Here at SportzEdge, we’re always thinking about life’s biggest questions.
Why are we here? What does life mean? Who are the greatest athletes ever to come out of Connecticut?
Yeah, we’re deep.
From Steve Young to Jeff Bagwell to Willie Pep, our state has produced more than its share of legendary sports figures. But which one is the GOAT? (For people born before 1990–this means Greatest Of All Time).
Our only rule is that the athletes listed must have at least played high school sports in Connecticut, so people like Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, and Diana Taurasi won’t make the list.
If you want to nominate an athlete, hit us up on Twitter @SportzEdge or leave a comment below. We’ll start voting on Wednesday (July 15), and voting will continue over the next few weeks.
Here are the nominees we came up with:
Willie Pep, Boxing (Middletown)
Born Guglielmo Papaleo, the Middletown native was better known as Willie ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ Pep, one of the greatest boxers in history. He’s listed as the fifth-greatest of all-time by ESPN.com, and is commonly regarded as the best featherweight ever to step into the ring. Recently, he was ranked the No. 1 featherweight of the twentieth century by the Associated Press, and the No. 1 featherweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization in 2005.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Albie Booth, Football. (New Haven)
The College Football Hall of Famer was a tremendous athlete at Yale, starring in football, basketball and baseball. As a sophomore, Booth came off the bench to rush for 233 yards, two rushing touchdowns, and a punt return touchdown in a game against national powerhouse Army. He also kicked the extra points on all three scores, giving him all of the game’s 21 points.
Andy Robustelli, New York Giants tackle. (Stamford)
A graduate of tiny Arnold College in Milford (now part of the University of Bridgeport), the Stamford native spent 13 years in the NFL with the L.A. Rams and New York Giants. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, and even won the Bert Bell Award as the NFL’s Player of the Year in 1962. Robustelli won championships with the Rams (1951) and Giants (’56) and was inducted into the Pro Football of Fame in 1971. He was honored with the Walter Camp Man of the Year Award in 1988 for his contribution to the community.
Jeff Bagwell, Houston Astros first baseman. (Killingworth)
The possible future Hall of Famer is almost undoubtedly the greatest player in Houston Astros history. He hit .297 with 449 home runs in 15 years in Houston. Bagwell grew up in Killingworth, which is a small town in southern Connecticut. He played at Xavier High School in Middletown and played college ball at the University of Hartford. Bagwell is a four-time All-Star, a three time Silver Slugger award winner and was the 1994 National League MVP.
Bobby Valentine, Five MLB Teams. (Stamford)
The mercurial manager was once a star-crossed shortstop with the L.A. Dodgers, hitting .260 over nine injury-plagued years in the major leagues from 1969-79. The Stamford native managed the New York Mets to the World Series in 2000, and led Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines to a championship in 2005. After a failed stint with the Red Sox last season, Valentine is back in Connecticut, working as the Athletic Director at Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport.
Roger Connor, New York Giants first baseman. (Waterbury)
You may have never heard of him, but the old timer from Waterbury is a Baseball Hall of Famer who actually held the all-time major league record for home runs before Babe Ruth. (He played from 1880-97). Connor hit 138 homers in his career, and his mark lasted for over 20 years until the Bambino broke it. In fact, legend has it that Connor is the reason the New York Giants became the New York (and now San Francisco) Giants, as sportswriters played off of his great stature.
Bruce Jenner, Decathlon. (Newtown)
Before he became known for photo shoots, reality TV shows and changing his name to Caitlyn, Bruce Jenner was an Olympic champion in the decathlon, and was one of the most famous and beloved athletes in the country.
Jenner spent his junior and senior years at Newtown High School, where he blossomed into the track star that eventually landed him on Wheaties boxes. He should be one of the frontrunners on this list.
Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers quarterback. (Greenwich)
It’s going to be tough to top this one. The Hall of Fame QB grew up in Greenwich and played at Greenwich High School before going on to BYU and then becoming the second-greatest quarterback in San Francisco 49ers history.
Young won a Super Bowl with the ‘Niners in 1994.
