The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… Kobe by Default

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless, and Optimist Prime.

Well, 2010 was special year for sports fans!

Several very long-standing championship droughts ended, as the New Orleans Saints (43 year drought), Chicago Blackhawks (49 year drought), and the San Francisco Giants (56 year drought) each won championships in their respective leagues.

For those of us with a deep sense of national pride in our sports teams, the Men’s U.S. Hockey and Soccer teams treated us all to some of the most exciting and dramatic athletic performances of the year in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, respectively.

Speaking of soccer, 2010 will always be a special sports year to me as my alma mater, The University of Akron, won their first ever National Championship by claiming the College Cup in very exciting fashion over the Louisville Cardinals.

The year also had its share of goats.

LeBron James’ “Decision” proved to be a PR nightmare, Rex Ryan apparently has a foot “thing,” and we learned about everything from travel destinations to bathroom habits thanks to the incessant media bombardment of “Tiger Watch” and “Favre Watch.”

Like I said, 2010 was a special year.

But even with those spectacular performances and storylines, the task of naming a Sportsman of the Year is tricky. You see, despite the exciting performances that we were all treated to as fans, no one really separated themselves from the pack in terms of individual performances.

Sure, there are some obvious default options to look to. Drew Brees certainly became the face of the NFL in 2010 after leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl championship. Here’s the problem – I credit Sean Payton, not Drew Brees, with winning that game. While Brees had a remarkable season leading up to that Super Bowl, it is important to note that performance came in 2009, not 2010. So far this year Brees has played well, but Tom Brady and Michael Vick (along with several others) have been far more impressive.

Being quarterback of the championship NFL team is not enough on its own to earn the “Sportsman of the Year” crown.

Moving on to baseball, several pitchers tried to make cases for themselves. In the post-season, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Tim Lincecum all pitched to historic levels. Halladay’s post-season no-hitter was the greatest individual performance, but Lee’s and Lincecum’s pitching had far more significant value for their teams.

All three pitched exceptionally well, but once again none separated themselves enough from the others to claim the title.

In golf, Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the Masters was the perfect start to the 2010 season, but Lefty proved unable to do anything more as the season played out. After winning his third Green Jacket, Mickelson could do no better than taking one more second place finish, and only six top-ten finishes on the year.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments in NASCAR this year, having won his FIFTH consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. He has become nothing less than a one-man dynasty, and is right now the single most dominant person in sports. The only reason I am hesitant in recognizing Johnson any further is that I am forced to now question the quality of his competition. With all due respect to his accomplishments, are his championships the result of Johnson being that good, or is it that the rest of the field is that bad?

By default, we are forced to look to the NBA to find our Sportsman of the year.

In the NBA, names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony dominated headlines. Free agency in 2010 was undeniably the biggest sports story of the year, overshadowing even the NBA Finals. But it is Kobe Bryant who should be recognized as the Sportsman of 2010.

This year, Bryant quietly led the Los Angeles Lakers to a second consecutive NBA Championship. I never thought I would use the words “Kobe Bryant” and “quietly” in the same sentence, but in a year where it seemed that LeBron James was the ONLY person being talked about in the NBA, Bryant proved definitively that his Lakers, not LeBron’s Cavaliers (or now the Miami Heat) were the absolute best in the game. He led the Lakers to a Western Conference-leading 57 wins, and unofficially resolved the “Kobe versus LeBron” debate. This year brought Bryant the fifth title in his career, and the 17th in the history of the Lakers’ franchise.

Bryant’s stability and leadership (I really can’t believe I am writing this…) carried the Lakers into the post-season and through the Finals. When all the world was enamored with the courtship of LeBron James, Bryant busied himself with winning a championship.

Through nothing but his phenomenal talent, Kobe Bryant continues to keep the Lakers as the team to beat in the NBA. No matter how great the Miami super-team may hope to be, they are still playing in Kobe’s league.

