Who became Arkansas’ prep sports version of Bill Brasky? Read on to find out.
During research for my latest Sync piece about the best wide receiver in central Arkansas history, I realized that generational biases always distort these kind of “best-of” questions. Reasons include:
1) Every modern generation feels like it’s athletically superior to last one, and given the rate at which technology improves I think this is measurably true.
2) That technology means the exploits of today’s best athletes – think LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Nadal – are continually foisted into our faces via TV and online clips. Past generations had their own stunnning athletes – Jim Thorpe, Babe Zaharias, Jack Johnson – but the modern sportsfan has to go work to get a full sense of their abilities. With increasing hassle, ways to do this include: a) going through the trouble of clicking on their wikipedia pages b) going through the trouble of paying for a Netflix subscription to watch some grainy documentary footage c) actually reading a book.
3. Finally, and I think this is the most interesting point of all: The game itself changes through the decades, and what may qualify as “the best” in one generation may not apply to another generation. Per this debate, the game of football has changed drastically in the last 100 years. As in warfare itself, the primary ground attacks of the 1910s look hopelessly antiquated in a world full of Apache helicopters, stealth bombers and Timmy Chang.
Dave McCollum of the Conway’s Log Cabin Democrat says it well in the Sync article:
Choosing a best is difficult because the offenses now, and consequently the receiving opportunities, have changed so much — from the receiver being an emergency afterthought to a primary weapon.
No kidding about that primary weapon point.
Look at nearly any passing record kept by the Arkansas Activities Association and you’ll find Pulaski Academy and Shiloh Christian essentially camping out in that record’s Top 10. These two pass-happy privates school programs share the following number of records:
- 10 of 10 – Most Passing Yards in a Season
- 9 of 10 – Most Passing Yards in a Game
- 9 of 10 – Most Passing Yards in a Season
- 7 of 10 – Most Career Passing Touchdowns
- 7 of 10 – Most Passing Touchdowns in a Season
- 7 of 10 – Most Passing TDs in a Game
It’s no surprise, then, that central Arkansas’ most successful receiver – statistically – was a Bruin. Pulaski Academy’s Brian Langford caught for 3, 141 yards from 2004-06 (5th most in state history). As a senior, Langford caught for 1,950 yards, second-most in state history.
Behind in him on that list is another Bruin, Blake Miller, who played 2000-02. Miller had 45 career touchdowns, the most ever of any central Arkansas receiver. Like Neal Barlow, another prolific Bruin receiver, Miller and Langford both became Razorbacks. But no Bruin has yet developed on the college level to accomplish anything close to what the likes of Derek Russell, Emanuel Tolbert and Ken Kavanaugh did after high school.
Joe Adams put up prolific numbers in high school, and has backed it up at a high level in college.
So, what of that generational bias?
A full half of those reading the first Sync piece about greatest wide receivers voted for Joe. Hutson followed with 17% of the vote, while Jackson got 14%.
That goes against the consensus of the sports media and coach experts I consulted with – guys mostly in their 50s and older – who went with Keith Jackson, Emanuel Tolbert and Don Hutson over the new kind on the block.
Still, my hunch is that if this were a mail-in ballot (say, through the sports section of the Democrat-Gazette) there would be much higher percentages for these relative old-timers.
Online polls are the only means I have right now, which means in the near future “best-of” vote results will likely always lean toward the youngest generation. I may need to lasso in older generations who still swear by paper reading/TV watching as their primary news source to truly even the playing field.
As a parting note, I leave you with a reminder of Keith Jackson’s greatness. Simply because I can.
Talk to those who saw Keith Jackson play at Parkview High and it doesn’t take long. Honorifics — “monster,” “unbelievable,” “force of nature” — start flowing nearly as fast as the man himself on the gridiron. Or the court, for that matter. Football and basketball star Jackson, after all, was the Bill Brasky of Arkansas’ early 1980s prep sports.
“Keith was a freak to be that big and that fast,” said Wally Hall, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s sports editor. “Joe’s not even close to Keith Jackson.”
It surprised many when Jackson, along with the likes of Rickey Williams and James Rouse, failed to complete a perfect season in 1983, losing to Fort Smith Southside 9-6 in the Class AAAA state championship game. But the Parade All-American later made up for that loss in college. He helped Oklahoma win the 1985 NCAA championship, then straight Bill Brasky-ized the entire nation. In consecutive consensus All-America seasons, he averaged nearly 29 and 28 yards per catch, and for good measure finished as a celebrity slam dunk contest runner up to a world champion triple jumper.
Old-school pics here.