Metro Boston Top 25 of the last 25: Greatest Boston athletes

Metro Boston Top 25 cover by Gina Angelotti.
Metro Boston Top 25 cover by Gina Angelotti.

Metro Boston recently polled its readers, writers and various Boston sports media on which Boston athletes of the past 25 years are the undisputed greatest.

Current Patriots quarterback Tom Brady edged out Celtics legend Larry Bird and Red Sox great Pedro Martinez to land the No. 1 spot overall. Here were the rules:

• Athlete must have played for the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots or Red Sox in the past 25 years (1988-2013).
• Athlete must have played for a Boston team for at least three seasons in the past 25 years. Example: Gary Payton or Shaquille O’Neal would not be eligible.
• Historical significance, tenure, time period, championships won are all factors.

Here is the final list based exclusively on feedback. To view the dreaded “snubs” list, click here.

1. Tom Brady - Out of all the responses Metro received, only three people DID NOT have No. 12 ranked No. 1. Brady played his entire prime in the time period allotted, racked up three Super Bowl wins, appeared in five Big Games total and led New England to the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history in 2007. Is there a case to be made for someone else? Yes says WEEI’s Kirk Minihane.

“Here’s the thing – The Bird from 1988 until he retired has nothing close to Brady’s resume. But if I’m filling out any list that has Bird as an option he is always numero uno. Always. Could be best singers of the Motown Era and he’d still take top spot.”

For Minihane’s Top 25, click here.

2. Larry Bird - WEEI’s Mike Mutnansky dropped those whose “greatness” came mostly prior to 1988, thus the reason Bird fell to No. 3 on his list. But Bird was still great in his twilight, averaging 24.3 ppg in 75 games in 1989-90. For Mutnansky’s Top 25, click here.

3. Pedro Martinez - 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Marc Bertrand put Pedro ahead of Bird, and one can certainly make that case considering all of Martinez’s best years came in the late 1990s. Pedro captured a pair of Cy Young Awards in Boston. For Bertrand’s Top 25, click here.

4. Ray Bourque - Bourque retired from hockey with 410 goals and 1,169 assists in 1,612 games played in the NHL. Not too shabby for a defenseman. Number 77 played in 19 straight NHL All-Star games and was the face of the franchise throughout the 1990s.

5. Cam Neely - Metro writer Tony Lee gave Neely a boost for his recent job as Bruins president. Not too bad a player either as he basically invented the power forward position in the NHL.

6. Paul Pierce - The wounds are fresh but No. 34 will be hanging in the rafters.

7. Kevin McHale - The man who re-defined post play in the NBA made the East All-Star team every year from 1988-91.

8. Roger Clemens - “The Rocket” won the Cy Young Award in 1991 before bolting town in 1996.

9 . Adam Vinatieri - “Mr. Clutch” had two Super Bowl-winning kicks but his greatest may have come in the 2002 “Snow Bowl.”

10. Manny Ramirez - Arguably the best hitter in baseball during his Boston years (2001-08) and the MVP of the 2004 World Series.

11. Ty Law - Law picked off an in-his-prime Peyton Manning three times in the 2003 AFC Championship Game.

12. Kevin Garnett -
“KG” turned the Celtics franchise around when he arrived via trade during the summer of 2007. The former league MVP averaged 18.8 points per game in the 2007-08 championship season and gave the C’s a vaunted defense.

13. Tim Thomas - They say a hot goaltender can lead you to a Stanley Cup. Never was that more true in 2011 when “Timmy” got hot at just the right time. His performances in the B’s three Game 7s that postseason were things of legend. Thomas was a Boston goaltender from 2002-03 through the 2011-12 seasons and won 196 games.

14. David Ortiz - Ortiz’s placement in the middle of the list seemed a bit too low for Metro writer Ryan Hannable, but many dropped Big Papi because of his inclusion on a 2009 PED list. Still, Ortiz’s homer in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS wil live on forever.

15. Curt Schilling - Schilling made good on his promise to break the supposed “Curse of the Bambino” and the image of his “bloody sock” will live on forever in the minds of Boston sports fans. Schilling finished second in AL Cy Young voting in 2004.

16. Vince Wilfork - A five-time Pro Bowler, Wilfork has been the anchor of the Patriots defense almost since the day he arrived in 2004 out of the University of Miami. A beast in the middle of the Pats d-line, Wilfork helped power New England to an undefeated regular season in 2007.

17. Wade Boggs — The hit machine was an All-Star for the Sox from 1988-1992 and finished his career with over 3,000 hits.

18. Tedy Bruschi — The heart and soul of the Pats championship defense. Number 54 went to five Super Bowls with New England, including the loss to the Packers in the 1996 season.

19. Richard Seymour — Seymour recorded eight sacks in both the 2003 season and 2008 season.

20. Dustin Pedroia — Boston’s new $100 million man won the 2008 AL MVP.

21. Wes Welker — Welker had three straight 110-reception seasons.

22. Zdeno Chara — “Big Z” continues to anchor the Bruins’ defense

23. Drew Bledsoe - In the words of Metro reader Stephen Sabourin, Bledsoe “revived the Patriots franchise” before injuries and Tom Brady booted him to Buffalo. In just his second pro season in 1994, No. 11 tossed for more yards (4,555) than any QB in the league.

24. Reggie Lewis - There’s no telling how much higher the late Lewis could have been on this list. The silky-smooth shooting guard was considered by many to be the second best 2-guard behind Michael Jordan in the early 1990s.

25. Ben Coates – Coates was a bruising tight end in the 1990s and was, without question, Drew Bledsoe’s security blanket in the Pats passing game. A five-time Pro Bowler, Coates caught 96 passes in 1994, which was then an NFL record for a tight end.

Got beef with the list and want to vent? Send your feedback to Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS or by e-mail at matthew.burke@metro.us

Hear WEEI’s analysis of Metro’s list here:

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