Vince Young, Annika Sorenstan, Lance Armstrong and Bill Cowher were just a few of the winners from last night’s presentation of the 2006 Espy Awards. As in the tradition of the Oscars and the Emmy’s, the Espys have presented the lovers of the sports world with a mechanism to honor their favorite athletes. Some people find this performance superfluous, arguing that athletes are heralded after every game and season with numerous weekly and seasonal awards. However, unlike the modern day silver-screen star, athletes are not always cast under the spotlight. Being held to ridiculous measures of excellence and success, the premiere athletes of the world are scrutinized more than they are congratulated. It is a shame that the media, including myself, expects athletes to perform at the level of a Denzel Washington or Jennifer Anniston, without the use of a “do-over.” Athletes do not get a second take, nor do they have the benefit of the director yelling cut and being able to recreate a scene like actors and actresses do. This is why athletes are even more deserving of this special night, because their performances are being judged on the combination of their successes and their failures, not just their best take.
With that having been said, I want to emphasize that the winners of the Espys were more than deserving of their awards simply because their athletic prowess was deemed worthy of nomination. However, we in the sports world like to celebrate those most worthy of awards and then argue about it. So, in the tradition of ESPN and Sportscenter, I want to take a moment and go over a few of last night’s controversial winners, and tell you who was truly most worthy of these awards.
Subject #1: Best Team
I am a football fan first. Thus the Steelers being named Best Team does not bother me as much as some of the other winners. However, I must admit, I am not sure that they were the best team over the past year. Yes, football is the ultimate team sport, but there were a lot of standout performances that were involved in route to the Steelers winning the Superbowl. My selection for best team would have been the Chicago White Sox. In a sport where individuals and baseball legends are often required to win the World Series, the White Sox managed to win without much fanfare. They did not have the big time player, the perennial all-star or the potential Cy Young winner. In fact, other than Frank Thomas, there was no one else on the White Sox roster who had obtained 3 or more all-star appearances. And yet, their season was a thing of beauty. Ozzie Guillen coached that team to play like one.
Their approach to each game was not to depend on their number 3 hitter driving in 5 runs, or their ace mowing down everything in sight, but to win the game the way it was meant to be won, with the fundamentals of baseball. And there is something to be said for a team that goes under the radar for the entire season. The Steelers were not the favorite to win the Superbowl in the late part of the season, but that was greatly due to the fact that they did not exemplify cohesive team strength like the Sox. However, they were favorites to win it all at the beginning of the season, thus its hard for me to contribute the underdog notion to their selection as the best team. On the contrary, the White Sox literally came out of right field. Everyone was expecting the ALCS to be the Yankees and the Red Sox. The spotlight was on those 2 teams all season, and any mention of the White Sox was just merely small talk about them being at the top of the American League Central. The fact of the matter is, the White Sox embodied the meaning of baseball and team sports last year. They won with out fanfare, superstars, or even having one player that was the best at their position, but they enhanced their level of play right up until the World Series.
Subject #2: Best International Athlete
Excuse me for saying this, but definitely has some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder and bias toward its “national pastime.” Albert Pujols is a great athlete and probable future hall of famer, but he is not a champion, he is not a great two-way player, and he is not the first guy you would call upon if you needed a hit in the bottom of the 9th. So what on Earth makes him the best International Athlete? I am not sure, but for whatever reason, the folks at ESPN (and fans) think he is worthy just because he is baseball’s MVP. Personally, Ronaldinho and Roger Federer are better possibilities for this award, with the nod going to Federer, because all he does is just win. Federer has been the prime example of excellence in tennis. The world has not seen someone as dominant at male tennis since Pete Sampras. He wins every match on grass, and still gets to the finals of a clay surface event. What Federer is doing atWimbledon is comparable to what Lance Armstrong did at the Tour de France. Winning 4 straight grand slams in is something that no one can ignore, except for the voters and administrators at ESPN.
Subject #3: Best Male Athlete
Let me start off by saying that I love Lance Armstrong. He is a fellow Austinite, and has overcome battles that very few of us will ever have to endeavor. His accomplishments in the Tour de France are astounding, but maybe it’s the redundancy that makes it hard for me to keep giving him this award over and over again. My argument is based on more than just a dislike for monotony – his feats in have undoubtedly been overshadowed and out done by longer and more compelling seasons of great athletes over these past 7 years. Lance was the most consistent, and that is why he has received the Best Male Athlete Award several times, but in this past year, winning the Tour de France has to take a back seat to what another fellow Austinite has done.
I believe Lance said it best when he murmured to the front row, “Sorry, Vince,” during last nights Espys. He should not have been sorry, but there was reason for him to feel remorseful as what Vince Young did in his junior year of college football was ingenious. People have not seen the likes of a quarterback- scratch that- a football player with Vince Young’s amazing skill set. His performance in the championship game alone was enough to equal that of Lance Armstrong’s grueling weeks on a bicycle as he took on people and delivered in the presence of thousands rooting against him, managing to knock Reggie Bush out of contention for this very award despite Bush being this year’s Heisman winner. Young’s season was marked by a nation leading pass efficiency rating and a thousand yards rushing. He beat team after team with both his arm and his legs, and was virtually unstoppable on every play of the season. If out-playing Ohio State, the Big 12, and the two time national champion is not more worthy of winning the Best Male Athlete award than defeating the same field of people over and over again, without the element of resistance, then I hope the Tour de France winners of the next 50 years continue to take home this award.
Subject #4: GMC Professional Grade Play
I love Doug Flutie, and I really think that he has been one of football’s most undermined and overlooked players in history. But I cannot give him this award and say that it was not an emotionally based decision, because if these awards are sentimentally charged, he probably would have been taking a few more pieces of hardware home if it were up to me. However, we are supposed to be objective and considerate of the fervor of which the play has generated. A drop kick? Really? A drop kick? Let’s not forget that it was an uncontested drop kick as well, because the defense was so bewildered and confused as to what was about to happen that they just kind of stood around and watched. Aaron Rowand’s catch, Antwan Randle El’s pass, and even Candice Parker’s two dunks were much more impressive and athletically profound than a mere drop kick. Of the three, Rowand’s catch was more of a demonstration of what sports is than any of the other nominees, but I am not here to argue the best play. Just that Flutie’s was the worst of the pack. I love you, Doug, but your pass against Miami and that 20 yard scamper 3 years ago when you were a Charger, rank much higher than that drop kick.