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Holy Cross Top 10  

Selected by: Dave Anderson ’51, Bob Gamere ’62, Maureen Milliken ’83, and Dan Shaughnessy ’75

John S. Provost ’75Want to start an argument? Try asking, “Who are the top 10 Holy Cross athletes of all time?” We posed the question to four of our alumni experts. See how their choices stack up against those of our readers.

#10/11 (tie) John S. Provost ’75

This Quincy native enjoyed a host of honors during his four years as a Crusader free safety. The Walter Camp Football Foundation chose him First Team All-American and the United Press voted Provost the New England Major College Player of the Year. The New England College Coaches picked Provost as most outstanding football player in the region; he was also recipient of the Coca-Cola Gold Helmet Award.

Provost led the country in interceptions with 10 in 1974, and finished his college career as the all-time leader in interception return yardage with 470. He placed second on the all-time national list of career interceptions with 27. He was selected to play in the East-West Shrine game and in the All-America Bowl Game in Tampa, Fla. Provost earned All-East and All-New England titles for three years.

#10/11 (tie) Albert “Hop” Riopel ’24

Known as “Mr. Holy Cross,” Hop Riopel began his outstanding athletic career in grammar school. He brought that prowess onto the field and onto the court at Holy Cross, where he earned 11 varsity letters.

Upon graduation, Riopel was offered a position with the New York Giants, but turned it down. Instead, he assumed coaching duties at Milford (Mass.) High School, where he led both the basketball and baseball teams to several state championships.

In 1933, he became the freshman baseball, football and basketball coach at Holy Cross. Eventually, he filled the role of varsity coach in all three sports. In addition to his coaching responsibilities, he acted as football scout for the Crusaders. Riopel served as coordinator of athletics at Holy Cross for 33 years.

#8/9 (tie) Gordie Lockbaum ’88

During his career at Holy Cross, Gordie Lockbaum consistently broke records at the school, in New England, and across the nation with his spectacular running game. His expertise earned him the title “Back of All Trades—tailback, cornerback and throwback.” He set five NCAA records, two New England records, seven Holy Cross season records and six Holy Cross career records.

Lockbaum placed third in Heisman Trophy voting, the highest finisher for a non 1-A player. This National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame scholar-athlete was also selected to play in the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Classic and the Blue-Gray game. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as defensive back, and made the Kodak AFCA First Team All-America as a receiver.

Sports writers bestowed their praise on Lockbaum with several prestigious awards, including the Associated Press’ First Team All-America specialist and First Team All-New England running back, the United Press International’s New England Co-offensive Player of the Year and USA Today’s Massachusetts College athlete of the year.

#8/9 (tie) Togo Palazzi ’54

Togo Palazzi enjoyed an illustrious career with the Crusader basketball team, serving as co-captain of the 1954 Crusader squad that won the National Invitational Tournament Championship. His outstanding play during the series earned him the MVP title.

Noted for his rebounding skills, Palazzi ranks second only to Tom Heinsohn in career rebounds at Holy Cross. He was twice named All-American. Together with Heinsohn and Bob Cousy, he became part of the Crusader-Boston Celtics connection in the 1950s. In 1954, the Celtics chose Palazzi in the first round of the draft.

In the 1970s, Palazzi served as assistant men’s basketball coach for eight years. Subsequently, for five years he was head coach of a very successful Holy Cross women’s basketball team.

# 7 Jon N. Morris ’64

Jon Morris’s performance on the field earned him the rating as one of the greatest linemen in the history of Holy Cross football. He was a three-year starter and linebacker, with an incredible ability to open up holes in the offense that amazed spectators.

In 1963, he was team captain and made every All-New England and All-East team assembled that year. As a senior, he was also selected Holy Cross’ top lineman in nine out of 10 games and made the “Who’s Who in American Colleges’’ list.

After graduation, Morris became a starter and All-Pro center for the New England Patriots as their offensive captain.

#5/6 (tie) Ronald K. Perry ’80

Ronnie Perry Jr. excelled on the baseball field and basketball court, as well as in the classroom. He was named Academic All-American three times, and won an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship. In 1996, he was inducted into the GTE Academic All-American Hall of Fame.

