Mike Lupica is a longtime Daily News columnist, a contributor to ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, and the author of No. 1 New York Times best sellers Travel Team and Heat.
1. Lawrence Taylor
I am a baseball guy and will always be a baseball guy. But Taylor, to my mind, is one of the two greatest football players I’ve ever seen (Jim Brown was the other). All you can remember from that first Super Bowl season is him coming from the outside.
2. Joe Namath
There have been three pro-football games called “the greatest game ever played.” Giants vs. Colts, 1958. Giants vs. Patriots, last year. And Super Bowl III. Namath guaranteed it, maybe you heard. He was more a shooting star than a lot of guys on this list. But, man, what a star.
3. Willis Reed
If there is one moment in the last 40 years, it is Captain Reed limping out against the Lakers in Game 7. That’s what sports is in the end: moments. And this is the one all others are measured against around here.
4. Tom Seaver
There have been a lot of miracles in sports over the past four decades. But in baseball, the Mets of ’69, because of where they’d come from, might still be the best. And they didn’t call Seaver “The Franchise” for nothing.
5. Mariano Rivera
For the Yankees, he is the Babe Ruth of pitchers, a monument in the outfield waiting to happen. And against the Red Sox in 2003, for three innings at the end of Game 7, he was everything he’s ever been in a Yankee uniform.
6. Mark Messier
He did more than anybody to win the Rangers their first Stanley Cup since 1940. Two captains on this list, above all others: him and Willis Reed.
7. Dwight Gooden
For that one year, before the first bad things happened, he was the right-handed Koufax. You couldn’t miss a start in ’85, because you were sure tonight was the night he was going to throw a no-hitter or strike out twenty.
8. Walt Frazier
Pound for pound, game in and game out, even overshadowed by others sometimes (like Reed in Game 7 in ’70), he was the best the Knicks ever had.
9. Phil Simms
Played the greatest single game any quarterback has played in a Super Bowl, 22 for 25 against John Elway and the Broncos. He is the best the Giants ever had at quarterback, better than Chuckin’ Charlie Conerly and Y. A. Tittle. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
10. Derek Jeter
You can’t have a list like this and not have him on it. The Yankees of 1996 through 2000 were the old Knicks of baseball, and he was the face of them more than anybody. He isn’t as good as DiMaggio. But he has still been their DiMaggio.