Cue the house band…

Roll intro title sequence…

Straighten bow tie…

Helloooooooooo ladies and gentlemen! Welcome back to the biggest, baddest, wildest, rollickingiest award show in all the land—and the only one that really matters. So take a seat, grab yourself a Thala-Siren, and guzzle down some of Ach To’s finest green milk, Luke Skywalker style. Put away your Oscars, Nobels, and James Beards, because it’s time for the 7th Annual Joey Awards!

We’ve got a lot to catch up on. 2017 sports were, if nothing else, loud. Everybody had an opinion on everything—it was First Take come to life. The poster child of it all was the one and only Lavar Ball, sports’ Kris Jenner. Nothing captures the year quite like his claim of, “I’m going to speak it into existence.”

Meanwhile, the biggest names in the NBA turned post-game press conferences into stump speeches. The two most respected coaches in the sport, Gregg Poppovich and Steve Kerr, were seemingly more willing to talk politics than basketball. For his part, LeBron James’ 2017 will be remembered more for tweeting “U bum” to Trump than for anything he did on the court.

And for all the talk aimed at Trump, the man himself couldn’t resist firing shots of his own. The story of 2017 sports cannot be told without the NFL’s woes, where the league somehow found a way to alienate both its conservative and liberal fanbases. The strange war with Trump and the ensuing staring contest between owners and players over the National Anthem left everyone unhappy.

It’s weird that, as everyone else seemed to talk themselves hoarse, the defining figure of the year stayed silent. Colin Kaepernick hardly said a word in 2017. No interviews. No comments after Trump attacked the NFL, or Jerry Jones said he would cut anyone who kneeled. He made two speeches, being honored with Sports Illustrated’s Muhammed Ali Legacy Award and by the ACLU. “We all have an obligation no matter the risk, and regardless of reward, to stand up for our fellow men and women who are being oppressed with the understanding that human rights cannot be compromised,” Kaepernick said during his speech at the ACLU, and his emphasis on refusing to give in on oppression speaks to what makes him one of the most interesting figures alive today. I’m not sure if Kaepernick understood the consequences of his protests when he first sat for the anthem before a 2016 preseason game. But in the middle of the controversy, at some point during the 2016 season, he had to have known that continuing to protest would mean his NFL career would be over. He continued to protest, and his message continued to register even as he faded from the spotlight, keeping his mouth shut.

In a strange way, he won. The NFL tried to shut him up by shutting him out, and they couldn’t. I’ve thought a lot about how to properly honor Kaepernick in these Joey’s. On one hand, how could you not call attention to the most influential athlete in the country. On the other, he didn’t actually do anything this year.

I thought about giving him the Vin Scully Award for Lifetime Achievement. That award was always meant to honor someone whose impact reverberates far beyond sports, someone who gave more to sports and their community in general than they took. Kaepernick fits that criteria perfectly; when it’s all said and done, it will be impossible to tell the history of sport without mentioning him. But Kaepernick is only 30 and giving him a lifetime achievement award seems incredibly immature. Who the hell knows what he’ll do in the next 5, 10, 20 years? And besides, is not talking really the best use of his position? I’m not sure what the answer is to either of those questions. So I decided to do this, to simply discuss Kaep to start things off, His impact can’t be fully understood without distance; will he be an interesting anecdote, like John Carlos and Tommie Smith, or will he be a more consequential figure, like Muhammad Ali or Bill Russell? Immediately, he left his mark on nearly every sporting moment of the year, so when you’re reading about Brady and Ball and LeBron, it’d be wrong to ignore the larger context. Every athlete has a voice, now, and they can thank Colin Kaepernick for that.

To the awards…

Male Athlete of the Year
Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots)

In a year when the hits just kept coming and coming for the NFL, football’s golden boy found a way to rise above it all. Everyone’s favorite kale-eating, obsessive-stretching quarterback cemented himself as the greatest quarterback of all time with an improbable Super Bowl comeback and yet another likely MVP season. Brady, along with fellow nominees Roger Federer and LeBron James, has helped redefine both our understanding of greatness and expectations for athletes. How many times have we seen players who hung on too long, only to embarrass themselves? You need to look no further than Tiger Woods, who has been attempting to return to golf every year since 2008.

