By Mike Jones
The greatest football player ever born in the state of Washington has a birthday coming up. He’ll turn 55 on Tuesday, June 28. To salute him and other standout Washingtonian athletes, we present a list of the eight greatest players born in Washington to play their respective sports. Let us know if you think we missed a sport or slighted an athlete, but we’re confident you will find this list hard to argue with, with the possible exception of that birthday boy.
Soccer: Hope Solo
Solo’s US Women’s National Teams have won two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup championship, clearing surpassing the accomplishments of their male counterparts. Born in Richland, Solo holds US goalkeeper records for wins, shutouts and starts, among several others. She was the CONCACAF Women’s Goalkeeper of the Year in 2015, and the US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year in 2009.
Motorsports: Tom Sneva
Spokane’s Sneva accomplished his sport’s crowning achievement when he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1983. He finished second at Indy three times. He won consecutive Indy car season championships in 1977 and 1978. Sneva also tried his hand at NASCAR’s top level, and finished seventh in the 1983 Daytona 500. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005.
Volleyball: Courtney Thompson
The Bellevue native led the University of Washington’s women’s volleyball team to three straight Final Four appearances beginning in 2004, and the Huskies won the national championship in 2005. The following year Thompson became the first UW athlete to win the Honda Award, given to the top female athlete in all of the NCAA. She set an NCAA career record with 14.56 assists per game.
Hockey: T.J. Oshie
The Washington Capitals forward, who spent his first seven NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues, was born in Mount Vernon. With the 2016 season, Oshie has played in 523 games, scored 136 goals and accumulated 361 points, all the most for Washington natives who have played in the NHL, although it’s certainly possible that his numbers will eventually be eclipsed by Spokane’s Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Golf: Joanne Carner
Tiger Woods is the only other person to win three USGA championship events, and Carner’s resume includes not only that achievement. This Kirkland native also is the only golfer to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior, U.S. Women’s Amateur, and the U.S. Women’s Open, which she won twice. Carner won 43 LPGA Tour Events and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. We give the edge to Carner over Seattle’s Fred Couples, whose 15 PGA Tour wins and one major (the 1992 Masters) also helped him get into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Baseball: Ryne Sandberg
Sandberg played for sixteen Major League seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Sandberg, from Spokane, appeared in 10 consecutive All-Star Games and won nine Gold Gloves in a row. His career fielding percentage of .989 is a record for second basemen.
Basketball: John Stockton
Will John Stockton’s career record for assists ever be broken? He dished 15,806 for the Utah Jazz. Number two on the all-time list is Jason Kidd with 12,091. The top active player is Andre Miller, with 8,524, but he’s 40 years old. Chris Paul of the Clippers is next among actives with 7,688. Paul entered the league in 2005, and it seems unlikely he would play long enough to double that total. Stockton was a ten-time All-Star and has been induced into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame twice, for his NBA career with the Jazz and as a member of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team.” Stockton is from Spokane. (What is it with the Lilac City? Three athletes of the eight on this list hail from Spokane, while none were born in Seattle.)
Football: John Elway
Sorry Seahawks fans, but the credentials of the Hall of Fame quarterback you love to hate are hard to argue with. Born in Port Angeles, Elway led the Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl wins and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII. Selected to the Pro Bowl nine times, Elway is the only quarterback to rush for a touchdown in four Super Bowls. He’s a Hall of Famer twice, Pro and College, and when he retired he held the career quarterback record for victories with 148. Much as we’d like to applaud Drew Bledsoe (Ellensburg), Jason Hanson (Spokane again!), Marcus Trufant (Tacoma) or Mark Rypien (sorry, he grew up in Spokane but was born in Calgary), Elway is the number one from Washington.