Opinions differ on state’s greatest

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 1999

Sports Illustrated recently released its list of the 50 greatest sports figures from Mississippi. While there’s little disputing the top two picks, you might differ with the remainder of the field.

Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, who died in November after battling a rare liver disease, tops the list, while San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice is second.

Payton was a native of Columbia, Miss., and a star at then-Division II Jackson State from 1971-75. He played for the Chicago Bears from 13 seasons and ran for 16,762 yards.

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Rice is originally from Crawford, Miss., and was a record-breaking receiver for Division I-AA Mississippi Valley State. He was drafted by San Francisco in 1985 and has gone on to set NFL records for career receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

Hall of Fame wide receiver Lance Allworth from Brookhaven is No. 3 of the list; followed by Frank Kinard, who was an All-America tackle for Mississippi during the 1930s and former New Orleans Saints and Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning.

Personally, I think I would have Manning No. 3.

Former Delta State coach Margaret Wade is listed No. 6. She’s one slot ahead of Brett Favre.

Somehow Favre has got to be in my top five.

The final three persons in the SI’s top 10 are Jake Gibbs of Grenada, Lusia Harris-Stewart of Greenwood and Charlie Conerly of Clarksdale.

I think I would have to have Conerly above both Gibbs and Harris-Stewart.

The next five are Calvin Smith of Bolton, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield of McClain, Willie Brown of Yazoo City, Willye White of Greenwood and Lem Barney of Gulfport.

Sixteen through 20 has Jennifer Gillom of Oxford, L.C. Greenwood of Canton, Johnny Vaught of Oxford, Ralph Boston of Laurel and Ron Polk of Starkville.

Vaught and Polk have to be higher.

The next five are Wilbert Montgomery of Greenville; Purvis Short of Hattiesburg; Jackie Slater, Jackson; Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of Gulfport and Harold Jackson of Hattiesburg.

At No. 26 is Bill Foster of Lorman, followed by Erick Dampier of Monticello and Mary Mills of Gulfport.

Holding down No. 29 is Billy Shaw, who was born in Natchez, but moved to Vicksburg at the age of three.

Shaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year after a brilliant career as a guard with Buffalo.

Following Shaw are Ray Perkins of Petal, Babe McCarthy of Starkville, Larry Myricks, of Jackson and Dave (Bee) Forriss of Shaw.

Noticed a name missing? Probably a couple, right.

Well, way down at No. 34 is Steve McNair of Shaw.

McNair did magical things as quarterback at Alcorn State and Sports Illustrated even had a feature saying to give him the Heisman in 1994. He finished third.

The next three are Van Chancellor of Louisville, Clarence Weatherspoon of Columbus and Litterial Green of Moss Point.

At No. 38 is Natchez’s own Hugh Green, who finished second to George Rogers in the Heisman voting when he played at Pittsburgh.

The final 12 are Bert Jenkins, Antonio McDyes Jim Gallagher Jr., Jack Gregory, Marcus Dupree, Harold Lofton, Sammy Winder, Slew Hester, Claude Passeau, Eric Moulds, Bobby Collins, and Dot Eastwood Murphy.

You can dispute any list, but where’s Niesa Johnson of Clinton, one of the best high school players I’ve seen who was a standout at Alabama?

And Allen Brown, Jack Spinks, Floyd Rice …

Joey Martin is sports editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3632 or by e-mail at joey.martin@natchezdemocrat.com.