While Federer won both the Australian Open and Wimbeldon this year, LeBron is somehow getting better during this, his 15th NBA season. It’s Brady, though, who has had (or at least hopes to have) the largest impact on the sports world. Federer and LeBron are trying to extend their careers. Brady, it seems, is trying to revolutionize how Americans view fitness.

In addition to the Super Bowl and MVP caliber year, Brady released a book detailing what he calls the “TB12 method,” which emphasizes stretching muscles over strengthening them. He believes that by loosening his body, his muscles are able to absorb the force of NFL hits, whereas more chiseled players’ muscles are tighter, therefore snapping under stress.  He writes that, “When athletes get injured, they shouldn’t blame their sport—or their age. Injuries happen when our bodies are unable to absorb or disperse the amount of force placed on them.” Later, he claims, “In fact, two years ago, I took a hit on my knee during a practice, requiring an MRI. The doctors who read the MRI joked afterward that my knee looked so healthy, they seriously doubted I played professional football.”

And so we get Tom Brady in 2017, part quarterback and part human test subject. Tom Junod and Seth Wickersham summarize Brady’s situation perfectly for ESPN The Magazine, “He doesn’t just want to play until he’s 45; he has to play until he’s 45, or else he’s not Tom Brady, architect of the impossible. Up against aging, injury and, possibly, the inscrutable long-range plans of his future Hall of Fame coach, Bill Belichick, Brady is playing a dangerous game within a dangerous game, and before he transcends football, he has to manage a feat almost as rare and unlikely: He has to survive it, with his body, his brain and his dignity intact.”

As younger, nimbler players like Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Odell Beckham, Jr. went down for the year, Brady remained a constant on Sundays—not only staying healthy but remaining the best player in the league. He’s 40, and he went all in betting on himself. What a good bet that appears to be.

Female Athlete of the Year
U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team

If 2017 was about athletes discovering their voices, none were as refreshing or necessary to hear than those of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team. Six days before the start of the 2017 IIHF Women’s Championships, the team came together and said enough was enough. They would refuse to report to practice or play in the tournament until, “significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.”

The women had been negotiating with USA Hockey for 15 months before the decision to boycott hockey’s most important non-Olympic tournament, but USA Hockey wasn’t giving them the light of day. Before the boycott, women’s players were paid $1,000 during the six months leading up to the Olympics. They barely received anything else during the four years between Olympics, even though they were expected to train full-time and play in tournaments like the IIHF Championships. And while USA Hockey spent $3.5 million on youth programs for boys, women barely had any comparable opportunities.

At first, USA Hockey ignored them, not even reaching out to the women in the first 24 hours of the boycott. Then USA Hockey tried to go behind their backs, attempting to pull together a replacement team of college and high school players. But the amateur players stood with the senior members of the national team, and two weeks later (the women ended up missing all of their training camp and a match against Finland), a deal was reached. National team players now receive $70,000 a year, plus an additional $2,000 monthly training stipend. USA Hockey also created a special committee to develop the women’s game and committed to raising more money to support their initiatives.

With the NWHL on shaky ground, women’s hockey was in danger. Its biggest stars stood up and ensured the sport would have a healthy future. The importance of that can’t be overstated.

The best part of the story? Returning from the boycott, the Americans won gold just a few weeks later.

Now they just need to get gold in Pyeongchang. And thanks to this team, we can bet we’ll see America have the chance to do the same for decades to come.

(Rick Osentoski / USA TODAY Sports)

Best Team
Houston Astros

My cousin Rusty is a die-hard Astros fan, and for the past several years we’ve exchanged emails about the rebuilding projects of our beloved teams. I’d brag about Kris Bryant, and he’d gush on Carlos Correa. We always talked about 2017 being the year it would all come together.

Come together it did for the Astros. It wasn’t just that the team was good. The fact that they were built the way they were, with José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Correa, and so many others all coming up through Houston’s farm system, not only made them play with the type of joy that baseball is sorely lacking but is also exactly what Houston needed after Hurricane Harvey. It’s almost too perfect a story— hometown team full of homegrown players helps town overcome tragedy—but that’s exactly what happened. It was a joy to watch. Congrats, Rusty.

