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Dr. Saturday

Doc Five: Best two-sport college football/basketball players – No. 5, Jackie Robinson

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(Associated Press)

This offseason we will count down various topics from Monday through Friday, bringing you the top five of the important and definitely some not so important issues in college football. It's the Doc Five, every week until we will thankfully have actual games to discuss.

THE BEST TWO-SPORT COLLEGE FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL PLAYERS

NO. 5, JACKIE ROBINSON

If our first entry on the list has you scratching your head, gather around for a history lesson on the great Jackie Robinson.

Robinson's legend for what he did to integrate baseball is well known and deserved. So are his achievements on the diamond for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's an absolute shame that Robinson's legend for what he did strictly on the field (or, better yet, fields ... and court, too) at UCLA isn't celebrated enough.

Consider this: While Robinson was a Bruin, baseball might have been his fourth best sport. Many people know about Robinson's four-sport ability, but it's a little surprising everybody doesn't.

In 1939 and 1940, Robinson led college football in punt return average. If you look at the 2012 NCAA football record book, and dig really deep to the punt returns section, you'll still find this:

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No other members of the Baseball Hall of Fame appear on that list of best career punt return average, if you were wondering.

In Robinson's final football season at UCLA he led the Bruins in rushing (383 yards), passing (444 yards), total offense (827 yards), scoring (36 points) and punt return average (21 yards). He averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his career.

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(Associated Press)

Of the players who have tried two sports in college, most are very good in one and a role player in the other. That's still impressive, but typically it's impossible for a college student to be a legitimate star in more than one sport. Robinson wasn't a role player in basketball, though.

Robinson led the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring in 1940 (averaged 12.4 points in 12 league games) and 1941 (averaged 11.1 points in 12 league games). Oh, and after that Robinson moonlighted on the track team, when he could get away from baseball, and won the NCAA title in the broad jump with a mark of 24 feet, and 10 1/4 inches.

This would be comparable to Shabazz Muhammad being the best punt returner in FBS before he filled it up for the Bruins' basketball team, then in the spring he played baseball and also won an individual NCAA track title. There wouldn't be enough bandwidth on the Internet to handle all of the hype an athlete like that would get. When various outlets counted down the greatest athletes of the 20th century, Jackie Robinson was criminally underrated. If social impact was counted (as it presumably was for Muhammad Ali) and multi-sport talent was counted (as it was for Bo Jackson) then an argument could be made for Jackie Robinson being No. 1 on those lists.

One of the greatest second basemen in baseball history was also one of the best college football/basketball players of all time. That is unlikely to ever be repeated.

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