Iowa has produced a huge quantity of sports heroes over the years.
Here are 50 of the very best sports athletes from Iowa.
50. Bob Feller – Baseball
The Heater from Van Meter played 18 seasons in the MLB as a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. He was one of the best baseball players from Iowa.
He started playing with the Van Meter High School team and then for the Farmers Union team, missing out on the minors to sign up directly as a pro.
Thank you, Bob Feller. Hall of Famer was 1st @MLB player to volunteer for military service after Pearl Harbor attack. pic.twitter.com/fHUbJ9qi
— MLB (@MLB) November 11, 2012
49. Dan Gable – Wrestling
Born in Waterloo, Dan Gable was one of the top wrestlers of all time. He was a two-time national champion in the NCAA while attending Iowa State University, where he had a 117-1 record and only lost his very last match before graduating.
Dan later won the Olympic gold in the 1972 Olympics without losing a single point.
48. Jay Berwanger – Football
Known as a one-man football team to fans, Jay Berwanger was born in Dubuque and played his college football for the University of Chicago.
He was the first player drafted to the NFL but never played in the league, opting to work and coach part-time instead.
47. Elmer Layden – Football
Hailing from Davenport, Elmer Layden achieved fame as one of the Four Horsemen for the University of Notre Dame before turning pro in the AFL.
He then started coaching at Columbia College in Dubuque and later became commissioner of the NFL.
46. Gary Thompson – Basketball
An All-American while attending Iowa State, Gary then played pro basketball and got into broadcasting after retiring. He was born in Roland and became the first Cyclones player to reach 1,000 points.
45. Nile Kinnick – Football
The University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium takes its name from this football player from Adel. Nile joined the Hawkeyes when they were going through a rough patch and inspired them to the magnificent 1939 season where he won a host of individual awards.
Sadly, he never fulfilled his potential as he lost his life while serving in the US Navy.
44. Raef LaFrentz – Basketball
This power forward / center from Hampton attended MFL MarMac High School before going to the University of Kansas.
Following a strong college career, he joined the Denver Nuggets as 3rd pick in the 1998 draft and then became a coach at Decorah High School.
43. Jim Zalesky – Wrestling
Jim Zalesky was a 4-time All-American while at the University of Iowa and helped them to an incredible period of success thanks to an 89-match winning streak.
After that, he successfully coached the Hawkeyes wrestling team for several years and is now head coach at the University of Jamestown.
42. Roger Craig – Football
This running back from Davenport was the first player in the NFL to complete 1,000 yards rushing and the same amount receiving in a single season. He won 3 Super Bowls and went to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions.
41. Don Perkins – Football
Born in Waterloo, Don Perkins was an All-Pro following the 1962 season where he got 7 touchdowns and rushed for 945 yards.
He’s been described as the Dallas Cowboys’ best-ever fullback. Perkins passed away in June 2022.
Don Perkins, six-time Pro Bowler and Cowboys Ring of Honor member, dies at 84https://t.co/XUlZyHYV8Q pic.twitter.com/weqAWgz5J2
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) June 10, 2022
40. Fred Hoiberg – Basketball
Hailing from Ames, Fred attended Iowa State University and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1991.
After a decade of playing in the NFL, Fred started coaching at Iowa State before coaching in the NBA.
39. Jack Fleck – Golf
Another sports icon from Iowa, Jack Fleck was born in Bettendorf and most famously won the US Open in 1955, beating Ben Hogan in a playoff.
Fleck is named in our list of best golfers from Iowa.
38. Fred Clarke – Baseball
Fred Clarke was a pro baseball player and coach, who was born in Winterset but grew up mainly in Des Moines. He set a major league record in his very first game, with 5 hits out of 5.
37. Red Faber – Baseball
This pitcher from Cascade spent almost 2 decades in the MLB, all of it with the Chicago White Sox. He also had the claim to fame as the last of the legal spitballers in the league.
36. Tom Brands – Wrestling
Together with his twin Terry, Tom Brands provided Iowa with some amazing moments. Most importantly, he won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, while Terry won bronze in 2000. They both currently work as coaches at the University of Iowa.
35. Bryce Paup – Football
This outside linebacker was born in Scranton and attended the University of Northern Iowa before playing for several teams during a long career in the NFL.
34. Aubrey Devine – Football and Basketball
A gifted athlete, Aubrey grew up in Des Moines and attended the University of Iowa, where he was the quarterback for the Hawkeyes. He then worked as a basketball coach and football coach.
33. Mack Garner – Horse racing
A legendary jockey from Centerville, Mack won several big races including the 1934 Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in 1929 and 1933.
32. Gordon Locke – Football
Born in Denison, Gordon was a star turn as the fullback for the Hawkeyes during a highly successful period. He was named an All-American and is fondly remembered for playing his part in the only two undefeated teams in the college’s history
31. Harold Nichols – Wrestling
Although he grew up in Cresco, Harold attended the University of Michigan and won the NCAA championship with them in 1939.
His career as a wrestling coach took him to Iowa State, where he stayed for over 30 years.
TBT | Iowa State's 1972 National Championship squad poses with the trophy and legendary head coach Dr. Harold Nichols.#Cyclones pic.twitter.com/AP4cusmkxw
— Iowa State Wrestling (@CycloneWR) April 4, 2019
30. Dave Bancroft – Baseball
A baseball legend from Sioux City, Dave spent several years in the minors before playing and managing in the MLB.
His greatest triumphs came with the World Series victories in 1915 and 1923.
29. Hayden Fry – Football
While he wasn’t born in Iowa, Hayden Fry became a key figure in the history of the University of Iowa when he led the Hawkeyes to triumph following a long period of underachieving.
