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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Steven McDonald’s legacy of courage will live on

Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers accepts

Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers accepts the 2016 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award from Steven McDonald before a game against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on April 7, 2016. Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images / Jared Silber

Those of us old enough to remember the summer of 1986, and life in a more dangerous New York City, never would have forgotten the senseless shooting of police officer Steven McDonald.

But had McDonald chosen a different way to live with his injuries over the ensuing three decades, his story would have faded with time, and his death at age 59 Tuesday would have been more a historical footnote than a current event.

Current he was, though, from the very beginning, deciding that being paralyzed from the neck down need not mean disappearing into a private life, invisible to the public he served.

Instead, he went on serving.

McDonald was out there, early and often, promoting forgiveness and peace, limited physically but not confined to the shadows. And nowhere was he more visible, at least to those of us who follow sports in general and hockey in particular, than Madison Square Garden.

McDonald was a family man and a cop, proudly so. But to many New Yorkers, he forever also will be known as an avid, unshakable fan of the Rangers. That might seem trivial at a time like this, and perhaps it is. But it was fundamental in never letting us forget the sacrifice McDonald made, and in reminding us that he still was like anyone else — just a New Yorker with a favorite team.

The Rangers issued a statement after the news broke, but this was no pro forma acknowledgment for a famous fallen fan. It was heartfelt, and spoke for the team’s fans everywhere.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Detective Steven McDonald, a cherished member of the Rangers family,” it said. “Steven exemplified the true meaning of the word hero and also personified the ‘Blueshirt Faithful.’ He is an inspiration to us all and his legacy will continue to live on in our hearts and minds.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Patti Ann and Conor and the entire McDonald family.”

When James P. O’Neill, the city’s police commissioner, tweeted the news of McDonald’s death, he noted that he “loved cops/community/life & @NYRangers.”

They loved him back. Twitter tributes poured in from Rangers past and present, including Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Talbot and Dylan McIlrath.

McDonald had other sports interests. After the Mets won the 1986 World Series, pitcher Jesse Orosco gave him the glove he was wearing when the Mets clinched their still most recent championship. But hockey was his passion. He was a regular at games, even the nondescript regular-season ones.

The Rangers give an annual “Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award” to a player who exemplifies his grit; McDonald did the presentations. It first was presented to Jan Erixon in 1987-88 and features a who’s who of Rangers, such as Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves (who won it five times), Wayne Gretzky and Henrik Lundqvist.

In a Rangers video about the award that circulated widely Tuesday, McDonald calls the Garden a “home away from home” and says, “My appreciation of New York Rangers hockey is something I live with 12 months a year. It’s something my wife, my son and I share. It helps me to live day-to-day the way that I am. It’s been a great gift.”

His son, Conor, a fourth-generation policeman, says in the video, “It’s God, family and the New York Rangers to my dad.”

Conor then laughs and adds, “Sometimes, it’s Rangers over the family.”

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