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Who are the top 50 Boston athletes of past 50 years? Curran ranks 50-41

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Last Wednesday was the 23rd anniversary of the 1999 MLB All-Star Game at Fenway Park.

It was an event long on sentiment with the spontaneous mobbing of Ted Williams by the game’s greatest players. And it was long on spectacle with Mark McGwire hammering eye-popping moonshots over the Monster during the Home Run Derby. But the most electric and incredible performance belonged to Pedro Martinez.

This tweet popped up on my feed to remind me just how exhilarating that performance was.

Seeing it again, I got a wave of warm, grateful nostalgia. We got to watch that guy perform his craft as well as anyone ever had on a regular basis for the team we grew up passionately following. How lucky were we?

My mind wandered a little. Where would Pedro fit on the list of Boston athletes I’d been fortunate enough to watch?

It wandered a little further. I started thinking of all the captivating, exhilarating, accomplished, iconic players who’d passed through in the past 50 years.

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And with the annual mid-July content drought upon us, I figured I’d sprinkle in a totally subjective list of my top 50 Boston athletes of the past 50 years. Subjective as in, totally my opinion. Subjective as in, you will find yourself saying, "Where is X?"  "Why is Y so high?" and "Wow. What was Curran even watching?"

Like watching Pedro, it’s a "feel" thing. Which helps explain why one of the greatest offensive linemen in the history of the game is a mere three spots above my beloved little Isaiah Thomas.


I ended up with 96 names that I felt at least deserved consideration. I bet I missed a few. Ninety-four were from the four major sports. I’ll unveil the "outside looking in" group later in the week. So many great players on there as well.  

Your results may vary. I’d love to see them.

Editor's Note: Below are players No. 50 through No. 41 in Curran's Top 50. Stay tuned throughout the week as Curran unveils 10 new players each day. Coming Tuesday: Nos. 40 through No. 31.

50. Isaiah Thomas

He was only here for 179 games from the end of the 2014-15 season through part of the 2017-18 season. But he averaged 28.9 points in 2016-17, made two All-Star teams and was an absolute blast to watch as the undersized engine of a team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017.

49. Dennis Johnson

Johnson played seven seasons with the Celtics from 1983-84 through ’89-90. Larry Bird called him the best teammate he ever had.  A lockdown defender (never try a crossover in front of him) who elevated his game in the postseason, there was never a worry when DJ had the ball. And he had it a lot for the great Celtics teams of the 80s.

48. Wes Welker

Just an absolute machine for the Patriots from 2007 through 2012. He topped 100 catches in five of his six seasons here and led the league in catches three times. I don’t want to hear about that play, OK? Not here. Not now. Loved watching him perform.

47. John Hannah

I know he’s one of the greatest offensive guards in the history of the game. That he was a first or second-team All-Pro 10 times and a layup for the Hall of Fame. So blame me that I spent more time ball-watching than watching the havoc Hannah wrought up front. If this list was the most accomplished Boston athletes of the past 50 years, Hannah might be top 10. But here he is at 47. My bad.

46. Rodney Harrison

While dummy 10-to-15-year-old me didn’t notice Hannah’s greatness, sportswriter me couldn’t take his eyes off Harrison. He jumpstarted a Patriots team that kinda needed it in 2003 and helped the Patriots get to the next level and dominate the league for the next five years. A physical intimidator when the league was trying to phase that style out, Harrison’s playing style and attitude were exhilarating to watch.

45. Brad Marchand

Rodney Harrison on skates. And just like Harrison, Marchand has won a championship and been productive enough to build a damn good case for the Hall of Fame (351 regular-season goals and 795 points in 13 seasons). Like Harrison, Marchand may have a hard time getting enshrined because he’s one of those "love him if he’s on your team" guys. But he is on our team. So? Love him.


44. Ben Coates

Coates was a two-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler and all-time security blanket for Drew Bledsoe who made most of his catches in heavy traffic then proceeded to carry defenders around like the were nieces and nephews jumping on their favorite uncle at the barbeque. Best in the business for a short span. God only knows what he’d have been like if he was getting here in 1999 with Tom Brady rather than leaving that year.

43. Terry O’Reilly

The nice thing about Terry O’Reilly is that he could score a little bit. He had three 20-goal seasons and also had more than 50 points five times. He could also fight. And fight. And fight. And fight. And fight. And also fight. And the 1970s and early 80s were a time when fighting was very much in vogue, not just in the NHL but kinda everywhere. I grew up in a hockey town, Pembroke, Mass. And even though I could barely skate, there wasn’t a day that passed without hearing someone mention Terry O’Reilly’s name. And then we fought.

42. Cam Neely

He embodied the Bruins from 1986-87 through 1995-96. The prototype for the NHL power forward, his career was cut short by injuries at 29 but not before he fought and fought and fought to overcome them. And he kind of did, scoring 50 goals in 49 games in ’93-’94 while having his workload managed.

In his 13 NHL seasons, Neely actually had fewer points than Marchand. But his 395 goals and 694 points came in just 726 games. He was an enforcer and a scorer and his postseason work was legend -- 89 points in 93 playoff games, including 57 playoff goals. That placed him fourth all time in goals per game in the postseason behind Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Maurice Richard. Inspirational player. His goodbye press conference was wrenching. Probably should be higher. Bruins fans may riot.

41. Andre Tippett

Another Pro Football Hall of Famer all the way down here in the 40s??? I know. Just goes to show how good we’ve had it. Tippett was a force from 1984 to 1988 with 57 sacks in those four seasons. But from 1989 to 1993 -- the last five seasons of his career -- the team won 19 games. Total. So it wasn’t like Tippett or the Patriots were the talk of the town by any stretch. He was -- quite literally -- the only reason to watch. So watch.