Measuring greatness is always a tough challenge. While athletes grow in size, stature and athletic ability, does it mean the athletes of today are greater than those of 30 years ago and were those athletes better than the stars of the 1920s and 1930s?
Through the years, Boston has been blessed with many great stars.
Whether it be the legends who patrolled the Garden either using a basketball or a stick, or those who roamed the area in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, or in more recent years the greats on the gridiron, Boston has been home to many “special” athletes.
So, who is the greatest of the greats?
We want to know who you believe is the greatest athlete in the history of Boston sports. Vote in the poll accompanying this article and then share with us your thoughts on which athlete is the most deserving.
Who is the Greatest Athlete in Boston Sports History?
- Bobby Orr (28%, 36 Votes)
- Bill Russell (27%, 34 Votes)
- Ted Williams (17%, 21 Votes)
- Larry Bird (15%, 19 Votes)
- Tom Brady (9%, 12 Votes)
- Phil Esposito (2%, 2 Votes)
- Bob Cousy (1%, 1 Votes)
- Doug Flutie (1%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 127
Out of the dozens of athletes who could have easily been considered, we have narrowed the field to eight finalists. Brief profiles are below.
Tom Brady: The only active player on this list, Brady has enjoyed a decade of dominance while leading the Patriots to four Super Bowl appearances, three titles and the perfect 16-game regular season in NFL history. Brady has gone from a good quarterback that made the big plays to a great quarterback that makes the super plays. In 2007 Brady tossed an NFL record 50 touchdown passes while leading the league with 4,806 yards passing. After missing most of the 2008 season with a knee injury, Brady had returned to his old form this season and has now reached the 200-career touchdown pass mark.
Larry Bird: To a generation of fans that grew up watching the NBA in the 1980s, Larry Bird is the Boston Celtics. He played the game with a passion and determination that allowed him to compete against players that arguably were more talented. Bird simply worked hard enough to become great and that greatness showed on the court. He led the Celtics to three NBA Championships and legendary battles with Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers for Eastern supremacy and Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title. For his career, Bird averaged 24.3 points per game, including a career-high 29.9 points during the 1987-88 season, which was ironically his final healthy season.
Bob Cousy: Before there was Bill Russell and Larry Bird, the Boston Celtics were powered by a 6-foot-1 inch guard from Holy Cross. Cousy was the on-the-court leader for the Celtics in the era during which they emerged as a basketball power. He led the NBA in assists eight straight seasons. He also averaged 20 or more points per game four times in his career and averaged 18.4 points per game for his career. The Celtics won six NBA titles during his career and he averaged 18.5 points and 8.6 assists in the playoffs during his career.
Phil Esposito: In nine seasons with the Boston Bruins, Phil Esposito led the NHL in scoring six times and in 1969 became the first player in league history to pass the 100 point mark. He ended up smashing that total with a career-high 152 points during the 1971-72 campaign. Esposito scored 13 goals and added 14 assists in the playoffs as Boston won the 1970 Stanley Cup. He had nine goals and 15 assists as they won it again in 1972. He won the Hart Trophy as the league MVP in 1969 and 1974. For his career, Esposito scored 717 goals and had 1,590 career points. He still ranks fifth all-time in NHL history in goals and 10th in points.
Doug Flutie: Flutie makes this list based on the strength of his tenure as the quarterback at Boston College. The 5-foot-10 inch quarterback put Boston College football on the map and captivated the nation much in the way that current Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has done. Flutie was electrifying on the field with his unorthodox, but effective style. He passed for 10,579 yards during his career, which was an NCAA record at the time. He is best remembered for his last second “Hail Mary” touchdown pass to defeat the University of Miami at the Orange Bowl in a game that was nationally televised the day after Thanksgiving. That victory propelled Flutie to claim the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football. He went on to play briefly in the NFL with the Patriots in 1988 and 1989, but enjoyed his best professional glory in the Canadian Football League, where he was the Most Outstanding Player in the league six times and led his teams to three Grey Cup titles. In 1998 he returned to the NFL and spent eight seasons in the league. He retired as a member of the Patriots in 2005.
Bobby Orr: Considered one of the greatest hockey players of all-time, Bobby Orr spent 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins and was named the winning of the Hart Memorial Trophy as League MVP three times. He helped lead the Bruins to NHL titles in 1970 and 1972. In the 1972 playoffs he had 19 assists and 24 total points. He was named the Conn Smythe Award winner as the Stanley Cup MVP in both 1970 and 1972. He was honored as the NHL’s top defenseman a record eight times. He twice led the NHL in scoring and remains the only defenseman to accomplish that honor. He was named to the Pro Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.
Bill Russell: For Bill Russell, defense was an art form. While others dominated action with their scoring ability, he did it with his shot blocking and rebounding prowess. His battles with Wilt Chamberlain were legendary and usually ended in Russell’s favor. In his 13-year career, Russell averaged an astonishing 22.5 rebounds per game. In the 1962-63 season he averaged 24.7 rebounds per contest. He was named the NBA MVP five times and was an All-Star 12 times. Russell led the Celtics to 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons and 12 trips to the finals. They won eight straight titles from 1959 through 1966. In playoff action he averaged 16.2 points and 24.9 rebounds per game.
Ted Williams: The Splendid Splinter is generally considered as one of the best pure hitters ever to play professional baseball. He is the last player in baseball history to hit .400 in a season as he hit .406 in 1941. He twice won the American League Triple Crown. Twice named the league MVP and second in the voting four times, Williams won six batting titles, four home run titles and four RBI crowns. He finished his career with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, 1,839 RBI and 2,654 hits despite missing nearly five full seasons while serving in the military during World War II and the Korean War. He retired after the 1960 season and fittingly hit a home run in his final at bat.