Vaught's Views: SI highlights Kentucky, rates Issel top athlete

May 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Sports Illustrated should not have needed an extensive poll to secure some of the information it included in this week's issue.

Sports Illustrated is publishing state-specific editions this year as part of its yearlong 50th anniversary celebration.

There was no better edition to spotlight Kentucky than its Kentucky Derby week issue that hit newsstands Wednesday. The Derby does capture our imagination, even if most of us are not horse racing fans the rest of the year.

But SI also polled Kentuckians on a variety of subjects. It was no surprise that the Harris Interactive poll revealed that Dan Issel, the all-time leading scorer at Kentucky, was named the greatest athlete ever to play or live in the state over Muhammad Ali and Johnny Unitas. It was a bit of a surprise that former UK basketball standout Jamal Mashburn finished fourth.

Favorite major league baseball team? Cincinnati Reds. Who else? But the Reds got only 29 percent of the vote - maybe because of their lousy play in recent years. The Chicago Cubs got 12 percent of the vote.


Favorite NFL team? The Cincinnati Bengals? Wrong. The Tennessee Titans got the nod with only 14 percent of the vote to Cincinnati's 13. Maybe that should tell the Bengals something.

Reds edge Titans for favorite pro team

Favorite pro team? The Reds edged the Titans for the top spot here.

The no-brainer had to be the state's biggest rivalry. Eighty-seven percent correctly picked UK-Louisville. One can only wonder where the other 13 percent of Kentuckians polled have been hiding.

Here's one that might be a surprise. Dick Vitale was picked as the favorite announcer over John Madden.

It was also interesting to note that Pete Rose tied with Michael Jordan for sports figure those polled would most like to have dinner with. Since I was once lucky enough to have dinner with Rose, I can guarantee you no one would leave disappointed.

Asked about the No. 1 enemy of the state, Louisville coach Rick Pitino got 38 percent of the vote compared to 18 percent from former Duke star Christian Laettner and 12 percent for former Indiana coach Bobby Knight. Obviously most of the 402 Kentuckians polled had to be Big Blue fans and forgot the NCAA championship and two other Final Four berths Pitino had at Kentucky.

Owensboro has also been picked at the Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Sportstown for Kentucky. The magazine and the National Recreation and Park Association based the choice on a variety of criteria that demonstrates a community's involvement in facilitating and enhancing quality sports. That probably means Owensboro officials would be a little more open-minded about a skate park than those in Danville based on how we continue to ignore the growing popularity of that sport.

Piece written by Judd is most entertaining part

But the most entertaining part of Sports Illustrated's Kentucky edition is the piece written by actress Ashley Judd. In "Wild Cats Fan," she tells why Kentuckians are so enthused about UK basketball and how it unites a diverse state.

"Basketball is the one thing that unites us, something for which we can all be proud," Judd wrote. "An airline pilot once told my Nana that when he flies over the state, he can tell when UK is playing because the roads are all empty."

She noted that her last trip to Rupp Arena was for UK's Senior Day. She had been sick with bronchitis and had a blue-painted cast on her left foot - she had hurt the ankle during a Broadway play - when she was asked to make the Y during a cheer spelling out Kentucky.

"That day cheerleader Jason Keogh hoisted me onto his shoulder and carried me - and the blue-painted cast on my left foot - to midcourt. Before I was even introduced, I was given a standing ovation. It was the most extraordinary feeling," Judd wrote. "Back on Broadway, my play was closing without me, but I was getting the best curtain call of my life at Rupp from the people who mean so much to me: the people of Kentucky."

And it doesn't take a poll to know Judd is 100 percent right about that.

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