Fresno State

Paul George’s jersey will have a place in Fresno State rafters. Why not elevate Lorenzo Neal’s?

Former Fresno State fullback Lorenzo Neal was MVP of the 1992 Freedom Bowl, all-conference in football as a junior and senior and an All-America heavyweight on the wrestling team.
Former Fresno State fullback Lorenzo Neal was MVP of the 1992 Freedom Bowl, all-conference in football as a junior and senior and an All-America heavyweight on the wrestling team. Fresno Bee file

Time to stop saying No to the ’Zo.

Fresno State is retiring the basketball top of Paul George on Sunday afternoon, taking an electric can opener to a fresh supply of worms.

You want to retire the numerical property of a pretty good college athlete who is really great at the pro level?

Then you have to hang the No. 22 tear-off of one Lorenzo Neal, one of the greatest non-quarterbacks to ever cash a scholarship from Fresno State.

Trust me when we type this: if you can immortalize a basketball player who gave all of two years to the Save Mart Center, you can make room for the Lemoore fullback who spent five years starring in two sports at the local quad.

“It’s ludicrous his number isn’t retired,” said Dennis DeLiddo, Neal’s former college wrestling coach and fully qualified grouser at-large. “He was great when he was here, and he was great when he left.”

How great?

Neal left Fresno State as the second-leading rusher in school history. He did so as a fullback, which means running the ball ranked fourth on his things to do list, tops.

He was the MVP of the 1992 Freedom Bowl victory. Not quarterback Trent Dilfer, who has his number retired. Read Dilfer’s “Retired Jerseys” bio in the school media guide. Realize the classmates are interchangeable in every way.

Neal was all-conference as a junior and senior. He was an All-America heavyweight on the wrestling team.

Not great enough, we were told. We can’t retire the jerseys of every two-time all-conference player because there would be no jerseys left, a school official once said.

Fine, we answered. Base it on being the best of the best of the best while enrolled at Fresno State, and we’ll pipe down.

Until George.

Now you want to base eternal worthiness on how they perform beyond college? Because that’s what George has going for him.

George was second-team all-conference at Fresno State. Once. He won no titles. He had no winning seasons. Fresno State fans didn’t even know who Paul George was until he was Paul George in the NBA.

You want to retire his number, hoping to sell out your basketball game? Knock yourselves out with a hammer. You need all the money grabs you can manufacture, we get it.

But at some point, you’ve got to realize that Neal is just as good, and all the more worthy, and there’s nothing apples-to-oranges about it.

The man blocked for a 1,000-yard back for 11 straight NFL seasons. No one else has done that in NFL history.

His 16 seasons spent building an NFL pension? Most ever by a Bulldog. His four Pro Bowls? Second only to seven-timer Logan Mankins, who is an entirely different column.

And going back to basketball, no Rod Higgins? Does the name Melvin Ely salt your smeller?

We love George’s game. We are overjoyed that he picked the Clippers over the Lakers this past offseason. Dude is an NBA legend, no doubt.

We just think schools should retire the jerseys of those who were great at their schools. This is a publicity stunt, and we prefer to do our own stunts around here.

Go ahead, enjoy your little party. We’ll RSVP when you invite Neal, Mankins and the others.

David White is a former Fresno Bee staff writer and NFL beat writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, now a pastor and Sunday sports columnist for The Bee: bydw@sbcglobal.net, @bydavidwhite

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