72 Days: The Best Tournament, Second Round, Games 11 and 12

We're on to round two of our The Best tourney where four legends enter but only two move on.
Photo: KU Athletics
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As you’re probably aware, this summer, we have started a new knockout tournament featuring the greats of Kansas football. We’re in full swing into the second round, but simply click this link to our first matchup of the round and follow the subsequent links if you need to get caught up.

And lest you forget that you have a voice in all of this as well. Each of our writers will have a vote in the competition but so will you, through our social media accounts (instagram, threads and X). The winner in the fan vote will be equal to the vote of each of our contributors. We will continue down this path until we have determined who is the best player to ever strap on a KU helmet.

2 Gale Sayers vs 15 Nolan Cromwell

Gale Sayers, 1962-1964.

Our number two overall seed got a free ride to this round, and no one is going to argue that. In fact, the only argument might be his number two ranking as I’m sure some of the old-school Jayhawks fans would have him as the number one. There’s really nothing that can be said about the Kansas Comet that hasn’t already been said, but many might not know that he was the first player in NCAA history to have a rushing touchdown of 99 yards. He led KU in rushing, touchdowns, and kick returns in each of his three seasons in Lawrence. His sparkling NFL career was cut short because of injuries, but nonetheless, Gale Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible.  At age 34, he remains the youngest player ever inducted in the Hall.

The staff at Blue Wings Rising and the fans have chosen Nolan Cromwell as the winner in the first round matchup against Mike McCormack. Cromwell is the 15 seed and absolutely demolished it in the fan voting, getting 33 of 35 votes. He also won among our writers as he easily cruised into round two.

Nolan Cromwell, 1973-1976.

It will be a lot tougher for the “Ransom Rambler” in round two going up against the legend that is Gale Sayers. Cromwell was named the best high school player in the state of Kansas for the entire decade of the 1970s by the Wichita Eagle and made an immediate impact at KU as well. Cromwell was the 1975 Big 8 Offensive Player of the Year and honorable mention All-American. He was a second round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers and played safety in the NFL for 12 seasons before retiring in 1988.

7 Aqib Talib vs 10 Tony Sands

Aqib Talib, 2005-2007.

High stepping an intersection return into the endzone in the Orange Bowl is probably the memory that most Kansas fans of Aqib Talib.  Winning the game’s MVP honors capped off a spectacular 2007 season which saw him grab five interceptions. He finished his KU career with 13, second best ever, and easily the highest in the modern era. Talib was a first round NFL draft pick and played 12 seasons in the league, winning one Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. He’s a member of the KU Ring of Honor and our number seven seed in this tournament. 

The staff at Blue Wings Rising and the fans have chosen Tony Sands as the winner in the first round matchup against fellow running back James Sims. Sands was a unanimous choice among the BWR staff and the fans alike, but the fan vote was much closer, with Sands receiving 62% of the vote to Sims’ 38%.

Tony Sands 1988-1991.

Just like Talib’s fabulous Orange Bowl, Tony Sands is most known for one colossal game, his bigger than life effort against Missouri in the last game of the 1991 season.  He rushed for 396 yards, an NCAA record at the time, and four touchdowns. He stands second and fourth on the all-time KU rushing lists for yardage (3,788) and touchdowns (28) respectively.

Here’s a look at the updated bracket:

Derek Noll


An avid Jayhawks fan his entire life, Derek graduated from the University of Kansas in 1999 and has been writing about the Jayhawks since 2014, getting his start at Rock Chalk Talk.  He specializes in uniform analysis for basketball and football and offers a humorous take on player performances through Player Ratings posts.