Best Game
Game 5 of the World Series

13-12. Not exactly the typical score of a baseball game. 5 hours, 17 minutes. Not exactly the amount of time you’d expect for a ballgame that was as wild a ride as any in recent memory.

Let’s begin by mentioning that two Cy Young winners were starting. Then, let’s remember that the two teams launched seven home runs, and four of them tied or changed the lead. The Astros were down at least three runs twice. They came back both times, only the second time that’s ever happened in World Series history. This game went against every fundamental understanding we have about baseball. Clayton Kershaw isn’t supposed to give up a 4-0 lead. 5’6 second baseman aren’t supposed to have 4 RBI in a World Series game, either. Just when last year’s Game 7 made me think I’d seen everything in baseball, one night at Minute Maid blew my mind. Then blew it again. Then again. Then again.

Best Moment
Roger Federer Wins Wimbledon

This was a tough category. At first, Serena winning the Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant seemed like the clear winner, but then I remembered that we didn’t know Serena was pregnant until weeks afterwards. If we’d known that, it probably would have been a lock for the Joey. Not know, though, made the victory lack the weight of being a great moment. It’s memorable in retrospect, with the context we now know, but as it was happening, it was just another Serena victory.

Seeing Roger Federer at Wimbledon, though, felt special from the very beginning. Federer at Wimbledon is just…right. It’s like peanut butter on a bologna sandwich (trust me on this one, guys). So seeing him roll through opponents again felt normal, until you remembered that he was 36 and coming off of knee surgery. The beauty of Federer is that ease. Everything looks easy for him. Seeing him win Wimbledon again felt like a true “moment”. Specifically, this one. Down a set in the championship, Marin Cilic sat sobbing as he and Federer were changing sides. He claimed it was because of a blister on his foot and “just the feeling that I wasn’t able to give the best.”

A little while later, after Cilic was easily dispatched, Federer sat in his chair. He too began to cry.

Best Breakthrough Athlete
Deshaun Watson (QB, Houston Texans)

From the very beginning of this year, Deshaun Watson did what so few could in 2017: he made football fun. It started with the National Championship in which he pretty much single handedly led Clemson past Alabama. I’m fiercely protective of Vince Young and scoff whenever comparisons are made to the greatest performance of all time, but Watson’s was the first one that actually rivaled VY.  He put up over 450 yards of total offense against the number one defense in the country, and topped it all off with a classic game winning drive.

But that was just the start of the year. Watson was a joy in the NFL this season. He took the starting job and never slowed down for a second, setting records left and right. There’s always been a thought that college quarterbacks have to adjust their style of play for the NFL, that running around and improvising doesn’t work against bigger, faster defenses. Maybe that’s true; Watson did end up tearing his ACL. For a few weeks, though, Watson made the NFL look like football again. Not the highly coordinated and predictable movements the NFL typically is, but the wheeling and dealing that happens in parks and schoolyards everywhere. Let’s hope his knee heals well—and quickly. The NFL is in desperate need of his style of play.

Most Impressive Performance
Joey Chestnut Eats 72 Hot Dogs on the 4th of July

I’ve been a longtime competitive eating fan. I remember well the day that Joey Chestnut upset Kobyashi. I always figured that would be the greatest Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest the world would ever see. Then last year, following his shocking loss to Matt “Megatoad” Stonie, Chestnut came back with a beard, grizzled and hungry for revenge. It was brilliant eating, the most impressive display I’d ever seen. He topped his record of 69, becoming the first man to reach 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes. And then came this year…

Oh my Lord.

72 hot dogs and buns. The second-place finisher ate 62 (an out of nowhere performance from Carmen Cincotti!). Stonie finished third with 48.

This is the stuff of legends, folks. This was Joey’s 10th Mustard Belt. One more next year, and he’ll join Bill Russell and Henri Richard as the only major sports stars to win 11 championships. Give him time, and he’ll reach 12, at least.

He says that his goal for next year is 80. If he reaches that, Joey Chestnut will officially become the greatest athlete in the history of the world. Full stop.

Best Play
Julian Edelman’s Super Bowl Catch

A complete list of events that are even more improbable than this catch:

  1. A dentist telling you to floss less.
  2. Having a pleasant experience with United Airlines.
  3. Standing up, saying “I feel great!” after eating Burger King’s flamin’ hot mac n’ Cheetos.

