Thirty-eight years after his sky-walking ways helped North Carolina State end UCLAs string of national titles, David Thompson was on the other end of a historic upset.
Catfish Hunter came away the winner in The News & Observers online vote to determine North Carolinas best native-born athlete, defeating Thompson in the championship round by a 56-44 margin.
The pitcher from Hertford in Perquimans County knocked off stock-car king Richard Petty, fellow baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, two-sport star Julius Peppers and football Hall of Famer Bobby Bell on his way to the finals before taking on Thompson, the Wolfpack star from Shelby who brushed aside every previous challenger in the bracket.
With Thompsons unexpected defeat, none of the top seeds emerged atop the field of 64, as Charlie Justice (football), Peppers (football and basketball) and Petty also fell along the way.
James Augustus Catfish Hunter the nickname was a creation of then-Kansas City As owner Charlie Finley was 53 when he died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrigs Disease) in 1999. He won 224 games over 14 major-league seasons while helping to usher in the free-agent era when he jumped from the Oakland As to the New York Yankees.
Hunter was a five-time World Series champion, won the American League Cy Young award in 1974 and threw a perfect game in 1968. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987. For the past eight years, the As have given out an award in his name to honor the teams most inspirational player, as voted by his teammates.
This voting was limited to athletes born in the state, so Michael Jordan, who was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Wilmington, was ineligible. But if Hunter could defeat Thompson, Jordans idol growing up, who knows how hed fare against Jordan himself?
DeCock: luke.decock @newsobserver.com, (919) 829-8947