If I say Mount Rushmore, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
You might think of the sculpture carved into the granite face of the South Dakota mountains. The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln represent four great Americans.
But if you’re a sports fan, Mount Rushmore has a different meaning for you. It means the four greatest of … whatever.
Like, the four greatest quarterbacks. Or the four greatest right-handed power hitters. Or the four greatest tennis players. We’re talking all-time.
It’s the perfect fodder for loud arguments at the bar or lunch or while grilling the brats at the tailgate party. (Speaking of which, you could even do the Mount Rushmore of tailgate foods. I got brats, burgers, dogs and ribs.)
That brings us to the Mount Rushmore of Tampa Bay sports. We might not have the history of New York or Boston, the tradition of the Yankees or the Canadiens, the legacy of the Celtics or Steelers, but we do have enough great athletes, special teams and unforgettable moments for an impressive Mount Rushmore. And enough for a debate or two.
So, today, we look at the Mount Rushmore of each of our pro teams (the Bucs, Lightning and Rays), as well as college and individual sports.
But, we start with all of Tampa Bay.
Who makes up the Mount Rushmore of Tampa Bay sports?
On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer. The local teams have produced four and only four Hall of Famers who spent either all or an overwhelming majority of their careers in Tampa Bay.
But there was one that gave us pause.
There was no doubt about the first three on our mountain — or, because it’s Florida, we’re doing it in the form of a sand castle.
First up? Lee Roy Selmon, who feels like our first-ever pro athlete. The very first pick of the Bucs became the franchise’s first Hall of Famer. He was the first Hall of Famer of any Tampa Bay team. We named a highway after him. Not a street. Not an access road. A toll road that runs clear across the county.
Not only is Selmon an automatic pick when these debates come up, he’s the FIRST pick.
Next is another Bucs legend. Derrick Brooks.
You could make a solid argument that he’s the greatest Buc ever. A Super Bowl champ, an 11-time Pro Bowler, a defensive player of the year and first ballot Hall of Famer. A legend on the field and a leader off the field to this day in the Tampa Bay area.
Our third indisputable pick: Marty St. Louis.
Just two weeks ago, the former Lightning legend became a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer. He is the author of one of the greatest moments in Tampa Bay sports history as his double-overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final saved the season and forced a Game 7, which the Lightning won for its only championship.
No one can argue Selmon, Brooks and St. Louis.
The tough choice
That brings us to the debate part of our selections.
Our pick is the Bucs’ Warren Sapp.
On the field, there is no question about Sapp’s dominance. In fact, you could argue that the Super Bowl champ, defensive player of the year, seven-time Pro Bowler and Pro Football Hall of Famer was the best Tampa Bay athlete ever. He set the standard for the modern-day defensive tackle. If we’re talking strictly sports on the field, this discussion is over.
But Sapp’s off-field behavior has been sketchy. It includes allegations (though the charges were dropped) of domestic battery and soliciting and assaulting prostitutes. He hasn’t always been the most pleasant person. All that makes you wonder if you want him on any list representing the best of Tampa Bay.
Certainly, there are other great Hall of Famers who spent parts of their careers in Tampa Bay.
There’s the Lightning’s Dave Andreychuk, who captained the Cup-winning team and has a statue outside of Amalie Arena. There’s Wade Boggs, who capped his Hall-of-Fame career by coming back to his native Tampa and homering for his 3,000th hit while wearing a Rays uniform. But the best part of their careers were made far outside of Tampa Bay.
We could have cheated, and gone outside the box to pick a Tampa Bay native who played most of their careers elsewhere to fill out our Mount Rushmore. That would include legends such as Al Lopez, Lou Piniella and Doc Gooden.
Or we could have picked one of our Olympic or boxing champions. Or stars such as Vinny Lecavalier, Mike Alstott, John Lynch or Ronde Barber.
Most of all, we could have named the Rays’ Evan Longoria. In fact, it still feels wrong to leave Longo off any list of great Tampa Bay athletes.
In the end, however, Sapp was simply too great to leave him off the list and have that list have any meaning.
So there you have it.
Selmon. Brooks. St. Louis. Sapp. Our Hall of Famers. Our Mount Rushmore.
And, you know? That’s an impressive Mount Rushmore.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.