Keyes over Kirby was a tough call to make

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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.

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