Ask people to name Colorado's best-ever athletes and you'll hear references to the likes of John Elway, Dave Logan and Missy Franklin. But they all moved to the state rather than being born here.
So who are the greatest Colorado athletes as listed by Wikipedia who actually qualify as natives? We've collected our top ten -- and some of the names may surprise you. Check them out below.
Number 10: Vincent Jackson Born in Colorado Springs, Jackson grew to a height of six-five and had an outstanding high school football career before matriculating to the University of Northern Colorado. But many observers were still surprised when he blossomed into one of the most dangerous and effective receivers in the NFL. He made fans of his home-state Broncos hate him when he was a member of the San Diego Chargers -- which is one reason we're glad he's signed a long-term deal to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That way, Denver defenders won't have to match up against him as often. Number 9: Buddy Lazier Are you among those who don't consider race-car drivers to be athletes? If so, you'll object to our inclusion of Vail-native Lazier...and another standout further down on this list. But if you hold the opposite view, then you must give props to Lazier, who reached the very pinnacle of his chosen pursuit by winning the 1996 Indianapolis 500, and came close plenty of other times; he's notched six top-ten finishes. Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten best athletes to be born in Colorado. Number 8: Aaron Smith Smith, who hails from Colorado Springs (another one) and played for the University of Northern Colorado, isn't a player whose name appears high on most lists of Pittsburgh Steeler greats -- and more's the pity. Drafted in 1999, he had a stellar thirteen years in the league, racking up impressive stats aplenty as a defensive end. He was part of two Super Bowl-winning squads, made the 2004 Pro Bowl, and was named to Sports Illustrated's all-decade team for the first ten years of this century. Those are accomplishments worth remembering. Number 7: Richard "Goose" Gossage Another proud product of Colorado Springs, Gossage pitched for nine different Major League Baseball teams over a 22-year career. But most casual fans know him for his stint with the New York Yankees, when he set the team's save record en route to multiple All-Star Game appearances and a key role in helping the Evil Empire win the 1978 World Series. For years, he was on the bubble for Hall of Fame membership, but he finally won election in 2008. And deservedly so. Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten best athletes to be born in Colorado. Number 6: Bobby Unser Man, there must be something in Colorado Springs' water, because here's yet another favorite son. A member of the much lauded Unser racing family, Bobby not only won the Indianapolis 500 three times, but he did so in three different decades (1968, 1975 and 1981) -- a testimony to his longevity as well as his supreme skill behind the wheel. If there's a racing Hall of Fame that has not yet inducted him as a member, we don't know about it. Number 5: Roy Halladay Halladay's from Denver, and his hometown Colorado Rockies sure as hell could use him -- not that the legendarily cheap outfit would ever pay his freight. He is quite simply one of the most dominant pitcher in Major League Baseball, although it took a while for some folks to realize it, since he spent the first chunk of his career hurling for the Toronto Blue Jays. Now he's part of the Philadelphia Phillies, a perennial contender. His personal record book includes eight All-Star Game appearances, two Cy Young awards (given to the best pitcher in his league) and, in 2010, both a perfect game and a no-hitter in the playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds. When he retires, we expect he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten best athletes to be born in Colorado. Number 4: Earl Harry "Dutch" Clark If you're not old enough to remember football players wearing leather helmets, then you never saw Dutch Clark compete; his heyday was the 1930s and 1940s. But the most famous person to be born in Fowler, Colorado, was so multifaceted a player -- his positions included quarterback, fullback and punter -- at Colorado College and, later, pro teams such as the Detroit Lions, that; he was a charter member of both the College Football Hall of Fame (1951) and the NFL Hall of Fame (1963), where he was inducted alongside legends such as Jim Thorpe and Curly Lambeau. He died in 1978, but his presence lives on in Pueblo, where he played high school ball. The city boasts Dutch Clark Stadium, and includes a statue of its namesake. Number 3: Chauncey Billups Okay, maybe we're a little biased ranking Denver-born Chauncey so high, since he's one of our favorites. But not only is he an incredibly skilled basketball player, as he proved as a CU Buff and, later, for NBA teams such as the Detroit Pistons (where he won a championship and was finals MVP) and our own Denver Nuggets, but he's the epitome of a modern-sports role model. He's currently a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, a team we don't wish well on most occasions -- but if the Clip Show goes deep in the playoffs this year, we'll be rooting for Mr. Big Shot. And when he finally decides to call it career, wouldn't he make a great Nuggets coach or general manager? You can go home again. Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten best athletes to be born in Colorado. Number 2: Amy Van Dyken Long before Missy Franklin (who lives in the metro area but was born in Pasadena), there was Denver's Van Dyken, who won four gold medals in swimming at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics -- the first female athlete to accomplish such a feat. And even though she was troubled by injuries leading up to the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, she still managed to collect another two golds as part of championship relay teams. Number 1: Jack Dempsey The Manassa Mauler (named for the small Colorado town where he was born in 1895) held the heavyweight championship belt for a staggering seven years, from 1919 to 1926. During this period, boxing was arguably the most popular sport in America, making him not just famous but iconic -- and his renown lasted for the rest of his life. He ran a New York City restaurant he named for himself from 1935 to 1974, and he was a regular feature there for most of that stretch, with celebrities who never saw him throw a punch thrilled simply to be in his presence. Decades after his death in 1983, he still tops this list -- and he's likely to do so for many years to come.
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