Tom Lemming, the recruiting analyst, and I have had a friendly disagreement for years.
He claims that Illinois is one of the leading states in the nation for producing high school football talent. And he always reminds me that the Chicago area has sent more players to the NFL than any other metropolitan region outside of southern California.
I insist that Illinois talent is overrated. Check the recent college All-America teams. Even the All-Big 10 listings. There are very few, if any, representatives from the Chicago area. Basketball, I argue, is taking good athletes away from football.
Sure, there was a time when Chicagoans were among the elite players in college and professional football...Otto Graham, Dale Samuels, Alex Agase, Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, George Connor, Dick Barwegan, Tony Canadeo, Johnny Lattner, Buddy Young, Pete Pihos. All are Hall of Famers, college or NFL or both.
Interestingly, one of the best players to come out of Chicago never played high school football--even though he is listed on some all-time teams. Leo Nomellini was born in Italy, came to Chicago as an infant and attended Crane Tech. But he worked in a foundry while going to high school and didn't play football until he joined the Marines in 1942.
After serving in the Pacific during World War II, he was given a scholarship to Minnesota. He was a two-time All-American in 1948 and 1949, was the San Francisco 49ers' first draft choice in 1950, earned All-Pro recognition seven times and never missed a game in 14 years. He is a member of the college and pro football Halls of Fame.
But that was a long time ago.
How about the last 25 years? Who are the best players to be produced in the Chicago area since 1980? How many Hall of Famers?
The list is slim.
It is headed by defensive lineman Bryant Young of Notre Dame and fullback Mike Alstott of Joliet Catholic. Ironically, both retired from the NFL after last season.
Young starred at Notre Dame and enjoyed an All-Pro career with the San Francisco 49ers. Alstott starred at Purdue and had a highly successful career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Mike Tomczak of Thornton Fractional North was on four 9-3 teams at Ohio State and was a journeyman quarterback in the NFL.
Flozell Adams of Proviso West starred at Michigan State and is an All-Pro offensive lineman with the Dallas Cowboys.
Wheaton North's Jim Juriga was a three-time All-Big 10 offensive lineman at Illinois and was a starter for the Denver Broncos.
Mount Carmel's Simeon Rice was a two-time All-America defensive end at Illinois and starred in the NFL before being released after last season.
Mount Carmel's Donovan McNabb had an outstanding career at Syracuse, the only college that recruited him to be a quarterback, and has had a very successful career with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.
Richards' Dwayne Goodrich, Bolingbrook's Todd Howard and Marian Catholic's Mike Prior were standout defensive backs. Thornton's Tai Streets was a talented receiver.
Only time will tell if two other Thornton graduates, receiver Antwaan Randle El and linebacker Napoleon Harris, will make their mark. Or if running back Rashard Mendenhall of Niles West and Illinois, who is projected as a top 10 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, will eventually be compared to the great stars of yesteryear.