Worst Play
John Fox Challenges TD

You can actually see, as the referee is announcing that Benny Cunningham did not score and in fact fumbled, the moment that John Fox totally and utterly gives up. He knows he’ll be fired by season’s end, and he knows that his Bears don’t have much hope on Sundays. It’s a little bit sad and a lot funny, and as a Bears fan, it was certainly the defining moment of the season—if not the entire decade.

Best Speech
Ladainian Tomlinson’s Hall of Fame Induction

Most Hall of Fame induction speeches are meandering and self-serving, with a few thank you’s and not much more. The best you can typically hope for is something like Michael Jordan’s, ripe with unintentional comedy.

Then there was Landainian Tomlinson at Canton, who gave the usual thanks but then turned his message outward. He discussed his family’s history; Tomlinson was his great-great-great grandfather’s master’s name. From those beginnings, he became one of the greatest running backs of all time. “Football is a microcosm of America,” Tomlinson said. “All races, religions and creeds living, playing, competing side by side. When you’re a part of a team, you understand your teammates. Their strengths and weaknesses and work together towards the same goal to win a championship. In this context, I advocate we become Team America… On America’s team, let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. My great-great-great grandfather had no choice, we have one.”

Stick to Sports Award
Michael Beasley

“You can research the human brain and da, da, da, right?” Michael Beasely begins. “It says we are only capable of using 10 percent of our brain, right?”

“So who was the guy that used 11 to make it OK to say that everybody was using 10?…No, because if you’re only using 10 percent of your brain, you don’t even know that you’re using 10 percent of your brain,”

And with that, his eyes get huge as if he’s just discovered the secrets of Area 51. The ensuing few minutes where Beasley, who clearly has put a lot of thought into this theory get even more off-the-walls. It should be noted that Beasley has been playing the best basketball of his career lately; he just dropped 32 on the Celtics, and in a game early in the season, cemented himself as Knicks fans favorite by fouling out of a game in 10 minutes.

So sure, Beasley seems like a crazy man, but that’s just coming from some shmuck who can only use 10-percent of his brain.

Smokin’ Jay’s Honeybadger Award
Jay Cutler (QB, Miami Dolphins)

As a Bears fan, Jay Cutler eternally frustrated me with his interceptions, lack of effort and overall ability to be the most apathetic person alive today. By the end of his Bears career, I came to appreciate Smokin’ Jay in a weird way. There was some tragic comedy to him; early in his career, his phenomenal talent seemed to torture him. He could be the best quarterback in the league if he didn’t keep getting in his own way. By the end, though, he became resigned to the fact that he’d never be the greatest, or in fact, very good. It was the typical Cutler non-chalance, you could imagine him shrugging, “Whatever.” The shift came in 2014, when Cutler showed up for Bears training camp in a van. “It’s not a mini van,” he said. “It’s a conversion van.”

Retirement seemed to suit him well. He signed a deal to do color commentary for Fox and was going to call the Bears home opener. Then Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season, and the Dolphins called. Cutler was apparently going to turn down the offer until his wife Kristin Cavalleri talked him into it. “I think she got tired of me being around the house,” Cutler said. The $10-million the Dolphins offered him certainly helped.

Thus began what was certainly the Cutler-iest season of all time. At his introductory press conference, he was asked if he was ready for an NFL season after missing training camp. “The good thing is I play quarterback, so I don’t have to be in that great of cardiovascular shape,” he said. When touring the Dolphin’s facility, he called the cafeteria the, “dinner room.” Against the Saints week 4, he lined up at receiver for a wildcat play. He didn’t even attempt to sell it. One reporter asked him late in the season how he looked back on his three years with the Denver Broncos. He replied, “I don’t.” And then there was the revelation last week that Cutler had never moved out of a hotel this entire season, which he enjoyed because, “I did get the points,” but was upset that the pay-per view movies “don’t change as often as you’d like.”

Jay Cutler clearly didn’t have much interest in playing quarterback this year. Jay Cutler, like the honeybadger, doesn’t give a shit.

