Iowa is the Birthplace for Several Greats in Sports
I fell down a rabbit-hole recently. I know. Another one. I think the fact that this is the brutal time for NFL fans where there's not much on which to report is to blame for this one. The draft is over and the new season doesn't begin until preseason starts in August.
Either way, I found myself researching some famous athletes born in Iowa. Many of them have gone on to do spectacular things in their respective sports. I had to narrow down my findings to four notable individuals.
Here's a look at some of the legendary sports figures who call Iowa home!
Lori Jones, better known as "Lolo," is an accomplished hurdler and bobsledder. The 39-year-old Olympian has deep roots in Iowa, having been born in Des Moines. Her father was in the Air Force, and then prison later on, which meant that it was down to Jones and her single mother to carve out a life in Des Moines. When her mother wanted to make a move to Forest City, Jones made the bold decision to leave her family in pursuit of her dreams a track-star. She lived with four different families during her time at Theodore Roosevelt High School. She was later named Gatorade Midwest Athlete of the Year, setting a record at the Iowa state track meet; she made the mark of 13.40 seconds for the 100-meter hurdles.
After attending LSU for college, Jones became one of the biggest stars on the track circuit. She's taken home Gold medals twice for the 60-meter hurdles at the World Indoor Championships and a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2008 IAAF World Athletics Finals and NACAC Championships. She also won two separate gold medals in 2013 and 2021 in the World Championships as a bobsledder.
Jones has also made something of a career as a reality TV star, having appeared on The Challenge three separate times, in addition to Dancing with the Stars season 19, Celebrity Big Brother 2 (where she finished third), and Whose Line is it Anyway? She also starred in the 2014 apocalyptic thriller Left Behind alongside Nicolas Cage.
Kurt Warner might be the greatest undrafted player in NFL history. The Burlington, IA native wasn't selected in the 1994 NFL Draft, hailing from a small school in Northern Iowa. After being cut by the Green Bay Packers during training camp (where he competed against Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, and Ty Detmer, all proven players), he resorted to stocking shelves at a Cedar Falls Hy-Vee.
No team gave him a shot until the Arena Football League (AFL) afforded him an opportunity to be the face of the Iowa Barnstormers. Warner enjoyed a record-setting two-year stint with the Barnstormers before finally finding his way back in the NFL via the St. Louis Rams in 1998. He seldom played his first season with the team, but he was thrust into action in 1999 when Trent Green suffered an ACL tear in a preseason game.
Nobody gave the Rams a fighting chance after Green's injury. Warner responded by tossing 41 touchdowns, leading his team to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans. As of 2021, Warner is the most recent player to win both the NFL MVP award as well as the Super Bowl MVP award in the same year.
Warner's triumphant rise and deep Christian faith is chronicled in the film American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story. It's a well-done biopic. You can stream it on Hulu.
Born in Waverly, A.J. Hinch lived in Nashua, IA until he was eight-years-old. His family moved to Midwest City, Oklahoma. He was drafted in the MLB multiple times during his stint at Stanford University, but chose to enjoy his college baseball career. Finally, Hinch would take the opportunity to play ball in the major leagues upon being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1996.
He'd make his professional debut as a catcher in 1998. His MLB career lasted seven years, with stints in Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Following his retirement, Hinch was hired to be the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league operations. Hinch was calculated, planning his post-playing career even while he was playing.
His planning paid off because at 34 years and 357 days old, Hinch became the manager of the Diamondbacks in 2009, the youngest manager to be named since 2003. Hinch, however, is most remembered at the manager for the Houston Astros from 2015 to 2019. The Astros posted a 101-61 record in 2017 and defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the subsequent World Series.
However, when it was revealed that the Astros engaged in "sign stealing" tactics, their championship win was undermined significantly. Hinch would be fired by the Astros just two seasons later as a result.
Hinch presently manages the Detroit Tigers, who are in the midst of a multi-year rebuild. Hinch's overall managerial record is 661-553.
I couldn't not mention Joe Burrow, even if so much of his professional career has yet to be written. Burrow is one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the NFL right now. His story began in Ames, IA, where his father was on the staff for the Iowa State Cyclones. The only thing more impressive than his accolades and his accomplishments was his journey.
Burrow spent three years at Ohio State before transferring to LSU. He posted rather pedestrian stats for the powerhouse school during the 2018 season, his first season as a full-time starter. However, in 2019, he went on an absolute terror. He led the Tigers to a 15-0 record and set the NCAA record for completion percentage, yards thrown, touchdowns, and passer ratings. His eye-popping 5,671 yard and 60 touchdowns captivated every college football fan in the country that year. He won the NCAA Championship that same season.
Burrow was initially projected to be a fifth or sixth round pick in the NFL draft ahead of his 2019 college season. That season changed his life in innumerable ways. The quarterback-needy Cincinnati Bengals selected him with the first overall pick in the draft. He was off to a good season his rookie year, but suffered a brutal leg injury 10 games into the season.
Nobody knew how he was going to look coming back last season. He responded by leading the Bengals all the way to the Super Bowl. In doing so, he ended the Bengals' playoff-win drought (which was the longest in all four major American sports). He is already tied with Bengals legend Boomer Esiason for the franchise's most playoff wins.
And above everything else, Burrow is just so damn cool. He's the right mix of likable and cocky that makes him an easy guy for whom to root. I can't wait to watch his career blossom. Despite the Super Bowl loss, I don't think it's the last time he'll be back on that stage.
Check out the gallery below for even more athletes born in Iowa!