Friday, April 17, 2009

Final Four Friday - Non-Revenue Sport Success Stories

The Crosstown Showdown got us thinking about how a large group of Spartans come to the banks of the Red Cedar, give their all for four (or five) years in relative obscurity and graduate to, as the NCAA commercials say, go into a career that's not sports.

Occasionally, however, an MSU non-revenue sport athlete goes out and does something amazing. Like, say, qualify for the Masters (Jack Newman, I'm lookin' at you). With that in mind, here our our top four Spartan athletes in non-revenue sports, as judged by their success outside of MSU.

Rashad Evans, Mixed Martial Arts/Wrestling

Evans wrestled for MSU but found his niche in MMA, compiling a professional record of 18-0-1 en route to winning the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship in December. Evans, who started out as simply a standout wrestler, has become a knockout artist, thanks to thunderous KO wins over former champion Chuck Liddell and former Ohio State wrestler Sean Salmon. The scary part is that at just 29 years old, he's just now reaching his prime.

Kirk Gibson, Baseball

Gibby's a no-brainer for this list, because while he was a great wide receiver for MSU's football team, most in Michigan know him for his World Series-clinching home run for the Detroit Tigers in 1984. The rest of the world will always have his 1988 hobbled homer. Gibson, who was held out of most of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series with serious leg injuries, was inserted as a pinch batter with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Gibson hit a homer for the ages and the Dodgers went on to win the series. That homer has become one of the most-watched baseball highlights of all time.

Jack Newman, Golf

Newman became the first Spartan ever to qualify for the Masters, quite simply the most prestigious tournament in all of golf. He didn't make the cut, finishing with a four-over-par 72, 76. And I know it's only one tournament. One shining moment of glory. But the reason Newman's on this list is that qualifying for the Masters is simply miles beyond any other success any other MSU golfer has ever had, ever. That sort of separation from the field is nothing short of spectacular.

Kenneth Walsh, Swimming

Don't recognize the name? Don't worry, most readers of this blog weren't watching the 1968 Olympics when Walsh earned two gold medals, one for the 4x100 freestyle relay and the second for the 4x100 medley relay. Those two wins make him MSU's all-time leading gold medalist.

And the winner is...

I'm really tempted to put Gibson here, really tempted. But I'm going with Evans for one key reason. Both Evans and Gibby reached the pinnacle of their sport, but Evans did it while getting hit in the face. I get that baseball is a tough sport - some say that hitting a baseball is the single-hardest skill in sports - but I'd much rather take my chances against Goose Gossage than stand in a cage with Liddell looking to rip my arms off.

And Rashad put him to sleep with a thundering right hand. Imagine what he'd do to me if I didn't let him with this one.

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