Johnny Football Award
Lavar Ball

This award was made for someone like Baker Mayfield—a cocky douchebag whose talk (and…uhh…groin grabbing) overshadows his play on the field. But 2017 belonged to Lavar Ball, famous for literally no other reason than his big mouth and his $500 costing but Walgreens brand-looking shoes. The most predictable thing he did all year was get in a Twitter spat with Donald Trump (and honestly, it might have been the only thing Trump has ever done that the entire country supported). During the rest of his year, he got the Lakers to draft his weird-shooting, not-actually-that-good son Lonzo with the second-overall pick. He sent another son to UCLA, only to see him get arrested for shoplifting in China. Lavar then pulled Lavar out of UCLA and his youngest son Lamelo out of high school. He’s going to start a new league for them, he says. We’ll see how that works out.

As we wait to find out, here’s a sampling of Lavar’s most preposterous claims of the year.

“I don’t lose 1-on-1. If Jordan played me 1-on-1, he’d cry.”

“That’s our number, a billion, right out of the gate,” talking about a shoe deal for his son Lonzo.

“From the words of Zeus, Jesus, everybody said he was gonna be a Laker. They told me before they told you.”

He claimed he had his sons walking by the tie time they were 10 months old. “I put a scarf under their arms and I just hold them up like a bungee cord so they get their balance. Nobody had Pampers on. I’d wake their ass up in the middle of the night, put them on the toilet. Their cold ass hit that seat, so it was like a mechanism. Cold ass, piss. Now go back to sleep.”

“There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of them.”

“I make pigeons just do backflips in the air when I clap my hands like that.”

“Lonzo’s fittin’ to step over Magic to be the best guard ever.”

“If you can’t afford ZO2’s, you’re NOT a BIG BALLER!”

And finally: “I knew I was gonna have more than one [son]. I don’t put out no girls. … Me being alpha dog in our family, I’m gonna have boys. Gimme three boys.”

The Bud Selig Memorial, Most Likely To Be Caught To Have Taken Steroids Award
James Harrison (LB, Pittsburgh Steelers)

While Tom Brady might value stretching over lifting, his newest teammate takes the opposite approach. Harrison is 39, and he’s still doing stuff like this:

In the middle of the season. At 39 years old. Right…

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go hide in case James Harrison reads this and tries to murder me.

The Bud Selig Memorial, Oh No! I Might Have Just Ruined My Sport Award
NFL Owners

The NFL could not stop stepping in mud this year. They moved from controversy to controversy, and do you know what the common theme amongst the biggest scandals was? They were all self-inflicted wounds.

It was Jerry Jones who made the NFL look especially unresponsive to players, saying he would bench any player who kneeled (a week after kneeling himself).

Bob McNair made things worse by saying, at an owner’s meeting, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

Viewership is down, and I would think it has less to do with protests and more to do with the fact that the league has become oversaturated. Monday night, Thursday night, all day Sunday…what used to be a welcome distraction can now sometimes feel like a bore. Why the expansion? Owners are greedy. They want more, more, more. If there’s the potential of selling new broadcasting deals, they’re all in.

Jones was the one who called for Goodell to not receive an extension, creating an image of dysfunction (probably rightfully so) amongst the league.

Dean Spanos refused to pay for his own stadium in San Diego, so the Chargers are now playing in a soccer stadium full of apathetic fans.

And Jerry Richardson topped the year off by dragging the NFL into the wave of sexual assault scandals.

Who could’ve guessed it? Turns out, these rich white guys tend to look out for nobody but themselves. Surprise, surprise.

The David Stern Memorial, Holy Cow! I Might Have Just Saved My Sport Award
The International Olympic Committee

You’ve got to hand it to the IOC. After years and years of rivalling only FIFA as the most corrupt, dysfunctional organization in sports, they made a series of shockingly smart, well-thought-out decisions that defined their year.

Most recently was the decision to ban Russia from competing from the 2018 Winter Olympics as punishment for their elaborate doping schemes from the 2014 Sochi games, although Russian athletes will still be allowed to compete as “neutral” competitors. It was a difficult case for the IOC; the accusations were serious and risked damaging the Olympics credibility, but having a Winter Olympics without Russian athletes (who led the Sochi games with 33 medals) would be a clearly inferior competition as well. So, they allowed athletes to compete on their own terms, ensuring a competitive and entertaining Winter Olympics. By stripping away the glory of playing for Russia, though, the entire reason the doping ring was established—propaganda, essentially—is rendered pointless.

