Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Picking "the greatest" isn't easy

From Fair Park's 1952 Class AA state
champions to LSU (1958 national champs)
to All-Pro punter and placekicker with
San Francisco 49ers -- one of Shreveport-
Bossier's all-time greats.
(card from
     What in the name of Tommy Davis, Bo Harris and Gary "Big Hands" Johnson is The Shreveport Times sports staff doing? And why are they asking me to help?
     Answer to the first question: Selecting the 20 greatest Shreveport-Bossier athletes of all time. That is a good task. A difficult one, for sure.
     Answer to the second question (why me?): Don't answer that. But I'm one of the 12 on the voting panel -- The Times was my original newspaper home -- and I'm here to help.
     I can tell you this: When we began listing all the possible people for this list, it is an indication of just how deep the pool of talented athletes with Shreveport-Bossier ties is. Plus, some names were omitted from the nominations list.
     See those three names in the first paragraph. They weren't on the first nominations list I saw -- or the revised one. But we were free to vote for anyone we wanted to, so those three guys -- all stars in high school, college and pro football -- are on my ballot. 
     So was Joe Reding. People from the 1960s will remember him, for sure, but I'm likely to be the only one who voted for him. That's because I am one of the oldest voters on the panel. Not the oldest, but an "oldtimer" now. I don't feel like it, but ...
     I have much respect for the job the people at The Shreveport Times do -- they're good  people, and they're good at what they do -- and I like this idea, although I'm not much of a fan of "greatest" lists because they are so subjective. I have written a blog about that:
     What's good about this list: It is what one of my friends at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram calls "a talker," it gets readers interested.
     I know I was interested when The Times people contacted me more than a week ago to (1) look over the nominations list they had compiled, and make suggestions; and (2) submit my vote.
     I recommended they take several off their first list because I didn't think they fit into the "great" category or weren't really Shreveport-Bossier. Then, over the next 48 hours, I gave them -- no kidding -- 28 names (several friends helped in this process) and we thought of a couple more after that. 
     And, see, there's a dilemma: Where do you draw the line  
     So the revised list of nominees that I received had 54 names on it. Unfortunately, Bo Harris, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson, Joe Reding and Tommy Davis were not among those -- even after I recommended them.
     (Full disclosure: I had a memory lapse, too, about Tommy Davis -- a friend told me he voted for him, and I went "oops," and then asked The Times people to please change my vote and inserted him into my top 10.)
       The Times is releasing the poll day by day, starting at No. 20, and as I publish this -- Wednesday morning -- five names have been revealed: No. 20, Leo Sanford; 19, Kathy Johnson Clarke; 18, Troy Edwards; 17, Josh Booty; 16, Freddie Spencer.
       Ready? I voted for one of those five.
        Which means that at least four of the people I voted for won't make the top 20. That number might double.
        OK, so I had my criteria for voting, and my vote is going to reflect an older person's vote. I tried to emphasize career longevity -- covering high school, college/amateur and pro careers -- and notable achievements (national or state notoriety) and, well, I was NFL-biased (nine of my top 20 played in the NFL, which I consider the toughest league to be in).
        Golf is a pretty competitive sport, too, and achieving in major-league baseball -- not just getting to the big leagues -- is difficult. I leaned more toward those sports, too, and less toward what I consider "niche" sports.
        So maybe the reasoning for my vote is stupid, or misguided. But it is my vote.
        I am not ready to reveal that vote, but I will explain one choice. 
        I tended to consider much more than high school achievements, but I did base part of my vote for Joe Reding on the fact that he was the first Louisiana high school athlete to better 60 feet in the shot put; he did not just break the state record, he shattered it (and Billy Cannon once held it at 55 feet); and his record stood up for a decade or two.
        But Joe also was a football star (linebacker, fullback) at Bossier High and he started three years at offensive tackle for LSU in the mid-1960s ... in both cases, he was a three-year starter when that was rare at the top level of football.         
       Besides, I actually saw him play and shot put -- he was super strong in a pre-steroids era and coordinated -- and I admired him.
       I did not see some of the 1940s and 1950s athletes that were nominated, or that I heard so much about. But I had to vote for Tommy Davis.
       And you are not likely to guess who I voted for at No. 4. You might have never heard of him. But I will be surprised if he even makes The Times' top 20 list.
        Also, you will not be surprised at my Nos. 1-2-3 choices (hint: Woodlawn). I'm guessing the panel will choose the same three athletes. I think they're pretty clear-cut, and of the top two, either one could be No. 1. 
         Anyway, it was a fun exercise, and remember that lists such as these are so subjective. But thanks -- again -- to The Times sports staff for letting me cast a vote. When they end their series, I will reveal my ballot (for those who care).


  1. From Glenn Rodgers: It is great to see this. Tommy Davis was a son of my grandmother's cousin. I was a little fellow when he played for the 49ers and that was before the Saints' time. They were our team back then. Daddy would tell me stories about him at LSU that were great. Thanks for your story.

    1. Actually, Tommy's time with the 49ers overlapped the first three seasons of the Saints' existence. He, in fact, kicked in games against the Saints twice.

  2. From Russell Hedges: Good blog on top 20. Huntington sprinter Teresa Foster best local female athlete I ever saw.

  3. From Marcia Dolin Basinger (Tommy Davis' niece): Here's what I sent to Roy Lang after I read the initial article when I saw Uncle Tommy's name wasn't included. (It was a link to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame page about Tommy). ... My mom (Tommy's younger sister) directed me to a footlocker she has of Uncle Tommy stuff. She made football scrapbooks of him at Fair Park with all the newspaper clippings, LSU, in the Army playing and being named the MVP in the Far East, and some 49ers things. It's been fun looking at those things. He was pretty good -- certainly worthy of a top 20 spot!

  4. From Frank Bright: I never saw Rogers Hampton play, but many who did told me he was the best ever. Tommy Davis clearly. Joe May claims that Tommy's extra point against Mississippi State in the mud and field goal against Florida were pretty important in LSU's undefeated 1958 season.

  5. From Roy Fletcher: Joe Reding was a heck of a player. You are correct.

  6. From John Leydon: Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman wrote many times that Tommy Davis should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his unparalleled skill at aiming punts inside the 10.

  7. From Joe Harris: Joe Reding was a special young man, good athlete as an eighth grader. Saw his potential then as a first-year teacher in Bossier.