Ranking the top 50 Boston athletes of the past 50 years: No. 20 through 11

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Who are the top 50 Boston athletes of past 50 years? Curran ranks 20-11 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We're getting down to it now.

We've got a couple of slots to lead it off today then a slew of Sox from the 70s and one Big Ticket item. See you tomorrow for my all-time, all-times.

Curran's Top 50 Boston athletes of the past 50 years: No. 50-41 | No. 40-31 | No. 30-21

Editor's Note: Below are players No. 20 through No. 11 in Curran's Top 50. Stay tuned throughout the week as Curran unveils 10 new players each day. Coming Friday: The top 10!

20. Troy Brown

The Patriots aren’t winning any Super Bowl in 2001 without Troy Brown. You can say that about a lot of guys who (spoiler alert) have been criminally left off of this list, including Mike Vrabel, Lawyer Milloy and Adam Vinatieri, for starters.

But Troy was the engine on offense in 2001. Actually, he was the offense in Bill Belichick’s first three seasons here. From 2000 to 2002, Brown had 281 catches for 3,033 yards, ran for another 151 and had an absurd 5,451 all-purpose yards from 1999 to 2002. In the 2001 and 2003 playoffs, he caught 35 passes in six total games for 428 yards. His final-drive receptions in SB36 and SB39 set up those wins that came off the foot of Vinatieri.

Tough as hell with a knack for making the impossible possible, the original TB was must see TV. Didn’t matter if it was helping erase a deficit against the Giants in a must-win game in 1996 FROM HIS BACK, keying the 2001 AFC Championship Game win or breaking the Miami curse. Troy was money in the bank always.

19. Julian Edelman

Full disclosure. Wrote a book with the guy. OK. Even though he’d still be right here even if I couldn’t stand him, I feel better now. I had to put Edelman and Brown side-by-side. Same guy. Same approach. Same production. Same ultimate Patriot persona.

He definitely deserves serious Canton consideration because of his performance in the very biggest games against the very best competition. But HOF voters, pointy-headed media and nuance-free fans have a predilection for stat compilers who stack meaningless Pro Bowl honors and regular-season production. So guys like Edelman are disqualified from consideration while the merits of somebody like six-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green will be seriously debated.

Know how many special teams snaps A.J. Green took in his eight years with the Bengals? Four. Know how many special teams touchdowns Julian Edelman scored on his 250 returns in the regular season and playoffs? Four.  FOH applies here. Have some Jules.

18. Doug Flutie

From 1982 when he took over as quarterback for the always-overlooked Boston College football team until 2005 when he fittingly finished his career with the Patriots, Flutie was always on our mind. From Natick to Chestnut Hill, Flutie scaled the BC depth chart and owned the autumn when he won the 1984 Heisman at BC, taking them to No. 4 in the nation and winning the Cotton Bowl.

He owned some of the summer when he signed with Don Trump’s New Jersey Generals in 1985. New England watched closely as Flutie got hosed in Chicago for two seasons after the USFL folded and rejoiced when he came to the Patriots the first time in 1988. After his exile to Canada in 1990, we spent the next seven years occasionally going to bars to watch Flutie play in the CFL and win Grey Cups. Then, when he came back to the Bills and the NFL, his magical story competed with (if not eclipsed) Sunday interest in Pete Carroll’s Patriots. Not with everyone, mind you. Flutie Fatigue is a very real thing. I get it, I guess. Easy punchline for the over-exuberant, ever-adolescent, little guy. But anyone alleging Flutie wasn’t compelling, talented, a one-of-a-kind watch and a winner? That person is suspect.

17. Ty Law

From here on out, everybody on the list is a Hall of Famer except for one center fielder and one Roger Clemens. And thankfully the HOF list includes THE GREAT … Ty Law. This is a personal preference vote. I remind you of that because -- as noted a couple of days ago when I stuck legendary offensive lineman John Hannah at 47 -- this list IS a popularity contest.

But Law was also one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks for a decade -- the very best in my opinion for a four-year stretch -- and his pick-six in SB36 with one finger in the air is an everlasting image in Boston sports.

He was also funny as shit. I mean, genuinely one of the funniest and most fun people I’ve spent time with. But more than that, he was the biggest of big-game defenders and he brought a certain attitude to the Patriots and the defense that made them almost invincible.

