The 2013 Sporties

As 2013 winds to a close (really?!), it is time again to honor the best – and most definitely the worst – of the year in sports. 

Firstly, an amazing year in sports as four teams I detest won major championships (Man U, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Ravens) while only one team I cheer for managed to come out with a title (Miami).  In other news, my beloved hockey team traded coaches with the New York Rangers and Chelsea continues to sign past their prime strikers while good players languish on the bench.  Hooray!

Coach of the Year – Erik Spolestra does not get the acclaim he deserves.  The Heat won 27 straight games, won a title and he managed to make the best player in the world maximize his potential.  What else can the man do to win a Coach of the Year Award?  Keep in mind he also went to bat for the Philippines after the devastating typhoon.  A true class act.

Player of the Year – LeBron James continues to astound, amaze and remind us all we are seeing one of the greatest basketball players in history in his absolute prime.  So, way to go LeBron!  Just felt you could use some more accolades.

Team of the Year – Boston Red Sox.  Moving on (through gritted teeth).

Game of the Year – All year, I was dead set on Game Six of the NBA Finals in this slot.  How could anything, ever, top Ray Allen hitting a ridiculous three to tie the game with the Championship on the line?  Well…Auburn went to the house with no time left on the clock against Alabama and it was in the most unlikely way possible.  Keep in mind this game featured a 99 yard touchdown pass, a last second touchdown and then a 109 yard touchdown return on a missed field goal.  Nick Saban really, really wishes he did not have that second left on the clock. Honorable mentions to Game Six of the Finals as well as Brady v. Manning 2013.

SI Sportsman of the Year Opinion – OId Manning is a good choice, he does a lot for charity and is having a potential historic season…that will conclude in 2014.  In 2013 he did not win a Superbowl in Denver.  Nor did he win the MVP Award.  This is not a lifetime achievement award, rather it is about the specific year in question.  I understand the backlash of not giving it to LeBron again, but what about (alleged) PED USER (alleged) David Ortiz?  Or even the Red Sox as a collective (group of alleged PED USERS) , another possibility was the 21 game winning Chicago Blackhawks led by Jonathon Toews (also deserving!) and Pat Kane (not deserving even a little bit).  Giving Manning the Award would be like giving it to Sidney Crosby – last time I checked it was not done on stats alone.

Sports Books to Read

The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian / Scoreboard, Baby by Ken Armstrong / Muck City by Bryan Mealer – Each explores football in a different way.  Benedict and Keteyian work to uncover every aspect of College Football in a broad, total way.  Armstrong’s book is a horrifying look at the 2000 Washington Huskies, and won awards as both a sports and true crime book. Mealer writes a cross between the Wire and Friday Night Lights, exploring the rough world surrounding Everglades football and a potential championship team.  Run to get these books, they are incredible.

Sports Book to Avoid

RG3 : The Promise by Dave Shenin – When I picked up this book I thought maybe it would be different than I expected.  Perhaps it was an in depth look at life in the NFL as a hyped rookie.  Perhaps it would touch on the darker corners of the sport.  Ultimately, it was exactly what I expected it to be – 330 pages of an RG3 love fest.  Horrible.  Calling him “the perfect QB” and “a sure fire Hall of Famer” after one season is not the way to go.  Avoid this book.

Podcasts of the Year

The Starters / The Basketball Jones – Brilliant basketball analysis, hilariously off topic and very, very funny.  Unfortunately slightly tamed down with the end of the Jones era (no drops / swearing) but still entertaining work from the boys.

Men in Blazers – This has been like a Championship season for the Blazers, as they have peaked at the perfect time.  Their last two months of Pods have been consistently great and easily among their best work.  Mixing analysis with off kilter hilarity (and great interviews!) the Blazers have finally moved into their own, well deserved ITunes feed.  Keep it up Rog and Davo, and keep the live shows going.

Best Site

grantland.com – Still the best, consistent and really well written.  Grantland is good for two or three good articles a day, and three great articles each week.  Great job Bill Simmons.

Biggest Stretch

mmqb.com – Trying to capitalize on Bill Simmons success, Peter King started his own site and while the content has been very good, the only major draw for me has always been his own mmqb column.  The rest I could take or leave.

Jason Whitlock – still waiting for his move from FOX Sports to pay off in some way other than his self congratulatory self banter.

Sportie Man of the Year

LeBron James – Really, did you expect anyone else?  LeBron finally approached his ridiculous ceiling this year, his team won 27 straight games, he captured the MVP and Finals MVP and when it mattered most he put his team on his back and literally dragged them to a title.  The best athlete in the world, period and one of the greatest of all time at his absolute peak. 

 

 

 

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The Big One – Finally Set

After last week’s indelible finish, Auburn had one more team to take care of in this week’s SEC Championship game (just a small aside: were the two best teams in the conference not Alabama and Auburn?  In essence the Tigers played two straight Championship games and will, SPOILER ALERT!!! be playing three in a row?)

