Last week, someone on Twitter presented the idea of a Mt. Rushmore Alumni Challenge, asking people to chime in with the four most notable alumni from their school. These are the kinds of debates I feast on, so I jumped in. I eventually realized there was too much to discuss on Twitter, so I decided it would be a great blog post.
I’m going to break this out into two categories: sports and non-sports. It’s very hard to compare the two, and a school with UC’s athletics history could easily pick from five or six athletes for this exercise, but then you’re just picking a UC Athletics Mt. Rushmore and that isn’t as interesting.
Here’s how this will work: I’m going to create a Mt. Rushmore of sports figures and one of non-sports figures and include some honorable mentions for each. At the end, I’ll attempt to combine the two categories into the definitive UC Alumni Mt. Rushmore.
This is the most obvious choice ever. Oscar Robertson is arguably the greatest player in the history of college basketball, and there isn’t a school in America that would leave him off their Alumni Mt. Rushmore. The Big O fell probably one game shy of reaching an astounding 3,000 career points at UC in just three varsity seasons. There are eight 3,000-point scorers in college basketball history, and only one of them (Pete Maravich) did it in fewer than 100 games. Oscar fell 27 points short in just 88 career games. Even still, The Big O’s 33.8 points per game make him the second greatest scorer in college basketball history.
In the NBA, Robertson won the 1961 Rookie of the Year award and followed it up in his second season by becoming one of two players in NBA history (and the first) to average a triple-double over the course of a full season. He was named All-NBA First Team in each of his first nine seasons in the NBA. Combine that streak with his three-time consensus First Team All-American honors at UC and Oscar was one of the five best players in basketball for an absurd 12 straight years. Robertson’s nine career First Team honors equal Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, although he had more Second Team honors than each. His jersey has been retired by both UC and each of the NBA franchises he played for, and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980. His career was phenomenal.
Robertson also broke barriers in college basketball, playing in a space that was still highly unwelcoming to black players. He dealt with plenty of racism and discrimination while he was at UC (and sometimes even because of UC). It’s something we don’t talk about enough when evaluating his career, but it’s another obstacle Oscar overcame on his road to glory.
This one may violate the spirit of this exercise because, while Koufax technically fits the definition of alumni, he didn’t actually graduate from UC. However, I still think he’s a Bearcat, and UC takes credit for him, so he’s going on Mt. Rushmore.
Koufax showed up to Clifton in 1953 and walked on to the freshman basketball team, coached at that time by future two-time national champion Ed Jucker. Despite being a freshman, he made the varsity baseball team (also coached by Jucker) that spring. While his UC stats are far from eye-popping, he started catching the attention of some MLB scoutsduring his lone season as a Bearcat. After trying out for several teams, he finally stuck with Los Angles. Dodgers scout Al Campanis had this to say about Koufax: “There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up: The first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball.” That’s the kind of pitcher Koufax was.
Although Koufax’s MLB career ended when he was just 30 years old, he still accomplished more in his career than any player could hope for. He won an MVP Award, three Cy Young Awards, four World Series championships, two World Series MVPs, appeared in seven All-Star Games, and pitched four no-hitters and one perfect game. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 on his first ballot.
This is probably not the Coach Huggins you thought would appear on this list, but the best Coach Huggins in Cincinnati history coached baseball.
Miller was born in Cincinnati in 1878, and attended Woodward and Walnut Hills high schools before eventually matriculating to UC where he studied law while playing baseball. He was eventually named team captain in 1900, but was torn between practicing law and trying to play professional baseball. One of his law professors, President William Howard Taft, recognized that baseball was Miller’s true passion, and told him to follow his dreams.
Four years later, Huggins was playing for the Reds and was later traded to the Cardinals. He had a solid playing career, but not one that would go down in the history books. He found his true calling in 1913 when the Cardinals named him Player/Manager of the team. Eventually Huggins wound up in the Bronx, coaching the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth, a player who clashed with Huggins for years because of the coach’s small stature and soft-spoken nature. Ruth would eventually come to respect Huggins, saying he was “the only man who knew how to keep me in line.”
In an eight-year stretch in the 1920s, Huggins and the Yankees reached the World Series six times, winning a championship three times, twice in a sweep. To date, the Yankees have 27 World Series titles, and Huggins was responsible for the first three, establishing the greatest dynasty in the history of American sports that ran from the early ’20s to the early ’60s, amassing 20 championships in a 40-year window. Huggins started it all, and his career started in Clifton.
There are a few sports figures who could fill this final spot, but I think the correct choice is the controversial one.
Meyer played defensive back for the Bearcats in 1984 before graduating from UC with a psychology degree in 1986. That fall, he enrolled in Ohio State to pursue a master’s degree in sports administration while serving as a graduate assistant on the football staff. As they say, the rest is history.
After bouncing around as a position coach for 12 seasons, Meyer got the Bowling Green head coaching job and his career exploded. Five short years later, he had outgrown both Bowling Green and Utah and was winning a national championship with the Florida Gators.