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The Early Season NFL Injury Debate… Saints Get Bushwhacked

September 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Early season injuries are always tough. Just when a team is trying to find its stride, a key player gets injured and it is as if the team has to start over from scratch. Any rhythm the team has offensively is gone. All of the practice, the OTAs, the training camp, is rendered meaningless because the coaching staff and players have to hit reset on the approach to offense.

My colleagues, and others in the sports media, will argue for a variety of players as having the most important injury after three weeks of the regular season. However, most of those players either aren’t important enough to their team for the injury to be meaningful, or the team wasn’t important enough to the division, conference or league – that is, team expectations were low – so the injury just is not that big of a deal.

The first scenario includes players like Ryan Grant, Kevin Kolb, and Dennis Dixon. They are probably decent players, but not irreplaceable. The second scenario includes a player like Matthew Stafford. He may be important to his team, but the expectations for the Lions were so low that his absence doesn’t really impact anything.

Reggie Bush, however, is a different story. The division, conference, and league has high expectations for the returning champions. The Saints, in many ways, are a team defined by offense and big plays. Reggie Bush is the key to making the offense work. He is a versatile player, and one the team built its offense around. He can take a hand off, a direct snap, or split out wide in the slot and catch a slant pattern. He is the type of player a team has to get the ball to in space because he can quickly make a big play.

It is evident that a player is really tough to replace when beat writers start printing stories about how the team is dealing with the aftermath of the injury. Browse any local paper you’d like to, and you’ll see articles about how the Saints are going to struggle moving on from Bush’s broken fibula.

The biggest chance to look for in Bush’s absence is how the Saints will adjust to zone coverage, especially when facing a nickel package where the defense has at least one extra defensive back. Normally this is a situation where Bush would be sent in motion after lining up in the running back position. The idea is to create a mismatch with the opposition where Bush runs pass patterns against lower depth chart defensive backs or even linebackers. Especially on third down – a down the Saints are excellent at converting at 36 percent this season and a whopping 44.7 percent last season – as that is the preferred down for the opposition to mix up the defensive look.

Those who argue that Bush’s absence will not be felt are likely have their head stuck in the stat sheet. Bush isn’t setting records for rushing yards or receiving yards. But to reduce what Bush does for the Saints to stats reflects a poor understanding of Bush and, frankly, of football. Bush can change field position and break any play, and that is the most difficult type of player to replace in the lineup.

The Saints are not going to start playing terribly now. But, the team will have to hit reset and break out of an approach that has worked for several seasons. It is difficult, frustrating, and inconvenient, and there will be an adjustment period for the Saints. Bush isn’t the type of talent that can simply be replaced. The gameplan has to change, and that is why Bush’s injury is the most difficult to recover from at this point in the season.

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The Most Interesting 2010 NFL Matchup Debate… Rematch Grows To Rivarly

September 6, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

The most exciting game of the 2009 season was not the Super Bowl. It was the NFC Championship. It was a classic battle that ended in a dramatic overtime victory for the New Orleans Saints. At the center of this game was a quarterback showdown which could serve as the symbolic passing of the torch from the old to the new breed of gunslingers.

During the game Brett Favre was 28 for 46 with 310 passing yards, but it was his two interceptions – including a late-game bad decision which essentially cost the Vikings the game – that defined his game. Meanwhile, the Saints’ Drew Brees – who completed only 17 passes for less than 200 yards – managed to hook up for three touchdowns and no picks in a performance that propelled his team into the Super Bowl.

It was a thrilling game that helped bring an outstanding close to the 2009 football season.

So, what better way to kick off the next season than with a rematch?

If that one interception thrown by Favre at the end of the game really was the only reason that Minnesota lost, then they now have a chance to prove it, and stake a claim as the team to beat in the NFC (perhaps even the NFL).

After a not-very-surprising “holdout,” Favre has decided to return once more and play football (news that I’m sure the Medicare people were disappointed to find out). And with a supporting cast that is formidable even without Sidney Rice, Favre and the Vikings should once again be in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.

The Saints are fresh off of a whirlwind tour as reigning Super Bowl champions, where the players and coaches enjoyed all the fruits of victory. Brees is on the Madden ’11 cover, the team has visited the White House, and the city of New Orleans has held a six month party in the team’s honor.<br.

