You’ve lucked into the enviable task of finding the ultimate headline-grabbing, ticket-selling Master of Ceremonies for Marin County’s biggest sports banquet fundraiser.
Imagine the possibilities …
Ross’s Barry Tompkins is a nationally renowned broadcaster.
His wife, author Joan Ryan, packs about as powerful a written wallop as any woman in America.
You’ve got 2011 big-leaguers in baseball (Bud Norris, Will Venable), football (Kahlil Bell, Winston Venable) and golf (Zack Miller). Even unofficial Olympic gold medalists (swimmer Rick DeMont), uncertified spacemen (pitcher Bill Lee) and uncensored ex-cheerleaders (talk show host Ralph Barbieri).
Heck, you could even make a case for Giants pitcher Barry Zito, who was recently seen limping up the stairs to his Kentfield home, and Robin Williams, who legend has it was a pretty good wrestler and cross country runner at Redwood High and once ran in the Dipsea.
Any of those big-time choices likely would pack the joint. But if I’m making the call, none cracks my 10-deep list.
So, without further ado, here is my catalog of Marin’s Top 10 Sports Celebrities:
1. Pete Carroll. What’s his deal? The Greenbrae native and coach of the Seattle Seahawks has retained such a Marin following on his rise up the football coaching ladder that he’d often invite his childhood pals to roam the USC sidelines with him. The bad news, Pete: We don’t do comps at this event.
2. Gavin Newsom. Like Carroll, the former slugging first baseman took the Redwood-to-SC sports route, albeit Santa Clara in the lieutenant governor’s case. Unlike Carroll, the former mayor of San Francisco has yet to be humbled by the new sheriff in town — 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh — but that day could be coming soon.
3. Brad Gilbert. Marin’s powerful tennis legacy has spanned from Sausalito’s Rosie Casals and Barry MacKay to new Mill Valley resident Ken Flach. San Rafael’s Gilbert was once ranked No. 4 in the world. A champion both on the court and in the television booth, he is the new King of Marin Tennis and his empire (son Zach is a recent grad of the powerful Cal program) is expanding.
4. Steve Lavin. How can Lavin, the St. Johns University men's basketball coach, ex-ESPN commentator and former sixth man on Drake High’s legendary 1982 state championship basketball team move up this list? That’s easy: Recruit the next Chris Mullin to St. John’s. Heck, given the current weakness of the Red Storm, better make that two.
5. Paul Cayard. Looking for a place to host the banquet? Let me suggest the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon because few if any regions in the country can boast of a stronger nautical lineup than Marin, a list topped by Kentfield’s America’s Cup-toting captain. And that’s despite the 2010 death of one of the county’s best-known sports celebrities, Franklin Mieuli, the former Warriors owner who lived on a houseboat in Sausalito.
6. Jonny Moseley. Having once hosted Saturday Night Live, the longtime Tiburon resident and Branson School graduate might have the best credentials to be our emcee. Alas, the 1998 trick skiing gold medalist has yet to bring a Winter Olympics to Mount Tamalpais … or , for that matter.
7. JR Hildebrand. If the Indy 500 had required a written driver’s test at the end of its 200-lap marathon in May, undoubtedly the straight-A Redwood High student would have been elevated from his runner-up status to the milk-drinking champion. In living proof sports and education can co-exist, Hildebrand was once offered a scholarship to MIT’s School of Engineering.
8. Dawn Riley. The four-time America’s Cup competitor and one-time winner — a first for a woman — aboard America3 in 1992, Riley rates as far and away Marin’s most accomplished female athlete. Currently the face of the San Francisco-based America True Foundation, the longtime Sausalito and Mill Valley resident still keeps a boat docked at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor.
9. Travis LaBoy. You could label the veteran NFL linebacker the best-ever football player from Marin County, although countless others (including Tam’s Matt Hazeltine) could make a nice argument. But there’s no disputing this: The former Marin Catholic state champion is the richest, having once signed a $22 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
10. Buddy Biancalana. What’s a list of sports celebrities without a World Series hero? Yep, Marin can boast of one of them, too. The Greenbrae native accomplished in 1985 what today would seem unthinkable — leading the Kansas City Royals to a world championship with a .435 on-base average. He's still a folk hero 26 years after going from benchwarmer to series standout.