing a helmet during the glory days of the early 1920s might seem more like fiction, but are fact. And there are photos to prove it.
One of few African-Americans who played college football nearly a century ago, Slater already would’ve stood out as a pioneer and as a man with great courage and resolve. But Slater was also a spectacular football player, earning first-team all-America honors as a senior in 1921 in addition to making first-team all-Big Ten three times.
Jones grew up Steubenville, Ohio, and turned down the chance to join the dynasty-in-the-making under Woody Hayes at Ohio State in order to play for Forest Evashevski at Iowa. Jones also brought two of his best friends from Steubenville with him to Iowa.
His two friends, Frank Gilliam and Eddie Vincent, also became stars for the Iowa football team and history now remembers the three as the Steubenville trio.
Jones was Iowa’s first two-time consensus all-American in football and was rewarded the Outland Trophy as a senior in 1955. He helped pave the way for the glory years under Evashevski. Jones also died way too soon as a result of a plane crash on Dec. 9, 1956 in Canada, where he was playing professionally.
He and Kinnick will forever be linked through tragedy and triumph. They are the only Iowa football players to have their jersey number retired.
Kinnick met all the requirements to be on Iowa’s Mount Rushmore as a legend with incredible statistics. You name it and Kinnick did it for the 1939 Ironman squad, and did it exceptionally well. He ran, passed, tackled, kicked and punted his way to becoming Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner. He was involved in 16 of Iowa’s 19 touchdowns during the 1939 season and was involved in 107 of 130 points that Iowa scored that season.
Kinnick, like Jones, also died way too soon, killed on June 2, 1943, at the age of 24 while serving his country in World War II in the Naval Air Reserve. Kinnick was on a routine training flight when his plane developed an oil leak and crashed off the coast of Venezuela in the Gulf of Paria.
Quarterback Chuck Long is the fourth face on my Mount Rushmore for Iowa football. He was the first quarterback in Big Ten history and the second in NCAA history behind Boston College’s Doug Flutie to pass for at least 10,000 yards in a career. Long was also a winner, leading Iowa to its first 10-win season in 1985 and to four consecutive bowl games, including the 1986 Rose Bowl.
Lester is my choice for the greatest player in the history of Iowa men’s basketball. The Chicago native was virtually unstoppable in transition before a knee injury stripped him of his immense talent. Lester was a scoring point guard who also made those around him better with his unselfishness and his vision.
Surprisingly, trimming the list to four was more difficult in basketball. I figured football would’ve been harder.
But after Lester, picking the Mount Rushmore for hoops almost became an insurmountable task. You could make a strong case for at least 10 players. I ultimately picked three-time all-American Herb Wilkinson, who transferred to Iowa after winning a national title as a freshman at Utah in 1944, along with Don Nelson and Sam Williams, both of whom made first-team all-Big Ten twice in the early- to late-1960s.
It was tough leaving lineman Fred Becker off the list for football, but the selection process was based solely on performance on the field rather than being a hero off it. Becker only played one season at Iowa in 1916, but the Waterloo native made the most of it, becoming the first Hawkeye to earn first-team all-America accolades in any sport.
Becker would be a lock to make Iowa’s Mount Rushmore, along with Kinnick, if you were picking the four greatest heroes to compete as Hawkeyes. Becker was killed by artillery shell on July 18, 1918 during the Battle Soissons at the age of 22. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his courage and valor in battle.
Chris Street also deserves mention because he was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest basketball players in school history as a highly energized and athletic 6-foot-8 forward when he was killed in an automobile accident on Jan. 19, 1993, on the outskirts of Iowa City. Street was about midway through his junior season when he was killed.
Street had what it takes to make my Mount Rushmore. He just didn’t have enough time.
Fred Duke Slater, lineman, 1918-21
Nile Kinnick, halfback, 1937-39
Calvin Jones, lineman, 1953-55
Chuck Long, quarterback 1981-85
Also considered: Fred Becker, Aubrey Devine, Randy Duncan, Tim Dwight, Robert Gallery, Gordon Locke, Alex Karras, Bob Sanders, Sedrick Shaw, Larry Station, Andre Tippett.
Herb Wilkinson, forward, 1944-47
Don Nelson, forward, 1959-62:
Sam Williams, forward, 1966-68
Ronnie Lester, point guard, 1976-80
Also considered: B.J. Armstrong, Fred Brown, Carl Cain, Charles Darling, Acie Earl, Dave Gunther, Dick Ives, John Johnson, Bill Logan, Roy Marble, Greg Stokes, Murray Weir, Andre Woolridge.