Jim Thorpe called football his favorite sport. And he certainly excelled at it, both at the collegiate and professional levels. But he excelled in everything he tried. Track and field. Baseball. Lacrosse. And get this – Jim Thorpe won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. So you think you can dance?
Thorpe’s early life was beset by tragedy. He was a twin, but his brother died of pneumonia at age nine. His mother died in childbirth. His father died of gangrene following a hunting accident. So Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma, wound up at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It happened that Carlisle had a tremendous coach at the time – “Pop” Warner. He not only recognized Thorpe’s talent (who wouldn’t have?), but knew how to develop it.
Little Carlisle rode Thorpe’s strong shoulders to a national collegiate championship in football in 1912, highlighted by a 27-6 victory over Army. Thorpe was named an All-American in 1911 and 1912.
Oh, and between those two seasons, Thorpe decided to try out for the US Olympic team. He went to Sweden, where he competed in the pentathlon and decathlon. He participated in several field events he had virtually never tried before, such as the pole vault and javelin throw. He won the gold medal in both events. His medals were presented by King Gustav V of Sweden, who told Thorpe, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”
Thorpe played Major League Baseball for the New York Giants and Boston Braves. In the league that was to become the NFL, he won three championship titles. And he barnstormed for a couple of years with the “World Famous Indians” basketball team.
Jim Thorpe is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, and the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. He was named the number three athlete of the 20th century by the Associated Press, behind only Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan…