Welcome back to six degrees! Here’s how it works…every week, I’ll start with Northwestern’s opponent and follow my stream of consciousness until I get to something interesting and rankable. Then, I’ll rank the top six of that category which relates to the Wildcats’ opponent for the week.
This week: Ball State.
Coming into this process, I didn’t know much about Ball State at all. The Cardinals hail from the MAC and sit at 2-1 on the season, a loss to Texas A&M sandwiched between wins over VMI and Eastern Michigan. Pete Lembo is in his fifth season as the head coach in Muncie, arriving after stints as the top dog at Lehigh and Elon. Ball State is 0-7 all-time in bowl games, most recently falling to Arkansas State in the 2013 GoDaddy Bowl.
All that information really doesn’t help me understand Ball State University. Which Cardinals have had the greatest impact on the gridiron, or the hardwood, or for that matter society at large? Who are the people to know in the history of this mysterious 21,000-student public research university? Glad you asked. I’ve found and ranked the top six Ball State legends.
6. Mike Neu
Neu, only 43, is an up-and-coming NFL position coach following a solid career quarterbacking the Cardinals. He was a four-year starter for Ball State under center, earning MAC offensive player of the year honors his senior season, when he quarterbacked the Cardinals to a conference championship and a Las Vegas Bowl berth. Upon graduation, Neu spent a decade in the Arena Football League before the Saints hired him as a scout. He worked with the team for three years before following then-Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson to Tulane to work as the Green Wave’s quarterback coach. After two seasons in the college ranks, Neu has returned to the Saints as their QB coach. After a couple more years coaching Drew Brees, perhaps Neu will get the chance to run his own NFL offense.
5. Reggie Hodges
Hodges punted for the Cardinals from 2000-2002 and in 2004, earning all-MAC honors his senior season.. He was drafted by the Rams in the sixth round of the 2005 draft, and bounced around seven teams in five seasons before finding a home with the Cleveland Browns. Hodges handled the punting for 2.5 seasons in Cleveland, and became immortal in 2010 when he ran 68 yards on a fake punt against New Orleans, a dash which remains the longest run by a punter in NFL history. Not bad, Reggie.
4. Brad Maynard
Despite his solid leg and legendary fake punt, Hodges isn’t even the best punter in Ball State history. That honor goes to Maynard, who handled punting duties from 1993-1996, was a two-time All-American, and won MAC defensive player of the year as a senior in 1996. AS A PUNTER. The New York Giants selected Maynard in the third round of the 1997 draft, and he had a big role in the Meadowlands right away. Maynard punted a record 111 times as a rookie, and remained the Giants’ punter through the 2000 season, when he punted 11 times (also a record) in the team’s Super Bowl loss to Baltimore. Prior to the 2001 season, Maynard joined the Chicago Bears, where he punted for ten seasons, earned second-team All-Pro honors after the 2004 season, and lost the Super Bowl to Peyton Manning and Indianapolis. He’s a member of both the Ball State and MAC Halls of Fame. Talk about a true legend.
3. Bonzi Wells
One of the greatest names in NBA history, Muncie native Bonzi Wells stayed home for college and collected two MAC player of the year awards during a stellar four-year tenure with the Cardinals. The Trail Blazers acquired Wells in a draft-day trade, and he quickly became one of the faces of the bad boy Blazers, along with Rasheed Wallace. After 5.5 seasons in the Rose City, Wells was dealt to Memphis midway through the 2003-2004 season. From then on, he struggled to find a home, hopping from Memphis to Sacramento to Houston to New Orleans, where he ended his career in 2008 by losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Wells averaged 12.1 points per game over ten NBA seasons, and his number 42 was retired by Ball State.
2. Brady Hoke
Before he ran Michigan’s football program into the ground, Hoke sent opponents to the ground as a linebacker at Ball State from 1977 to 1980, helping the Cardinals win the MAC championship as a sophomore and serving as team captain as a senior. After holding various assistant coaching jobs, Hoke served on Lloyd Carr’s staff at Michigan from 1995 to 2002, coaching the defensive line until he departed to take the head job at his alma mater prior to the 2003 season. Slowly but surely, Hoke turned the Cardinals around, earning MAC coach of the year honors in 2008. As quickly as he returned to Muncie, Hoke was gone. He spurned his alma mater for San Diego State and led the Aztecs for two seasons, winning Mountain West Conference coach of the year in his second season after leading SDSU to a bowl for the first time since 1998. After the 2010 season, Hoke left San Diego State to return to Ann Arbor as Michigan’s head coach. Things started out well in 2011, as Hoke won 11 games, Big Ten Coach of the Year, and the Sugar Bowl, but he won 20 games the next three seasons before being fired and replaced by Jim Harbaugh. Hoke was inducted into the Ball State Hall of Fame in 2014.
1. David Letterman
Despite never playing a down or a quarter, Letterman has had the biggest impact of any Cardinal on the sports world. After graduating from Ball State in 1969, Letterman hosted “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC from 1982 until 1993, when he moved to CBS to host the “Late Show with David Letterman.” In all, Letterman hosted 6,028 late-night shows, and an appearance as host of his “Top 10 segment” became a bucket-list destination for A-list celebrities, athletes included. No Ball State alum has shared the stage with more Hall of Famers than Letterman, who has earned ten prime-time Emmys and had Ball State’s Communication and Media Building re-named after him in 2007. Letterman retired earlier this year, handing over the reigns of the “Late Show” to Northwestern alum Stephen Colbert.