To take a break from normal football and basketball news, I thought I would compile a list of the ten most impactful Deacons in terms of putting Wake Forest on the national map. While this list is certainly subject to some debate, I tried to be as comprehensive as possible.
1) Arnold Palmer
This one really isn't up for debate. Palmer is not only the most famous sports figure in Wake Forest history, but could be the most famous person ever associated with Wake Forest.
The man has a signature drink named after him (As an aside, it’s not exactly half tea and half lemonade in spite of what some people may think. There was an exact way Arnie made it), which not many people in the history of the world can claim.
Palmer won seven Majors in his career, placing him among the all-time greats.
Arnold was the first person to really bring Wake Forest major attention on a national scale, and every year when The Masters roles around and Arnold’s name comes up, Wake Forest also comes to the minds of many.
2) Brian Piccolo
While Piccolo was not the greatest football player ever to put on a Wake Forest uniform, his legacy has left an impact on the university that propels him to #2 on this list.
The story of his perseverance through his diagnosis with embryonal cell carcinoma was told through the 1971 film “Brian’s Song”, which is still a famous film today and helped Brian’s story to become nationally known.
Piccolo’s #41 is retired by the Chicago Bears.
Starting in 1972, the Atlantic Coast Conference has given The Brian Piccolo Award to the most courageous player each football season.
The Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive was established by Wake Forest students in 1980 to help fund research for a cure for embryonal cell carcinoma. Through campus-wide fundraisers such as Hit the Bricks and Wake ‘N Shake, students now raise over $1 million annually for the drive. Because of the advancements in medical research and treatment, today there is a 80% success rate for curing this type of cancer, thanks in large part to The Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive.
3) Tim Duncan
Duncan is the only Wake Forest basketball player ever to win an award as the National Player of the Year. He is also the only Demon Deacon basketball player to have been drafted as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Duncan is the only former Wake Forest player to be inducted to the College Basketball Hall of Fame as a player (Billy Packer was inducted as a broadcaster).
Duncan led the San Antonio Spurs to five NBA Championships, is the only Wake Forest player to ever win NBA MVP (a feat he accomplished twice), is the only Wake Forest player ever to win an NBA Finals MVP (a feat he accomplished three times), and leads all Wake Forest players with 15 All-Star appearances.
In his nineteen NBA seasons, the Spurs never had a losing record, made the playoffs every single year, and finished with less than 50 wins only once (which was during the lockout-shortened season).
Duncan’s number 21 is retired by the Spurs.
While Wake Forest had produced many NBA players prior to 1997, none had nearly the impact on the game as Duncan, whom many have called “The Greatest Power Forward of All Time”.
4) Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues
Standing at just 5’3, Muggsy Bogues is the shortest player in NBA history. While many critics said he was “too small” to play the game, he had a rather successful 14 year NBA career.
When his collegiate career ended, Bogues was the ACC career leader in steals and assists.
Muggsy was one of the most popular players in Charlotte Hornets history. He is the Hornets’ career leader in minutes played (19,768), assists (5,557), steals (1,067), turnovers (1,118), and assists per 48 minutes (13.5).
He also starred in the movie “Space Jam”.
Muggsy proved to people everywhere that you can do anything if you just work hard and set your mind to it. He gave kids everywhere hope that when they are told they are “too small” for a task, they can prove everyone wrong.
5) The 2006 Football Team
Wake Forest football had not been relevant in the Atlantic Coast Conference in years, and the media picked them to finish last in the Atlantic Division in the 2006 season.
But led by national coach of the year Jim Grobe, freshman quarterback Riley Skinner, and a lot of veterans such as Aaron Curry, Jon Abbate, Alphonso Smith, Steve Justice, Steve Vallos, Kenneth Moore, Kevin Marion, and Sam Swank, Wake Forest greatly exceeded expectations.
Not only did the Deacs become relevant in the ACC again, they became a nationally known team, cracking the Top 25, and going to a BCS Bowl in the Orange Bowl. It was the second conference championship in school history, coming 36 years after the only other one in 1970. That team laid the foundation for what Wake Forest football is today.
6) Chris Paul
Hailing from nearby Lewisville, North Carolina, Paul, along with Jeff Teague and Ishmael Smith, has helped to insure that Wake Forest continues it’s legacy of being known as “Point Guard University”.
Paul has also helped to put the city of Winston-Salem on the map by establishing his CP3 Foundation, which he holds charity events for every year. Many nationally-recognized names have come to Winston-Salem and participated in his annual charity bowling tournament.
Chris is a nine-time NBA All-Star, won the All-Star game MVP award in 2013, was a consensus First Team All-American in 2005, and is the only former Demon Deacon ever to win two gold medals for the United States in basketball.
It is his continued commitment to Wake Forest, shown through his recent $2.5 million contribution to the basketball program, that that places him this high on the list.
7) Len Chappell
Chappell was the first Deacon basketball player to really put the Deacs in the national spotlight, leading the 1962 team to a victory over John Wooden’s UCLA team in the National 3rd Place game. This is the furthest Wake Forest has ever gone in the NCAA Tournament.
Len was also the first Wake Forest player to receive consensus First Team All-American honors, and was the first Demon Deacon to win ACC Athlete of the Year.
He was the first Wake Forest player to make the NBA All-Star game in 1964.
Chappell was the ACC Tournament’s all-time leading scorer until 2002.
8) Bill George
While many may doubt his inclusion on this list, Bill George is the only Wake Forest player ever elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1949, he was the first Wake Forest football player to be named an All-American.
George is credited as the first true middle linebacker in football history and, inadvertently, the creator of the 4–3 defense.
He was an NFL Champion in 1963, a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time First Team All-Pro member, and was named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team. His number 61 is retired by the Chicago Bears.
9) Noah Rubin
Noah Rubin came to Wake Forest in 2014 as the ITA number one ranked college freshman after winning the Wimbledon Junior Tournament that summer.
Rubin finished his only season at Wake as an All-American and the runner-up in the 2015 NCAA Singles Championship.
While he turned pro after only one year at the age of 19, he sparked the resurgence in Wake Forest tennis that led to this past year’s NCAA championships.
10) W.C. Dowd, W.C. Riddick, and J.R. Crozier
Dowd and Riddick brought football to Wake Forest College in 1888, and Crozier brought basketball in 1905.
Without these men brining these sports to Wake Forest, this blog, and so many of the things we enjoy today may never have existed. For this reason, they make this list.
What do you think of this list? Do you have anyone in mind that I left off? Comment below.