But the time for fun and games is over.

Winning one NFL championship is difficult enough. Winning consecutive championships is nearly impossible, and the schedulers have seen fit to make sure that the Saints are no exception.

The final piece to the puzzle, which pushes this game from being one of intrigue to being the game to watch for the entire season, is simple – it is the season kickoff.

Let’s face it, this has been a very slow summer for sports. The World Cup ended two months ago, LeBron has announced where his talents will be, and unless you are lucky enough to live in a city such as New York, Tampa Bay, or Atlanta, you probably lost interest in baseball somewhere back in late July.

We have been patient long enough, and it is time we all got a taste of the good stuff once more.

America’s favorite sport is about to get underway, and it launches its 2010 campaign with a superstar repeat of the best matchup from last season.


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The Best Sports Father-Son(s) Debate… Like Father Like Sons

June 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

For a Father’s Day themed article I was tempted to choose the New York Yankees as my subject. While it would appease the ever-relentless “Babe” here at TSD, it is also not THAT long ago that the Yankees famously became Pedro Martinez’s “Daddy.”

But, I decided it was impossible to pass up the opportunity to talk about one of the rare family combinations in the history of sports – the Mannings.

It seems that sports are full of great father-son legacies. Bobby and Barry Bonds come to mind, though they leave quickly due to the son’s choice to cheat. My colleagues have picked excellent examples as well. But very few times are the father and sons both great people and amazing athletes. Ever rarer, it seems, are the sons able to surpass the father’s accomplishments.

It is no secret that the New Orleans Saints, until recently, struggled mightily as a franchise. Those struggles began from the team’s inception back in 1967. It was not until 1971 that the team was able to draft the quarterback and leader it believed would lead to championships – second overall pick Archie Manning, the patriarch of the most successful and impressive father-son lineage in sports history.

Though Archie definitely did not experience ultimate success at a professional level, aside from two Pro Bowl appearances and an Offensive Player of the Year award in 1978, his understanding of the quarterback position helped propel his two sons, Peyton and Eli, to Super Bowl success. It takes a special kind of relationship for that to happen.

Many dads, if they were professional football players left unfulfilled when it comes to a championship, may choose to parent their sons differently than Archie. They may choose to push their sons, force football upon them, drill them nonstop, and micro-manage their lives to create the type of success they never had. Archie’s approach, if you listen to his sons tell the story, was much more laid back. In fact, Archie was so obsessed with football when he was a youngster that his parents nearly made him quit. Informed by that experience, he took a measured interest in shaping his children’s football skills.

In the media firestorm that surrounds every Super Bowl, no story was hotter last January that Archie – favorite son of New Orleans – rooting for his genetic son, Peyton – quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. While many writers and talking faces from myriad news outlets concentrated on this supposed controversy, the quiet reality is that Archie’s allegiance was never really in question.

In many ways, “quiet reality” is a nice descriptive phrase for the formative years Archie’s sons remember. In the run up to the most recent Super Bowl, Peyton was asked about this dad’s influence and what he remembered about growing up as Archie’s son. Peyton gave a simple and revealing answers, saying, “When we were kids, while waiting on my dad, my brother (Eli) and I used to go out on the Superdome turf and play,” he said. “We’d get a big ball of tape, wad it up, and play one-on-one, 100 yard football. My father would always come out onto the field to get us and we’d watch him sign autographs for fans on the way out of games.”

Ever-steady, Archie instilled a natural leadership and work ethic his sons credit him for. It is that presence that has helped propel Peyton to one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game despite the many seasons he remaining in his right arm, and propelled Eli to the franchise face for one of the most storied and successful NFL teams ever. Both sons are Super Bowl winners, both sons are top quarterbacks in their era, and both credit the steady, quiet leadership of their dad.

The Manning family wins this argument not just because of the quality of performance and character, but because two is better than one. The fact that Archie heads a family of winners and taught winning, even though he never really experienced any winning at a professional level, underscores what a remarkable story the Manning “father-sons” legacy is in the history of sports.