16. Kevin McHale

Speaking of invincible, we are now on to the great pumpkin Kevin McHale. (Johnny Most used to call McHale’s overhead turnaround fallaway, “the pumpkin” I have no idea why. But it fit. “Annnnd, McHale now with the pumpkin, up and in…”)

The array of impossible underneath moves that were simultaneously balletic and awkward were forever imitated in gyms, driveways and dirt courts all over New England all through the 80s when the Celtics were winning three titles and McHale was Herman Munstering up and down the court.

Like Law, like Edelman, like a few other guys we will get to soon, the personality was part of the package but the invincibility was what made them truly compelling. Get mesmerized.

15. Carlton Fisk

Pudge wasn’t particularly funny. But he is one of the greatest catchers in MLB history, author of one of the most famous home runs in MLB history, our foil to the hated Thurman Munson in the 70s and full-blooded New England. Born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, raised in Charlestown, New Hampshire, a two-sport athlete at UNH, a Red Sox draftee in 1967, “Pudge” reportedly scored 42 points and pulled down 38 rebounds in a 1965 high school tournament game for Charlestown High.

The high cheekbones over the massive chaw, the unsmiling face and the head tilted back, Fisk was everything your grandfather wanted in a Red Sox player. He told you so and, as a result, you watched Fisk’s every move.

Carlton Fisk was an amazingly influential sports figure. He was stodgy, prickly, judgmental, stubborn and fancied himself a guardian at the gate for “playing the game the right way,” all of which can give you some mixed feelings. Still, his departure to the White Sox after Boston sent him a new contract a day after the deadline made him a free agent in 1981. He played with Chicago until 1993. All that business stuff was beyond me in 1980. I just wanted to use my Fisk stance and pull everything to left.

14. Kevin Garnett

Juxtaposed with the stoic Fisk from Charlestown, New Hampshire who grew up here and in the Sox organization, we have KG. Born in South Carolina, schooled at Chicago’s Farragut Academy, weaned in the NBA with the T-Wolves, the Big Ticket came to Boston, grabbed the city by the lapels and screamed directly in its face.

Tom Brady may have willed his teammates to win. Garnett scared them into it.

Tom E. Curran

Have we ever witnessed more raw intensity from any athlete? I’m going with no. Tom Brady may have willed his teammates to win. Garnett scared them into it. He was here six seasons and averaged just 15.7 points (felt like more, didn’t it?) and 8.3 rebounds per game. But the numbers don’t tell even the half of what Kevin Garnett meant to the Celtics and what it meant to Celtics fans when he brought them one title and then to the precipice of another two years later.

13. Fred Lynn

Freddie Lynn. Freddie Lynn. Freddie Lynn. Nobody could shut up about Freddie Lynn in 1975 or for the rest of the decade. That’s because, as a rookie, Freddie Lynn was Rookie of the Year, MVP and lugged the Red Sox to a World Series where he was an instrumental part in the seven-act tragedy that was the ’75 Series.

As great an offensive player as Lynn was, it was his defensive play in center field that caused a whole bunch of gashed-up ribs and bloody armpits among school-aged kids in the 70s. Freddie was forever leaping at the wall, reaching over it and dragging back home runs or otherwise crashing, diving and sprawling which meant we’d imitate and injure ourselves. Just like he did, actually.

12. Ray Bourque

When they throw a parade for you after you win the Stanley Cup for another franchise, you were kind of a big deal. And that’s what happened for Ray Bourque in June of 2001.

Remember, that was the cusp of the Golden Era of Boston sports and its championships. It had been a while since we had a title to celebrate and BORKEEEE! winning with the Avalanche was a nice surrogate. Plus, he played here for 21 damn years (’79-’80 to midway through most of the ’99-00 season), won five Norris Trophies, played 1,518 games and scored 1,506 points while with the Bruins.

He’s one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history and right behind Bobby Orr as perhaps the greatest Bruin of all-time.

11. Roger Clemens

Here’s a prime case of where excellence, dominance and the grip a player had on New England and my attention trumped likability. Clemens is like the anti-Isaiah Thomas (I had him back at 50). He was a dink for so much of his time here but what the hell, it’s not like I was living with the guy. He was in town to pitch and holy shit, a Clemens start was must-see TV.

He was here 13 years and went 192-111 with 81 complete games from 1986 through 1992. A complete game is when the starting pitcher throws all nine innings. He also pitched 32 shutouts. He had three Cy Youngs, an MVP, and one song parody in which Falco’s “Amadeus” was bastardized to “RogerClemensRogerClemens. RoooogerClemens.” I can’t hear his name without singing that in my head.

Most of us can’t think of the guy without lamenting the myriad bad Rocket moments that occurred. BE THAT AS IT MAY!!!! God he was good.