Who is the greatest captain in NYC sports history?
Sorry Philly fans, there are too many captains in the NYC Metro alone for me to include you in this, but just know that Bobby Clarke is one of the greatest captains in the history of hockey, regardless of how dirty he may have been. Anyway, with the Stanley Cup rolling around I’ve thought a lot about who the best captains for each respective team was.
For the NYC Metro teams, it’s pretty easy as the best captain for the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all Hall of Famers and multiple Stanley Cup winners.
I was actually inspired by the NBC Sports’ Series “Top 10” where they listed the top ten captains in hockey history. You’ll be happy to know that two of New York’s finest made this list, unsurprisingly.
Anyway, there have been many great captains of these great and sometimes frustrating franchises. I could pick three captains just in baseball alone but I won’t because I want to diversify my picks. There will be one representative from each sport, for all you Eli Manning fans out there. I have to include some honorable mentions because the list is just too long due to the long and glorious history of all these franchises.
Realistically, the list should begin and end with one of the greatest captains in baseball history. While Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink, Thurmon Munson was the rock of the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the 1970’s. He won two World Series as captain and although he was never the best player on the team, he was always the outspoken veteran who kept his team somewhat in line and was the main reason why the Yankees even made all those World Series. Unfortunately, Munson lost his life in a plane crash in August 1979, but his legacy will live on forever as one of the greatest captains in baseball history.
Another captain whose career was cut shorter than many hoped, David Wright exuded class and grace throughout his Mets career. He is still the de facto captain but he can no longer play due to lingering back injuries. However, in his heyday many people forget just how good Wright was. Wright was the key player on all those great mid 2000’s Mets teams, and although he didn’t play much during their World Series run in 2015, he was the voice of the clubhouse.
One of the most overlooked captains in hockey history, Scott Stevens was straight nasty. Whether it be his defensive battles with the top forwards in the league or his brutal open ice hit that pretty much ended Eric Lindros’ career, Stevens always played with an edge during his long 22 year career. He won three Stanley Cups with the Devils and was the heart and soul of all the Devils’ teams that made deep runs in the playoffs. Martin Brodeur was the backbone, but Stevens and the defense was partly the reason why Brodeur was so good.
The captain of the greatest dynasty in sports, Potvin is also a first ballot Hall of Famer, just like Stevens was. He was extremely strong on the puck and was always willing to do whatever it took to win. He had some great battles with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Ron Duguay, and Bobby Clarke later in his career. The Islanders won 19 straight playoff series with him at the helm, a streak that will never be broken. He was the “king” of New York at the time and will forever be loved by Islander fans all around the world.
The Top Four
Well as much as all Jet and NFC East fans hate him, they can’t deny that Eli Manning is as clutch as they come. He may not be the most consistent quarterback, or at this point the best quarterback on his own team, but his performances in those two Super Bowls against the New England Patriots are about as good as they come. He has countless gutty performances, whether it be getting brutalized against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship or his two MVP performances with the help of David Tyree and Mario Manningham, Eli will never have to buy a drink in New York again.
Yeah Jeets! The most prolific captain in baseball history was the face of the world’s most iconic franchise. From the moment Jeter came up in 1995, you knew he was something special. He kept his nose clean (which is very hard to do in New York City), won five championships during the Yankees dynasty years and in 2009, and retired as the all-time hit leader for the franchise. Even when Alex Rodriguez came to the fold as the “chosen one” in 2003, Jeter was still the captain and expected to be treated with respect. He was respected so much by baseball fans and players alike that he received a gift from each team during his farewell tour. He is the class of the Yankees and his number sits along Monument Park with legends like DiMaggio, Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle.
People probably forget that at one point the New York Knicks were looked at as a model franchise. It seems so long ago, and it was, but the Knicks actually won two NBA championships in 1970 and 1973. Willis Reed was never the biggest center in the league, only standing at 6’9, but he exemplified what it meant to be a captain by always playing his ass off and at times even outrebounding the great Wilt Chamberlain, a man six inches taller than him. Reed cemented his legacy in New York lore when he came out in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals against the Lakers after tearing a muscle in his thigh. He came out for only a few minutes, but set the tone of the game by limping through the pain and scoring the first four points of the game. He was tough as nails and was the heart and soul of those great Knicks teams.
What else can I say about Mark Messier that hasn’t already been said? After winning multiple cups with the Edmonton Oilers, Mess came into New York with hefty expectations. The veteran immediately took to the hearts of Rangers fans and his yeoman like style of play is exactly what New York needed at the time. Messier brought home the first Stanley Cup for the Rangers in 74 years, after guaranteeing a win in Game 6. He delivered in that game with a hat trick and also cemented his legacy at MSG with that guarantee. He played hard, and his team followed. Growing up I hated him being an Islander fan but he was just so damn good and such a good captain.
The greatest captain in New York sports history is……
It’s funny because in almost any other city, any of these guys on this list could have easily been the best captain. However, this is New York and winning trumps everything. Honestly, it was a close battle between Jeter and Messier for the top spot. Jeter wins purely because he won many championships over such a long period and he was a lifelong Yankee. He took the most iconic franchise in the world to the promised land five times and did it all with a class never seen before. Kids grew up wearing #2 because of Jeter, and to this day you still see more Jeter jerseys than just about any other player at Yankee Stadium. He is a special, special player and between his Mr. November home run, his flip to Jorge Posada against the A’s, or any of the other countless clutch plays he made, he is endeared forever in New York. How could it be anyone else?