The Sports Daily > The Buckeye Battlecry
Jesse Owens: BTN Icon #3

Like the rest of the Buckeye Intertrons, our flabber is significantly ghasted with the news that the Big Ten Network’s top four conference “Icons” rank out as follows:

  1. Red Grange (Illinois)
  2. Magic Johnson (Michigan State)
  3. Jesse Owens (Ohio State)
  4. Archie Griffin (Ohio State)

Yup, seems as if someone spilled a little Rotel into their ranking machine.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with these being the top four- Grange made a name for himself and college football, and went on to save the NFL in the eyes of many; Johnson’s matchup against Larry Bird was the moment that “March Madness” became the iconic event that it is today (in addition to helping drag the NBA out of the mire of the drug filled 70’s… but you can read Simmons’ 8 million words on that).

What’s stuck in my craw (to be honest, I had to borrow a craw) is the fact that this seems to be either a nod to being “appropriate” (and not having two athletes from the same school in the top three) or is a response to track not being a revenue sport. That’s got to be the only explanation for putting an athlete who only played for two years over a person who won the highest award in his sport in two back to back years (the only one to do so). Or having the number one icon be a person who wasn’t even first team in his sport as awarded by people who saw him play– perceived as too one dimensional, according to some. Interestingly enough, Chic Harley isn’t even on the “Icons” list.

But the real travesty is that the Buckeye Bullet was overlooked for reasons that can’t be explained. As the Plain Dealer’s Bill Livingston puts it,

Owens won eight NCAA championships in 1935 and 1936 at OSU, a record tied only by LSU’s Xavier Carter, who was much more dependent on relay success for his total than Owens.

Owens had the greatest day any athlete ever had. In the 1935 Big Ten Championships at Ann Arbor, Mich., Owens — suffering from a bad back before the meet began — set in 45 minutes three world records (his prodigious long jump mark, the 220-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles) and tied another (the 100-yard dash.)

Grange had one of the great afternoons in college football history, scoring five touchdowns, four of them on long runs, and throwing for another. He beat Michigan.

Magic popularized college basketball in the Michigan State-Indiana State championship game of 1979, foreshadowing his role in the rebirth of the NBA. He beat Larry Bird.

Owens beat Hitler. Case closed.

Leader AND Legend

Ah, that. Some would say that the Olympic success shouldn’t be factored in; that it should only be about the efforts at the collegiate level. Remember, though, that Owens was still enrolled at Ohio State in 1936… and I’m not convinced that Grange and Johnson aren’t getting favorable rankings due in part to their impact on the sport once they left Champaign and East Lansing.

But this is the Big Ten Network… so we shouldn’t be surprised. This is, after all, the media arm of the group that brought us “Leaders” and “Legends” and so many trophies and awards that they’re practically irrelevant (certainly lowers the resale value).They were also the driving force behind the potential move of The Game from it’s place in November.

Sure, the BTN gave the conference the financial leverage to begin the conference expansion merry-go-round that made this past summer so exciting. And, subsequently, they paved the way for the Cornhuskers to join the conference and make both math and my marriage more difficult.  But let’s also remember that Nebraska was dying for a way out of a conference where they felt they had to be subservient to Mighty Bevo… so even that move was like asking the cheerleader to the prom right after she broke up with her abusive boyfriend. Timing, as they say, is everything.

So, it may be because they have more footage of Johnson, or because of the influence of the Chicago media. At any rate, it’s illogical and a mistake, as well as a dishonor to his memory and legacy, even if it’s just a stupid ranking to generate ratings and viewership.

This year, my daughters wanted to give me an Ohio State shirt for Christmas, and chose the Homage tribute shirt that I’ve had on my list for a long time. And when it came, I was able to tell them why it was special, and who “Mr. Jesse” was and why what he did was so important.

I just can’t imagine anyone doing the same for Johnson or Grange, or having much to say if they did.