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Tampa Bay sports greats inspire spirited debate

Great sports debates can arise anywhere, anytime.

They may be best suited for a barbershop and an avuncular guy who chooses an almanac over a smartphone.

The combination of beer, wings and glowing televisions also can set off an argument for the ages.

But the Mahaffey Theater?

Sure, why not.

Fans know any time is a good time to revel in rhetorical questions and get hyped about hypothetical scenarios. It can be an intense battle about Jordan vs. LeBron (Jordan) or who would win a fictional game between a powerhouse college team and the NFL's weakest squad (Alabama could not beat the Jacksonville Jaguars).

The Mahaffey sparked one of those "no perfect answer" questions because the Tampa Bay Lightning used the posh setting to christen its 2013-14 season with an invitation-only event for season ticket holders and sponsors Tuesday night.

Not only did the event send a welcoming message to the team's Pinellas fans, it showcased two people who represent Tampa Bay's sports elite.

The Lightning presented attendees with a program that introduced players and gave general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper a chance to talk expectations.

Donning a blue Lightning jersey with his name on the back, former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks proved a surprising but entertaining choice to introduce Yzerman. It made sense, however, when you remembered that Brooks is now part of the Lightning family as general manager of the Tampa Bay Storm.

Moments later when Cooper announced Martin St. Louis as the team's new captain, I thought two of the five greatest athletes in Tampa Bay sports history just graced that stage.

And so the debate began. Why five? Because three isn't enough and 10 is too many? What do you mean, "Why five?" Don't ask questions like that during a sports debate.

My friend Mike didn't quibble with the choices of St. Louis and Brooks — few would. After all, Brooks has been a consummate pro and it will be a shock if he doesn't become a first-ballot choice for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January.

St. Louis has been a rock for the Lightning and continues to play at a high level.

But as for the other three slots? Mike pushed for Rowdies superstar Rodney Marsh and wrestler Dusty Rhodes. He was serious about Rhodes and his famed atomic elbow.

Marsh might make his list, but he misses mine, barely. If you think he receives surprising consideration, just go find a green-and-yellow fanatic and ask about those halcyon "kick-in-the-grass" days when the Rowdies became the area's first pro sports franchise.

No, my other three slots go to Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Evan Longoria. Selmon and Sapp, already Hall of Famers, are obvious choices.

Selmon became Tampa Bay's first great superstar and went on to become a community icon. And we spent a good part of the summer chronicling Sapp's NFL dominance.

I suspect the choice of Longoria will draw the most ire. Some will argue he still has much to prove and should be supplanted by Marsh, ex-Buc Ronde Barber or maybe another Lightning captain, Dave Andreychuk.

Admittedly, I'm hedging my bets with Longoria, but I'm convinced his overall career will be equal to the splendid moments he's already provided. The great ones come up big in big games and Longoria already possessed a highlight reel in that category going into Wednesday's wild card game.

So, let the debate begin.

That's all I'm saying.

Tampa Bay sports greats inspire spirited debate 10/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 3:45pm]

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