Back at it again with my personal list of the top 50 players of the past 50 years. As I said in the 50-41 unveiling, this is my list of the the most captivating, exhilarating and accomplished athletes of the past 50 years through my eyes as fan/sportswriter/New Englander.
Some guys get extra credit for being my favorites and get the bump over guys who were more decorated but not as enjoyable for me to watch. It's an objective list. And I'm sure you'll have objections, so air 'em out!!!
Editor's Note: Below are players No. 40 through No. 31 in Curran's Top 50. Check out his 50-41 rankings and stay tuned throughout the week as Curran unveils 10 new players each day. Coming Wednesday: Nos. 30 through No. 21.
40. Drew Bledsoe
The 1993 to 1997 version of Drew Bledsoe was a blast. He was like Josh Allen in cement shoes and -- since we were in the waning days of the pocket passer and dual-threat quarterbacks were novelties rather than foundational pieces -- that wasn’t so bad. Just sling it, Drew. We’ll take the bad (sacks, indecision, picks) with the good (absolute missile throws, toughness, stoic leadership) and count on improvement. Then our guy stagnated for a variety of reasons. Which paved the way for his successor, who checks in a bit higher on the list. But the point of this list is to enumerate guys I enjoyed watching play and who really captivated the town and the conversation. There were plenty of days Drew was a goddamn blast.
39. Cedric Maxwell
No ambiguity to my love for Max. His arrival in Boston coincided with my sports awakening in 1976-77. And post-Havlicek, there was a two-year dead period until Larry Bird arrived. Max, Tiny and (I shit you not) Jeff Judkins were the guys I really loved watching. Max most of all because he was tough, tough, tough, relentless, a graceful contortionist and very much the guy who looked right in the eye of those Sixers, Lakers, Bucks and Rockets teams. He won two rings, was Finals MVP in 1981 and his "get on my back" quote lives forever. Understand, he predated Bird, Parish and McHale. He and Tiny were the veteran leadership. Watch these highlights. Tell me who you’d want on your team first, Max or Draymond?
38. Patrice Bergeron
Consummate professional who’s been here 18 -- EIGHTEEN!!! -- seasons playing 1,216 regular-season games and 167 playoff games. Who else has played that long here? Brady (20). Yaz (23). Havlicek (16). He’s a Hall of Fame-level player whose done the job with dignity and efficiency and been one of hockey’s most versatile players. Truth be told, I don’t watch every Bruins game but I know enough to understand that he’s been the embodiment of who they’ve been for nearly two decades. You think Bruins, you think Bergeron.
37. Manny Ramirez
The sideshow eventually drove me batshit. I mean, it’s bad when a player with a swing that beautiful and talent so undeniable finally becomes so exhausting that you just want to be delivered from the annoyance. But that’s where it eventually got. But -- like Drew -- Manny at his best was absolutely addictive baseball. He dominated the conversation on and off the field. I don’t know if baseball in Boston will ever be as fun again as it was from 2001 to 2007. Manny was a massive part of it.
36. Micky Ward
This was where Luis Tiant was supposed to be. But after I started the list, I was reminded on WEEI about Micky Ward who I totally overlooked. So I have to jam in Irish Micky. I will still cue up Ward’s fights with Arturo Gatti when there’s nothing else on just to re-watch some of the most gripping and jaw-dropping competitive performances I’ve ever seen. Sorry, El Tiante, whose motion we all mastered as kids playing wiffle ball. I was at the 5-0 shutout win over the Blue Jays to close the 1978 regular season and I waited in line to get tickets to the playoff game the next day. Without you, I wouldn’t have experienced that. Sorry, man.
35. Mo Vaughn
Kinda like the late-70s Celtics, the early-90s Red Sox were a flat-lining bunch. Roger Clemens drama was omnipresent. It was the days of Andre Dawson, Jack Clark, Mike Greenwell, Tim Naehring, Ellis Burks and John Valentin. Mo was fun. Mo was a beast. Mo carried the Sox to the playoffs and won an MVP. Everybody loved Mo. From 1995-98 he hit .320 with 158 homers and 480 RBIs and an OPS of .986. Plus? New England guy from Norwalk, Connecticut.
34. Steve Grogan
From 1976 when he took over as Patriots starter and breathed life into a franchise that was talent-laden but habitually bad until his final season in 1990, Grogan was the face of the franchise. Built like a cocktail straw, Grogan may have been one of the best pure athletes we’ve watched in 50 years. John Hannah, Leon Gray, Stanley Morgan, Steve Nelson, Mike Haynes, Raymond Clayborn and Russ Francis were all better at their respective positions than Grogan was at quarterback. But he was really friggin' good himself and his capacity for absorbing punishment and continuing to just ... keep ... playing made him beloved even if his stats are hard to look at. (Different era). Enjoy some Grogan. Ran like a damn wild elk.
33. Vince Wilfork
Look at this stuff. You know what was amazing to watch? Vince at training camp when they hit the single sled. He would get under it and launch it so it went straight up, balanced on the back of its stand then come crashing back down. He was throwing the front of the sled about 10 feet in the air! Know what else was amazing? Watching him manhandle a pair of 300-plus pound linemen, discard then envelop a ball-carrier. One of the 10 best players in football at the start of the 2010s and a huge and magnetic personality too. Lucky to have watched and covered him.
32. Jayson Tatum
This is a future Hall of Fame player who will have his number retired in the Garden rafters. Does this act after every drive to the hoop get to me? Yes it does. But here’s something that isn’t appreciated enough -- the guy doesn’t turn 25 until next March and he’s already played 365 NBA games and 74 playoff games. And his playoff scoring average the past three seasons is 25.7, 30.6 and 25.6. And he’s out there almost all the time -- he played 110 games this year between regular season and playoffs, averaging 36 minutes in the regular season and 41 in the postseason. You can wish he’d do some stuff differently. But don’t you ever wish him away.
31. Mookie Betts
Wins AL MVP and the World Series in 2018 at the age of 25. Two years later, he’s gone. Has Betts been worth the Dodgers investment in the three years he’s been gone? Debatable. So maybe the Sox cut bait when they should have business-wise. But Betts followed a line (sometimes interrupted) from Fred Lynn to early Roger Clemens to Mo Vaughn to Nomar to Pedro to Ortiz to Pedroia as the big draw and franchise hood ornament. He was a helluva lot of fun to watch.