Late to the Game: Bo-ing Somewhere?

double_athletes

Assistant editor Chris O’Connell isn’t from Texas; he’s from New Jersey. That’s OK though—he’s here now. But without growing up in a place that cherishes college sports the way many parts of the South—and especially Texas—do, Chris has taken it upon himself to learn more about all aspects of college athletics in a series we like to call Late to the Game.

Ask any sports fan who grew up in the ’90s: Who is the best athlete regardless of sport? Most—the smart ones anyway—will say Bo Jackson. Bo was the greatest for many reasons. He won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn. He was a five-tool baseball player in the major leagues. He was unstoppable as a playable character in Tecmo Bowl. He perfected the art of breaking something over your knee (or head). He was on an episode of Married…with Children and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He achieved just about all a little kid could hope for.

But what really set Bo apart from everyone else is that he was a two-sport athlete:he excelled at both football and baseball. He could rip off a 90-yard run and channel Spider-Man after tracking down a fly ball. Only Deion Sanders, who was admittedly a much better football player than baseball player, came close to rivaling Bo’s pro-sports duality. Unfortunately, Bo’s football career ended in 1991—he later made a comebacklgvrftdaw4hcjxyyeim0 in baseball—when he injured his hip during a playoff game.

In the years since Bo’s hip slammed down against the grass of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, triggering avascular necrosis, a bone disease that claimed his hip and his football career, youth sports specialization has been on the rise. Middle schoolers hitting their growth spurts play basketball year-round in AAU leagues. Little Leaguers who show an ounce of promise on the mound take indoor pitching lessons during winter break. Five-foot linebackers spend summers doing leg curls and hitting tackling dummies. This specialization, brought on by hubristic parents and enabled by overzealous youth coaches (often the same individual), means that the modern two-sport athlete is long gone.

For this reason, we’ll never see another Bo Jackson, which makes me sad. To cheer myself up, I did some research into two-sport athletes at the University of Texas. While none of them were Bo—how could they be?—most are recognizable names in just one of their two sports.

Marquise Goodwin

A raw athlete heading into his trip to the 2013 NFL Combine, Goodwin surprised exactly no one when he ran the fastest 40-yard dash among all wide receivers. Heck, a member of the U.S. Track and Field team at the 2012 Olympics should be pretty fast. Goodwin came to Texas in 2009 as the national high school record holder in the long jump. He’s now an Olympian, the holder of the all-time indoor long jump record at Texas, a member of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, and, as of last week, a silver medalist at the Pan American Games.

Goodwin stopped participating in track and field events after the Bills drafted him in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, only returning to the sport a few months ago. It seems the lure of Bo-ing—a phrase I just invented and trademarked—was too much for Goodwin to resist.

“I always dreamed of doing this, being able to do track and field and the NFL at the same time,” Goodwin said after winning silver. “So it’s kind of surreal to have a stage like this and the opportunity to represent my team, the NFL, and USA Track and Field.”

James Street

Street had an unlikely ascension to the mantle of greatest two-sport athlete in UT history. Not the greatest football player nor the greatest baseball player, but the most dominant in both sports at once. Virtually un-recruited coming out of Longview, the man who eventually won the Game of the Century for Texas with sitting president Richard Nixon in the crowd was initially a seventh-string quarterback. After starter Bill Bradley couldn’t handle Darrell K Royal’s newly installed wishbone offense, Street took over and never lost a game while under center. Not one. Street went 20-0 after replacing Bradley, including a National Championship win in January 1970. That one was in front of former president Lyndon Johnson. You could almost say he went “All the Way with LBJ (in the Crowd).” Almost.

If all that weren’t enough, Street threw two no hitters for the baseball team—one in 1969 against SMU and one in 1970 against Texas Tech. The latter, a perfect game, is the only one in the history of both the Southwest Conference and the University of Texas. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest pitchers in Texas history.

Street died in 2013 without playing one down in the NFL or pitching one inning in the MLB due to an injury he suffered in the 1970 College Baseball World Series. One of his sons, Huston, is an All-Star closer for the Angels. Another of his sons, Juston, portrays his father in the upcoming (excellent) film My All-American.

Destinee Hooker

One of the most recent two-sport athletes on the women’s side is also perhaps the greatest in UT’s history. A four-year All-American in volleyball, Hooker also won four NCAA titles as a high jumper on the track and field team. In 2009, her 6’6″ jump broke the college indoor record.

Hooker also has a Michael Jordan-esque youth sports story. As is popular lore, Jordan was allegedly “cut” from his high school varsity team, a myth that has since been debunked. Jordan, as a sophomore, was merely relegated to junior varsity, because, well, he was a sophomore. But Hooker actually was cut from her volleyball team as a 13-year-old. Now a member of U.S. women’s national volleyball team, Hooker won a silver medal with the team in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Hooker participated in the 2008 Olympic Trials in the high jump, though she ultimately chose volleyball as her primary sport. It seems the camaraderie of team sports was more appealing. “In high jump you’re by yourself and I hated that,” Hooker said, when asked about her decision. “I like receiving energy and giving out energy. I think volleyball was a great choice.”

It is unconfirmed if Hooker was ripping a picture of her youth volleyball coach in half during the interview.

Ricky Williams

pic595You already know Ricky Williams. But did you know that Ricky Williams also played minor league baseball? Yes? Did I mention I’m not from here?

During Ricky’s four years on campus, he played in the Phillies’ farm system in the football offseason. The Heisman Trophy-winner fared much better in pro football than pro baseball. After a floundering career, in which he never made it above Class A minor league ball, he was selected by the Expos in the Rule 5 Draft. The team then traded his rights to the Rangers. That’s right, Ricky almost played in Montreal and Toronto, the latter being in 2006 when the running back was suspended from the NFL for failing a drug test, later signing with the Argonauts of the CFL. Ricky sure had that … je ne sais quoi, eh?

Ricky also never played an inning in the majors, but his former minor league teammate, 2007 National League MVP Jimmy Rollins, once said of the All-Pro NFLer: “Fastest guy I’ve ever laid eyes on. Fastest guy out of the chute. My God. Really? People are really that fast?” As every Texas football fan will attest, yes.

There are many other two-sport athletes in Texas history—Bobby Layne, Hugh Wolfe, and Jamaal Charles come to mind—though in the case of the more recent ones like Charles, the athlete picks one sport and sticks with it. Not so closer to the turn of the 19th century. Even Benjamin Allen, famous for being a cartoonist of popular, antique-sounding strips like Mugsy and Flapper Fanny, once caught a tipped pass for the winning touchdown against A&M in 1924 and was good enough at baseball to earn a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals.

But will there ever be another James Street or Destinee Hooker, a Texas athlete so talented that one team sport cannot be expected to contain them? I think I can speak for Longhorn Nation when I say, “Please! Yes! Can there be? Is that possible? Don’t toy with me. I’ll give up barbecue for a whole year if you make that happen!”

Chris Knows Longhorns. And that baseball card of Ricky is just … disconcerting.

If you’d rather listen than read (no judgment), you can do so below:

Illustration by Melissa Reese.

 

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