The game was a little bit different than last weeks epic showdown: there were points galore and at one point my dad messaged me to say “This is like a video game”.  Very true and in the fourth quarter with the score 45-42, it looked like another incredible finish was on the way.  Then Auburn simply blew the doors off with their unstoppable running attack, one back, Mason, finished with over 300 yards, against an SEC defense.  This seems more unlikely than last weeks finish.  Auburn has now gotten most of the country to climb aboard their bandwagon, especially since everything worked out for them; namely, OSU was proven to be a pretender.  Thus, Auburn who has come out of the toughest conference in the country will get their shot at the title without anyone questioning their leapfrog of an undefeated team. 

On the other side of the bracket, FSU continued their unbeaten ways, swarming defense and Heisman worthy QB play with a crushing of Duke (maybe they should stick to basketball after all…)  Winston seems to have locked up the Heisman trophy for the most part given that he will, of course, not be charged with rape at this time.  No one knows the real story, but after reading two very illuminating books The System and Scoreboard, Baby both of which expertly highlight different aspects of the game and life surrounding it.  Read these wonderful books to get an idea of how untouchable college football players view themselves and how much the system does to protect them.

In January we will see if another team, FSU, can finally end the SEC’s rein.  I have always felt that they are the only team with the speed and athletes to compete with the SEC.  Auburn will certainly pound the ball mercilessly, but FSU’s tough D could make things more difficult.  In any event, hopefully we will get a real Championship this year and not just the SEC killing whoever comes up against them. 

And the Band Played On

Early January, 2007 – with my university roommates I happened to witness one of the greatest games in the history of College Football; Boise State’s epic overtime win against Oklahoma.  After watching the impossible to duplicate “statue of liberty to proposal” play, I figured I was closing the book and the possibilities of seeing anything better.

November 30, 2013 – sitting with my brother and Dad and experiencing Auburn vs. Alabama might have been better.  Did it have the razzle dazzle of the Boise State victory?  No, but it featured a perennial college powerhouse that seemed to be all but assured of a national title getting beaten in the worst possible way by its hated arch rival.  Alabama and Nick Saban seemed to be unstoppable this year, but we, as fans, have forgotten the rule that every Achilles must have a heel. 

The Tide’s heel had been previously exposed – several years ago – when they were unable to kick seemingly simple field goals against LSU and lost what might go down as the most boring college football game in history (a horrendous 9-6 affair).  You would think Saban would use one of his plethora of scholarships on a kicker.  Any kicker.  Any half decent kicker, after all it previously almost cost the team a national title.  Apparently Saban decided, that, no, it was not worthwhile.  On Saturday his senior kicker (as my brother pointed out, at this point they should know he is pretty unreliable) shanked a 44 yard kick, blew a 30 yard kick, and then drilled another 44 yard kick directly into the defensive line. 

Bama though seemed to have the game in hand after a 99 yard td pass by their Heisman candidate QB, er, until the last few moments that is.  During Auburn’s final drive, my Dad, brother and I were yelling at TV as they slammed run after run into the middle of the field.  “They have to throw a pass, this is the worst offensive two minute drill, how can they not pass?”  It was a constant refrain.  No of us realized the lengths of the “rope a dope” that was going on until Auburn hit a read option pass (where the QB missed crossing the line of scrimmage by about 3 inches) that went to the house.  Tie game. 

Crazy.  After a horrible kick, you have to figure that McCarron is going to go out and win the Heisman.  This is it.  Champions are made right here.  Yet, with the game on the line, and a second added (that Nick Saban would probably do anything in his power to have back) he did not trust either his horrible senior kicker or his ultimately subpar QB (whose max throw seems to be in the 35-40 yard range) to win the game.  Instead, the best coach in college football chose to send out a freshman kicker (1 of 3 all time) and have him try a ridiculous 57 yard attempt.  Crazy.  He kicked and probably walked off the field.  It was about ten yards short – and with no time on the clock Auburn returned it.  It was so unexpected, bold and strategically brilliant that for a moment it was unclear what was happening.  My dad, brother and I were standing up shouting at the TV because, from the earliest moments of the return it was clear – he has a chance.  Saban had been outfoxed and it went the distance.  Alabama was not prepared for a return and why would they be; strategically it was downright incredible. 

We all know what happened next, 109 yard to the house for Auburn.  Pandemonium.  Swarm the field.  Alabama skulks off, National Title hopes gone.  Now the conversation, of course, shifts to Ohio State and their complete lack of belonging in the National Title Game.  Well – next year in the playoffs they will be instantly exposed by whatever foe they face who has not had a horrendously weak schedule.  Do Auburn or Missouri deserve to face Florida State for the title?  We will see in the coming weeks. 

I believe my friend @madadub said it best: “How is this not the national title game?  I am going to buy an Auburn jersey.  Top 3 sports moments of my life.”

There is not doubt, this game and the finish is virtually indescribable to someone who did not watch – although according to the ratings most people did.  In a season that has been this up and down, and with a playoff coming, it is no surprise there will be controversy over the title game.  However, maybe we should not despair, because as madadub said, perhaps, we have already seen it.