When last we gathered on Monday, I offered you the first five athletes in the 10 most enjoyable athletes of my lifetime challenge and promised ... the next five.
This list could be at least twice as long but I tried to really think of the guys that I truly enjoyed the most throughout my lifetime; from childhood through the current day. If you missed it, the first five featured Kevin Garnett, Fred Lynn, Doug Flutie, Andy Moog and Lynn Swan. The list of honorable mentions is nearly longer than the actual list but I had to be authentic, honest and try to not duplicate other friends’ choices in the challenge. I got beat to the punch on Troy Brown and David Ortiz but am happy with how it turned out otherwise.
One last note before we dive in; people who know me best were probably waiting for Steve Grogan’s name to appear. If this list was for my all-time favorite athletes or most respected, believe me, he’s on Mt. Rushmore. However, this challenge was about the athletes I most enjoyed. Watching Grogan get chased down by violent defenders, twice his size, trying to break his already broken body wasn’t exactly enjoyable for me. It was like watching your kids play sports or sing on stage at the school concert. Your stressed and in an endless search for relief. I love my kids and I love Grogs, but those aren’t enjoyable moments for parents or sports fans.
So without further ado, here’s my final five:
Day 6 - Pedro Martinez
If limited to one word to describe Pedro my choice would be – electric. When Roger Clemens was at his best I only saw him live at Fenway maybe a dozen times. If that. My dad and I would try to calculate his starts and would get consistently unlucky. If we saw Clemens live 10 times we saw Wes Gardner, Jeff Sellers, Al Nipper and Mike Smithson 87 times. Occasionally we’d get lucky and see Oil Can Boyd. Regardless, as dominant as Roger was, I never saw anything like Pedro from 1998-2002.
For those four years specifically, nobody was ever better and I was fortunate to see Pedro live at least 25 times. WOW! Electric. Fenway was never louder than when Pedro pitched. You anticipated it all day long too. My season tickets are in the bleachers so whenever Pedro pitched the kids painted red and draped in the Dominican Flag would run up and down the aisles inciting the energy. It was awesome to witness but hardly necessary because Pedro lit the match like no one else. My 29thBirthday was at Fenway at the 1999 All-Star Game and Pedro was historically perfect. Unsurprisingly.
Day 7 – Greg Norman
The Shark. Man, I love The Shark. And speaking of Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox above, a good friend of mine once coined Norman “The Red Sox of golf.” Ouch. This comment was made in the 90’s well before 2004. It was kind of true, but I didn’t care. The Shark was cool. He was truly great at his craft, played with HUGE stones and he pulled at your heartstrings tournament after tournament. When he won his second British Open in 1993 I was overjoyed, euphoric for him actually. When he fell apart on Sunday of the 1996 Masters I was as heartbroken as I was after Game 6 of the' 86 World Series. An ex-girlfriend even called out of the blue to check on me after that Sunday train wreck.
Though many think of the lost opportunities when it comes to Norman, the man won 91 professional golf championships across the world, including two majors and never, ever lost his cool or stopped being cool. I enjoyed watching him play every time I was able to, despite the large doses of heartache along the way.
Day 8 – Ben Coates
Before there was Gronk there was Ben Coates. Coates was All-World. When the Patriots finally started being worthy of ESPN highlights during the Bill Parcells era, you could hear Chris Berman every Sunday night on “NFL Primetime” saying “Rumblin’, bumblin’ ... Ben ‘Winter’ Coates” as No. 87 chugged down the sideline with defenders hanging off of him. He couldn’t be covered. He was damn near impossible to tackle and best, defenders knew it was coming. No matter how often Drew Bledsoe targeted him (why wouldn’t he?) or how often he telegraphed his throws to him, Coates never let him or us down. He was money. He was a giant and would be the greatest tight end the Patriots ever had if it wasn’t for the next guy.
Day 9 – Rob Gronkowski
I know some folks around here are a little perturbed at Gronk right now. Or perhaps better said, ‘Gronked out.’ I get it. Now take a breath. Take that stuff out and tuck it away in a cabinet you never use, please. C’mon now folks, Gronk fed your soul for 10 years. Stuffed your soul actually. Gronk was so good he made people forget that Ben Coates ever existed. I’ve written this before, if I was coaching a pick-up tackle football game at the local field and had the first choice of all the greats to ever play in the NFL, I may choose Gronk. How could you play football better than that guy? His catch radius is right out of the Legend of John Henry’s Hammer.
He stomped down the field like Godzilla through the streets of Japan and often had helpless defenders hanging off of him while others lay in his wake. Just awesome to watch and I enjoyed every second of his career in New England. I’m just thankful he was here and ours and could care less about what’s transpired since. Do yourself a favor, if you’re feeling at all bitter about Gronk get over it. Pop a Pats DVD in and relive the glory.
Day 10 – Larry Bird
I know it seems like an overly obvious choice but there was no way I was leaving him off this list. The truth is, there’s nobody I enjoyed watching play more than Bird in any sport. Ever. Reliving it all recently on NBC Sports Boston through the early days of the pandemic was so much fun. I never forgot Larry’s greatness or the impact it had on me, but watching it again felt as enjoyable as receiving an unexpected gift. I wasn’t even remotely upset being stuck at home all the time, I just couldn’t wait to see Larry again.
As a lifelong Red Sox and Patriots fan dating back to the ’70s and 80’s having a winner, a champion like Larry Bird in town was like living in an alternate reality. While the Red Sox were continually blowing it and the Patriots were barely hanging on, Larry was turning heads and playing at an all-time great level night after night.
In terms of clutch performance, there’s Larry Bird, David Ortiz, Tom Brady and then nobody else is even within their collective stratosphere. He was the Babe Ruth of my era and for those who think LeBron is better let me just say this...
Hope you enjoyed that Green Teamers.