Sanchez Could Become One Of Area's Sports Beacons

Brian FitzsimmonsContributor IAugust 23, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 14:  Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets leaves the field after his first game against the St. Louis Rams during their preseason game at Giants Stadium on August 14, 2009  in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Mark Sanchez, though in the infant stages of what could be a remarkable career, has the rare chance to become an icon in the New York area.


The Jets successfully moved up in the draft for chance to acquire Sanchez, a quarterback with enough juice in his right arm and plenty of charisma necessary to blossom into a life-long winner. Now, it’s time to watch and hope.


We’ve been lucky enough to witness several exceptional athletes who not only finished, or will finish, as the ultimate masters of their craft but also spent their entire careers with one of our teams.


Over the last 25 years, that precious fraternity is occupied by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Lawrence Taylor and Martin Brodeur.


Frank Sinatra gave the New York area quite a label when he sang, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.”


To be honest, the fact that Jeter, Rivera, Taylor and Brodeur never made it anywhere else is endearing. It’s something New York sports fans have cherished, are cherishing and should always cherish.


Now, do we dare claim Sanchez has the chance to join the club one day, even after just one preseason game?


I realize I’m playing with fire because millions of negative factors could derail this dream. But wouldn’t it be something if maybe, just maybe, the Jets found the next one?


Jeter has been a fixture at shortstop for the Yankees, and is well on his way toward reaching 3,000 hits. But now we understand why the four-time World Series champion was chosen to close out Yankee Stadium with a speech so meaningful, it will forever be cemented in the hearts of those who called the old place home.


Like Jeter, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees without Rivera, arguably the greatest reliever in baseball history.


When it comes to football in our town, Taylor is a staple in the Giants’ franchise. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time Super Bowl champion and life-long member of Big Blue.


Drifting away from our usual pastimes, it’s a shame our country now views hockey as a niche sport because many are missing out on witnessing the best goaltender to skate on NHL ice. We toss around words like ‘best’ or ‘greatest’ in sports like teenage girls use ‘love’ in the midst of high school crushes but there’s proof Brodeur is second to none.


This past year, he surpassed Hall of Fame netminder Patrick Roy for first place on the all-time wins list. In addition, Brodeur needs just two shutouts to tie Terry Sawchuk’s record of 103.


"He's getting records that won't be broken, in my opinion, and for him to be that great and for me to be a part of it, it's amazing to be a part of history,” Devils left wing Zach Parise told me after his three-time Stanley Cup-winning teammate notched his 100th career shutout on March 1.


See, everyone can feel it when greatness is present.


Jeter, Rivera, Taylor and Brodeur changed our ways of rooting for New York area teams over the past 25 years, and reminding ourselves of the second-tier greats and their asterisks in this town only enhances that group’s allure.


Phil Simms was a Big Apple lifer and winner, but was he really superior at his job?


Jason Kidd took the Nets and made them contenders before he demanded a trade, triggering a messy divorce.


Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky helped shape an era in Rangers history – as did Mike Piazza with the Mets - but they each spent many years with opposing teams.


Patrick Ewing, who made it extremely difficult to leave off the list, caused considerable erosion on his legacy when he fled to Seattle in 2000.


Needless to say, the list goes on and on.


We have some gifted residents with potential to join Jeter, Rivera, Taylor and Brodeur in the next decade or so, too.


Maybe David Wright will spend his whole career with the Mets and even, gulp, lead them to the biggest of victories in the fall.


Maybe Henrik Lundqvist will play long enough with the blue shirts to sniff Brodeur’s win mark.


Maybe John Tavares, the top pick in June’s NHL draft, will flourish as a Sidney Crosby clone with the rebuilding Islanders.


Yes, perhaps Eli Manning is closer than any of those aforementioned names to reaching the paramount and becoming a true icon. With a new, hefty contract signed and sealed this offseason, he just needs to hoist one or two more Vince Lombardi trophies.


But somehow, the kid with one foot off the start line seems to be the most fun to root for.


Sanchez, who always says the right things, began his NFL career with an electric 48-yard completion to David Clowney in last week’s exhibition opener against the Rams. Not a bad start.


It gave us a little taste of what may be a routine occurrence for years to come. It opened the door for what all of us in the New York area love most about sports: hope.


Hope and continuous execution are two completely different things, though. In fact, that line separates Jeter, Rivera, Taylor and Brodeur from the others.


It would be something if Sanchez joins them one day.


Wouldn’t it?


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