By Michael Terrill @MichaelTerrill on August 21, 2014
There have been some awesome athletes, coaches and executives who have been associated with the state of Wisconsin over the years. The idea behind this list is honoring the men and women who had a huge impact on the Wisconsin sports world, regardless if they were born and raised in the state. Here’s a look at the top 30 Wisconsin sports heroes of all time.
Golfer Andy North only has 14 professional wins, including just three wins on the PGA Tour. However, because he has won the U.S. Open twice is why he belongs on this list. In fact, North is the only golfer from the state of Wisconsin to win a major tournament.
Even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar demanded a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks, there’s no denying the success he brought to the team. In fact, he’s largely responsible for Milwaukee’s lone NBA Championship, which occurred in 1971. Abdul-Jabbar was the league MVP and NBA Finals MVP that season.
Dan Jansen is a World Champion speed skater who set eight world records in his career. He was the favorite at the 1988 Winter Olympics, but unfortunately, he found out his sister had died of leukemia prior to a race. Jansen left the ’88 and ’92 Olympics without any medals. In one of the last races of his career, he unexpectedly won the gold medal in the 500-meter event at the ’94 Olympics and set a world record in the process.
Bob Uecker, who is the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, didn’t excel as a player. However, he did find his niche in radio and television. Uecker has been a member of the Brewers’ radio broadcast team for the past 43 years. Growing up in Milwaukee, he’s one of Wisconsin’s most cherished people.
Head coach Al McGuire did more for Marquette basketball than any other human being to leave a mark on the school. During the 13 years (1965-1977) that McGuire led the team, the school enjoyed an NIT Championship (1971) and two Final Four appearances (1974, 1977). In fact, it was McGuire’s last year as the head coach of Marquette that the Warriors (now known as the Golden Eagles) won the national championship.
Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch grew up in Wausau, Wis. and played one season for the Wisconsin Badgers. He helped lead the Los Angeles Rams to victory in the 1951 NFL Championship Game by posting 1,495 receiving yards, which was a record that stood for 19 years. Hirsch was a two-time First-Team All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowl selection and is a member of the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team. More importantly, he’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Alan Ameche is from Kenosha, Wis. and played for the Badgers. His most notable accomplishment is being only one of four fullbacks ever to win the Heisman Trophy. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in his first four years in the NFL, and he is most famous for scoring the winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship Game. He also helped the Baltimore Colts win the 1959 NFL Championship.
Ryan Braun is a big reason why the Milwaukee Brewers became relevant again from 2008 to the present day. In 2011, he was named the NL MVP after putting up jaw-dropping numbers. It was his production that helped the Brewers clinch a NLCS berth for the first time in franchise history. Braun is known for his clutch hits in big games, which is why Milwaukee always feel they have a chance to win with him at the plate.
There’s no question 1982 was a magical season for Brewers baseball. Pete Vuckovich posted the best season of his career that year. His 18-6 record, 3.34 ERA, 105 strikeouts and nine complete games was good enough for him to win the AL Cy Young Award. It’s also partly why the Brewers went to the World Series. What’s so remarkable about his performance down the stretch was that it was revealed he had torn his rotator cuff.
Barry Alvarez is credited with turning the Badgers football program around. He led the team to three Big Ten Championships, three Rose Bowl victories and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year twice. He also has the most wins (118) in school history. After stepping down as the head coach of the Badgers in 2006, Alvarez has remained a big part of the school’s success in sports as the athletic director.
As a member of the Brewers, Paul Molitor was a five-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and held a 39-game hit streak, which was five games short of tying Pete Rose’s record. One of the best seasons of his career occurred in 1982, with his performance being one of the driving forces for Milwaukee reaching the World Series. Molitor won the World Series with the Blue Jays in 1993 and was named the World Series MVP.
Bonnie Blair is one of the most decorated female speed skaters in U.S. Olympic history. Even though she isn’t from Wisconsin, she trained in Milwaukee with the U.S. national speed skating team and is one of the city’s most famous residents. She’s a five-time Olympic gold medalist, and she’s a member of the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.
Rollie Fingers, who is considered to be a pioneer of modern relief pitching, was outstanding for the Brewers in the early 1980s. In fact, he won AL MVP and AL Cy Young Award honors in 1981. If it wasn’t for Fingers missing the ’82 World Series due to pain, there’s a good chance Milwaukee would have emerged victorious. Still, Fingers is regarded as one of Wisconsin’s great sports heroes due to his role in making the Brewers relevant.
Eddie Mathews led the big leagues in home runs twice and walks four times during his 16-year baseball career. What people may not fully realize is Mathews was hitting over 40 home runs in a season before it was a common occurrence. In fact, his 512 career home runs rank 22nd all time. He also helped the Milwaukee Braves win the 1957 World Series, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Warren Spahn is the winningest left-handed pitcher in MLB history. The 17-time All-Star and 1957 Cy Young Award winner is largely responsible for leading the Milwaukee Braves to victory in the 1957 World Series. Along with two no-hitters, Spahn also is a member of the MLB All-Century Team.
