SDS Roundtable: Which 4 SEC athletes are on your Mount Rushmore?
Each SDS roundtable discussion involves the SDS staff providing individual answers and comments to questions covering a wide range of sports and non-sports topics. In this discussion, we ask the question: Which 4 SEC athletes are on your Mount Rushmore? For this question, we’ve limited the eligible athletes from 1980-present and selected no more than 2 from the same sport.
Previous roundtable discussions:
- If you could change 1 thing about college football, what would it be?
- What are you watching right now?
- Who is your favorite SEC football player of all-time?
- What are your 3 favorite postseason moments involving SEC teams?
Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder
1. Tim Tebow: The greatest leader of any college team in my lifetime. Tebow excelled both on and off-the-field. I mean, he married Miss Universe. All kidding aside (kind of), Tebow was truly a once in a generation-type player who takes a backseat to no one. His uncanny ability to make the players around him better and do his job to help win games. Urban Meyer caught lightning in a bottle with Tebow.
2. Herschel Walker: The greatest SEC football player of all-time (sorry Bo Jackson) is Walker. No one has had the pure God-given athleticism and ability as Walker, and no one ever will from the running back position. He was basically Jadeveon Clowney and Cam Newton playing running back. A beast doesn’t even begin to explain it.
3. Shaquille O’Neal: At 7-1 and over 300 pounds, Shaq was the most physically imposing SEC basketball player ever. During his time at LSU, he averaged 21.6 points per game and 13.5 rebounds. The 2-time All-American and SEC Player of the Year was a complete freak of nature, and outside of Pistol Pete Maravich, who wasn’t eligible for this assignment, Shaq is the greatest SEC basketball player of all time.
4. Todd Helton: Some guys can just wake up in the morning and square up baseballs. Todd Helton was one of those players. In his last season at Tennessee in 1995, Helton hit .407 with 20 bombs and 92 RBIs. Oh, and he compiled a 1.66 ERA and an 8-2 record on the bump with 12 saves. With one of the prettiest and most pure swings in baseball history, Helton gets the nod for the fourth and final spot on my Mt. Rushmore.
Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist
1. Herschel Walker: He changed how we view the sport. Period. He revolutionized what we thought was possible of the running back position, and did so from the moment he ran over poor Bill Bates. The fact that nearly 4 decades later, his SEC career rushing record still holds up speaks to how incredible he was. There’s no doubt in my mind that he should have won multiple Heisman Trophies. He’s a legend in every sense of the word.
2. Tim Tebow: Ignore the obsession that some developed for what he said and did off the field and focus on what he did on the field. That is, win multiple national titles, win a Heisman Trophy, set SEC single-season and career records for touchdowns. What more could you have wanted a college player to do? The only knock against Tebow was that he didn’t win it all as a senior in 2009. Still, he had what I believe was the ultimate SEC career.
3. Shaquille O’Neal: The best individual season of an SEC player probably goes to Anthony Davis, but O’Neal gets my vote for what he did during his 3-year career at LSU. He averaged 21 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, and he developed into the best player in America in his junior year. Nobody could move like him at that size. In the same way that Herschel revolutionized the running back position, so did O’Neal as a center.
4. Todd Helton: Helton was the national player of the year (1 of 6 SEC players to do so in the past 25 years) in 1995 for a Tennessee team that went to the College World Series for the first time in 44 years. He finished his career with the program’s all-time record for home runs and RBIs while hitting .370. And as I always forget, he wasn’t just a phenomenal college baseball player and Peyton Manning’s understudy on the football team. Helton was a stud pitcher, too. In that 1995 season, he had a 1.66 ERA with an 8-2 record and 12 saves. That’s a complete player if I’ve ever seen one.
Chris Marler, The SDS Podcast co-host
My 4 are Herschel and Tebow in football, Bo in baseball and Shaq.
Bo and Herschel is my least favorite debate, argument, topic, etc. because both are absolute icons in college football and were unlike anything SEC fans had ever seen before. Luckily Bo also played baseball as well, so we can add the 3rd most iconic player from the SEC during this timeframe, Tim Tebow.
