I’ve been watching ESPN’s eight-part documentary on famed Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. It’s an interesting watch for me, because I certainly remember Jeter’s Yankees in the back-half of his career and, as a fan of the Red Sox, how much I detested those teams.
So far, the documentary is well-paced, has interviews with just about every prominent Yankee at the time and tells a great story. What I love most of all is that the documentary takes on the momentum of Jeter’s ascension to Yankee legend while making clear the foreboding implications of his celebrity profile in the Big Apple, akin to Jack’s narrative in the movie Titanic.
Another aspect of Jeter’s career is how special the position of shortstop for the New York Yankees is in the sports world. Jeter recalls wanting to be a Yankee shortstop his whole life, and the joy when he’s drafted with the sixth overall pick in the MLB Draft to his dream team is overflowing. The actual history of the Yankees’ shortstop list isn’t the most impressive (Didi Gregorious is in the top five, after all), but the most prominent player on the most globally recognizable sports brand is about as glamorous as a sports position gets.
Now that I’m fascinated with this concept of most high profile and storied positions in sports, I’m going to compile my own ranking across both the college and pro ranks.
My criteria: national profile/exposure, history, importance to the actual team and, inevitably, the current state of the position. Sure, the Colts quarterback position has Johnny Unitas, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning to brag about, but the role has turned into a revolving door as of late and doesn’t play in a big-time market — in fact, Manning flipped the script and elevated Indianapolis as a city. Sometimes the pressure can be crushing and actually be a negative, but holding these positions ensures exposure (and, in one case, color commentating contracts).
10. New York Yankees shortstop
History: Derek Jeter, Phil Rizzuto, Frank Crosetti
Current: Gleybar Torres
The actual list isn’t as prolific as I anticipated from watching The Captain, so this ranking is more about the prominence. Playing as the most prominent defensive position in the most global American sports brand means that starting at shortstop for the Bronx Bombers is where the lights are the brightest and the pressure mounts quickly. Plus, playing in the shadow of Derek Jeter ups the ante. Recently, Didi Gregorious and Gleybar Torres have filled in the position adequately, though not at Jeter’s Hall of Fame level.
9. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback
History: John Hadl, Dan Fouts, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers
Current: Justin Herbert
Charger quarterback wasn’t the first position that came to mind, but I can make a strong case for even higher on this list. The Charger franchise is central to the NFL’s aerial evolution, from the Air Coryell days to Dan Fouts’ valiant playoff efforts to the 21st century dynamo that closed out the franchise’s stay in San Diego. And in addition to that storied history with multiple Hall of Famers, the Chargers currently play in the country’s second-biggest media market in a palace of a stadium, with one of the league’s elite passers, Justin Herbert, under center.
8. Chicago Bulls lead guard
History: Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler
Current: DeMar DeRozan/Lonzo Ball
There isn’t much pre-1985 history to write about, but Chicago has bore witness to basketball excellence in the decades since. No. 23 established the Bulls lead guard (a position I’m defining as the best/dominant player in the backcourt) as the center of attention in the basketball universe, and since his retirement it’s been all about who can return the Bulls to glory. Had MVP Derrick Rose not suffered a career-changing injury, the Bulls could have challenged LeBron’s Heat teams, and in the back half of the decade Jimmy Butler stole the hearts of the Bulls faithful. Between All Star acquisition DeMar DeRozan and the younger Lonzo Ball, the Chicago backcourt returns plenty of talent to its 2022-23 iteration.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide running back
History: Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry, Trent Richardson, Najee Harris, Shaun Alexander
Current: Jahmyr Gibbs
Just taking the mantle of top Crimson Tide running back seems like enough to merit Heisman consideration. In the past decade-plus, Ingram and Henry have won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding player, Richardson was a top-five pick in the draft and Harris is the all-time Crimson Tide rusher. Seahawks legend Shaun Alexander did pretty well for himself, too. Though the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban have established themselves as capable of a fearsome passing attack in recent seasons behind quarterbacks Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Bryce Young, Crimson Tide running backs always have SEC defenses on alert.
6. New England Patriots quarterback
History: Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe, Tony Eason
Current: Mac Jones
Like the MJ ranking, the Patriots’ quarterback role is defined by one player – Tom Brady. Before Brady, it was about the player he replaced for the role in Super Bowl starter Drew Bledsoe. Now that Brady is in Tampa Bay, all eyes are on Mac Jones as the successor. Whether Brady or not, the Patriots quarterback position since 1985 has been at the forefront of the narrative of NFL history. This should continue until coach Bill Belichick retires, and maybe even longer for the dynasty of the 21st century.
5. Los Angeles Lakers lead guard
History: Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich
Current: Russell Westbrook
What a freefall between the historical legends and the current “star.” Magic Johnson ran the Showtime Lakers in the 80s, Bryant revived the Lakers’ prominence with five titles and a three-peat and Jerry West is the literal logo of the NBA. Nowadays, though, the spotlight shines on the Laker frontcourt with forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while Russell Westbrook sputtered in his first season out west. Could trade target Kyrie Irving be the next lead guard for the Lakers? We’ll have to see in the coming months, but he’d have a lot to live up to for Los Angeles.
4. Texas Longhorns quarterback
History: Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Sam Ehlinger
Current: Quinn Ewers
Texas football has had no shortage of hype, and that’s what this list is all about. From Vince Young scampering in for the national title-winning touchdown to Colt McCoy tussling with Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford to Sam Ehlinger’s gritty play in the Red River Rivalry, there’s been some real talent in Austin. More is on the way too, with legendary recruit Arch Manning committed to the Longhorns. There’s something about the Texas mystique that makes the gunslinger under center more of a hero than a player.
3. Oklahoma Sooners quarterback
History: Sam Bradford, Kyler Murray, Jason White, Baker Mayfield
Current: Dillon Gabriel
I’d give the Sooners the edge over the Longhorns because they actually have the Heisman trophies to prove their success and prioritize results over hype. The Lincoln Riley era saw the Sooners churn out Heisman winners on the regular, with Mayfield and Murray winning in consecutive seasons. Bradford might be the most beloved quarterback in school history, and White won a Heisman of his own in the early 2000s. Dillon Gabriel is next up to prove the Sooners can continue their dominance after the departure of Riley to Los Angeles.
2. Green Bay Packers quarterback
History: Bart Starr, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers
Current: Aaron Rodgers
Find three more iconic quarterbacks for a franchise than Bart Starr, the winner of the first two Super Bowls, Brett Favre, a four-time MVP and Aaron Rodgers, the owner of the last two MVPs. All three have won Super Bowls and in different decades, and each has been the pinnacle of the quarterback position in their years in action. Playing in Titletown for the league’s most storied franchise in America’s most popular sport raises the profile even higher. Certainly, Aaron Rodgers’ successor is going to have plenty of attention, whenever (if) Rodgers ever steps away.
1. Dallas Cowboys quarterback
History: Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo
Current: Dak PrescottMaybe I’m biased, but the Cowboy quarterback has to be number one on this list. Dallas quarterbacks have a storied history, from dynasties in the 70s and 90s with Roger the Dodger and Troy Aikman and modern contenders with Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. Danny White and Don Meredith also rocked the star, making this the pro sports position with the most depth (and close to the most Super Bowl wins). Then there is the exposure – Aikman and Romo are now premier broadcasters for ESPN and CBS, respectively, and Cowboy QBs have no difficulties finding endorsements and fan followings. Sure, the pressure is high, but playing quarterback for the Cowboys is truly a special distinction.