The voting to name Boston's Biggest Sports Legend is drawing to a close. Only Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, Bill Russell and Ted Williams have a shot at the title.
It's not an easy choice, but the going might get a lot harder a few years from now.
That's because, while all 64 names in the original bracket for the tournament are more than deserving, there are some young stars who could be Boston sports legends in the future.
Here are the candidates.
Edwin Rodriguez, Boxer
Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez is a boxer who has made his home just outside Boston in Worcester, Mass., since 1998, when he came to the United States from the Dominican Republic. The 25-year-old is unbeaten since turning pro in 2008 (15-0 with 11 TKOs) and posted an 84-9 record in his amateur career.
Rodriguez has made several national television appearances, most recently on April 30 on Showtime when he defeated Kevin Engel in 2:35 of Round 6. In March, he crumbled George Armenta with a left hook just 47 seconds into the bout. His rise up the super middleweight ladder has been fast and furious, and national boxing personalities are taking notice.
"He's a rock-solid prospect," Michael Woods of The Sweet Science said. "He's the best Massachusetts prospect since … Lord … I'm blanking."
Rodriguez is expected to contend for a title by 2011, so keep your eyes on the pay-per-view events.
Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
It's not often a seventh-rounder from the 2009 draft with just 350 receiving yards is considered a possible legend.
Julian Edelman, however, impressed during his rookie year with the Patriots. After seeing scant time on the field — mostly due to a broken arm suffered in Week 6 — Edelman gave a Week 17 performance that turned heads. The youngster hauled in 10 receptions for 103 yards and drew immediate comparisons to Wes Welker, another scrappy wide receiver who excels in the slot and may be considered a Boston legend himself before his career ends.
Edelman will get a chance to establish himself as a wide receiver to be feared during the first half of the upcoming season as Welker continues his rehabilitation from a torn ACL and MCL.
Jonathan Papelbon, Closer, Boston Red Sox
The oldest player on the list, Jonathan Papelbon is 29 years old and in his sixth season with the Red Sox. He already is the most successful closer in Red Sox history with 161 saves and counting.
He has finished 241 games in Boston, three games behind Dick Radatz in that category among Red Sox pitchers and is closing in on Bob Stanley (376) for the career lead in that category. Papelbon also has been one of the most influential pitchers in team history, ranking behind only Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Luis Tiant in Win Probability Added.
Papelbon will be a free agent after 2011, and while many have already installed Daniel Bard as the closer of the future, there's no guarantee of that. Papelbon might stay and extend his streak of dominance for years to come, much like Mariano Rivera has done for the Yankees. Even if Pap leaves, however, he has done enough to be in the running for legendary status.
After all, his career ERA is 1.92 with 318 innings to his name, and he has the record for most scoreless innings to start a postseason career with 26.
Milan Lucic, Left Wing, Boston Bruins
Milan Lucic recently finished up his third season with the Bruins, and it's easy to forget that Lucic is 21 years old. In a league where 40-somethings aren't rare, Lucic may have decades ahead of him to forge a lasting legacy on Boston sports.
Lucic signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins after four years with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL and immediately made an impact with his willingness to drop the gloves and go at it. He's received the honor of what's known as a Gordie Howe hat trick — notching a goal, assist and fight in the same game. He has a traditional hat trick to his name as well.
Lucic isn't a prolific goalscorer but very well could eventually string together several seasons with at least 20 goals to his name. With his willingness to fight, his burgeoning career as a solid right-hand man to the team's primary lamplighter has only started.
Kendrick Perkins, Center, Boston Celtics
It's easy to forget that Perkins is just 25 after being a first-round pick in 2003 and starting at center for the last four seasons. Perkins is the rock in the middle of the Celtics' vaunted defense and can go toe-to-toe with the best of them.
His scoring output has increased since he entered the NBA. He registered a career high of 10.1 points per game this season and crashes the boards with aplomb. Many people, including Perkins himself, believe he's the best post defender in basketball, and his play against Dwight Howard of the Magic has enabled the Celtics to avoid double-teaming Superman. That ability is a large reason why the C's have complete control of their Eastern Conference finals series against Orlando.