He’s won three national titles, owns a 10–3 bowl record, and his career head coaching record of 173–31 is nothing short of astounding. Simply put, he’s the best coach in college football not named Nick Saban, and he has a chance to put his name on the all-time list if he chooses to keep coaching for a while.
Jack Twyman: Twyman is one of the greatest players in Cincinnati basketball history. There’s a reason he’s one of three guys to have his number retired. As great as Twyman was as a player, he’s probably an even better person, and the NBA hands out a teammate award each year that carries Twyman’s name.
Kenyon Martin: It’s not very often you get a #1 overall draft pick, so Kenyon Martin earns on spot on this list for that alone. His career in Cincinnati was nothing short of fantastic, and he had a nice NBA career as well, playing 15 seasons at the professional level.
Mary Wineberg: She won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games as part of the USA’s 4x400-meter relay team and has since written a book about her life and career. The only Bearcat to win an Olympic gold medal since 1972.
Kevin Youkilis: Because he didn’t have a flashy career as a Bearcat, wasn’t drafted #1 overall, and doesn’t have the cultural cache of Kenyon Martin, Youkilis gets overlooked in these conversations. However, his professional career was very impressive. Youk was a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion. He also won a Gold Glove and a Hank Aaron Award.
Travis Kelce: During Travis’ senior year in Clifton, I’d never have imagined he’d be where he is now. He was great for the Bearcats, but he’s catapulted himself into the UC Alumni Mt. Rushmore conversation already, and is UC’s most currently-famous alumni. He’s made two Pro Bowls in four seasons, and was named All-Pro last year. He even had a reality dating show on E!. It’s crazy how quickly Kelce’s stock has risen.
William Howard Taft
This one is just as easy as The Big O. Taft studied law at UC before being named President of the United States and later Chief Justice. He’s the only person to have ever held both offices. He’s also the last president to have facial hair, which is an achievement in its own.
Outside of the sports sphere, Rieveschl might be the most UC-to-the-bone person that ever was. He earned his bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees from UC before returning to teach in Clifton. As a professor, he invented Benadryl. Because of his accomplishments and his estimated $10 million in contributions to the university, there’s a building named after him on campus.
Strauss is cool because he did something I would have done. He was the chief engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge, something that’s a huge achievement in its own right. However, he took it to the next level by incorporating a brick from the original McMicken Hall into the structure, thereby cementing (no pun intended) UC’s ties to the bridge forever. As a person who’s always trying to make everything about UC, that move is legendary.
To me, there is a clear Top 3 in the non-sport category. There’s a big logjam for #4, with several people who could make the cut. In the end, I went with a person who’s a bit more of-the-moment than the rest. Bierut is a partner at Pentagram, arguably the most illustrious design firm in the country. In the design world, this is the equivalent of UC having an alumnus on the Supreme Court. His most notable recent work was the logo for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Michael Graves: Graves is one of the most influential American architects ever, and even dabbled in some industrial design, creating products late in his life for retailers like Target and JC Penney. Some of his most notable buildings include the Portland Building and the Denver Public Library. He also designed UC’s Engineering Research Center (ERC), which opened in 1995 and was created to look like a 4-cylinder engine.
Neil Armstrong: Neil would easily be on Mt. Rushmore if he didn’t fit the definition of “alumni” in the loosest possible way. He never attended UC, but did teach in Clifton after walking on the moon, as one is wont to do.
Matt Berninger: Matt (along with Scott Devendorf) studied graphic design at UC in the early ’90s before later founding the band The National (who are great, by the way).
Randy Edelman: Edelman is a composer known for his work in television and film. Some of his notable credits include Billy Madison, Angels in the Outfield, and While You Were Sleeping.
Theda Bara: She’s an interesting figure. Bara is often credited as the first Hollywood sex symbol, and that’s probably true. She appeared in a number of notable movies pre-1920s and was one of the first women to be a truly famous actress.
Salmon P. Chase and Charles Dawes: Chase was the 6th Chief Justice of the United States and Dawes was Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President. Both of these are notable achievements but aren’t nearly as cool considering William Howard Taft.
Jim Obergefell: He was the subject of Obergefell v. Hodges, a 2015 civil rights case that ruled right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the United States Constitution. This will go down as one of the most notable civil rights cases in US history, and there was a UC alumnus at the center of it.
The UC Alumni Mt. Rushmore: William Howard Taft, Oscar Robertson, Sandy Koufax, and George Rieveschl
In the end, landing on #4 was far more difficult than I imagined. I think Strauss, Bierut, and Graves are all fine choices, and probably wouldn’t blame anyone who stretched the rules a bit to include Neil Armstrong. In the end, I went with Rieveschl because of his deep ties to the university and because it probably says something that he’s the only person in the running for #4 that has a building on campus named after him.
I think it’s a testament to UC that it was this difficult. There are a lot of fantastic alumni to choose from. As always, feel free to tell me where I messed up.