No one can be a perfect dad (sorry, Dad), and I’m sure Archie wasn’t the perfect dad who made all of the perfect decisions every time. I’m sure there were times where he couldn’t make the kids’ games growing up, or had to play on a birthday. My point is, it is often possible to gain insight into a father’s effectiveness by observing his kids. The Manning brothers are articulate, full of humor, dedicated to success, and good citizens (check out their charitable giving – of time and money – after Katrina). It’s easy to sit and review only stats and on-field performance for this debate. But when truly evaluating sons as people who happen to play a sport, it sure seems like Archie Manning and his sons Peyton and Eli are unmatched in their life – and sports – success.

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The Biggest Winner of the Super Bowl Debate – Big Win for the Big Easy

February 5, 2010

Read Babe Ruthless’ and Loyal Homer’s arguments about who they feel the biggest winner of the Super Bowl is.

It is every football fan’s dream to one day get their hands on a pair of Super Bowl tickets. After all, who wouldn’t want to be in Miami on Sunday evening as the Colts battle the Saints for the Super Bowl Championship? I’ll tell you who – ME (but only this year).

As exciting as it would be to actually have the opportunity to attend a Super Bowl game, there is one place THIS year that I would much rather be – New Orleans! In a city already known for their ability to have a great time, just imagine the excitement and the atmosphere as the fervor of support for the New Orleans Saints mingles with the already abundant party-goers on Bourbon St. It will be the perfect party storm.

Obviously, a win on Sunday night will raise the citizens of NOLA to fever pitch, but even a loss by the Saints will still mean a BIG win for the city.

New Orleans has hosted the Super Bowl before, and reaped the economic benefits of being a host city. In those years, though, the circus left town on Monday morning, and all the money left with it. Things will be slightly different for the ‘Who Dat?’ nation this year, however. The after-effects of having their own beloved Saints actually reach the NFL’s championship game will be felt in that city long after the clock ticks to 00:00.

I have witnessed first hand the benefit that a successful sports team can have on a struggling city. Cleveland transforms on game night for the Cavaliers from an industrial ghost town into an overcrowded mecca of #23 jerseys, #33 jerseys, and even a few #11’s thrown into the mix. Likewise, the city was flooded with tailgaters and bar-crawlers during the 2007 Browns season, and THAT was just because the Browns won 10 games that year (they didn’t even make the playoffs). From the sale of merchandise in the stores to the turn out at local bars and eateries throughout the city, people are always happy to spend money in support of a successful team.

Casinos, restaurants, and bars alike will be packed to the hilt in New Orleans on Sunday night, and for many Sundays to come. The thrill of having reached their first ever Super Bowl will not die down after the game ends. Instead, it will feed a contagious buzz that will fester and grow throughout the entire offseason. Having finally received a taste of the good life, the city of New Orleans will be giddy with anticipation for more. That excitement will spill over into summer time training camp, and will carry throughout the 2010 football season.

If the Saints are fortunate enough to continue their success into next season, the excitement (and corresponding benefit) will be amplified exponentially.

Whether or not the Saints are able to cap off their season with a championship on the field, the city of New Orleans will be shining like gold on Sunday night!

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The Super Bowl Climate Debate – A Super Bowl in Snow? Never!

January 27, 2010

Read the debate intro and the opposing argument by Bleacher Fan.

We are a week and a half away from the Super Bowl and the parties have already started lining up. Have you gotten your party invitation secured? I am working on mine. Rest assured it is going to happen. I will be eating my share of chicken wings, also! As for the game, it should be a great game. If you are a long time reader of The Sports Debates, you know that I love great offenses and these two teams definitely have great offenses, built largely around the passing game and both being led by Pro Bowl quarterbacks. It is going to be played in Miami, Florida where (barring rain) it is likely going to be a pleasant evening. Now, close your eyes and imagine this game being played in Buffalo! Yikes!!!

Listen, I am all for football being played in cold weather. I know it really does not get that cold in Georgia (though that did not stop school systems across the state from cancelling classes a couple of weeks ago due to “cold” conditions), but I kind of like going to football games when the temperature is in the 30s. But, that first Sunday in February is not just another day. It is Super Bowl Sunday, and inclement weather should not have any impact on the game.

