Left off one best-of list, these Harford athletes haven't been forgotten

May 24, 2012

Many of you no doubt saw the popular feature Top Maryland Athletes in Sun History that has appeared on http://www.baltimoresun.com since April.

The list was compiled by veteran Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman in conjunction with The Sun's 175th on May 17. The main criteria for selection was that the man or woman either came from Maryland or a significant portion of his or her career took place in Maryland.

The list counted down from 175 to 1 over a period of about six weeks. Babe Ruth topped the list with John Unitas second and Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson third and fourth, respectively. Ray Lewis checked in at fifth and Cal Ripken Jr. was sixth. Sun readers picked Unitas first, as do I.

Ripken is one of a handful of athletes with ties to Harford County who made the Sun list, including swimmer Michael Phelps (seventh) who lived in northern Harford as a youngster and Olympic figure skater and former U.S. and world champion Kimmie Meissner (74), who lives in Bel Air. Also making the list was former world heavyweight boxing champ Hasim "Rock" Rahman (148), who won his crown while a resident of Abingdon. Olympic swimmer Katie Hoff (157), who lived in the Bel Air area during her run of success, is also included. We'll also count the jockey Donnie Miller (163), who actually lived in Laurel but rode the Harford County horse Deputed Testamony to victory in the 1983 Preakness.

There are some notable omissions from the list, however, among them Tom Matte in football and Bill "Swish" Nicholson in baseball, and there are a few other Harford County athletes whom I believe were short-changed in the selections, particularly when they are compared with those on the list in the same sports.

Among those overlooked from Harford are:

Randy McMillan - Jarrettsville - football Colts: Every running back listed on The Sun's 175 belongs there, no question, but it's hard to leave off a guy whose abbreviated pro career, cut short by a freakish off-field pedestrian accident, was better than that of 1960 Heisman winner Joe Bellino (his Naval obligation notwithstanding). McMillan was a standout player at Pitt, where he single-handedly beat Penn State with three touchdowns in his senior year while sharing the backfield with Dan Marino. Drafted 12th in the first round by the Baltimore Colts, he became an immediate starter and was a bruising runner for the five years he played in the NFL.

Irvin Pankey - Aberdeen - football Rams, Colts: A state wrestling champion as well as a football standout at AHS, Pankey started at tackle for three varsity seasons at Penn State and was team captain his senior year. A second round pick of the Rams, he started every game at right tackle for the next 10 seasons, then played two more with the Colts. A dozen years starting as an offensive lineman in the NFL certainly qualifies Panky for inclusion on The Sun's list.

Jerome Deal - Aberdeen - track and field: No telling how far Deal would have gone if the U.S. hadn't boycotted the Olympics in 1980, when Deal was in his prime as a sprinter. At UTEP, Deal was a four-time All-American and 1979 NCAA champion in the 100 meters. He's a member of the university's Track and Field Hall of Fame, which puts him in some pretty elite company that includes 1968 Olympic long jump champion Bob Beamon.

E. J. Henderson - Aberdeen - football Vikings: Many good University of Maryland football players made The Sun's list, but not Henderson, a former Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year (2001) and two time defensive player of the year (2001, ' 02). He's been a reliable linebacker for the Vikings, for whom he still plays, making the Pro Bowl in 2010. He was arguably the Terps' best player of the 2000s.

Jeff Grantz - Bel Air - football, baseball University of South Carolina: There's no pro career to recommend Grantz, who chose a successful business career instead, but many people who saw him play at Bel Air High School in the early 1970s still consider him Maryland's finest high school quarterback ever. A three-year starter at South Carolina, he set tons of offensive records and made second team All-American his senior season. He lettered three years in baseball, playing on one team that advanced to the finals of the College World Series. Lest we forget, The Sun named Grantz its high school athlete of the year in 1972.

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