By Dave Wischnowsky–
Grange or Magic. Magic or Grange.
Come 8 p.m. on Sunday night, the Big Ten Network will unveil who’s No. 2 in its months-long countdown of the Big Ten’s 50 Greatest Icons – Illinois’ Harold “Red” Grange or Michigan State’s Earvin “Magic” Johnson – and, in turn, we’ll also find out who’s No. 1.
Now, I personally don’t think that Magic – who crafted his true legend as a professional – should stand an, ahem, ghost of a chance against Grange when it comes to the Big Ten’s No. 1 spot. But that isn’t what I’m here to write about today.
Rather, I’m here to share a little bit with you know about a Big Ten legend who didn’t make the BTN’s list. Let’s call him the Big Ten’s 51st icon.
But before I actually call out his name, first marvel a bit about what all that he accomplished – and yes, this is all done by one guy:
1. He played in a Rose Bowl.
2. He was the leading punter in the Big Ten.
3. He led his college football team in scoring during his junior season.
4. He was captain and All-American on an NCAA Final Four basketball team.
5. He was the Big Ten Basketball MVP.
6. He was the NCAA and Big Ten high jump champion – both indoors and outdoors.
7. He was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic track team and tied for second in the high jump during the Games in London.
8. He played four seasons in the NBA and was a member of the first NBA All-Star team.
9. He still holds school records for punt returns – 62 years after he left campus.
And who is this athlete? His name is Dwight “Dike” Eddleman, and he’s generally considered the greatest athlete in the history of the University of Illinois.
That’s including even Red Grange.
Last Sunday, before the Fighting Illini basketball game against Purdue, I had the honor of meeting Dike’s widow, Teddy Eddleman, and his daughter, Diana Eddleman Lenzi, inside Assembly Hall. Diana gave me a copy of, “Dike Eddleman: Illinois’ Greatest Athlete,” the book she wrote in 1997 about the incredible life story of her father, who first rose to fame as a high school phenom in Centralia.
My copy even includes an autograph from the late, great Dike, who passed away on Aug. 1, 2001 at the age of 78. And during his heyday, he compiled a collegiate athletic resume that in this era of specialization most likely will never be matched.
Eddleman earned 11 varsity letters in three different sports during his career at Illinois, which was interrupted by World War II. And he also competed in the pinnacle events of three amateur sports: football’s Rose Bowl, basketball’s NCAA Final Four, and the Olympics – all in a span of less than two years.
During his U of I football career from 1946-48, Eddleman set Big Ten records for punts and punt returns, leading the nation in punting one season. He was a member of the 1946 Big Ten championship football squad which went on to defeat UCLA in the 1947 Rose Bowl. He booted an 88-yard punt against Iowa – a record that still stands. And he returned punts for 89 and 92 yards for touchdowns.
On the basketball court, Eddleman was a member of the University of Illinois’ famed “Whiz Kids” teams, leading the squad in scoring during two of his three seasons and guiding the team to the 1949 Final Final Four. In track and field, he won five individual Big Ten championships en route to earning a silver medal at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London.
Like Magic Johnson and Red Grange, Eddleman also went on to enjoy a successful professional athletic career, playing for NBA franchises in the Tri-Cities (today’s Quad Cities), Milwaukee and Fort Wayne.
Eddleman was an NBA All-Star in both 1951 and ’52, and last weekend, Teddy Eddleman told me that it was just in recent years that the NBA corrected an oversight and began to send her pension checks that Dike earned from his playing career.
In my opinion, the Big Ten made an oversight of its own by leaving Eddleman off its list Top 50 Icons. I’m glad, though, to have the chance today to give Dike his due.
And remind people that Grange isn’t the only great ghost to gallop at U of I.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.