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The 50 Greatest Illinois Sports Figures

Sports Illustrated This list of the top 50 greatest 20th-century athletes originally appeared in the Dec. 27, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated. Have someone to add to SI's list? Click here to submit your choices.

20th Century Top 50
Rank Profile
1 Jackie Joyner-Kersee, East St. Louis
World's best female athlete; won six Olympic medals -- three gold -- and set heptathlon world record in 1988.
2
George Halas, Chicago
Papa Bear: 63 years with the Bears; 318 wins as coach is second alltime; patriarch of the NFL.
3 Dick Butkus, Chicago
A top 10 Heisman finisher and two-time All-America at Illinois; the gold standard for NFL middle linebackers.
4
Red Grange, Wheaton
Football's Roaring '20s answer to Ruth and Dempsey; built legend at Illinois; had eight spectacular seasons in NFL.
5 Bonnie Blair, Champaign
Top U.S. female winter athlete; won five speed skating golds and dominated her sport for nearly a decade.
6
George Mikan, Joliet
Three-time All-America at DePaul; won seven titles in nine pro seasons; helped make basketball a big man's game.
7 Jimmy Connors, East St. Louis
Record 109 men's pro singles titles, including eight Grand Slams; one of most fiery players to cross the baseline.
8
Isiah Thomas, Chicago
High school All-America; NCAA champ at Indiana; NBA's best small guard since Cousy led Pistons to back-to-back titles.
9 Otto Graham, Waukegan
Basketball and football All-America at Northwestern; passed Browns to seven pro titles in 1940s and '50s.
10
Ray Nitschke, Chicago
Bruising fullback at Illinois; soul of Packers' dynasty in he 1960s; perhaps the hardest-hitting linebacker ever.
11 Dianne Holum, Chicago
Won four speed skating medals at 1968 and '72 Olympics, including 1,500-meter gold in '72.
12
Mark Aguirre, Chicago
Led DePaul to Final Four in 1979; won Naismith Award in '80; three-time NBA All-Star had 18,458 career points.
13 Kellen Winslow, East St. Louis
Tight end with lineman size and wideout speed; Missouri All-America; had 541 receptions for Chargers from 1979 to '87.
14
Robin Roberts, Springfield
Best righthander in Phillies history, won 20 games in six straight seasons and was a seven-time All-Star.
15 Kirby Puckett, Chicago
Ten-time All-Star with Twins; led AL in hits three straight years; MVP of the 1991 ALCS.
16
Johnny Weismuller, Chicago
Was king of the pool before King of the Jungle: five swimming golds at 1924 and '28 Olympics; starred in 12 Tarzan movies.
17 Knute Rockne, Chicago
End on three undefeated Notre Dame teams; patron saint of coaches started Fighting Irish's grand tradition.
18
Red Ruffing, Nokomis
Won 273 games; had four 20-win seasons and won seven World Series games with Yankees.
19 Ray Meyer, Chicago
Had 37 winning seasons in 42 years at DePaul; NCAA's 11th-winningest basketball coach.
20
Dan Issel, Batavia
Kentucky's alltime leading scorer; dangerous big man on the perimeter; seven-time ABA and NBA All-Star.
21 John Kinsella, Oak Brook
Swam to two world records and won Sullivan Award in 1970; won 1,500-meter silver at '68 Olympics and relay gold in '72.
22
Johnny Lattner, Chicago
Heisman-winning back at Notre Dame in 1953; only player to win Maxwell Award twice; made Pro Bowl in only NFL season.
23 Lou Boudreau, Thornton
Seven-time All-Star shortstop; American League MVP in 1948 and batting champion in '44.
24
Bart Conner, Morton Grove
At the 1984 Olympics he won team and parallel-bar gold medals.
25 Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Chicago
Illinois judge was baseball's first and most powerful commissioner; cleaned up after Black Sox scandal and ruled game for 24 years.
26
Bob Richards, Champaign
Won Sullivan Award in 1951; only man to win two Olympic pole vault golds ('52 and '56).
27 Jerry Sloan, McLeansboro
Two-time NBA All-Star with Bulls; sixth-best career winning percentage as NBA coach.
28
George Connor, Chicago
Outland Trophy winner at Notre Dame in 1946 was three-time All-America; All-Pro with Bears at three positions.
29 Jack Sikma, Wichert
Three-time NAIA All-America at Illinois Wesleyan (1975 to '77); seven-time NBA All-Star.
30
Red Schoendienst, Germantown
Ten-time All-Star at second base; managed Cardinals to 1967 World Series victory.
31 Terry Cummings, Chicago
All-America at DePaul; NBA Rookie of the Year in 1983, twice an NBA All-Star in 17-year career.
32
Ken Anderson, Batavia
Holds NFL record for season completion percentage (70.6), set mark for consecutive completions (20); 1981 MVP.
33 Ted Kluszewski, Argo
Sleeveless slugger (279 career homers) led NL first basemen in fielding five times; league record holder for consecutive games scoring a run (17).
34
Bill Fischer, Chicago
Outland Trophy winner and member of Notre Dame's national champions in 1946 and '47; All-Pro guard for Cardinals.
35 Maurice Cheeks, Chicago
Stifling defender; deft playmaker won 1983 NBA title with 76ers; retired as career steals leader.
36
Harold Osborn, Butler
Won decathlon and high jump gold at 1924 Olympics; only person to win decathlon and an individual event at same Games.
37 Joe McGinnity, Rock Island
Led NL in appearances and wins five times from 1899 to 1908; won 35 games in '04.
38
Mike Krzyzewski, Chicago
Won two NCAA titles as coach at Duke; only John Wooden and Dean Smith took more teams to the Final Four.
39 Tim Hardaway, Chicago
Led Carver High to city title in 1985; UTEP's alltime leader in steals and assists; five-time NBA All-Star with Warriors and Heat.
40
Ray Schalk, Litchfield
Top defensive catcher of 1910s and '20s; first receiver to back up plays at first and third base.
41 Bill Veeck, Chicago
Colorful owner of Indians, St. Louis Browns and White Sox; had a midget bat and exploded scoreboard to promote teams.
42
Red Kerr, Chicago
Slick-passing center led Illinois to 1952 Final Four; played 844 straight NBA games, a record that stood for 17 years.
43 Quinn Buckner, Phoenix
Guard won two state titles at Thornridge High, NCAA championship with undefeated Indiana in 1976 and NBA ring with Celtics in '84.
44
Frederick (Fritz) Pollard, Chicago
Second black All-America, as back at Brown in 1916; first black NFL coach, with Akron and Hammond Pros.
45 Phil Cavarretta, Chicago
Cubs first baseman at 18, hit pennant-clinching homer as 19-year-old in 1935; was MVP and batting champion in '45.
46
Cazzie Russell, Chicago
Won city title at Carver High; Michigan All-America guard; NBA All-Rookie team in 1966-67.
47 Ralph Metcalfe, Chicago
Set or equaled world records in three sprint events between 1932 and '36; won two individual silvers, a bronze and a relay gold in two Olympics.
48
John (Paddy) Driscoll, Evanston
Multithreat player -- runner, passer, defender and master punter and dropkicker -- at Northwestern from 1915 to '16 and with Cardinals and Bears.
49 Jim Bottomley, Nokomis
First baseman for Cardinals, Reds and Browns was NL MVP in 1928 and hit .371 in '23.
50
Sam Jethroe, East St. Louis
Speedy Negro leagues star was Braves' first black player; 1950 NL Rookie of the Year.

Photograph by Stu Forster/ALLSPORT


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