5 of Huntsville’s most famous athletes – who’s your favorite?

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Hall of Famer John Stallworth is one of Huntsville’s most famous athletes. (Pittsburgh Steelers via Facebook)

When we talk about famous athletes that hail from — or have significant ties to — the state of Alabama, there are a bevy of sports legends to list: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, John Hannah, Charles Barkley, and many more. But if you narrow the list down to just Huntsville’s most famous athletes, you can put together a pretty impressive list.

I decided to look into the sports legends with Huntsville ties and opted to focus on one athlete per sport (I could have listed several football players alone) and limited my list to 5 athletes on which to focus. Here are, in my humble opinion, Huntsville’s most famous athletes:

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Stewart Cink – Golf

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Huntsville native Stewart Cink has 8 PGA Tour wins. (Stewart Cink via Twitter)

Stewart Cink was born in Huntsville and spent his childhood in North Alabama and went on to play golf at Georgia Tech before landing on the PGA Tour.

Cink has eight PGA Tour wins, including a first place finish in the 2009 U.S. Open. He also finished third in the 2001 U.S. Open, third in the 2008 Masters and third in the 1999 PGA Championship.

Nic Dowd – Hockey

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Nic Dowd is one of just three NHL players born in Alabama. (Nic Dowd via Facebook)

When you think of great athletes from Alabama, you might not consider hockey, but since Huntsville truly is the hockey mecca in the state, it may not come as a surprise that one of Huntsville’s most famous athletes is a pro hockey player.

A Huntsville native, Dowd grew up here and played junior hockey in the Rocket City. He then went on to play in the North American Hockey League where he was an All-NCHC selection in 2013-14.

He was signed by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings in 2014, where he played until being traded to the Vancouver Canucks in 2017. The Washington Capitals signed Dowd as a free agent in 2018 and he remains with the team currently.

He has played in 371 games and thus far has scored 45 goals with 57 assists in his career.

Margaret Hoelzer – Swimming

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Huntsville’s Margaret Hoelzer is a 3-time Olympic medalist and a former world record holder in the backstroke. (MargaretHoelzer.com)

Something I discovered when I moved to Huntsville is that in addition to the popularity of hockey here in the city, swimming is also a pretty big deal in these parts. And Huntsville is where Margaret Hoelzer began her decorated swimming career en route to becoming an Olympic champion.

After high school, Hoelzer joined the Auburn University swim team where she was a 6-time national champion. From there, she entered international competition and competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

In 2007, Hoelzer won her first gold at the World Championships where she dropped nearly two seconds off her best time in the 200 backstroke and broke her first American Record. In 2008, Margaret made her second Olympic team and swam for the US Olympic team in three events in Beijing, China, taking the bronze in the 100m back, and two silvers in the 200m back and 4×100 medley relay.

She also broke the World Record at the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 200 back. Hoelzer retired from competitive swimming in 2010 having been on the US National team for 9 years. 

Craig Kimbrel – Baseball

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Lee High School graduate Craig Kimbrel won the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year award, making him a must on the list of Huntsville’s most famous athletes. (Craig Kimbrel via Twitter)

Born and raised in Huntsville, Craig Kimbrel starred as a pitcher for the Lee High School baseball team, and then went on to play at Wallace State Community College where he notched an impressive 8-0 record with a 1.99 earned run average in his first season.

Kimbrel was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft and made the big league roster in 2010. In his first full season with the Braves, Kimbrel broke the team’s rookie record for saves with 31, en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year award.

While with the Braves, he led the NL in saves for four straight seasons, the first player to accomplish that feat since Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.

After a brief stint with the San Diego Padres, Kimbrel was traded to the Boston Red Sox where he was a 3-time American League All -Star and helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series.

He then went on to play for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he played the 2022 season.

John Stallworth – Football

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John Stallworth played his college football at Alabama A&M University before a stellar career in the NFL. (Downtown Huntsville, Inc.)

John Stallworth, perhaps the gold standard of Huntsville’s most famous athletes, was born in Tuscaloosa, but in addition to spending his college years at Alabama A&M, he also remains a prominent figure in the Huntsville business community as the founder of Madison Research Corporation, headquartered in Huntsville.

Stallworth was selected 82nd overall in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and quickly became a major cog in the dominant 1970s Steelers teams that won four Super Bowl titles in the decade.

A sure-handed wide receiver, Stallworth became a starter in his second season and held that job for the rest of his 165-game career. He was a 4-time Super Bowl champion, a first-team All-Pro and finished his career as the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver (a record that has since been surpassed by Hines Ward).

He amassed more than 8,000 yards receiving in his pro career with 63 touchdowns.

Stallworth was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, making Stallworth a no-brainer for my list of Huntsville’s most famous athletes.

Honorable Mention

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Jimmy Key is a 2-time World Series champion. (Toronto Blue Jays via Facebook)

As I said, there are several more athletes I could have included on this list, but I stuck to just five. I could have also included 2-time World Series winning pitcher Jimmy Key, NASCAR driver Jimmy Means, Olympic gold medal-winning diver Mark Lenzi, quarterback Condredge Holloway, NFL tight end Howard Cross and many more.

The fact that it was so hard to narrow a list of Huntsville’s most famous athletes down to five tells you just how rich the athletic tradition is here in Huntsville. And like all lists of this nature, there will likely be some readers wondering, “Wait, why didn’t you include this person?”

So let the conversation begin.

Who else do you think belongs on the list of Huntsville’s most famous athletes? Let us know on FacebookTikTok and Instagram, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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