A tournament-style bracket on just about any topic is practically guaranteed to be a fun way to kill a few down moments at work, especially if you’re among those wary of Facebook and Twitter at the moment. A best pizza toppings bracket, you say? I’m in. And mushrooms had best make the final four, pal, or this thing is a sham. Onions, too.
Bracket breakdowns are best when it comes to sports, though. This cannot be argued, since just this past weekend we completed the annual Best Four Days In Sports, when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament pares its field from 64 to 16 and we all get to fall in love with a team or two for whom the Cinderella slipper fits. The magic of UMBC’s upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in the first round can’t be replicated in any other sport. I can’t even come up with anything close.
Here at Boston.com headquarters, we’ve got our own bracket going, and I dare say it’s an irresistible one. Titled #GOATmadness, it’s designed to resolve that timeless Boston sports argument once and for all, or at least until the next time one of your buddies tries to tell you that someone other than Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, Tom Brady and Bill Russell belongs on our Mt. Rushmore of athletes. (I’ll agree that a fifth spot should be reserved for Larry Joe Bird.)
This bracket, if you aren’t one of the hundreds of thousands to vote already, takes a field of the 64 best athletes in Boston sports history and narrows the field, tournament-style, until we have one champion.
It’s a lot of fun for a bunch of reasons, one of which is remembering along the way how many Boston athletes have been the greatest at something, even if they’re not going to be in that rarified company of the final four. For instance:
Pedro Martinez: Greatest changeup ever, and greatest death-stare after striking out Paul O’Neill with that changeup.
Paul Pierce: Greatest nickname (The Truth), especially if you know the hilarious Shaq-inspired origin story.
Manny Ramirez: Greatest righthanded swing, and I’m not accepting counterpoints to this one. It is so.
Larry Bird: Greatest trash-talker while burying the go-ahead jumper in your face, Chuck Person.
Kevin McHale: Greatest up-and-under move. Also, greatest two-time guest star on Cheers.
Ty Law: Greatest big-game cornerback, and yes, that is a thing. Put him in Canton already.
And then there are those who were actually the best ever to do what they did. There has never been a greater hockey player than Bobby Orr, who turned 70 years old Tuesday and still looks about 45. There has never been a greater blocker than John Hannah, or a greater defensive player than Russell, or a greater hitter who has ever lived than Teddy Ballgame. At his peak, there has never been a greater pitcher than Pedro, save for maybe Mr. Koufax.
Maybe that’s a bracket/debate for another day, but I can’t imagine there is a sports city that has been blessed to watch more true greatness through the generations than Boston.
Because I’m not above trying to influence this thing, I’ll tell you who I think should win, and I think it’s rather obvious, really.
Tom Brady has won more Lombardi Trophies than any other quarterback in the history of the NFL. He has played arguably the most influential position in sports as well or better than anyone has ever played it for nearly two decades, and at age 40 he was as brilliant as ever. Even his losses – the 505-yard passing effort in Super Bowl LII, the near-comeback in Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship game despite enduring a pulverizing from the Broncos defensive line – can be extraordinary. The Patriots have either been a contender or an outright dynasty during every season of his tenure despite a league that is designed a hundred different way to prevent dynasties. Brady and the Patriots have done the impossible. They have broken parity.
Of course, I’ll hear the case for Orr, the greatest hockey player. I’ll hear the case for Russell, the greatest defender and winner. I’ll hear the case for Williams, the greatest hitter. But I’ll make the case for Brady, not just because it’s easy to do, but because it’s true. Brady is the Boston sports hero who deserves to be the GOAT.
But hey, if you’re going to defy me and put Larry Bird in your final four over Russell, I’m not going to argue – today, anyway. We can save that happy disagreement for another day. This bracket is already keeping us busy enough.