It’s summertime, and that means it’s time for another SportzEdge ® Bracket-style, 64-team tournament! Feel the excitement!!!
Last year, we changed the course of modern human civilization with the Coolest NCAA Logo Tournament, which became a national phenomenon along the lines of a presidential election, Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY speech, or DeAndre Jordan changing his mind about where he wants to play basketball.
This year, we decided to take on a question scholars have been debating since the 1800’s, maybe.
Who is the greatest athlete in Connecticut history?
There are plenty of outstanding candidates, from Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, to four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rogers, to all-time great featherweight boxer Willie Pep.
The athletes we considered must have grown up in Connecticut, and we counted only their prowess on the playing field, so coaches, executives and contributors like Walter Camp were not considered.
VOTING FOR SECOND ROUND ENDS MONDAY AT 3 P.M.
WALTER CAMP REGION
1. Steve Young
San Francisco 49ers QB
1st Round: Defeated 16. Nick Tronsky 50.66% (808 votes) to 49.34% (787 votes)
The Pro Football Hall of Famer and Greenwich native barely escaped his first-round matchup against Duckpin Bowling champion Nick Tronsky, thanks to a late surge of votes before the Monday, 3 p.m., deadline. Young won by only 21 votes, which is concerning as he’s expected to make a long run in this tournament.
Steve’s parents moved him to Greenwich from Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was eight years old. He spent his youth playing football and baseball in the town, and starred at Greenwich High School in the late ’70s. Though the football team rarely threw the ball, Young used his legs to amass over 1,900 yards on 275 carries in his junior and senior years.
“Steve was never outstanding as a passer and did not have a particularly strong arm, but he was a great, great runner,” Greenwich football coach Mike Ornato told the New York Times in 1995. “He had excellent speed, and he was a deceptive, slashing type of runner.”
The Cardinals never won the state title in football while Young was there–they didn’t even win the FCIAC title (maybe because they never threw the ball). But Young did enough to be named all-state in 1979. He was also an all-state baseball player, even tossing a no-hitter against New Canaan.
Of course, Young went on to a ridiculous amount of success in both college at BYU (Davey O’Brien Award winner, first-team All-American, College Football Hall of Famer), and in the NFL (7-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-NFL, 2-time NFL MVP, and 3-time Super Bowl Champion).
9. Steve Blass
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher
1st Round: Defeated 8. Roger Connor 62.31% to 37.69%
In baseball’s famous “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, the greatest athlete in Canaan history was a top Cy Young candidate, finishing the year 18-6 with a 2.12 ERA. He also threw seven complete-game shutouts that season. In 1969, Blass won 16 games and finished with a career-high 147 strikeouts.
He also pitched the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series title in 1971, throwing two complete games and giving up just two runs on seven hits in his 18 innings pitched. He was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of that series against the Baltimore Orioles, and finished second in the voting for World Series MVP behind Roberto Clemente.
If Blass’ career had just gone on like that, he’d probably be a 1-seed in this tournament, with a legit shot to challenge Steve Young for our title. But then “The Thing” happened. And he lost all control.
In 1973, Blass became perhaps the first player ever to lose the fundamental ability to throw the ball accurately. We’ve seen it since in guys like Rick Ankiel or Chuck Knoblauch, like some sort of recurring horror movie series. Blass’ ERA ballooned to 9.85 in ’73. He walked 84 batters in 88.1 innings, and struck out only 27. His WAR (wins above replacement) of -4 stands as the worst single-season mark for any pitcher since 1901.
He was out of baseball by 1975.
The phenomenon is now known as “Steve Blass Disease.” But still…I mean, it’s pretty impressive to have something like that named after you.