There’s been a lot of chatter lately about who belongs on the DFW Mount Rushmore of sports. But I think the debate has been too narrowly framed. Let’s fix that.
Seemingly since the Dallas Mavericks qualified for the NBA Finals for the second time, the barstool debates, talk show lines and blogs have buzzed with the question of where Dirk Nowitzki ranks in the Dallas-Fort Worth sports pantheon. It’s a worthy discussion for multiple reasons. One of them is about appreciation of the Mavericks’ star. I’ll claim qualification for discussion, based on perspective. I’m a former (and original) Mavs season ticket holder and had the opportunity to do regular daily radio shows with Coach Dick Motta for years. I’m a big fan now.
When the Mavericks tied their series with Miami 2-2, I heard the question on the radio, “If they win, does Dirk belong on that list?” I thought the question missed the point. Look at the body of work, the accomplishment, the surrounding cast. Nowitzki, in this opinion, belonged on the list if Dallas had NOT won the title. His being MVP in the winning effort just cemented it. This Mavericks team has taught us wonderful lessons about what a TEAM looks like, and Dirk is their leader. I understand the instinct to limit the list to four, because there are four presidents on Mt. Rushmore. But who cares, like I said, too narrow.
First, we define our terms. We’re going to limit this mountain to athletes. If you made it sports figures in general, you would open a can of worms. Tom Landry would be the first one up. But then you open the door for the Jimmy Johnson backers. Tex Schramm would deserve it. But what about Jerry Jones? Too much distraction. Besides, I would then want the conversation opened to the former legendary Dallas newspaper columnist Blackie Sherrod, maybe Dan Jenkins too. And now we’ve lost all our focus.
So athletes only, but not just pros. Because the first one up for me is Doak Walker. He was before my time (yes, somebody was). But I know too many people who knew Doak. He may have been the best pure athlete in the area’s history. Considering the importance of college football when he was an SMU Heisman Trophy winner, and a Dallas high school legend, to add to his success in the NFL, he belongs. Now talk to people about his character and personality, his integrity and determination. He’s number one. (I thought of considering some TCU greats, and did, especially Davey O’Brien and Jim Swink. But they simply weren’t Doak Walker, and there are too many other must-haves. Sorry Frogs, nothing personal.)
Now we get to why we have to expand. There are too many deserving candidates to limit this to four. I already know who I’m leaving off, and I don’t like it. Besides, it’s my mountain.
So Mount Sportsmore will have seven.
The next two to join Doak are easy, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. They won multiple championships, they played the most important and demanding position, they were leaders, and they made their teammates better. So that’s three. And Dirk, who in addition to everything else, shares another trait with the other three: humility. None of those four cared about anything more than winning. All sacrificed for that and none was a self-promoter.
So two spots left on my Mount Sportsmore. For crying out loud, I don’t even have room for Bob Lilly, Mister Cowboy, or Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers ever. But there has to be room for Nolan Ryan. Yes, he accomplished most of his career in other uniforms. But after age 40, he came to Arlington, did things no man his age had ever done, resuscitated a moribund franchise and coming back as president, guided the Rangers to their first World Series. (I know, I said athletes only but MY mountain. Any other executive can re-open the debate when he becomes Nolan Ryan.)
Now my confession: I was going to make this a six-man list. But then I sat Emmitt Smith and Mike Modano down together. I looked at the NFL’s all time leading rusher and the greatest American hockey player ever, both of whom brought championships to Dallas, and I couldn’t figure out who to cut. So I kept ‘em both.
That’s my Mount Sportsmore. Walker, Staubach Aikman, Nowitzki, Ryan, Smith and Modano. It’ll be a long time before we take any more applications.