Revisiting the coolest Maryland athletes list

February 08, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Well, that one struck a nerve.

Write a column listing the coolest athletes ever to play in Maryland and you expect to get reaction. Oh, did I get reaction. My in-box blew up. I got phone calls. A guy cornered me at the 7-Eleven and said: "Two words: No Rick Dempsey?"

"That's three words," I said. "And how did you get past my security detail?"

Then I remembered I didn't have a security detail.

But back to the list, which appeared in Thursday's column and was a direct rip-off of GQ magazine's list of 25 all-time coolest athletes.

Some readers were OK with my list. Most wrote in to let me know how I'd screwed up and which cool athlete I'd left off.

Rob Chojnowski wrote: "How in the hell can you leave off Art Donovan!!! Before all the ones on your list, there was Artie. The funniest book I ever read was 'Fatso' by Artie."

Rob, Rob, Rob ... maybe we need to start with the definition of cool.

Cool is ... oh, look, I can't explain it. Wikipedia defines it as "an admired aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist."

Whatever. When I think of cool, I think of the old line used by former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to define pornography: "I know it when I see it."

And I don't see Art Donovan as cool. With Donovan, I see a Hall of Fame defensive lineman. A funny guy. A wonderful storyteller.

But was he cool the way Ali was cool? The way Tom Brady is cool? The way Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Sugar Ray Leonard were cool? Please.

A number of readers wrote in to clobber me for leaving the sainted John Unitas off the list.

Ed Daniels wrote of the iconic Colts quarterback: "Although he sported a crew cut and high-top black shoes, both of which would be considered uncool on anyone else, he made them cool. I have watched football for over 60 years and have never seen anyone as cool under pressure as Johnny U."

Sigh. Here we go again.

Ed, when we talk of cool here, we're not talking about cool under pressure. Gen. George S. Patton was cool under pressure. Gandhi was cool under pressure. So was the guy who cut off his own arm when he was trapped between two boulders in that remote canyon.

And Unitas had that kind of cool, all right.

But we're talking the other cool here. Swagger. Flair. Flamboyance. An almost otherworldly dramatic presence.

Nancy Jean Wagner wrote: "I would nominate Wes Unseld as an addition to your list -- maybe just 'cause he was a personal favorite."

Guess what, Nancy? Unseld, the Hall of Fame big man for the Baltimore (and Washington) Bullets, was a personal favorite of mine, too.

I loved watching the guy play. He was as sturdy as an oak under the basket. A great scorer. A relentless rebounder. Set picks that sent opposing players to the ER. Threw the best outlet passes you'll ever see.

But he was far eclipsed in the cool department by two of his teammates: the legendary Earl the Pearl and Gus Johnson. Comparing him to them in cool was like comparing elementary school to Harvard.

Tenney Mason cast a vote for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

"I know he overdoes everything, but it's hard to leave Ray-Ray off the list," Mason wrote. "The dance, the rants, even the Old Spice [commercial] -- and, oh, I almost forgot, the minks."

OK, this one I can see. Ray Lewis is practically the home office for swagger.

And I see what Bob Williams was getting at when he wrote one of the more succinct e-mails, echoing the guy at the 7-Eleven: "Where is Rick Dempsey?"

Yes, the former Orioles catcher was pretty cool. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, he was the very embodiment of Oriole Magic. He led cheers from atop the dugout with Wild Bill Hagy. He did that great Babe Ruth imitation that brought down the house during rain delays. He sang in a rock band.

Fine, he should have made the list. Ray-Ray, too. Sue me.

Which brings me to another cool athlete who should have made the list. And his omission was unforgivable. I will flagellate myself -- at least mentally -- for years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, I speak here of the one and only Babe Ruth. Who was only born right here in Baltimore!

As Don Forgione wrote: "With his rep for partying, gustatory excess, quips like 'I had a better year than the president' … and I read that charging Japanese soldiers [in World War II] would yell 'Babe Ruth stinks!' All make him a must for the list."

Indeed they do, Don. The Babe was very cool.

One of the coolest of all time.

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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