Jimmy Piersall, Boston Red Sox outfielder. (Waterbury)
The colorful Piersall won two Gold Gloves in his 17-year major league career, most of which was spent with the Boston Red Sox. In 1956, Piersall led the American League with 40 doubles.
He also hit .291 that year. In all, the outfielder finished with a .271 career average, 104 home runs and 594 RBI.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings goaltender. (Hamden)
The ultra-athletic Quick almost single-handedly lifted the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup title in 2012, posting 10 shutouts in 18 games. Quick’s .946 saves percentage during the Kings’ run is the best in NHL playoff history. His 1.41 goals against average was equally remarkable.
He earned the Conn Smythe trophy as the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP.
George Springer, Houston Astros outfielder. (New Britain)
Springer is from New Britain and played in college at UConn. He’s now one of the top young players in baseball with the Houston Astros.
Chris Drury, NHL. (Trumbull)
Not only did Drury have an outstanding NHL career, playing 12 years with the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, he also won the Little League World Series title as a pitcher for Trumbull back in 1990. So yeah, we’d say he deserves his spot on this list.
Floyd Little, Denver Broncos running back. (New Haven)
At 5-10, 195 pounds, the aptly-named Little had a big career in pro football. A star at Syracuse in the 1960s, the New Haven native and Denver Broncos running back led the AFL in rushing in 1969 and ’71. Little spent his entire career with the Broncos, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Vin Baker, Milwaukee Bucks/Seattle Supersonics center. (Old Saybrook)
Erik Dobratz’s grade school buddy grew up to be one of the best basketball players in Connecticut history, first starring at the University of Hartford and then in the NBA. Baker was a four-time All-Star and was named to the All-NBA second team in 1998.
Marcus Camby, NBA center. (Hartford)
The former Hartford Public phenom has had an incredibly productive career in the NBA, playing 17 seasons and posting averages of 9.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Camby even won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2007 as a member of the Denver Nuggets.
The athletic big man was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school, and signed with John Calipari at UMass. He was the National Player of the Year in 1996 and led the Minutemen to a 30-1 record and a trip to the Final Four, but those wins were later vacated when it came out that UMass violated NCAA rules in Camby’s recruitment.
Mike Gminski, NBA center. (Monroe)
The G-Man was a star player at Duke, where he remains one of the greatest players in that school’s storied history. Gminski averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds in his four years with the Blue Devils from 1976-80. He went on to play 14 years in the NBA, most notably with the New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Charlotte Hornets. Gminski averaged 11.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He currently does television work as a color commentator on college basketball games for CBS and Fox Sports Network.
Mo Vaughn, Red Sox/Mets first baseman. (Norwalk)
In his heyday, Mo Vaughn was one of the most feared hitters in the game. The 1995 American League MVP was the face of the Red Sox in the mid-nineties, putting up five straight 30-plus home run seasons. In 12 years with the Red Sox, Angels, and Mets, Mo hit .293 with 328 homers and 1,064 RBI. Vaughn’s career fizzled after he signed a 6-year $80 million free agent contract with the Angels in 1999.
Chris Dudley, NBA center. (Stamford)
The Yale graduate and diabetes survivor played 16 years in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Jersey Nets, Portland Trail Blazers and New York Knicks. The 7-footer served as Patrick Ewing’s backup and played big minutes in the 1999 NBA Finals. Dudley is memorable for his charitable efforts off of the court, using his self-named foundation to raise money to help kids living with diabetes. He’s also notable for being an incredibly bad free throw shooter, finishing six whole seasons shooting less than 40 percent from the stripe.
Nykesha Sales, women’s basketball.
Sales became the all-time leading scorer in UConn women’s basketball history when she graduated in 1998, although breaking the record with a bit of controversy. Sales suffered a career-ending injury when she was just one point shy of the record, then scored her record-breaking 2,178th point on an uncontested layup in a game against Villanova. (The Wildcats were allowed to score on their end to make it 2-2).
Sales also led the Huskies to the 1995 NCAA title and went on to an excellent career in the WNBA, playing nine years with the Orlando Miracle and Connecticut Sun. She was an eight-time All-Star.
Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts DE. (Bloomfield)
One of the best defensive players in Indianapolis Colts history, Freeney totaled 94 sacks in nine seasons and won the AFC Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2005. Freeney, who was known for his incredible speed and short stature, was a seven-time Pro Bowler.
Ryan Gomes, NBA. (Waterbury)
The Wilby grad is one of the greatest players in Providence College history. Gomes ranks first in scoring (2,138 points) and fifth in rebounding (1,028 boards) in PC history. He was also named first-team All-American in 2004, and led the Friars to an NCAA Tournament appearance that season.
The 6-7 forward has spent six years in the NBA with the Boston Cetlics, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers.
Scott Burrell, NBA. (Hamden)
The Hamden High School grad was the first player ever to be taken in the first round of the MLB and NBA Drafts. He ended up playing 14 seasons in the NBA, with the Charlotte Hornets, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets. He was the Hornets’ first-round pick (20th overall) in 1993.
Burrell also helped lead UConn to its 1990 Dream Season, which included a Big East title and the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Rico Brogna, MLB. (Watertown)
Brogna starred in football and baseball at Watertown High School, and was drafted in both sports. He spent nine years in the majors, most notably with the Mets and Phillies.
Brogna hit at least 20 home runs in three seasons. His best season came in 1999, when he hit 24 homers and drove in 104 runs for the Phillies.
Darren Bragg, MLB. (Waterbury)
The former major league outfielder batted .255 with 46 home runs and 260 RBI in 10 seasons, most notably with the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox. Bragg started in the outfield for the Red Sox in 1997. He currently runs “The Hit Club,” which is an indoor baseball facility located in the famous Seth Thomas building in downtown Thomaston.
Walt Dropo, UConn men’s basketball, MLB. (Moosup)
Perhaps the greatest athlete in UConn history, the Moose from Moosup was a three-sport star in basketball, baseball and football at Connecticut. He averaged 20.7 points per game, which ranks second all-time in Huskies history, behind Wes Bialosuknia.
Dropo was drafted by the Chicago Bears of the NFL and the Providence Steamrollers of a pre-NBA professional basketball league. But he made his greatest mark in baseball, where he won the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year award and spent four seasons with the Red Sox.
Joey Logano, NASCAR. (Middletown)
The No. 22 Team Penske driver began his racing career at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. Logano is the youngest driver to win a Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series race, and he was the 2009 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year. In the Sprint Cup Series, he has nine wins, 95 top-10 finishes, and 12 poles.
The 25-year-old is in search for his first Sprint Cup Series championship as he is currently tied for second place with six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. Logano’s best finish in the Sprint Cup Series came last year when he finished in fourth place. Back in February, Logano won the 2015 Daytona 500, which is his only win so far this season. Along with that win, he has 10 top-5 finishes and 13 top-10 finishes in 2015.
Jordan Williams, NBA. (Torrington)
The Torrington High School grad averaged 36 points per game in his senior year as a Red Raider. He went on to play two seasons of college basketball at the University of Maryland. In his sophomore year as a Terrapin, he recorded 13 straight double-doubles, which set a Maryland record. Williams was also a third-team All-American that season. After his sophomore season, he entered the 2011 NBA Draft where he was selected in the second round by the New Jersey Nets. In 2012, he was a part of a trade between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks, which brought Joe Johnson to Brooklyn.
Brian Leetch, New York Rangers defenseman. (Cheshire)
Leetch became a star athlete very early in his life. In high school, he shined in both baseball and hockey at Cheshire High School, and later, at Avon Old Farms. In college, Leetch focused solely on hockey at Boston College where he was an All-American. He was also a top-10 draft pick by the New York Rangers in 1986.
Leetch played 19 NHL seasons– 17 seasons with the New York Rangers. He won a Stanley Cup in 1994 and was the NHL Playoffs MVP in that same year. Leetch is one of 82 players with 1,000 career points. He’s a Hall of Famer and arguably the “Greatest Ranger of All-Time.”
Did we miss anyone? Have any suggestions for us? Hit us up on Twitter @SportzEdge and let us know!