28. Tim Dwight – Football
Tim was born in Iowa City and became the all-time leader in receiving yards at the University of Iowa. However, he’s best remembered for his 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIII.
27. Bill Logan – Basketball
After attending Keokuk High School, Bill Logan went to the University of Iowa and had a memorable college basketball career with the Hawkeyes. This included helping them to their first Final Fours appearance in the mid-1950s.
26. Denise Long – Basketball
Born in Whitten, Denise graduated from Drake University. After a spectacular career in girls’ basketball, she was the first female player drafted to the NBA, although the draft was eventually voided.
25. Frank Gotch – Wrestling
Frank Gotch was one of the most important figures in American wrestling, as he became the first wrestler from the US to win the world heavyweight freestyle title and gained a huge level of popularity.
24. Forest Evashevski – Football
The first Rose Bowl victories claimed by the Hawkeyes came in 1957 and 1959, when Forest Evashevski was their coach. Before that, he’d played with the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks.
23. Reggie Roby – Football
A punter in the NFL following his time with the Hawkeyes, Reggie played professionally for several teams and was an All-American in his college days.
22. Earl Whitehill – Baseball
This pitcher from Cedar Rapids won 218 games in his major league career that spanned teams like the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs.
21. Ed Podolak – Football
Hailing from Atlantic in Iowa, Ed was a quarterback and running back for the University of Iowa, where he set a single-game rushing yards record of 286 that stood for almost 30 years.
20. Randy Duncan – Football
This quarterback from Osage played for the University of Iowa in a couple of Rose Bowls and has also been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Randy Duncan days until Iowa football. pic.twitter.com/tM3Y8JfvHa
— HawkeyesChronicles (@HawksChronicles) August 9, 2022
19. Zoe Ann Olsen – Diving
Coming from Council Bluffs., Zoe won state swimming competitions as a youngster and eventually won a silver medal for springboard diving in the 1948 Olympics.
18. Hal Trosky – Baseball
This native of Norway in Iowa had a career in pro baseball with the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox, claiming over 1,500 career hits and 228 home runs.
17. Dan McGugin – Football
This Tingley native was one of the finest players in the history of Drake University before having a successful coaching career with Vanderbilt University.
16. Bing Miller – Baseball
Bing Miller was part of the Philadelphia Athletics team that won the 1929 and 1930 World Series. He then worked as a coach after retiring as a player.
15. Lynne Lorenzen – Basketball
Lynne became famous when she set a new national high school basketball record with Ventura High, scoring over 6,700 points. She also turned in a stellar performance to win the state title in 1987.
14. Doreen Wilber – Archery
Doreen took home a gold medal from the 1972 Olympics archery competition, setting a new world record at the same time.
Iowa History Daily: On September 10, 1972, Iowan Doreen Wilber captured the gold medal at the Munich Summer Olympics in archery. The first Iowa woman to win gold, Wilber’s story represents the unlikeliest of Olympic achievements. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily pic.twitter.com/75F1L8Y8IB
— Notes on Iowa (@notesoniowa) September 10, 2022
13. Bucky O’Connor – Basketball
Frank O’Connor was born in Monroe in 1913 and became an Iowa sporting icon thanks to his time coaching the Hawkeyes basketball team.
12. Glen Brand – Wrestling
Another successful wrestler from Iowa, Glen Brand won Olympic gold for freestyle wrestling in 1948.
11. Eddie Anderson – Football
A Mason City High School student who went on to play in the NFL, Eddie Anderson would later become a football and basketball coach in different Iowa colleges.
10. Kenny Ploen – Football
Kenny was the quarterback who helped the Hawkeyes claim their first Big Ten Conference title after a 35-year drought, as well as the 1957 Rose Bowl.
Kenny Ploen rolling corner dime.
Ploen was back in the driver's seat at QB with a late season injury to Jim Van Pelt.#GreyCupADay | #CFL | #Ticats | #Bombers pic.twitter.com/YM3jBXzljy
— 🇨🇦 Marshall Ferguson 🏈 (@TSN_Marsh) June 22, 2020
9. Murray Wier – Basketball
Murray’s college career was the greatest claim to fame, as he was a first-team All-American while attending the University of Iowa. He later went on to play pro basketball.
8. Maury John – Basketball
Maury John led the Drake University Bulldogs basketball team to a 211–131 record before moving to Iowa State University.
7. Gerald Leeman – Wrestling
Coming from Osage, this wrestler won a silver medal at the 1948 Olympics, following three high school championship wins.
6. Judy Kimball – Golf
This Sioux City golfer had her finest moment when she won the 1962 LPGA Championship.
5. Paul Moon – Basketball
As basketball coach at Davenport High School, Paul Moon turned the program into a winning machine with 7 state championships.
4. Marv Cook – Football
Born in West Branch, Marv Cook was a Hawkeye who went on to become 4th in the list of all-time receptions in the NFL.
3. Frederick Morgan Taylor – Hurdles
An Olympic gold winner and world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, Frederick was born in Sioux City and studied at Grinnell College.
2. J.L. Wilkinson – Baseball
Despite his own playing career ending with injury, J.L Wilkinson was an important figure in baseball, founding teams like the All Nations and the Kansas City Monarchs.
1. Mike Busch – Baseball
After playing both football and baseball at Iowa State, Mike joined the Los Angeles Dodgers and later became a baseball coach.
This Michael Busch home run got out in a hurry!
The No. 4 @Dodgers prospect lines his 28th jack of the year to tie the game in the 9th for the @okc_dodgers. pic.twitter.com/Hx5LnSbFJl
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 3, 2022
Credits on Featured Image: Doreen Wilber Olympic Plaza, City of Jefferson, Iowa
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