It is too early to check the forecast at various “cold weather” cities for Super Bowl Sunday, but let’s check today’s forecast. The high today in Buffalo, New York is 27 degrees, with snow showers likely. Eeek!!! It gets better. Let’s take a quick look at the conditions in Green Bay, Wisconsin where the forecast for today calls for a high of 15 degrees and snow showers, essentially proving that a warm front is going through Buffalo! Imagine the Colts and Saints, two pass happy teams, playing in these conditions. The entire complexion of the game changes. Not only does the game change but what about other events around the Super Bowl like the halftime show? The halftime entertainment this year features The Who! Can you see those guys singing “I Can See For Miles” in the middle of a snowstorm? I can’t see them doing that because they would be lying themselves. It would almost be as big of a nightmare as that little incident six years ago at Super Bowl XXXVII involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

I am even suggesting that the Super Bowl not be played in a northern city that has a dome, such as Minneapolis. Today’s forecast looks promising. It’s partly cloudy! Yay! That is great tailgating weather, right? Perfect conditions for those corporate big wigs that like to raid the Super Bowl every year! But do those big wigs really want to do that when the high in Minneapolis is a frigid 12 degrees, which is what it is today? I don’t think so!!! I is a just a bad idea!

The Super Bowl is the most watched event of the year, every year. Fans deserve a show. The teams that play in the game deserve a chance to win it in ideal playing conditions. Play the game in a place like Miami or San Diego. It is in everyone’s best interest.

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The Ideal Super Bowl Matchup Debate – A Clash of Styles Leaves Us All With Smiles

January 22, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer about which teams they believe would create the best possible matchup for the 2010 Super Bowl.

What is the secret to a Super Bowl Championship? The age-old adage is that defense wins championships, but what if that defense is pitted against one of the most explosive and dynamic offenses in the league?

A Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets would answer that question. In a classic matchup of vastly different styles, this potential pairing would go a very long way to salvaging one of the most BORING playoff seasons in NFL history!

The New Orleans Saints are led this season by the NFL’s top rated passer, Drew Brees. In 2009, Brees threw for 4,388 yards and a league-leading 34 touchdowns. Most impressive is that Brees can spread the ball around the field to many different receivers. Where most of the quarterbacks who top the passing charts have a teammate who tops the receiving charts (Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, Tom Brady and Wes Welker), the Saints’ top receiver (Marques Colston) BARELY cracks the top 20 in receiving yards.

With the ability to share the offensive love with so many weapons on offense, Brees and the Saints would present a very unique problem that the Jets may not have an answer for on defense.

The Jets have clearly been the most dominant defense in the league all season, which is the primary reason for their postseason success. The Jets have been able to shut down some of the best offenses in the league, including the San Diego Chargers last weekend.

Their formula is a simple one – they play fundamentally sound defense, and force opponents to play perfect football. When combined with the amount of pressure they exert on opposing offenses through an endless barrage of blitzes, playing perfect football becomes very difficult. Philip Rivers found that out the hard way, when he threw an interception to Darrelle Revis late in the last weekend’s game. With that interception, the Jets had all the opportunity they needed, capitalizing on that mistake (like they have done all season), and finishing off the Chargers.

Revis has been the clear leader on the Jets defensively, and has been such a dangerous playmaker in the secondary that he has been able to eliminate the top receiving threats for any opponent. But, the Saints do not really have a top receiving threat. If Revis covers Colston, then Devery Henderson is available, or Robert Meachem.

I mean no disrespect to the rest of the Jets defense, which also features outstanding players like Bart Scott and Lito Sheppard, but Revis is only one guy. As much as he can be a game changer for the Jets, he cannot be everywhere. The Saints might, MIGHT, have enough options to overcome the combined onslaught of blitzing and Darrelle Revis’ secondary presence.

I would LOVE to see the Saints and Jets face off against each other in Miami two weeks from Sunday, because it would truly be pitting the league’s best offense against its best defense.

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