A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY

[start scroll] The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a promise of awards from The Rally Caps. The rebellion is erupting in cheers as they hear rumors that it can only mean one thing…the Joey Awards are ba—

Hey! Hey! Cut the projector! All of us (me) here at the Rally Caps are so sorry for the confusion. I heard that this was the Ninth Annual Joey Awards, and for a second there, I thought that I was about to buckle in for a Star Wars movie. But alas, there are no Sith to vanquish, trench runs to make, or Wookies to beat in holo-chess. Instead, we’ll be handing out some Joey’s. Can you believe we’re still doing this? Me neither. I always figured that by now someone would pay me to write these—or at the very least, they’d pay me to shut up. If you would like to make an offer, the comment section is open below.

The intro of this column is always the trickiest thing to write, mainly because I have yet to figure out how to choreograph the elaborate song and dance routine that the Joey’s so desperately deserve. We try to sum up the big themes of the year, to unify this whole mess however possible. But before we can do that, we have to wrestle with what this year’s edition should even be. Facing the end of the decade, I was confronted with a dilemma itself worthy of a Joey Award: Should this year’s edition celebrate the end of the decade and award the best and worst of the last ten years of sports? Or should we wait until next year for the 10th Annual Joey Awards (or maybe we’ll brand it as Joey’s 10 or Joey Awards X, or even Ten: A Joey’s Experience) before doing a retrospective?

It’s a question that kept me up at night. But after consulting the force ghosts of Joey Winners past and trying to work out their scheduling conflicts for the banquet, we decided the best course of action would be to save the walk down memory lane for next year and the 10EYS. After all, these are the Joey Awards after all, and we don’t play by anyone’s rules other than Joe’s. It’s my award show. Y’all are all just living in it. I can talk in the third person, and I can make a decade end when I say it can end. Boom.

There’s just one thing left…

We still need to sum up 2019.

I’ll keep this brief because I’ve already rambled on far too long, and if you can’t tell, this column is already a little heavy handed on the self-indulgence. 2019 in sports felt very much like an after credits scene of a Marvel movie. It was all about stage setting. Nothing radically changed, but trends started to emerge. By the end, there was a pretty clear portrait of what the next act—or the next decade in sports—would look like.

How do I mean? 2019 was the year female athletes commanded the sports world in a way they never had before. Megan Rapinoe and the US Women’s National Team were not only as dominant as the Jordan Bulls, but they were also the talk of the country for nearly a month. Coco Graff provided Wimbledon’s most memorable moments of the year. At this summer’s world championships, Simone Biles was once again America’s darling.

2019 was also the year that Lamar Jackson burst onto the scene. We’ll talk more about Jackson later, but for years, the thinking in the NFL had always been that the reason why mobile quarterbacks weren’t successful was because developing the necessary passing ability and rushing ability was too steep a learning curve, but Jackson and the Ravens figured out the secret recipe. It feels like, finally, a breath of liveliness has been breathed into football that could change the sport in the same way the 3-point revolution has changed basketball.

2019 saw the first cracks in the foundation of the dynasties that have been more ubiquitous than Flo, the annoying Progressive lady, was in this decade. The Patriots offense is a serious question mark heading into the playoffs, and even Tom Brady looks rusty (because I wrote this, there is a 100 percent chance he is named Super Bowl MVP one month from today). Meanwhile, in college ball, Alabama was hankered with injuries, but the team never really came together even when healthy. Pair that with the revamped LSU Tigers, and Bama isn’t a National Championship shoe in.

And alas, my intro wasn’t so brief after all. Slightly less exciting than Star Wars’ 9th installment, but remember…this is the column your looking for. Did that Jedi mind trick work?

Male Athlete of the Year
Kawhi Leonard, F, Toronto Raptors/Los Angeles Clippers

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Kawhi Leonard? Famously, in this age of oversharing, Kawhi refuses to give up anything. We openly wonder if he’s a robot, or if his family even knows he plays basketball. What we do know about him only makes things more confusing: He won an NBA title by staring down super teams on his own, but then he went and made a super team himself. In the NBA’s run and gun three point era, his game is built around a mid-range jumper and defense. He hates the spotlight but stacked his cards so he could play in Los Angeles. He has a signature shoe…but it’s a New Balance. I could go on.

Our expectations for what a sports superstar should be haven’t changed since the Babe Ruth days, when he visited sick kids in the hospital before games and lived an outsized life afterwards. LeBron James famously proclaimed last year that he would never “Shut up and dribble.” We could debate whether it’s a good thing or not, but a key feature of the Trump era has been the insistence that institutions—from businesses to pop stars to our sports stars—stand for something. Kawhi, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have an opinion on…anything.

So why no Twitter hate? Why is nobody calling him out for not using his platform to make an impact? It would be so easy to paint Kawhi as a selfish villain who cares about nobody other than himself, who scorned both Gregg Poppovich and the entire country of Canada. But still, Kawhi is beloved. How?

He’s simply that good. In 2019, Kawhi gave us no choice but to sit back and enjoy his show. Battling injuries, he limped at times throughout the playoffs and still averaged 30 points and 9 rebounds. He made a buzzer beater that defied the laws of physics (we’ll get to it later). He signed with LA’s other basketball team and has them positioned as the best team in the league. All he does is play hard and play as well as anyone has ever played the sport.

Is he socially conscious? No. Is he an icon? Probably not. Will he give elegant treatise on his role as a public figure? Depends how you interpret the saying, “Board man gets paid.” But he still became a folk hero in Canada, earned the right to join the Clippers, and is universally beloved by NBA fans. He did it by just dominating on the basketball court. And that was enough.

Female Athlete of the Year
Megan Rapinoe, Forward, USWNT/Seattle Reign FC

Francisco Seco / AP Photo

And then there is Megan Rapinoe. It’s hard enough, as Kawhi did, to earn respect without opening your mouth at all. It’s all the more difficult to do as Rapinoe did and earn it without keeping quiet about anything. She became a lightning rod when she told a reporter, “I’m not going to fucking the White House” if the team were to win the World Cup, to which Trump responded, “Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Although, if anyone were paying attention, they would have known that Rapinoe was never going to stop talking. She kneeled before games three years ago in support of Colin Kaepernick and was left off the USWNT roster for some games as a result. When she earned a spot back on the team, she helped organize the team’s pre-World Cup lawsuit demanding equal pay.

But it was after a penalty kick, one day after Trump’s tweet, when Rapinoe became one of sports history’s all-time greatest badasses. She ran towards the sideline, held her hands out to both sides, proud, seeming to say, “You want me to win first? No problem.” In her face, you could see that she would be giving a double bird salute if she could. It was awesome.

Everyone focuses on her celebration, but the run up to it, the actual goal, speaks volumes about Rapinoe as a player and as a person. Head coach Jill Ellis signaled that she wanted Alex Morgan to take the kick, but Rapinoe reminded her that penalties had been her job all year and that wasn’t going to change just because the stage was bigger. She refused to back down. Then, running to kick the ball, she thought to herself “Your opponent is more nervous than you are,” according to Sports Illustrated.

You know what happens next, and the whole sequence sums up Rapinoe in a nutshell. She refuses to compromise because of the spotlight, she’s proud of her conviction, and she backs it up. In a year with a lot of dark spots, she gave us an image of America to root for, to be proud of, one that we could want to represent us to the rest of the world.

Best Team
St. Louis Blues

One day, the St. Louis Blues run from worst to first will be taken to Hollywood. In order to make the job of some screenwriter easier, I have summarized the main beats of the upcoming movie below:

The Title: Gloria. This would also serve as one of the opening scenes. It’s January 6, nearly halfway through the NHL season, and the long-suffering Blues, who have never won a Stanley Cup in their franchise’s history, have the worst record in the league. A group of players visit a bar in Philadelphia to watch the NFL playoffs the night before their game against the Flyers. Between commercial breaks, the DJ plays Laura Branigan’s 80s hit “Gloria,” and every time, the crowd goes crazy. The Blues players find it hilarious and swear to play it after every win from there on out. They win the next day against the Flyers, and in the locker room, they play their new anthem for the first time.

The Main Character: That would be Jordan Binnington, who at the beginning of the year was the Blues’ fourth string goalie. At 25, he had never made it out of the Minor Leagues. He partied a lot. Never really focused on hockey. And then, in the offseason, he realized he was squandering his opportunity at making a career out of playing hockey. So, he recommitted himself, got to the gym at 4 AM some days. In January, he’s finally called up to the NHL roster. His first start is a shutout. It’s the same game in Philadelphia that serves as the Blues’ introduction to “Gloria.”

The Turning Point: Binnington turns out to play like the best goalie in the league. The Blues start winning. In February, the Blues are down one to the Florida Panthers midway through the third period. Ryan O’Reilly fires a shot that tied things up, and for the next 517 minutes of game time, the Blues never trail.

Raising the Stakes: Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Double overtime. Next goal wins. The Blues fire a shot, it ricochets, and here comes Patrick Maroon, who grew up just 15 miles outside of St. Louis. He pokes the goal in, the Blues head to the conference finals, and a St. Louis radio station begins a 24-hour straight broadcast of “Gloria,” on loop.

The Antagonist: The Boston Bruins are everything the Blues are not. They’re one of the most storied franchises in the league, with 20 Stanley Cup appearances and a win in 2011. They were a juggernaut throughout the year, finishing with the third best record in the NHL, and breezed through the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Their captain, Zdeno Chara, is a hard-hitting Czech defenseman who is 6’9”. Perfect for a villain.

The Climax: Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. The Blues are coming off a 5-1 slaughter and have to travel back to Boston for the deciding showdown. What do they do? They come out and dominate, scoring two early goals and never look back. In the first two periods, the Bruins out-shoot the Blues 33-20, but Binnington doesn’t let anything in until the Bruins add an extra attacker late in the third period. When they win and St. Louis captures its first Stanley Cup in their 51-year history, the entire city sings, “Gloria.”

Roll credits.

Best Game
Game 6 ALCS, New York Yankees @ Houston Astros

Sue Ogrocki / AP

Playoff baseball is best known for providing hold-your-breath moments, and this one had them in spades. 14 players were left on base, held there by some of the best defense we saw during the entire baseball season.

But this game will always be remembered as the José Altuve game, so let’s talk about José Altuve, the face of the Houston Astros and the most lovable baseball player in the world. Against the best closer in baseball, with nothing less than a trip to the World Series on the line, he uncorked a perfect swing that will live on forever. Here is what the great Tom Verducci had to say about the moment:

If you get it, in the way a poet hears the muse and a sculptor sees the form, you know how good baseball can be for the soul. Baseball can be our companion on a car radio on a summer evening, our place to dine al fresco with family as we wonder from the third deck how the umpire could possibly have missed that pitch, or simply ballast to our busy lives, always there when we need it.

There are as many reasons to love baseball as there are pitches in a season. One of the best of them, even if you are a New York Yankees fan who just watched him cut through your heart with one mighty swing, is Jose Altuve, the dynamo of a second baseman for the Houston Astros.

Even Aroldis Chapman couldn’t help but smile.

Best Moment
Tiger wins The Masters

I was at a tennis tournament in Houston when Tiger was on the back 9 of Augusta. I had my computer with me, so I started to stream The Masters, to see if he would actually pull it off. An old man, about 75, noticed me and came over. “Would you mind if I watched with you,” he said. “I’ve been looking for a TV all afternoon.”

He sat with me, and he told me about watching Jack Nicklaus at the ’86 Masters with his son. His son had moved away now, he said, and although he tried, the man could never quite get his son into golf. The man wondered if his son even knew who was winning in Augusta, and even if he did, the man was doubtful that he knew the significance. But right before Tiger teed off on 18, the man’s phone rang, and it was son, saying he was watching in New York and thinking of his father. A few minutes later, when Tiger sunk the last putt, me and the man yelped and hugged, and when Tiger found his kids in the crowd and embraced them, the old man’s allergies started acting up. Mine did too.

Best Breakthrough Athlete
Lamar Jackson, QB Baltimore Ravens

Sure, Lamar Jackson has made a point to let us all know that he’s “more than a running back,” but as good an arm as he has, the biggest reason why Lamar became the best QB in the league is that he reinvented the lost art of running the football in the NFL. This year saw the fewest rushing attempts in league history, but the Ravens have built their attack around the ground game. With Lamar and Mark Ingram (a contender for the How the Hell is He Still in the League? Joey) in the backfield, the Ravens were able to use the same concepts that make the spread passing attack so successful. If the defense stuffs the inside of the line of scrimmage, Lamar will keep it, spring outside, and outrun the big uglies on the defensive line. Bring in more athletic linebackers on the outside, and he’ll hand it to Ingram to bully the inside of the line of scrimmage. And if all else fails, he has an electric arm to beat you too. After losing to Jackson 45-6, Los Angeles Rams safety Eric Weddle told reporters, “Half the time, I didn’t even know who had the ball.” Weddle, by the way, is a Pro Bowler.

Here’s another way to quantify Jackson’s success: The Ravens have the most rushing yards per game since the 1977 Chicago Bears, when Walter Payton was in the backfield back. Sweetness is never the worst company to be in—even for someone who’s way more than a running back.

Most Impressive Performance
Max Scherzer Pitching with a Black Eye

Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Half the job of a pitcher is to look intimidating. I’m convinced this is why Tim Lincecum was so dominant; batters had to have been terrified that the unstable video game nerd on the mound was about to hurl a four seamer right at their head. It’s why Craig Kimbrel does his stupid wind up. It’s why Nolan Ryan would happily beat the shit out of all takers.

And it’s why Max Scherzer’s July outing against the Philadelphia Phillies is as perfect a pitching performance as you’ll ever see. A day before the game, on Scherzer’s first pitch while taking batting practice, he squared up for a bunt. He proceeded to bunt the ball straight into his face, breaking his nose. It’s the perfect baseball injury, happening in practice, with minimal effort and maximum stupidity. Any other sport, and he’d be a laughingstock. In baseball, it only gave him more strength.

In case you aren’t convinced that Max looked intimidating on the mound that day, let me remind you of this: Scherzer has, normally, two different colored eyes. One’s blue and one’s brown. He already looks crazy. Add the black eye, and you’ve got a full-blown crazy person up there. Add the broken nose, and you’ve got something scarier than James Corden in Cats. 

The Phillies were so intimidated, they could barely touch him. 10 strikeouts and 7 shutout innings later, Mad Max stepped off the field. It wasn’t the best pitching performance of the year or even the best of Scherzer’s, but from the lead up to the execution, I’m not sure if anyone has ever pitched a more impressive one. At its best, baseball is high art. This was performance art. Bravo.  

Best Play
Kawhi’s Buzzer Beater

Joel Embiid in his face. In motion. Fading away. If Kawhi made this shot with six minutes remaining in a midseason game, it would still be amazing. He did it in the playoffs though, at the buzzer, in Game 7. Basketball history is riddled with the best players taking the toughest shots at the biggest moments. This was as tough and as big as they come.

And in case you didn’t believe in the sports gods. Look how the ball bounces on the rim, just hanging in the air like it’s straight out of Hoosiers. I’ve never taken a Physics class before, but I have taken a class about law. I’m pretty sure some laws of Physics were broken here.

Worst Play
Auburn Baseball’s Late Game Gaffes

Let’s set the stage for the Auburn Tigers, who just might be the best team I’ve ever seen at losing important baseball games. In an SEC tournament elimination game, they faced LSU, and Auburn was up one run with one out left in the ninth. Two more outs, and they would have won. Give up two runs, and they’re sent home. Men were on second and third, so Auburn was pitching around LSU, hoping for either a routine grounder or a walk that could set up a double play. The only thing that Auburn couldn’t have happen was…

But in their bid to earn a Joey, Auburn didn’t stop there. A few weeks later, because of college baseball’s ridiculously complicated postseason structure, the Tigers found themselves in the College World Series. Once again, they were up a run in the ninth inning. Two outs this time, and only a man on second when they get a routine ground ball that should easily end the game. And then…

Best Speech
A Rugby Player’s Beautiful Metaphor

All I know about this video is that the man talking is a well-known rugby player and also a poet.

Stick to Sports Award
Rebekah Vardy

Let’s stick in England for a second, shall we? The strangest sports story of the year came out of nowhere, completely devoid of any context. One morning, soccer star Wayne Rooney’s wife, Coleen, posted a screenshot of a lengthy statement. The caption read, “This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it……”

In the post, she writes that someone had been leaking photos and gossip from her private social media feeds to tabloids. Coleen explained that she had a suspicion of who it was, and to prove it, she blocked everyone from viewing her posts except for one person. Then, she posted a series of fake posts, and waited until they appeared in the papers. When they did, she knew she’d found the culprit.

“It’s,” she wrote, followed by 10 periods ……….“Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

That, of course, is the wife of Jamie Vardy, a teammate of Wayne Rooney’s on England’s National squad. Vardy denied the accusations (someone else had access to her account), and she also apparently has no ability to grasp the irony that in her quest to create tabloid fodder, she created the best tabloid gossip of the year. Rebekah Vardy? Quit being an Instagram mole. Stick to sports.

Smokin’ Jay’s Honeybadger Award
Kobe Bryant

Two years ago, Kobe Bryant’s then 10 year-old daughter’s AAU basketball team lost to a team 22-21. Then Kobe took over as coach, and the team, named The Mambas, refocused themselves. When they played that same team they’d lost to years before, they won 115-27. In an Instagram post, Kobe wrote of how proud he was…of most of the team, “Six of the kids in the picture stayed with me and worked every single day to get better and continue to work to this day.” And then he put a 12 year-old girl on blast. “The 7th player (not in pic) missed this game for a dance recital so that should tell you where her focus was at this time.”

Is he going too hard on his players? Should he have told the girls not to run up the score to 115-27. Hell no. Kobe Bryant, AAU coach of the year, does not give a shit.

Happy Trails Award
Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are the recipient of many a superlative: Team of the Decade, Most Likely to Change Basketball Forever, the Lineup of Death. All wrong. The Warriors were amazingly talented, sure, but we here at The Rally Caps could not be happier than to say good riddance to the most whiny, weak, and entitled team the world of basketball has ever seen. On their way out the door, we thought it would be nice to give some of the key players some more accurate superlatives.

  • KD: Most Likely to Still Consider Elon Musk his Hero
  • Steph: Most Likely to Watch the Family Dog Crap on the Neighbor’s Lawn and Just Keep Walking
  • Klay: Most Likely to Release 2020’s Worst Rap Mixtape 
  • Draymond: Most Likely to Be Adam Driver’s Wall Punching Stunt Double in Marriage Story 2

 Don’t let the door hit y’all on the way out.

The Bud Selig Memorial, Most Likely To Be Caught To Have Taken Steroids Award
Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown (right) with James Harrison (left)

Unnaturally chiseled? Check.

Has spent a lot of time with James Harrison? Check.

Erratic mood swings? Check.

It all adds up to one thing…

The Bud Selig Memorial, Oh No! I Might Have Just Ruined a Sport Award
Houston Astros

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Astros weren’t the first baseball team to steal signs, and they won’t be the last. They’re just the one’s dumb enough to get caught. In the grand scheme of things, what the Astros did doesn’t really matter; in fact, there’s proof that the sign stealing didn’t even help Houston batters. The Astros’ real crime? Now we won’t be able to watch a baseball game without wondering which teams are snooping on the other. The whole episode is proof, once again, that ignorance is bliss.  

The David Stern Memorial, Holy Cow! I Might Have Just Saved My Sport Award
Katelyn Ohashi

Last year was brutal for gymnastics, the whole sport dragged through the Larry Nassar scandal. UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi, a senior, brought a little joy back to the gym with this floor routine from last January. If you want to start your year off on a happy note, take two minutes and watch this one more time.

The Gordie Howe Memorial Old Geezer Excellence Award
Tiger Woods

Tiger won this award last year, back when we were still going gaga over his win at the Tour Championship in which he made the 18th hole of a random PGA event feel like Beatlemania had descended on a Peter Millar store.

Here’s what I wrote 12 months ago: “Even if he never wins a major, the Tour Championship in September will act as a storybook ending. Tiger was leading heading into the 18th hole, and the only other time I’ve seen anything like the crowd that followed him after he teed off was in Forrest Gump. Just imagine what that scene would look like at Augusta…”

Well, well, well. If any other Old Geezers need good luck, my emails are open.

Most Epic Fail
Blown Pass Interference Call in the NFC Championship Game

Gerald Herbert / AP Photo

There’s no denying that the call itself was egregious. Even from the last row in the Super Dome, you could clearly see Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman body check Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis long before Lewis had a chance to catch it. Who knows what would have happened had the flag been thrown, but it’s hard to imagine that Drew Brees would have fared any worse than Jared Goff did against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Because this is the NFL, though, the mistakes compounded on each other. In response, the NFL changed its rules to make pass interference calls reviewable, and in so doing, the league found another way to make their rule book more complicated, their games last even longer, and still, they’re not any closer to finding a sensible way to police the sport. We might have to rename this award after Roger Goodell next year.

The Russell Westbrook Award for Crimes on Fashion
Dallas Maverick’s City Edition Uniforms

The 90’s called. Even they don’t want these back.

Best Innovation
Nike VaporFly

This year, you could buy self-lacing shoes from Nike, but Nike’s real kicks of the future don’t have fancy laces; they had giant midsoles. The Nike VaporFlys, created in 2017 for Nike’s Breaking2 project, are outfitted with three carbon fiber plates and a super thick midsole, designed to create more spring in each step. The shoes have caused such an improvement among marathoners that international governing bodies are considering outlawing the shoes. When Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to ever run a sub-two hour marathon, he was wearing the VaporFlys. Brigid Kosgei set the women’s record this year in a pair. In the past 13 months, the five fastest marathons in history have been recorded—all in the Nikes. So if like me, your New Year’s resolution is to jog a little more, may I recommend you invest in a new pair of kicks? You’ll be breaking records in no time, or at least, you’ll be breaking a 10 minute mile.

The Ice Man’s Put It On a Poster Award
Andy Ruiz KO’s Joshua Johnson

Al Bello / Getty Images

An iconic moment for out of shape people everywhere. It’s our generation’s David vs. Goliath story. Andy Ruiz, the short, chubby challenger, versus Anthony Joshua, the Greek god of a 6’6” heavyweight champion of the world. I would say that Andy Ruiz should never have to pay for a meal again, but that might put some places out of business. Instead, let’s just hang this photo everywhere.

Jalen Rose’s Keep Getting Dem Checks Award 
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kim Klement / USA Today Sports

That Jameis Winston ended his season with a game-ending pick six and in the process became the first quarterback in NFL history to finish the season with 30 interceptions and 30 touchdowns was such sweet poetic justice that it makes you wonder why the NFL’s writing staff is trying to signal their existence to the outside world (Is it a call for help? A demand for attention? All I know is…they’re out there). That Jameis is likely going to receive $27 million next year when the Bucs franchise tag him, thanks to the calculus of the NFL salary cap, is straight up highway robbery. We probably should have seen this coming, though. Jameis has always been a gifted thief.

The Should Have Seen That Coming Award
Art Briles and Mount Vernon ISD

Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo

Mount Vernon High School made waves earlier this year when they hired disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles to lead their football team. School leaders said that everyone is entitled to a second chance, which, sure, but was anyone really surprised when just a few games into Briles’ tenure, the governing body of Texas high school sports investigated the program and found that two players were ineligible for transfer violations? Asking Coach Briles not to cheat is like sticking a microphone in Coach O’s face and asking him not to yell “GEAUX TIGERS!” Ain’t gonna happen.

The Rudy Award
Hugh Freeze Coaches Liberty from a Hospital Bed

For all the proof you need that college football is the most ridiculous sport on Earth, look towards the press box at Liberty’s game against Syracuse and see Hugh Freeze coaching his team from a hospital bed. He was relegated to the hospital bed after he had to have emergency surgery a few days earlier to treat an infection in his back. He even Skyped into the locker room to give a halftime speech. All that and still…Liberty lost 24-0. But fear not! I’m sure, if it weren’t for his bad back, he would have been carried off the field on his player’s shoulders.

The What if I Told You…? Award for Most Likely to Be a 30 for 30
Joe Burrow, Coach O, and 15 pounds of Crawfish

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Joe Burrow isn’t the best quarterback in college football history, but he might be having the best season a quarterback has ever had. Coach Ed Orgeron, son of the Bayou, isn’t the best coach in history, either, but he too is having a season for the ages. What if I told you…that the duo that brought LSU back to the National Championship started their fairy tale over some crawdaddys?

When Coach O was recruiting Burrow to transfer from Ohio State, he took the quarterback to a seafood restaurant in Baton Rouge. Burrow scanned the menu and mentioned that he was disappointed they didn’t have any crawfish. Coach O told him not to worry about it and picked up the phone. 20 minutes later, a man walked into the restaurant with 15 pounds of crawdaddys, took them to the back, and soon, the coach and the quarterback were feasting.

A year later, the lifelong Ohioan was running out of the tunnel in Tiger Stadium with the name Burreaux on his back. Coach O was speaking whatever language he speaks—”hubba bubba bubba GEAUX TIGERS!and now, a National Championship seems imminent. Give me the documentary story of how the two found their way to Baton Rouge, how they rallied the state of Louisiana, and how they got the Tigers back to the top. Premiering on SEC Network, of course.

The Mike Trout Award
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

Rob Tringali / Getty Images

This award used to be called “Best MLB Player,” but it became clear to me that for the foreseeable future, nobody is going to take this award home other than Mike Trout. Every year, I write about which Hall of Famers Trout surpassed on the all-time wins above replacement rankings. Let’s continue that tradition here.

En route to capturing his third MVP award, he hit .291 this year, with 45 home runs, and 104 RBI, all while leading the league in on base percentage (.438, which is insane) and slugging percentage (.645). Through last year, he had racked up enough WAR to surpass 83 Hall of Famers. After adding another 8.3 wins above replacement, Trout has now been more valuable in just eight full years than an additional 35 inductees, bringing his grand total to 118. Of the new group, Trout has provided more value than Ernie Banks, Barry Larkin, and Willie McCovey did in their entire careers.

Let’s project this out a little bit. Let’s assume Trout retires in 10 years (he’s 28 now), and for sake of being conservative (despite the fact that he’s just now entering his prime), let’s say that he recedes a more pedestrian 5.0 WAR for each of the next 10 seasons (although he’s averaging around 9.0 per season right now). Even with such a conservative estimation, Trout would still end his career being as valuable as Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Vin Scully Award for Lifetime Achievement
ESPN: The Magazine

It was an especially brutal year for the sports writing that’s so close to my heart. Sports Illustrated was sold, its new owners declaring that the magazine needed to become a “lifestyle brand” to survive and announced plans to open SI-branded health clinics before laying off one-third of the staff. Deadspin’s new owners sent its writers a memo imploring them to “stick to sports,” and in response, the entire staff quit, effectively shuttering the site. But it was ESPN’s decision to discontinue ESPN: The Magazine that hit me the hardest. No publication has had a big as an influence on me as The Mag, and any desire I have to write about sports the way I would like to can be directly traced back to all the days after school I spent reading the broadsheet cover to cover.

“It’s Rolling Stone crossed with Sports Illustrated,” John Skipper, the ESPN executive who helped found the magazine, once told James Andrew Miller. It’s true that “The Mag” always had a little rock and roll to it. The thing I appreciated most—and the biggest lesson I took away—about ESPN: The Magazine was that it always took chances. The first cover, in 1998, featured a quartet of young athletes that included Kobe and A-Rod and the headline “Next.” It was clear that it was meant to apply to the magazine as well.

The writing had ambition like few publications ever would, and in the process, featured some of the best, most inventive storytelling of the last two decades: JR Moehringer’s 12,000 word profile of Alex Rodriguez that didn’t include a single quote, Wright Thompson’s story on New Orleans a decade after Katrina that ran as the only story in the entire magazine, Tom Junod’s diary of Muhammad Ali’s funeral that got as close to the most famous man in America as anyone ever had. In recent years, the magazine has been a home for writers of color and women, helping launch Pablo S. Torre and Mina Kimes to new heights at ESPN. Its annual Body Issue refused to be gimmicky, sandwiching illuminating profiles between art gallery photographs. Even the design was powerful. You picked up an issue of “The Mag” and knew you were holding the result of a team of people taking chances, swinging for the fences on every story. If nothing else, that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.


And that’s all she wrote, folks. All the Joey’s are gone, and that means that balance has finally been restored to the force. To a happy and healthy 2020 to you and all your favorite teams—unless you root for the Oklahoma Sooners. In that case, I hope the coming weeks include news that your head coach is bolting for the NFL, the NCAA has opened an investigation into your recruiting practices, and you look out the front door and remember that you’re stuck in Oklahoma. Happy New Year!!

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