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A guide to cool: 50 Southern California athletes who rate

Representing the Dodgers, Lakers, Rams and more — even pro wrestling — these figures have that special quality that is at once undeniable and indefinable.

February 09, 2011|Chris Dufresne

Jones coined the term quarterback "sack" before the league kept stats for the category. He was the high priest before Reggie White and will go to his grave getting less pre-ESPN credit than he deserves for revolutionizing his position.

7: Nolan Ryan

What's cooler than having your fastball clocked by Rockwell scientists, or telling Reggie Jackson before an at-bat he was getting nothing but fastballs, or throwing 234 pitches in one game? Ryan was from Texas, and he came to the California Angels in 1972 via a trade with the New York Mets. Yet it was in eight glorious, if not erratic, seasons in Anaheim that he put down his Hall of Fame foundation. Ryan, ever so humble, broke many of Koufax's records without ever stepping on Sandy's accomplishments. Ryan was cool because of his 100-mph heater, but also because he never whined about weak-hitting Angels teams that cost him 27-win seasons. Ryan never won the Cy Young Award because pundits said he was a .500 pitcher.

Seattle's Felix Hernandez won last year with a record of 13-12.

Only Nolan Ryan could be cool with that.

8: Rafer Johnson

Forrest Gump had nothing on Johnson, who played basketball for John Wooden, won Olympic gold in the decathlon and was drafted as a running back by the Rams. As an actor, Johnson was forced to turn down a role in "Spartacus" to preserve his amateur status, but he later appeared in a James Bond movie. In 1968, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, Johnson helped wrestle the gun out of Sirhan Sirhan's hand after Robert Kennedy was shot. Johnson has been hugely involved in Special Olympics and, to christen the opening of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, scaled the final steps as the final torch bearer. Twenty-four years after winning Olympic gold in Rome, Johnson performed another great feat in the Coliseum.

"Spartacus" was only a movie.

9: Don "The Snake" Prudhomme

This San Fernando-born king of "nitro-powered" funny cars and top fuel dragsters helped elementary school boys pass time in class by using the flat edges and arcs of their protractors to re-create, in bound notebooks, very cool pencil sketches of Prudhomme's signature 1970 yellow Plymouth Barracuda. "The Snake" was the first driver to win four consecutive NHRA series titles and had it all over rival Tom "Mongoose" McEwen's red Duster. Prudhomme earned his nickname for his cobra-like starts off the Christmas tree. Car Craft wrote in 2009, "In the glory days of drag racing, men were men and the trophy girls knew it." That and a Hot Wheels set could almost get a kid through junior high.

10: Corky Carroll

Real name: Charles

Real job: never

Corky was the coolest Carroll in Los Angeles long before Pete, carving out his legend in surf and sand. The Beach Boys basically wrote songs about Corky's life. Carroll was born in Alhambra but was raised on the waves near Huntington Beach. He was a five-time U.S. Overall Surf Champion and the first to make money "hanging ten," winning a TV set for a victory in a 1965 competition in Redondo Beach. The Encyclopedia of Surfing describes Corky as the "flamboyant goofyfooter from Surfside."

Carroll "retired" from competitive surfing at age 25 and has spent the rest of his life being Corky Carroll. The Huntington Beach grad became a musician and author, with the song "Surfer for President" and the book "Pier Pressure" to prove it. He was featured in several Miller Lite beer commercials.

You should be so cool, so lucky and so tan.

11: Jack Kramer: Rose out of Montebello High to win Wimbledon in 1947 and become tennis' Arnold Palmer. What a racket.

12: Bob Waterfield: Former UCLA and early Rams do-it-all star QB was married to (ka-ching) Jane Russell

13: Art Aragon: Never won world boxing title but was L.A.'s "Golden Boy" long before Oscar De La Hoya.

14: Elgin Baylor: West was the logo but Baylor was the Laker you tried to imitate in your driveway.

15: Jackie Robinson: No. 1 on any list of most important and admired area athletes — but he was cool too.

16: Arthur Ashe: He ate cool for breakfast and was way more than a tennis star out of UCLA.

17: Marion Morrison: Grit as a USC footballer in the roaring 1920s turned into "True Grit" for John Wayne.

18: Roman Gabriel: QB stood tall in pocket for Rams, was 1969 MVP and made a movie with John Wayne.

19: Jack Youngblood: Rams equipment man Don Hewitt refused to reissue No. 85 after Jack retired.

20: Karch Kiraly/Sinjin Smith: Ever notice how often volleyball icons are not named Sam Snodgrass and Floyd Fester?

21: Fernando Valenzuela: Cool is causing a "mania" and refusing to speak English even though you could.

22: Luc Robitaille: Gretzky made a bigger splash but Luc seemed the King with whom you'd rather share a pitcher of suds.

23: Marcus Allen: Mercurial Marcus makes list for standing out at USC and standing up to Al Davis

24: Amy Alcott: UCLA hall of famer cemented spot with dive into lake after winning 1991 Dinah Shore.

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