Every so often, ESPN does something silly like ask America who should be on our sporting Mount Rushmores. This is usually broken down into states and big cities, since doing so for the entire country probably would be a little diffuse. And, it is usually done in the summer, somewhere between the end of the NBA Finals and the beginning of NFL training camps.
All right, I'm a little late to the party. The Bills had their first training camp practice Sunday.
Still, the question is fun to consider. In case someone starts building a sports equivalent of Mount Rushmore in between the two falls at Niagara Falls (I'm thinking tourism and not geology in this case), who should be the four people on it?
It's relatively to come up with the ground rules. It can be anyone connected with local sports, but there's only four winners. Splitting up the sports is a nice touch but not absolutely necessary.
The Bills get first crack at it. It's fair to say that O.J. Simpson would have been on it at one point. It's also fair to say I'm not sure we need a tourist attraction with his face on it at this particular time. Luckily, we have other candidates. Ralph Wilson brought the Bills here and kept them here for more than 50 years, and he deserves credit for that. Still, I'm not sure owners belong on the mountain, which - jumping ahead a bit - means Seymour Knox of the Sabres won't make it. Marv Levy is clearly the greatest Bills coach in history, and maybe the best Buffalo coach ever. If the space by the Falls was a little bigger, we'd have an argument.
After some thought, I'd start with Jim Kelly. Quarterbacks have the biggest impact on the game, and Kelly was one of the all-time best. If you wonder how tough it is to find someone like that, consider the revolving door at the position since he left. Jack Kemp deserves consideration with his two titles, but Kelly's body of work probably is more impressive. I'd put Kemp with Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas.
The Sabres are next, and at least we know who the two finalists are. Gil Perreault and Dominik Hasek are clearly the best candidates. Perreault helped establish the credibility of the franchise and was exciting from the first day to the last. Hasek might have been the best goalie ever if you needed to win one game. In other words, he didn't have the best career ever, perhaps yielding to Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy or Terry Sawchuk. But Buffalo was attacked by raging hockey hoards from Montreal, Boston or Toronto, I'd want Hasek on my side. Still, Hasek's exit was clumsy, so Perreault gets a narrow win here.
How about basketball? The best pro player to ever call Buffalo home was Bob McAdoo, while two obvious college standouts were Bob Lanier and Calvin Murphy. McAdoo was a comet, an absolutlely thrilling performer during his days with the Braves. The rest of the country doesn't remember how good he was in those days, but we know. But I'd take Lanier's longevity over McAdoo's brilliance in terms of a sculpture. Besides, Lanier was born here, raised here, and went to college here. That earns him some points.
Then there's the fourth spot. Buffalo hasn't been a major league city very often in baseball, and I would doubt that Pud Galvin and Dan Brouthers deserve a spot on the mountain for their work in the 1880s. The Bisons haven't had anyone long enough to make a huge impact in the modern era; it's the nature of the business. If I needed a baseball player, I would lean to Warren Spahn, who was raised here and went on to have the best career of any left-handed pitcher in history. Still, he left town after he was finished with high school, and I'd like more of a connection.
We've still got an open spot on the hill, and I think I would pick John Tavares of the Bandits. He has been here since 1992, and he has set records in indoor lacrosse that may never fall. Tavares has become a consensus pick as the best player ever in his sport, and how many people with Buffalo connections ever can say that? I'm a little biased because I cover the sport, and I know some would never put a lacrosse player on such a mountain, but his career is unmatched.
So, I've got Kelly, Perreault, Lanier and Tavares, although I could be convinced to replace Tavares with Levy. You may disagree. Come to think of it, I hope you do.
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