More importantly long term is the IOC’s decision to award the 2024 Olympics to Paris and the 2028 games to Los Angeles. Both cities were vying for the 2024 games and after all other competitors dropped out, they were the only two remaining. It’s a trend that’s become commonplace for the Olympics recently, where cities around the country would throw themselves at the IOC to host the games in the past, people have wised up to the fact that the Olympics are maybe not the best use of money after all. It’s becoming harder and harder for the IOC to sell the Olympics to potential hosts. Take the 2022 Winter Olympics for example, which will be held in Beijing despite the fact that there’s not snow in Beijing (China plans on spending $90-million to divert water to the region and create snow. They’ve already spent $62-billion sending water from the South to the North, so what’s another $90-million, really?). But what else was the IOC supposed to do? The only other candidate city was Almaty, Kazakhstan.

With L.A. and Paris both bidding for the 2024 games, the IOC was put in a position where they were sure to upset one of the premier cities in the world, and who knows if the losing city would ever go to the trouble of bidding again? Instead, the IOC worked out a deal to give Paris the 2024 games and Los Angeles the 2028 games, and the deal they worked out for the 2028 Los Angeles games is much more beneficial for the host city than any ever before. It could serve as a template for future deals, and most vitally, could inspire other cities to launch bids as well. The next three Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo (2020), Paris (2024), and Los Angeles (2028). If those three cities can’t make the Olympics work, then nobody can. But at the very least, the IOC has positioned themselves as well as they possibly could. Let’s just hope nobody freezes to death in Pyeongchang…

The Gordy Howe Memorial Old Geezer Excellence Award
Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots)

See Male Athlete of the Year.

Most Epic Fail
Tennessee Volunteers’ Coaching Search

It was a year full of fails. From the Chargers playing in a tiny soccer stadium to Nike’s NBA jerseys ripping in half to the Silverdome refusing to be demolished, it seemed like just as much went wrong this year as right. But nothing screamed epic fail quite as much as the University of Tennessee’s coaching search. It was incredible, a master class of organizational incompetence. They hired Gregg Schiano (only after whiffing on Chip Kelly and Dan Mullen), only to be forced by their fans to un-hire him. The cesspool the debacle revealed made the rest of the coaching search close to impossible. The Vols were turned down by seven candidates (by coaches from such esteemed football bluebloods as Duke, North Carolina State, and Oklahoma State) before firing their athletic director, John Curie. And finally, 24 days after firing Butch Jones and about two weeks after the Gregg Schiano controversy, the Vols settled on Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt was who they should have hired all along. Instead, the Vols made themselves out to be, as one student painted on “The Rock”, “the Tennessee Browns.”

The Russell Westbrook Award for Crimes on Fashion
Orlando Magic “City Edition” Uniforms

Who decided to put the damn Milky Way on basketball jerseys? MICKEY MOUSE, IS THIS YOUR CHICANRY?

Best Innovation
New Zealand Puts Bikes on a Yacht

The first ever Joey to be given for yachting! We’re making history here. I don’t totally understand the science behind it, but after losing the America’s Cup for the past wo years, New Zealand decided to switch it up. Four of their six crew members would be pedaling stationary bikes while using their hands to generate power for the boat’s hydraulic systems. Previously, crews always had to create this energy with their hands, and well, the lower body is more powerful than the upperbody. Plus, the new design left the Kiwis with their hands free to perform other tasks. It worked, with New Zealand beating the better-funded Americans 7-1.

I know what you’re thinking…cycling and yachting together? White people haven’t been this happy since the Garth Brooks channel came to SiriusXM.

Best NFL Player
Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots)

See Male Athlete of the Year.

Best College Football Player
Michael Dickson (P, Texas Longhorns)

I know, I know. He’s just a punter, but for the Longhorns, he was more than that. Dickson was playing a different game than every other punter in the country. He was that much better than the next guy. There’s a reason he took home MVP honors at the Texas Bowl last week; he won that game for Texas. He punted 11 times. 10 of those were inside the 15-yard line. Tom Herman might only call him “The Punter,” but some NFL team is about to draft him in at least the third round. It’ll be a good investment.

Best NBA Player
LeBron James (F, Cleveland Cavaliers)

LeBron just turned 33. He is averaging the third most points per game in the NBA and the second most assists. He is shooting as well as he ever has, and rebounding that way too. He’s also sporting an incredibly well-sculpted beard. The moral of the story? The King isn’t slowing down yet, and sure, Steph, KD, and Harden might out-flash him sometimes. Sure, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. But when the aliens invade Earth and challenge us to a basketball game, there’s a reason we chose LeBron to save us. 33 is the year of our Lord. Just sayin’…

(AP Photo / Jae C. Hong)

Best MLB Player
Mike Trout (CF, Planet Earth Angels of North America of the United States of America of California of Southern California of Los Angeles of Orange County of Anaheim)

Mike Trout missed 45 games this season with injuries. He was still the best player in the sport. He nearly dragged the Angels to the playoffs, likely due to his absurd offensive 7.4 WAR, the American League’s second best mark, only trailing José Altuve’s 8.1 WAR. Altuve played a whole season, though. In 75-percent of the time, Trout was worth nearly the same amount as Altuve—and was more valuable than everyone else in the American League. That shouldn’t be possible, but as I said when giving Trout this Joey last year, we’re watching the best baseball player since Willie Mays (that cheater Barry Bonds doesn’t count).

(Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports)

Best NHL Player
Sidney Crosby (C, Pittsburgh Penguins)

I gave this award to Connor McDavid last year. Turns out, I anointed Sidney Crosby’s successor a little early. Crosby still has the crown, albeit with McDavid breathing down his neck. It was Crosby who won another Stanley Cup and another Conn Smythe award, the first player since Mario Lemieux to win the award two years in a row. But don’t believe me that Sid is still the best hockey player in the world? Take it from McDavid himself: “I definitely think Crosby is still on top.” Enough said.

Vin Scully Award for Lifetime Achievement
Frank Deford

Frank Deford looked the part of sportswriter. Tall and lean, with that big pompadour, pencil mustache, and perfectly tailored suits. He wrote about sports, but he carried himself like the star of the show. In some respects he was. What other sportswriter would be in a Miller Lite ad? He wrote with confidence and swagger—the same one that, months before graduating from Princeton, led him to tell a Time Inc. executive he wasn’t going to write for Time because it was “group journalism,” and he wasn’t going to write for Life, “just pictures.” He wanted a real byline, so he wanted to write for Sports Illustrated. He got the job.

Despite his own vibrant personality, Deford always let the characters he was covering shine. He was never writing about sports as much as he was writing about people; his magazine stories read like short fiction. He was immensely curious, and his greatest gift, like all the best writers, was his empathy. He took troubled men like Bobby Knight and Jimmy Connors and made them, if not likable, understandable. He profiled one of America’s first sports villains, Max Schmeling, the former heavyweight champion who Joe Louis fought twice in a clash billed as Americans vs. Nazis. Deford paints Schmeling as more complicated than the “dirty rotten Nazi who got lucky and beat Joe Louis.” Schmeling was complicit in providing propaganda for Hitler, but he never joined the Nazi party. He remained fiercely loyal to his Jewish coach, and on the night of Kristallnacht, we learn that he hid two Jewish children from Nazi soldiers. It’s typical Deford. You thought you knew Max Schmelling? Well, you don’t know the half of it. What comes a little later in the story is typical Deford too. We learn that, of his actions, Schmelling is “somewhat proud.”

Then, Deford writes: “Somewhat. It’s a funny word for a man to choose to place in his own valedictory, isn’t it? However, it is such an honest, tempered word. It signals to us, more than anything, that you had to have been present when the Third Reich was aborning and then thriving and then crumbling. Then you never would be so sure again. There would always be a somewhat in your life.”

That’s just perfect. RIP to the greatest sportswriter whoever lived.

That’s all the Joeys I have to hand out this year. May 2018 bring you health and happiness and your favorite team a championship, unless, of course, that team is the Oklahoma Sooners. In that case, I hope 2018 is a long losing one for you. ◼