First of all, not that Jim Nantz.
In a football history chock full of great ball carriers, Jim Nance is criminally underappreciated. He scored 13 rushing touchdowns in 1964, tying Jim Brown and surpassing Ernie Davis. He led the Orange in rushing (1,021 yards) in 1964, when Floyd Little was a freshman.
Nance went pro after that dominant ’64 season. What would follow is a powerful lineage of SU fullbacks, peaking with Larry Csonka and Daryl “Moose” Johnston.
The Pennsylvanian was drafted 19th overall by the AFL’s Boston Patriots and 45th overall by the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Nance signed with the Patriots. In 1966, he won AFL MVP with 1,458 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated that year. How many on this list can say that? It was the second straight year Nance led the AFL in rushing. In 2008, he was posthumously inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. He is still their all-time leader in rushing TDs.
Now for a plot twist. Football wasn’t Nance’s best sport. It was wrestling.
He was a two-time heavyweight Pennsylvania state champion in high school. State officials needed to make a new weightclass for Nance, since he couldn’t make the 185 pound limit.
At Syracuse, he became the first black heavyweight national champion in 1963. He won a second natty in 1965.
“He looked like a fullback in his wrestling outfit,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichik, who recalled watching Nance wrestle when he was a student at the Naval Academy. “He had incredible quickness and balance and power for a big man. You saw that on the field, as well.”