Michael Finley characterized Perkins as a "throwback" center, which coach Doc Rivers agreed with, comparing Perk to Tree Rollins. The former big man spent 18 years in the NBA and retired with the fourth-most blocked shots in a career.
Jerod Mayo, Linebacker, New England Patriots
"With the No. 10 pick in the 2008 NFL draft, the New England Patriots select Jerod Mayo, linebacker, Tennessee."
With that proclamation from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, many across the nation scoffed at the selection. Mayo was considered a late first-round talent for whom the Pats had reached. That's not the opinion anymore, as Mayo was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Through two seasons, Mayo has clearly become the anchor of the linebacking corps, with back-to-back seasons of 100-plus tackles. The Pats have remade their defense the last couple of years, and Mayo's emerged as the centerpiece. He has a ways to go to match the exploits of Patriots greats such as Tedy Bruschi, but Mayo is making strides.
Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Boston Red Sox
There are not many great left-handed pitchers in Red Sox history, but Jon Lester is well on his way to becoming one of them.
Lester is considered by some to have been the unofficial ace of the Red Sox' starting rotation in 2009. While April has posed a problem for him the past two seasons, he has gone on to rack up Cy Young-caliber numbers in the ensuing months and already has a bevy of accomplishments to his name, a no-hitter and a World Series-clinching victory against the Colorado Rockies in 2007 among them.
Another notable accomplishment is that he beat cancer early in his major league career.
With Lester in the fold through at least 2013 (with a 2014 club option), he'll continue to build on his 46 victories so far, boasting one of the better win percentages in history for a starter with at least 100 starts.
Tuukka Rask, Goaltender, Boston Bruins
Andrew Raycroft's career may have fizzled in Boston, but he continues to produce for the Bruins, as his trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs netted Rask in 2006.
It took a few years for Rask to break into the NHL, but he did so in grand style for the Boston Bruins, helping an injury-depleted squad with issues scoring get all the way to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Rask did so by being the only goalie with a goals-against average below 2.00 (1.97) and save percentage over .930 (.931) in the regular season.
Rask is just 23 and seems entrenched at the goaltender position for the Bruins for years to come … or at least through 2011-12, the season through which he is signed.
Rajon Rondo, Point Guard, Boston Celtics
The exploits of Rajon Rondo are obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the Celtics' playoffs run in 2010. Everyone is aware that this team belongs to the 24-year-old now, not the Big Three.
Rondo's exploits have become must-see lately. For instance, there was his near-unprecedented triple-double — only Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson can say they matched Rondo's 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in a playoff game. Rondo also tied a career high and franchise record in the playoffs with 19 assists. He is now the single-season leader in assists on the Celtics' leaderboard, snapping Bob Cousy's mark.
The accolades just keep rolling in for the youngster, whom some consider the best point guard in the game today. Sorry, Steve Nash. Sorry, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Looks like ol' No. 9 will be raised to the rafters when Rondo bows out of the game. Until then, fans get to watch one of the truly exciting players in the game.
Dustin Pedroia, Second Baseman, Boston Red Sox
For a hitter, there are six honors worth striving for: All-Star, Gold Glove, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger and World Series champion.
Dustin Pedroia snagged all six in a two-year span beginning with his 2007 rookie campaign. Oh, and he's doing pretty well financially, inking a six-year, $40.5 million extension prior to the 2009 season.
And now, at age 26, with everything he could have ever wanted, his competitive fire still burns hotly.
There's no denying the impact the diminutive second baseman has had on the Red Sox. He personifies the words of "gritty" and "scrappy." His attitude pushes others to do better. He's a .300 hitter with developing power who can deliver ringing doubles and near-flawless play in the field.
He's only beginning his fourth full year in the majors, but he's already entrenched himself as an indelible part of the Red Sox. Out of anyone on this list, he's the best bet to stand tall among the greats when the time comes again to determine Boston's Biggest Sports Legend.
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