EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 23, 2009

Boston's 10 greatest sports icons: The Ultimate Big 3: Red, Russell and Orr

Kudos to ESPN.com for sparking the debate. They have started a "series" called the "Mt. Rushmore of Sports" in which readers from each state will nominate four sports icons (athletes, coaches, management).

Four? That might be an easy thing to do for South Dakota — Adam Vinatieri, Sparky Anderson, Olympic 10,000-meter champ Billy Mills and cowboy Casey Tibbs.

In Massachusetts, that would mean leaving about dozen deserving icons out. Since I like things in groups of 10, and there are at least that many legitimate candidates, I am going to rank them, 10 to 1.

Mind you, this is no easy task. I wasn't around to see a few of these legends, but I've seen the numbers and heard about their impact.

My criteria is simple: greatness and longevity. Pedro Martinez is probably the greatest pitcher the Red Sox ever had, but was he here long enough? No.

10. Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins

Key stats: NHL's all-time leader in goals, assists and points by defenseman (410-1,169—1,579); 5-time Norris Trophy winner as top defenseman; Stanley Cup champion.

Why he's in the top 10: It is difficult for me to be objective about this guy. He is probably nicest man among this incredible group. In many other states he would be ranked No. 1. He played 22 seasons, nearly 21 here, and he was at the top of his game for nearly every one of those years. He was selected to 13 "first team" (the most in history) and six "second team" All-Star squads.

Why he's ranked here: The only thing that keeps him from creeping closer to the top five is lack of championships as a Bruin and Bobby Orr, who may be the most talented hockey player ever. Bourque, though, did play in two Stanley Cup finals and the fact that he is all-time leader for defenseman in goals, assists and points is worthy.

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