On the basketball court, Perry had an average 23 points per game his freshman year, making him the best in the country among first-year players. As a senior, he was named All-American and became a third-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. Perry was the greatest scorer on the court in the history of Holy Cross.

Perry brought his athletic prowess to the baseball diamond, as well. He was named All-American and drafted by both the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox. Perry has also been inducted into the Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame.

#5/6 (tie) Ronald S. Perry ’54

As an undergraduate at Holy Cross, Ronald S. Perry ’54, earned the coveted title of All-American 1952 and a spot in the Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame. He is thought to be the only athlete to be a member of national championship teams in two major sports— basketball and baseball.

In 1952, he pitched the Crusaders to an NCAA World Series baseball title, and two years later he captained the basketball team in the National Invitational Tournament. He is a two-time winner of All-East honors on the court with 992 points, while maintaining a pitching record of 23-2 at the same time.

Perry’s athletic accomplishments continued after graduation, this time as director of athletics at Holy Cross for more than 30 years. During those three decades, he guided Crusader athletics toward regional as well as national prominence.

He led the football team to a national ranking in nine of 12 seasons. Under his direction, the basketball team made 11 post-season appearances and visited the NCAA and National Invitational Tournaments. He took the hockey team to nine ECAC playoffs in 15 years. The Crusaders golf team won NCAA championship invitations three times under his leadership. He also brought the women’s basketball team to a Division I standing and gained NCAA Tournament berths five times in 12 years.

Under his leadership, the Reverend Francis Hart Recreation Center was constructed in 1975, bringing a basketball arena, ice rink, swimming pool, racquetball, handball and squash courts and a crew tank to the school. His improvements to the physical plant extended to the football stadium and running track.

#4 Louis F. Sockalexis ’97

This full-blooded Penobscot Indian, son of the tribe’s chief, took Holy Cross by storm in 1895, when he brought his strong bat and throwing arm to an already successful baseball team. His sensational play led him to an offer from the Cleveland Spiders and a short, but impressive, career. Sports writers at the time dubbed him “Chief,” “Sock” or “Chief of Sockum” as he continued to wow fans.

In 1915, the Cleveland Spiders changed their name to the Indians as a tribute to Sockalexis, the first full-blooded American Indian to play major-league baseball. Forty years later, he was honored as the first choice for induction into the newly created Holy Cross Athletic Hall of Fame.

Sockalexis’ amazing accomplishments on the baseball diamond also inspired the creation of a fictional sports character, Frank Merriwell. Bangor, Maine, boasts an arena named in his honor, as well.

#3 Dr. William T. Osmanski ’39

Dr. Bill Osmanski’s spectacular efforts on the football field earned him a spot in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In high school, he scored a touchdown the first time he carried the ball in the first play of the first game. Amazingly, he repeated this unusual feat four years later as a freshman at Holy Cross.

He was chosen MVP in the College All-Star game in 1939. He became a first-round draft pick of Chicago Bears owner George Halas, and played for that team for six years. During his professional career, he earned the All-American title twice and was named All-Pro his first year with the Bears.

In addition to a remarkable football career, Osmanski earned his dental degree and set up a successful practice in Chicago. He combined his love of the game and his dental expertise to develop mouth guards for football players. During a two-year stint in the Navy, Osmanski coached football teams in the States before heading to the Pacific.

#2 Tom Heinsohn ’56

Tom Heinsohn holds the College’s career and single season rebounding records and has been called the greatest rebounder in the school’s history. He averaged 23.3 points per game as a junior and set a record in his senior year by raising that average to 27.4 points per game.

Heinsohn was named to almost every All-America team while playing for the Crusaders. His skill on the basketball court was matched in the classroom, where he made the dean’s list for scholastic excellence in his last four semesters.

The Boston Celtics took note of his basketball prowess and claimed him as a territorial pick in the 1956 NBA draft. As a rookie, he helped the Celtics to a double-overtime victory that earned Boston its first NBA Championship. Heinsohn was named Rookie of the Year in 1957 and assisted the Celtics in winning eight NBA titles during his nine-year career.

Teammates nicknamed him “Tommy Gun,” a reflection of his astonishing shot-making flexibility. He demonstrated agility and exceptional body control on the court. Off the court, his talent for humor earned him the unofficial title of “resident team jester.” His antics served to loosen up the rest of the team before an important game.

The 1964-65 season was Heinsohn’s last as a player. Four years later, he returned to coach the team. In 1972-73 he won the NBA Coach of the Year Award and the following year his team won the NBA Championship. Heinsohn’s coaching style reflected “guerrilla warfare.” His strategy was to keep the pressure on the other team at all times, control the tempo of the game and play with unrelenting intensity.

During his eight full seasons as a coach, Boston won five Eastern Division titles in a row and took two NBA Championships. Heinsohn was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986 and received the Jack McMahon Award for an individual who has made a special contribution to the NBA coaching profession in 1995.

#1 Bob Cousy ’50

“ Mr. Basketball,” “The Houdini of the Hardwood,” “The Cooz”—call him what you will, Bob Cousy has single-handedly changed the way basketball is played today. A broken right arm at the age of 13 forced him to learn to dribble and shoot with his left. This ambidexterity led to the famous behind-the-back dribble. Although not the creator of this move, he did help to popularize it while at Holy Cross.

He earned the All-American title four consecutive years at Holy Cross and became one of the biggest names in college hoops. In his senior year, the Crusaders won 26 straight games and finished second in the National Invitational Tournament.

Cousy’s acquisition in 1950 proved to be a lucky break for the Celtics, who ended their season with a winning record. In his third year as an NBA player, Cousy began to establish his legend. His expertise as a point guard drove and inspired the team. His sharp peripheral vision and amazing dribbling skills kept the ball away from defenders long enough for his teammates to develop successful plays. Cousy played a key role in the Celtics operation, as they dominated the basketball scene from 1959 through 1966. Cousy played in 13 NBA All-Star games, where he earned the MVP title twice. He has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and named to the NBA’s 25th, 35th and 50th Anniversary Teams. In 1974, an Associated Press poll selected him one of the top five basketball players of all time. Recently, the Boston Globe chose the top 100 athletes of the century and ranked Cousy number eight.

After his retirement from the Celtics organization at the age of 35, Cousy landed the head coaching job at Boston College. In the next six years, he guided the team to four seasons of 20 or more victories and two appearances in the NCAA regionals and one in the NIT finals. He went on to coach the Cincinnati Royals and even returned to the court as a player for seven games during the 1969-70 season. He also led a U.S. All-Star team to a six-game win over the Russian Olympic Team.

Cousy began a broadcast career in 1974 and became the first Hall of Famer to be named president of that institution. He has co-authored five books, including the acclaimed text on the game, Basketball Principles and Techniques. His post-basketball activities also include a film career with cameo appearances in Blue Chips and Celtics Pride.

Cousy has devoted many hours to the Big Brothers of America Program, earning the 1965 “Big Brother of the Year” Award from President Lyndon Johnson. His community service efforts continue in the local area with the establishment of the Bob and Marie Cousy Scholarship Fund at Becker College. Cousy received an honorary degree from Holy Cross in1998.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dave Anderson ’51 notes, “Of all the Holy Cross Athletes, Bob Cousy is not only head and shoulders above the others, but legs and sneakers above. No other Holy Cross athlete has provided the impact on his sport that Cooz did, not only at the Cross but also with the Celtics in so many of their NBA championship seasons. The College has never had another like him, and may never in the future have another like him.”

Readers’ Choice

Here are the results of our winter issue readers’ poll of the top 10 Holy Cross athletes of all time:

10. (tie) Gil Fennerty ’86 (37 votes)
10. (tie) Paul Harney ’52 (37 votes)
9. George Kaftan ’49 (41 votes)
8. Gordie Lockbaum ’88 (46 votes)
7. Louis Sokalexis ’97 (54 votes)
6. Ron K. Perry ’80 (57 votes)
5. Owen Carroll ’25 (77 votes)
4. Ron S. Perry ’54 (112 votes)
3. Tom Heinsohn ’56 (124 votes)
2. Bill Osmanski ’39 (168 votes)
1. Bob Cousy ’50 (197 votes)

Members of the Holy Cross Athletic Hall of Fame:


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