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Friday, January 23, 2004

Glory Days
The Past, Present and Future of Hoyas Turned Professional Athletes



Courtesy Special Collections
Al Blozis (C '42), "The Georgetown Colossus," arguably Georgetown's best ever athlete, threw shotput and played football on Georgetown's 1941 Orange Bowl team before being drafted by the New York Giants.

In the world of professional sports, Georgetown is best known for the basketball players it has produced over the past 20 years. The Hoyas' rise to prominence in the early 1980s cemented Georgetown's position not only as a college basketball power, but also as a breeding ground for future stars in the National Basketball Association.

Yet the story of the Hoya-turned-professional athlete does not end with the NBA, nor did it begin there. Georgetown alumni have played in several leagues across the country and around the world, spanning more than 100 years of professional sports.

What follows are just a few examples of professional athletes, past and present, who graduated from Georgetown.

In the formative years of the National Football League, Georgetown was arguably one of the most prolific universities in terms of providing graduates to the professional ranks. According to HoyaSaxa.com, when Jim Thorpe organized the inaugural NFL team in Canton in 1920, he named five Georgetown players to the squad, more than from any other university. In total, 49 alumni have had NFL experience, and the 1941 Orange Bowl team alone sent 10 players on to the NFL.

One member of this team was Al Blozis (CAS '42), recognized by many as Georgetown's greatest athlete of all time. Blozis joined the New York Giants after leaving the Hilltop, and was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1942 and also earned All-Pro honors. Blozis played only three seasons for the Giants, however, as he was killed in combat during World War II.

Despite the brevity of his career, Blozis' place in football history has been preserved. His No. 32 jersey is one of the few to have been honored in Giants' history, and Blozis was named to the All-Decade Team of the 1940s.

The suspension of intercollegiate football at Georgetown halted the flow of players to the NFL. The last graduate to play in the league was Jim Ricca, whose six-year career with the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles ended in 1956.

Georgetown alumni have also played an important role off the field in the NFL. Several team owners and administrators graduated from Georgetown, including former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, current Arizona Cardinals owner Billy Bidwill, and Cleveland Browns Team President and CEO Carmen Policy.

Paul Tagliabue (CAS '62), who played basketball at Georgetown, has been Commissioner of the NFL for almost 15 years and has played a major role in the league's evolution into the most successful sports association in America.

Like its football program, Georgetown baseball has contributed heavily to the professional leagues. The two are also similar in that no Georgetown alumnus has played in the major leagues since the 1950s, although a few Hoyas have since played professionally in the minor leagues.

Georgetown baseball players were some of the first athletes to participate in professional sports. The majority of alumni entered the major leagues before 1920, but during the early 20th century the university could claim several impact players as their own.

Of these professional baseball players, none had more success than Guy “Doc” White (DDS 1902). White debuted with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901, but established himself as a star after joining the Chicago White Sox in 1903. The southpaw compiled a career record of 189 wins and 156 losses, with a 2.39 earned run average, the 26th lowest in baseball history. In 2000, White was named to Chicago's “Team of the Century.”

Although he posted a league-leading 27 wins in 1907, White's crowning achievement was his performance in Game 6 of the 1906 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. White pitched a complete game, surrendering three runs on seven hits to clinch the championship for the White Sox.

Although Georgetown is best known for the NBA players it has produced, several members of the women's basketball team have gone on to play professionally. As of yet, no former Hoya has played in the WNBA, although the Sacramento Monarchs selected Katie Smrcka-Duffy (COL '01) with the 62nd overall pick in the 2001 Draft.

Yet the lack of options stateside has not prevented alumni from playing professional basketball. Twelve Hoyas have played or are currently on rosters in various European leagues. Three players from the Class of 2003 are playing abroad, including Santia Jackson (COL '03) in Russia, and Suzy Bendegue (COL '03) as well as Nok Duany (MSB '03) in Portugal.

One of the most successful professional Hoyas is Sylita Thomas (COL '99). Thomas left the United States to play in Finland, where she starred for two seasons. In 2002, she joined the Spanish Second Division team CB Irlandesas. In her first season in the league, she averaged 22.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, earning team MVP honors.

Georgetown has quickly placed its imprint on one of the newest professional sports — lacrosse. The success of Georgetown's lacrosse program in recent years has translated into opportunities for several alumni in Major League Lacrosse.

The six-team league, which began play in 2001, currently boasts 10 Hoyas on four teams. A Georgetown graduate has been selected every year in the MLL Collegiate Draft, including Steve Dusseau (COL '02), whom the Boston Cannons selected with the second overall pick in 2002.

Playing in a league that is still trying to establish itself means that salaries for MLL players are low compared to other professional leagues. Most players therefore have jobs outside MLL. Scott Urick (COL '00), who plays for the New Jersey Pride, is an assistant coach for his alma mater when not playing in the MLL. Urick has emerged as one of the premier players in the league. He was named the MVP of the 2002 MLL All-Star Game, and last season tallied 40 goals in 12 games, good enough to place him third in the league.

For the most part, Georgetown graduates who go on to become professional athletes do so playing the sport that they participated in with the Hoyas. One notable exception is Brendan Gaughan (MSB '97), who lettered in both football and basketball at Georgetown, but in a few weeks will become the first former Hoya to race in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

While at Georgetown, Gaughan reached the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight berth, and also earned All-Conference honors in football. After graduating in 1997, however, Gaughan moved on to professional racing.

Gaughan experienced success early on, winning back-to-back NASCAR Winston West Series Championships in 2000 and 2001. The following season he moved up to the Craftsman Truck Series and was named the circuit's Rookie of the Year with two wins in 2002.

The 2003 season was a breakthrough for Gaughan, who won six races and finished fourth in the championship standings with 3,797 points — just 40 behind winner Travis Kvapil.

Gaughan had actually led in the standings for most of the year, finishing in the top ten 18 times in 25 races. He entered the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway leading the championship race by 26 points, but a crash on the 101st lap knocked him out of the race and cost him the title. The season was not a total loss, however, as Gaughan earned $771,290 in winnings on the year.

Gaughan's accomplishments on the Craftsman circuit opened the eyes of the Penske racing team, who earlier this month invited him to test their No. 77 Dodge at Daytona International Speedway. The audition went well, and Penske announced on Jan. 7 that Gaughan would drive the Kodak-sponsored car during the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Gaughan's first race will be the Daytona 500 on Feb. 15.

Over 100 graduates have gone on to become professional athletes in a variety of different sports. While Georgetown may still be recognized primarily for its NBA alumni, it is clear that many other graduates have built successful professional careers.

So the next time you go to a Georgetown sporting event, make a note of the athletes' names so that years from now you can say, “I saw them play before they went pro.”



Copyright ©2004 The Hoya, All Rights Reserved


MORE GEORGETOWN BIRTHDAY FEATURES:

  • Presidential Presence: From the Beginning, The Life of the University Paralled the life of the Nation
  • Georgetown: Fighting for Survival, The Hilltop at War
  • Glory Days: The Past, Present and Future of Hoyas Turned Professional Athletes
  • Hilltop Memories from Ted Leonsis, Vice Chairman of America Online, Inc.
  • New Jersey Governor McGreevey Reflects on GU Years