PINEHURST, N.C. - When a basketball conference kicks off its 50th anniversary by announcing the 50 greatest football players in league history, two immediate questions leap to mind.
Who's No. 1? Where's Woody?
The ACC left it open to popular debate as to who should be classified as the best football player in the conference's first 50 years, listing its squad alphabetically from Bill Armstrong, of Wake Forest, to Randy White, of Maryland. Many would argue that the last (White) should be first.
Many more will argue about who didn't make the team, and the argument can start with Woody Dantzler, of Clemson (1998-2001). How the only quarterback in college history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in the same season can be excluded from any short list of league greats is mind-boggling.
"He's got my vote any day," said Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton, one of seven quarterbacks to make the list.
"He set records that may never be broken," said Clemson defensive back Terry Kinard, the finest of nine Tiger selections.
The same question should be asked of Virginia running back Thomas Jones (1996-99), who broke the league's 36-year-old single-season rushing record (1,798) and ranks fifth overall in career rushing yards. And how about Wake Forest receiver Desmond Clark (1995-98), the conference's all-time receptions leader (216)?
"The hardest job in the world is the people who compiled this list," said Virginia's Jim Dombrowski, one of six offensive linemen to make the team without the benefit of statistics to quantify their value.
It would be harder still to settle on a definitive best-ever ACC football player. Comparing players at different positions and from different eras is a riddle that can never be solved. The issue is made murkier when you factor in professional accomplishments beyond college that ultimately reflect their roots in the league.
Instead of copping out and leaving it blank, the ACC could have made a better effort at giving the public a mythical No. 1. Even the BCS takes a stab at that.
We should have more courage to stick our necks out on matters of subjectivity. So here it goes.
Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward is rumored to have been the top vote-getter from the 120-member panel that chose the team. That's certainly warranted considering the explosive Ward led Florida State to the 1993 national championship and earned the conference its first Heisman Trophy.
But Ward's legacy is based as much on basketball, which he ultimately chose as his profession. Basketball doesn't count in a football debate, even in a conference that considers it the highest athletic virtue.
So that boils the debate down to two finalists, both defensemen.
Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, of North Carolina, and defensive end White were the most dominant players of their eras. They were players who went on to hall-of-fame careers in the NFL.
Taylor redefined the job description for linebackers as he became what many consider the greatest in history. His only missteps came off the field, where substance abuse applied a little tarnish to his reputation.
"I have a built-in partiality, but if I was a voter I'd pick L.T.," says Virginia coach Al Groh, who coached Taylor in both college and the pros.
Aside from one outstanding college season, Taylor's greatness was formed largely in the NFL. White was unquestionably great at each level.
The Manster - half man, half monster - was the prototypical defensive lineman, who collected every award from the Outland to Lombardi to ACC player of the year to consensus All-America to Pro Bowl to co-MVP of Super Bowl XII.
"Few players dominated action like Randy White did," Groh said. "He was a game-wrecker."
White, who looks like he could still lead the league in sacks at age 49, is just proud to be considered in the debate.
"When someone asks if you are the best to play, it makes you feel good," he said. "It's not something I ever considered."
Consider it decided. White is No. 1 - but Woody ain't far behind.
ACC TOP 50 (by team)
ACC TOP 50 (by position)
Charlie Ward, Florida State (1990-93)
Boomer Esaison, Maryland (1981-83)
Chris Weinke, Florida State (1997-2000)
Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech (1996-99)
Steve Fuller, Clemson (1975-78)
Roman Gabriel, N.C. State (1960-61)
Norm Snead, Wake Forest (1958-60)
RUNNING BACKS (11)
Don McCauley, North Carolina (1968-70)
Ted Brown, N.C. State (1975-78)
Amos Lawrence, North Carolina (1977-80)
Tiki Barber, Virginia (1993-96)
Warrick Dunn, Florida State (1993-96)
Kelvin Bryant, North Carolina (1979-82)
Mike Voight, North Carolina (1973-76)
Dick Christy, N.C. State (1955-57)
Frank Quayle, Virginia (1966-68)
Brian Piccolo, Wake Forest (1962-64)
Alex Hawkins, South Carolina (1956-58)
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS (6)
Peter Warrick, Florida State (1996-99)
Torry Holt, N.C. State (1995-98)
Herman Moore, Virginia (1988-90)
Clarkston Hines, Duke (1986-89)
Jerry Butler, Clemson (1975-78)
Bennie Cunningham, Clemson (1973-75)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
Randy White, Maryland (1972-74)
Peter Boulware, Florida State (1994-96)
William Perry, Clemson (1981-84)
Julius Peppers, North Carolina (1991-2001)
William Fuller, North Carolina (1980-83)
Chris Slade, Virginia (1988-92)
Michael Dean Perry, Clemson (1984-87)
Dennis Byrd, N.C. State (1965-67)
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
Jim Dombrowski, Virginia (1982-85)
Bob Pellegrini, Maryland (1953-55)
Joe Bostic, Clemson (1975-78)
Mike McGee, Duke (1957-59)
Jim Richter, N.C. State (1976-79)
Stan Jones, Maryland (1951-53)
Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina (1978-80)
Derrick Brooks, Florida State (1991-94)
Anthony Simmons, Clemson (1995-97)
Marvin Jones, Florida State (1990-92)
Marco Coleman, Georgia Tech (1989-91)
Jeff Davis, Clemson (1978-81)
Bob Matheson, Duke (1964-66)
DEFENSIVE BACKS (4)
Terry Kinard, Clemson (1978-82)
Dre Bly, North Carolina (1996-98)
Ken Swilling, Georgia Tech (1988-91)
Bill Armstrong, Wake Forest (1973-76)
Sebastian Janikowski, Florida State (1997-99)
QUARTERBACK: Woody Dantzler, Clemson; Shawn Jones, Georgia Tech; Ben Bennett, Duke; Shawn Moore, Virginia
RUNNING BACK: Thomas Jones, Virginia; Lamont Jordan, Maryland; Robert Lavette, Georgia Tech; Terry Kirby, Virginia; Leon Johnson, North Carolina; Natrone Means, North Carolina
WIDE RECEIVER: Desmond Clark, Wake Forest; Jermaine Lewis, Maryland; Marvin Minnis, Florida State
DEFENSE: Mike McCrary, Wake Forest; Levon Kirkland, Clemson; Greg Ellis, North Carolina
SPECIALIST: Johnny Evans, N.C. State (punter)
- Compiled by Scott Michaux and Larry Williams
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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