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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Where does Brady rank? We asked other legendary Boston sports figures

jim davis/globe staff

Tom Brady has a chance to burnish his image further with a sixth Super Bowl title.

By Globe Columnist 

MINNEAPOLIS — The statues have spoken. The best of our best Boston athletes have voted. And a couple of them are willing to cede the gold medal platform of Boston sports to Tom Brady.

“Tommy will go down as the greatest athlete in Boston history,’’ Bobby Orr said last week. “There is no argument.’’

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There is always an argument when it comes to rating sports stars, of course. In addition to Orr, we reached out to Larry Bird, Carl Yastrzem-ski, and Bob Cousy. Larry and Cooz allowed that Brady might be the top dog, while Yaz joined Orr in conceding that Brady is The One.

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It’s praise from the mountaintop for QB 12, who will be playing in his eighth Super Bowl Sunday night at US Bank Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here in the Hub of the Universe, we think we’ve witnessed the best player ever in each of America’s four major sports. Boston’s Jock Rushmore — usually identified as Orr in hockey, Brady in football, Bill Russell in basketball, and Ted Williams in baseball — easily beats that of any other city in America.

And Orr is graciously placing Brady above everyone who has ever played sports in Boston.

“Look at what Tommy has done,’’ Orr said. “It’s just unbelievable.’’

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Indeed. Eighteen seasons. Five rings. Eight Super Bowls. Twelve AFC Championship games. And a million dramatic comebacks, cementing his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time.

Williams died in 2002, and the ever-reclusive Russell, now 83, was unavailable for comment (proof of John Updike’s reminder that gods do not answer letters). But Orr, Bird, Yastrzemski, and Cousy, all cast in bronze, were open to the suggestion that Brady might be the best of Boston’s best.

“Boston’s had a lot of great ones,’’ said Yaz, MVP of the American League in 1967. “Larry, Ted, Russell, Bobby Orr, don’t forget Big Papi.

“But right now, because of all the Super Bowls that he’s won, I’ve got to go with Tom Brady. Without a doubt. The Super Bowls he has won speaks for itself.’’

Bird, who was MVP of the NBA three times from 1984-86, submitted, “I have played with and against some of the greatest clutch players in sports, and Tom is right up there with them.”

Like Bird, Cousy held back on the “greatest ever” notion, but acknowledged, “Brady will certainly be in that category and well-deserved. Let’s face it, Brady is an international name. Given the popularity of the sport he plays, and the
championships, he’ll be up there.’’

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According to Cooz, it’s all about the championships. Brady is going for his sixth ring, which is the same number Cousy achieved before retiring in 1963.

“If we hadn’t won, if I hadn’t been around for six championships as the captain, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation,’’ said Cousy, MVP of the NBA in 1957.

“For athletes that are involved in team sports, they can be individually brilliant, but if they don’t grab that brass ring at least one time, it neutralizes their legacy, in my judgment. It’s the vehicle in American professional sports that keeps your legacy alive a hell of a lot longer.’’

Cousy came to Boston from New York City, Yastrzemski from Long Island, Orr from Parry Sound, Ontario. All three stayed in Greater Boston after their playing days. Bird, who came to the Hub from French Lick, Ind., in 1979, moved to Florida, then to Indiana after retiring in 1992. He knows that his name is forever gold in Boston and he thinks our city enlarges the legacy of its sports stars more than any other town.

“I saw Peyton Manning for a lot of years,’’ Bird said when the Patriots played Super Bowl
XLVI in Indianapolis in 2012. “Peyton’s big here, but I don’t think anybody is as big as what Boston sports fans think of their top guys. I don’t think it’s like that anywhere else. Boston is just different.’’

Our statues don’t have a lot of experience playing football. Cousy was a city kid, surrounded by asphalt and concrete. Orr grew up on the ponds of Ontario, a hockey prodigy from the age of 5. Yaz played defensive end in six-man football as a high school sophomore, but quit on orders of his father, who was fearful his power-hitting son might be injured.

Bird’s gridiron career was similarly brief.

“Eighth grade,’’ recalled Larry Legend. “I kicked off. I punted. I was quarterback and linebacker.

“I remember I was playing defense trying to tackle somebody and there was a guy in front and I took him out, but he landed on my right shoulder and broke my collarbone.

“They told me they were going to stick a pin in it, which they didn’t have to do. That was the end of that. No more football.’’

Understood. But our statues are football fans, and when they watch Brady, they recognize the universal truths of sports greatness.

“It’s the same in any sport,’’ noted Yaz. “You always want to be there at the end. You want to be the guy.’’

“That’s it right there,’’ echoed Orr. “You could feel it last year when the Patriots were behind in the Super Bowl. You just knew it wasn’t over. Look at the last drives, and Tommy executes them. I think Bill Belichick’s a genius, but Brady’s the guy that steers it and runs the ship.’’

“He don’t try to force a lot of things,’’ said Bird. “He takes advantage of what the defense gives him. I don’t know football, but he’s patient and makes quick decisions. He don’t care if it’s a 10-yard throw or a 4-yard throw.’’

Bronze-worthy?

When I explained to Orr that I was calling him to ask about a guy who may one day have his own statue, the hockey savant said, “Wait, did you say ‘may one day have a statue’? You’re a smart guy. You ask me, ‘Is he going to have a statue?’ That’s funny.’’

“They should call the sculptor right now,’’ added Cousy.

We knew Brady was already a legend, but this is new territory. Better than Orr? Better than Russell? Better than Williams?

On the cusp of a sixth Super Bowl title, at the ripe age of 40, Brady might just be New England’s ballplaying Zeus . . . the father of Hub sports gods . . . the Michelangelo of this high renaissance of Boston sports.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.