Ranking the coolest athletes to ever play in Maryland

February 02, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

GQ magazine just came out with its list of the 25 coolest athletes of all time, the perfect conversation piece to ward off the winter doldrums.

Muhammad Ali, you'll be shocked to know, made the list. So did Michael Jordan. Joe Namath. Dr. J. Pele.

It got me thinking: Who are the coolest Maryland athletes of all time? The rules were simple. If you were cool and ever played in the Free State, you were considered.

Here are the all-time coolest 15. Obviously, it's purely subjective. If you don't like it, make your own list. Or get your own column.

Earl Monroe: The Baltimore Bullets guard had the coolest nickname in sports: "Earl the Pearl." Playground nickname wasn't too shabby, either: "Jesus." Every baller in America tried to emulate his signature spin-dribble. Off the court, the Hall of Famer dazzled in Superfly hats and long leather coats.

Sugar Ray Leonard: Prettiest boxer south of Ali. Fastest hands, too. His fake wind-up bolo punch and straight left jab to a stunned Roberto Duran's face in the "No mas" fight remains the single coolest ring move ever.

John Lowenstein: The hip, ironic manner. The cool shades. The Groucho Marx nose and mustache. In 1980, the Orioles outfielder was carried off the field on a stretcher after being hit by a ball while on the base paths. As the stretcher neared the dugout, he suddenly sat up and pumped his fists. The crowd went nuts. Brother Lo was the High Priest of Orioles Magic.

Mike Curtis: "Mad Dog." Played with a cool, barely-controlled rage, the NFL equivalent of the Clint Eastwood character in "High Plains Drifter." Leveled a drunk who ran on the field during a Colts game and took off with the football. Somehow the drunk got up grinning. "I was upset because he was grinning," Curtis said later. "I thought I gave him a better shot."

Bubba Smith: When the ferocious Baltimore Colts defensive lineman played at Michigan State, they chanted: "Kill, Bubba, Kill." Starred in the hip "Police Academy" series as Moses Hightower. Coolness factor took a hit when he appeared in those awful commercials for the law firm of Cohen, Snyder, Eisenberg and Katzenberg. But everyone makes mistakes.

Derrick Mason: Is there anything cooler than a majorly fired-up D-Mase at game-time? Watch the Ravens veteran wide-out make a great catch, take a bone-rattling hit and flick the ball to the ref with a grin — all while trash-talking the poor cornerback who just got burned. Watching him pull up to a restaurant in his snow-white BMW and flick the keys to the valet-parking guy is a sight to behold, too.

Brady Anderson: Coolest sideburns in baseball. Dated whiplash-gorgeous actresses, pro tennis players, European models. The poster of the Orioles outfielder shirtless, with muscles rippling, sold by the thousands.

Travis Pastrana: If you're over 40, Google the guy. Huge Motocross and X-Games champ. Kindred spawn of Evil Knievel — has broken every bone in his body. Coolest stunt: Jumped out of a plane without a parachute, met up in mid-air with another chutist and landed safely. Me, I won't even jump off a foot-stool.

Jim Palmer: Smoothest delivery ever. Former O's pitching coach Ray Miller described Palmer as having "a symphony of a windup." The Hall of Fame right-hander's night job was pretty cool, too: underwear model for Jockey.

Tony Siragusa: Gregarious Ravens defensive tackle exuded Jersey cool, enough to snag the role of a mob bodyguard in the HBO hit series "The Sopranos." "Goose" also played a Ukrainian mobster in "25th Hour" starring Edward Norton.

Lenny Moore: No one ever looked cooler running with a football tucked in one arm. In the era of ugly black cleats, the Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame running back taped his and earned the nickname "Spats." Perhaps his most impressive feat: Kept his cool in the face of the unrelenting racism of that era.

Len Bias: Was there anything the Maryland Terps All-American did on the court that didn't look cool? He jumped through the roof, floated to the hole, hit silky-smooth jumpers from everywhere. Resplendent in a white suit and Kelly-green Celtics cap the night Boston selected him as the second overall pick in the '86 NBA draft, Bias died tragically a short while later from cocaine intoxication that led to cardiac arrest.

Michael Phelps: The guy has won, what, 60 Olympic gold medals? He looks great in a Speedo, parties (sometimes a little too hard) with celebs, endorses everything, never has to work another day in his life. And on a date, he has the perfect line for the end of the evening: "Wanna come up and see my trophy case? It could take a while."

Gus Johnson: Nicknamed "Honeycomb" for his sweet game, the Bullets' high-flying forward was one of the first NBA stars to soar for dunks and shatter backboards. And how cool is this: The Hall of Famer had a gold star drilled into one of his front teeth.

Brian Roberts: If for no other reason, the Orioles' All-Star second baseman makes the list for that celebration routine he had with Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada after wins. Remember that? With the glove-tapping and hand-slapping and all that? It was as close to "Orioles magic" as you saw with those teams.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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