I don’t think Tebow was as good as Bo or Herschel, and he definitely had a lot more talent around him. However, there are few more recognizable, and transcendent, athletes in college football or even sports history.
The 4th face on my SEC Mount Rushmore is Shaq. The former Blue Chip center from LSU … and Western University.
Micheal Bratton, News editor
1. Tim Tebow: He should have won 2 Heisman Trophies. Aside from his role in 2 national championships, the speech is an all-time moment. Coming back for another season cemented his status for me.
2. Peyton Manning: He could have easily gone to the NFL after his junior season and likely would have been the top pick, but he came back for one final run on Rocky Top.
3. Chamique Holdsclaw: She was a 3-time national champion for the Lady Vols, and she was the best player Pat Summit coached during the coach’s best run on Rocky Top. Holdsclaw was twice honored as National Player of the Year and still is the SEC’s all-time leading scorer.
4. Steve Spurrier (the coach): I don’t really follow the other sports much, can I say Steve Spurrier the coach? When I think of the SEC, I think of him. He changed the game in the SEC and led 2 downtrodden programs to new heights never before seen at either school. We may never see that done again.
Adam Spencer, Newsletter editor
1. Joe Burrow absolutely deserves a spot on Mount Rushmore after his 2019 season. I mean, *Dick Vitale voice* are you kidding me, baby?? He threw 60 touchdown passes, led the Tigers to a 15-0 record and a national championship and won the Heisman, to boot. What a special year.
2. Speaking of special years, how about Anthony Davis’ 2011-12 season? He led the Wildcats to the national championship and was the consensus national player of the year. Oh, and he also won both the SEC Player of the Year award and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. One of the most dominant players I’ve ever seen on a college basketball court.
3. Another one? How about Candace Parker at Tennessee? She led the Lady Vols to 2 national championships, became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game and won the AP Female Athlete of the Year award in 2008. She was a truly dynamic player under Pat Summitt.
4. The final spot on my list goes to Amari Cooper. He was incredible during each of his 3 seasons at Alabama, but his 2014 season (124 catches, 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns) was one for the ages. He was unguardable, and that has translated into the NFL as well (when he’s healthy).
Chris Wright, Executive editor
1. Herschel Walker. “My God! A freshman!”
And a sophomore. … And a junior.
2. Peyton Manning. The First Family of Football deserves a spot at the table, and Peyton was the best of the bunch. He also deserved to win the 1997 Heisman Trophy.
3. Charles Barkley. No qualms if you want Shaq here. Or Chris Jackson, for that matter. But I’m from North Carolina and didn’t pay attention to SEC basketball before Barkley. (I only heard stories about Pistol Pete, primarily because he was from Raleigh, and he’s well before our arbitrary 1980 cutoff, anyway.) I learned about Barkley during the buildup to the 1984 NCAA Tournament when he led the Tigers to their 1st Big Dance. Unfortunately, he and Chuck Person were on the wrong end of a 12-5 upset, but we saw plenty of highlights of the Round Mound of Rebound that season. By the time the Olympic Trials came around, I was a Barkley believer. Still irks me (and him) that Bob Knight cut him. The 1984 team cruised to the gold medal, of course, led by Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. Barkley belonged. Maybe this will make up for that?
4. Frank Thomas. Helton was outstanding, and Thunder and Lightning (Palmeiro and Clark) were unprecedented as tag-team partners at Mississippi State, but as he continued to prove over the course of his career, there was nobody quite like Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt became the 1st SEC player elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But that’s just the rest of the story. He set Auburn’s single-season record for home runs with 21 as a freshman in 1987. Pitchers largely avoided him thereafter, though he did mash another 19 as a junior. His single-season record was tied in 1998 and finally broken in 2000.
He left as Auburn’s career HR leader with 49 and RBIs with 205. No 3-year player at Auburn has hit more HRs. His career batting average (.385) remains 2nd all-time in program history and his slugging percentage is 1st, just above Bo Jackson’s.