Picking the best is daunting, delusional and thankless.
The Temps or Four Tops? Pacino or DeNiro? Chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin?
The boss, of course, doesn't want to hear excuses. Give me the top 10 running backs in Peninsula history, he says, and don't forget to rank them in order.
Forgive him. He's young and foolish and foreign, yet to comprehend the football heritage accumulated in these parts over more than 100 years.
He's also safe, because it's my byline on our list. And it's my inbox and voicemail that will runneth over with, "What in the heck have you been smokin'?"
Hey, fire away.
I understand that omitting Jimmy Gayle and Eric Brown, the tandem that led Bethel to the 1976 state championship, borders on blasphemy.
Brown was arguably the region's fastest back ever, witness the track scholarship he received from UCLA. Gayle was good enough to start at Ohio State — his son and namesake, a rising senior defensive end at Bethel, recently committed to Virginia Tech.
Group AA faithful will tout Tabb's Simeon Tucker, Poquoson's Josh Zidenberg and Smithfield's Dyrell Roberts. Rightfully so.
Of the three, Tucker was the most difficult to bypass. He was more than a worthy successor to the unrivaled Terry Kirby as the Tigers' featured back.
Old-timers will remind us of Warwick's Lowell Vaught, Huntington's Blue Juice Taylor and Joe Buggs, Hampton's Jimmy Eason and Billy Harrison, and Newport News' Ben Cleary and Gene Duncan.
And what about criteria? Do you consider high school credentials only? What about those who changed positions in college or the pros?
After consulting with co-workers, family and a phalanx of attorneys — you can never be too careful — I decided to consider candidates' overall careers.
So yes, Bennie McRae gets credit for his Hall of Honor induction at the University of Michigan, and even his 27 NFL interceptions. Same goes for Mel Gray and his four Pro Bowl appearances as a return specialist.
Funny thing: The Peninsula has produced NFL Pro Bowl talent at most every position:
Linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Chris Hanburger; defensive linemen Henry Jordan and Earl Faison; defensive back Shaun Gayle.
Quarterbacks Norm Snead and Michael Vick; offensive lineman Dwight Stephenson; receiver Al Toon.
But none of our running backs has posted a 1,000-yard NFL season, let alone earned a Pro Bowl appearance — in 2006, Vick became the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
Carver High's Leroy Keyes was the third pick of the 1969 draft following an iconic career at Purdue, where he became the Peninsula's only two-time, first-team consensus All-American. But an Achilles' tendon tear short-circuited his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tabb's Terry Kirby was Parade's national high school player of the year in 1988 and an all-ACC selection at Virginia. But he was rarely a featured back in the NFL.
Imperfect as our list is, it's difficult (impossible?) to dispute the top two. Kirby and Keyes. Keyes and Kirby.
Special K's regardless of the order.
Both were versatile athletes, Keyes a state-champion long jumper, Kirby an ACC-caliber basketball talent. Neither was blessed with sprinter's speed, but both were quick, durable and instinctive, at their best at the biggest moments.
Purdue has never been a consistent power, but as a running back and defensive back, Keyes led the Boilermakers to the 1967 Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth. When the program marked its centennial in 1987, the school named Keyes its greatest player ever.
Virginia was a football wasteland for much of Kirby's youth and long before. But his choice of the Cavaliers over the likes of Clemson, Penn State, Georgia and Alabama embodied the program's progress.
Teaming with quarterback Shawn Moore, receiver Herman Moore (no relation) and defensive end Chris Slade, a fellow Tabb graduate, Kirby helped Virginia to unknown heights: an ACC championship, No. 1 national ranking and Sugar Bowl appearance.
"I can't imagine anyone in the country having a tailback with the versatility that Terry has," then-Cavaliers coach George Welsh said before Kirby's senior season. "There may be as good a runner or some guys who can catch the ball as well, but I don't know if anybody can do both like he can."
But for all of Kirby's unmatched dominance of high school competition — 1,168 yards in four playoff games as a junior! — Keyes' college career vaults him to our No. 1.
In his first game at Purdue, Keyes returned a fumble 95 yards for a touchdown against Notre Dame, and his career average of 5.9 yards per carry remains a school record. His 6.6 average and 19 touchdowns in 1967 are single-season Boilermaker standards.
But it was his performance against the Irish as a senior in 1968 that most resonated. In a showdown of the nation's top-ranked teams, Keyes rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns, and threw a scoring pass as No. 1 Purdue rolled 37-22.
The New York Times' Dave Anderson called it "a virtuoso and versatile performance as a ball-carrier, passer, pass-receiver and defensive cornerback."
Wrote Sports Illustrated's Dan Jenkins: "Maybe the Vatican ought to consider banning Purdue instead of the Pill. Maybe Purdue is the hugest, fleetest, calmest, most skilled football team that ever tromped through the Indiana sycamores. Maybe Leroy Keyes is the greatest quadruple threat since Mt. Rushmore."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun