GLENDALE, Ariz. — Whenever Coyotes captain Shane Doan retires, be it this summer, next summer or the one after that, he will go down as one of the greatest sports icons the Valley has ever known. There have been many attempts over the years to construct a Mt. Rushmore of Valley sports, but when assessing athletes only, which athlete most strongly symbolizes each of the five major sports teams in the Phoenix area: the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Suns, Coyotes and ASU football?
Here are our choices. Yours may be different, so feel free to opine in the comments section.
In the conversation: Shane Doan, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen
Our choice: Shane Doan
Our reasoning: Doan has played all 21 seasons of his career with the franchise, the last 20 in the Valley. While there is no denying the popularity Roenick and Tkachuk enjoyed while they were here, not to mention their considerable efforts in the community, Doan has become synonymous with the Coyotes, through some thick and far more thin.
“It would be strange,” goalie Mike Smith said when asked how it would feel if Doan did not return next season. “He’s meant so much to this organization, the Valley, Arizona, kids hockey here… in all of pro sports, there’s probably not a better person to be able to play with.”
Our choice: Larry Fitzgerald
Our reasoning: Like Doan, Fitzgerald has played his entire career with the franchise and took them to their highest points, a Super Bowl run, three division titles, and three straight 10-plus win seasons. Warner and Wilson clearly played a major hand in some of those runs, but Fitz is synonymous with the Cardinals and is viewed by all who know him as the consummate pro.
In the conversation: Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Steve Finley, Paul Goldschmidt
Our choice: Randy Johnson
Our reasoning: There have been and are other great Diamondbacks, but no two players rise above the crop like these Johnson and Gonzalez. Gonzo was more popular with fans, he hit 57 homers in 2001 and he did have the World Series-winning hit, but Johnson was far more accomplished. He won four Cy Young Awards with Arizona and a World Series in which he was named co-MVP. He owns club records for wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and ERA by a starter.
In the conversation: Steve Nash, Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Walter Davis, Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams
Our choice: Steve Nash
Our reasoning: This was the most difficult choice. No player commanded a bigger audience than Barkley while he was here, and he led the Suns closer to an NBA title than any other team — even the 1976 club which was the franchise’s only other team to make the Finals. Majerle’s enduring presence and popularity in the Valley earn him some points, KJ carried this franchise for many years, Westphal and Adams took the Suns to the brink (Westphal as a coach, too), and Davis is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Still, in his eight seasons, Nash won two MVP awards (Barkley won one), led the Suns to three conference finals, five seasons with 54 or more wins, all the while, carrying himself with grace and professionalism.
In the conversation: Pat Tillman, Jake Plummer, Danny White, Terrell Suggs, John Jefferson
Our choice: Pat Tillman
Our reasoning: Plummer was the only other player we seriously considered here. He led the Sun Devils to the brink of a national title and brought an identity to a program that still hadn’t established one on the national stage, despite the efforts of former coach Frank Kush. Still, given Tillman’s national stature, his ultimate sacrifice, his enduring place in the hearts of Valley residents, and his perfection of the scholar-athlete balance, he earns top billing. They named a tunnel after the guy at Sun Devil Stadium, and an annual run that draws thousands. It’s hard to get more iconic than that.