Charles Woodson signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 because no other team wanted him. What started out as something he hated turned into a blessing in disguise. As a member of the Packers, Woodson was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and reached two NFC Championship Games. Most notably, it was Woodson’s supreme leadership that willed the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV.
Paul Hornung gets most of the credit, but it was halfback Jim Taylor who did most of the work during Green Bay’s glory years under Vince Lombardi. Taylor led the league in rushing attempts twice and touchdowns twice. In 1962, one of Green Bay’s championship years, he led the NFL with 1,474 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns and 105.3 yards per game. His performance earned him NFL MVP honors that season.
Mike Holmgren is partially credited with turning the Packers around after decades of embarrassment. It was GM Ron Wolf who hired Holmgren and gave him the necessary pieces, but it was Holmgren who molded the team into an unstoppable force in the 1990s. He showed patience with a young Brett Favre, his offense tore apart defenses and he’s largely responsible for Green Bay’s win in Super Bowl XXXI.
Ron Dayne is one of the greatest college football players of all time. In four years at Wisconsin, the running back set the FBS record for career rushing yards with 7,125. For that reason, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Doak Walker Award and Rose Bowl MVP, among several other accolades. There has never been and probably never will be a better player at UW-Madison.
Don Hutson is regarded as one of the greatest football players to ever live. He played for the Packers for a decade (1935-’45) and he coached the team as an assistant for four years after that. He led the league in rushing touchdowns for an NFL record nine times. He also is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, eight-time All-Pro, three-time NFL Champion, two-time NFL MVP and a member of the NFL 50th as well as 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
Mark Johnson, who grew up in Madison and played Badgers hockey, is one of the stars of the U.S. men’s hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Defeating the Soviet Union is considered to be the greatest achievement in the history of United States sports. Johnson was responsible for two of the four goals scored against the Soviet’s in the 4-3 win that propelled the U.S. to the gold medal game.
Hank Aaron is arguably one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. The 25-time All-Star won his only World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in ’57. He also happened to be the NL MVP, RBI champion and home run champion that season. Aaron is responsible for making baseball enjoyable in Milwaukee, which led to the high interest in the Brewers once the team became established in 1975.
Wolf is regarded as one of the greatest general managers the NFL had ever seen. After the 1991 season, he sent a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Favre. It was a move that had the Packers faithful up in arms. It’s considered to be the greatest trade in NFL history. In 1993, Wolf made one of the best free-agent signings of all time when he brought Reggie White to Green Bay. The moves are responsible for the Super Bowl XXXI win.
Before Lombardi and the great Packers of the 1960s, there was Curly Lambeau. He played for the Packers for 10 years (1919-’29), but it was his stint as the head coach that he’s remembered for. Lambeau led the Packers to an astonishing six NFL Championships. It’s no surprise why the stadium is named after him. He’s a member of the NFL 1920s All-Decade Team, and he’s considered one of Wisconsin’s shining heroes.
Reggie White is the most feared pass rusher to ever step on an NFL gridiron. Even though he dominated as a member of the Eagles, some of his most clutch sacks came as a member of the Packers. It was White’s incredible defensive performance in Super Bowl XXXI that helped seal the victory. Also, White was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1998 after recording 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and 33 tackles.
Robin Yount remains to be the heart and soul of the Brewers due to his unbelievable talent, confidence and generosity. It was his outstanding performance in ’82 that helped lead Milwaukee to its only World Series appearance in franchise history. That season, he batted .331 with 29 home runs, 114 RBI and a league-high 46 doubles. Yount was named AL MVP, a Gold Glove Award winner, All-Star and a Silver Slugger for his efforts.
Aaron Rodgers has plenty left in the tank, which is why he could move higher on this list when it’s all said and done. Rodgers took over for Favre in 2008 and never looked back. Since then, he’s been named NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP and a Super Bowl champion. He also has set several NFL records, including passing rating in a season (122.5). Rodgers is unique in the sense that his presence alone gives hope that the Packers can be victorious.
Bart Starr has done wonders for Green Bay on and off the field. On the field, he led the Packers to five NFL Championships, including Super Bowl I and II. He also was named Super Bowl MVP of the first two Super Bowls. His numbers weren’t gaudy, but he was very efficient at times, which is what Lombardi wanted. More importantly, he was the field general that everyone respected. Also, Starr has done so much for the Green Bay community.
Favre is one of the most heroic football players to ever live. Even when he was battered and bruised, he went into battle with his head held high. That alone is what garnered the respect of the players around him. Favre has countless achievements and NFL records. The most impressive is winning three consecutive NFL MVP awards. Favre’s “Iron Man” streak is another jaw-dropping record that will never be broken.
There’s no question in my mind that Lombardi is Wisconsin’s top sports hero of all time. He put the Packers back on the map, and he’s responsible for how the NFL is today. His thought process when it came to coaching was groundbreaking. He demanded perfection from his players and he always got it. He’s hands down the most respected sports icon of all time, regardless of sport. It’s not just Packers fans who admire him it’s all football fans.
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