Welcome, welcome, welcome…you thought I would miss this? You thought the Joey’s weren’t coming back again? Well, in the spirit of Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, and the Rocky franchise…the Joey’s are back, baby. You can’t get rid of us that easy.

The hardest part of putting this thing together every year is trying to remember (and thus accurately convey to you, loyal reader) everything that happened in sports over the last 12 months. Typically, I’ll make notes throughout the year, do some research, and with the reflection comes a lot of “Ohhhh right…that happened this year.”

But 2018…I don’t know if I’m getting old (8 years of this column!), trying to block out these events (tough year for Democracy and the Cubs), or suffering from an alien mind-wipe (I did visit Roswell, NM, this year…), but more often than not, I would come across a memory from the sports world and say, “There’s no way that that was this year.” Through some further searching, I was proven wrong, and Google can now sell my data to a pharmaceutical company that produces Dementia drugs. I might need it.

Think about Tua Tagliova. Can you believe that it was only 12 months ago that he came off the bench to win that National Championship? The Winter Olympics. Remember that? We had an entire World Cup this year—without the U.S.A! The last time we handed out Joeys, LeBron was still in Cleveland, Texas wasn’t back, and Kanye wasn’t yet a diplomat.

So take a seat, grab some popcorn, and do some remembering with me. It’s the Joey’s. Lucky number 8. Hope you enjoy.

Male Athlete of the Year
Lebron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers

He didn’t win a title, and it doesn’t matter. LeBron owned 2018. That’s no surprise; he owns every year. I’ve written again and again about his brilliance, and 2018 brought even more proof that he’s in a league of his own. He hit buzzer beaters at odd angles, his body flying in one direction, his chest and arms torqued in the other, suspended in midair as he fired up a game winner en route to his eighth straight Finals.

If it was just what he did on the court, LeBron probably wouldn’t win this award. Even though LeBron has probably been the best male athlete in the world since I started handing out the Joey’s eight years ago, he hasn’t won this award every time for the same reason Bill Belichick isn’t the NFL’s coach of the year every year. It’d get boring. So, he has to do something extra special to win (he’s won it twice before). What’d he do? 2018 was the year that LeBron proved, once and for all, that not only is he his generation’s greatest athlete, but he’s its greatest celebrity too.

LeBron actually stands for something. How rare is that in 2018? It’s unusual enough in our elected officials, but it’s even rarer among athletes. What does Michael Jordan believe in? How about Tiger Woods? Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady?

There were his comments that he would, “definitely not shut up and dribble” after Fox News’ Laura Ingraham blasted his rebuke of President Trump. There was the incredible “I Promise” School he opened in Akron—which provides not only an exemplary education and facilities for its students but GED classes and job training for parents as well. Every celebrity talks about utilizing their platform for good, but nobody maximizes it as well as LeBron does. The school is the perfect example. Most athletes who start schools make charter schools, where their influence on the larger public education system is limited—they exist independent from the local school board. The I Promise School is a normal public school, full-stop, created in partnership with Akron ISD. That means that proven education methods like longer school days, smaller classes, and shorter summers are being implemented in schools that anybody in the district can attend. Public education is as polarizing an agenda item as there is. Nobody else in Ohio—not the head of the school board, not the mayor of Akron, not the governor—could have gotten this school built. It’s no wonder why LeBron is still beloved in Ohio even after leaving for LA.

Oh, right. I haven’t even gotten to his big move yet. By heading to the Lakers, LeBron stacked his cards, so he’ll have an elevated position for long after he’s done chasing down blocks. He’ll own businesses, be in movies, maybe even run for office. “Shut up and dribble?” As usual, Fox News missed the point. For LeBron, dribbling is only a small part of it.

Female Athlete of the Year
Simone Biles, Gymnast

America found out Simone Biles was the best gymnast in the world back in 2016 during the Rio Olympics. 2018 was the year she solidified her place in history, winning her fifth National Championship and becoming the first woman since 1994 to sweep events—capturing gold in uneven bars, vault, balance beam, and floor exercise. She dominates in a sport that is built for specialization and a lack of longevity. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on gymnastics and wax poetic here about what makes her special. I’ll just say this: it’s obvious, even to a novice like me, that she is unmatched. Her dominance is as plain to see as the fact that all the members of Russia’s team are taking steroids.

But she’s not just the sport’s best athlete; she’s its heart too. Just like LeBron, Biles leveraged her position as a superstar to try to make things better for those who come after her. She publicly accused former USA Gymnastic trainer Larry Nassar of sexually assaulting her, joining hundreds of others, and she was unflinching in her calls for justice not just against Nassar but all the officials who facilitated his conduct. She blasted the head of USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee, all while actively trying to secure a spot on the 2020 Olympic team. She’s the only athlete in the sport in a position to risk her Olympic qualification, but I doubt most others would have done so with the same ferocity.

All these distractions, bad memories being brought to the surface, and then, at the National Championships, she took care of business like always. The only thing that was different than all the times beforehand was her leotard, which she designed. It was light blue, the color that represents sexual assault survivors, and USA Gymnastics had no choice but to hand her medal after medal after medal.

Best Team
Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama football is so dominate that they just might have ruined the sport of college football. At the very least, they’ve ruined its postseason. But fear not! Here are some ideas of how we can save the sport and stop the Tide:

  • Force them to play their second string quarterback…oh wait.
  • Brainwash Nick Saban into finally listening to the advice of the guys who call in to Paul Finebaum.
  • Buy a gigantic, Alabama-sized tampon. (A Crimson Tide joke…get it?)

Apart from those three weaknesses, they’re unstoppable.

Best Game
Chiefs @ Rams on Monday Night Football

Want to know a secret?

Looks over shoulder…

Leans in close…

[Whispers] NFL games stink. They’re boring! It’s the same style of offense, playing against the same style of defense over and over and over again. Don’t get me wrong—like you I can’t stop watching—but try and remember a specific regular season game from the year that didn’t feature your favorite team. Or any year for that matter.

If you could name one, I’d be willing to bet that it was the Chiefs-Rams game on Monday Night Football. You know why you remember that one? [Whispering again] Cuz it wasn’t like any NFL game ever before.

Big statement, I know, but this is the type of game that they’ll write books about. You could feel the significance while it was still happening, the future of the NFL shifting in real time. Like watching the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk, when all of a sudden, the future feels limitless. A Rams defensive tackle said postgame, “If that game didn’t feel different, my name ain’t Ethan Westbrooks.” I checked, and guess what? His name’s Ethan Westbrooks.

More hyperbole? I say no. 105 points, more than any in NFL history. 1,001 total yards. The lead changed four times in the final quarter. What made it a snapshot of the future of the NFL, though, wasn’t just the offense. The defenses, believe it or not, came to play too. There were seven turnovers, and three of the record-setting touchdowns came via defenses. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the best player on the field, forcing two fumbles and making each play feel like a two-second race: will the pass get off before the defensive line gets to the quarterback?

This is the NFL in 2018 and beyond: wild west offenses vs. defenses predicated on turnovers and sacks. Everything is big: big plays, big scores, big momentum swings. Thank heavens. It’s so much more exciting than the old stuff.

Best Moment
Arkie Ogunbowale hits back-to-back buzzer beaters to win National Championship

Buzzer beaters are always great. Buzzer beaters to win Final 4 games? Even better. The same girl hitting another shot at the buzzer to win a national championship a few days later? Yes, please.

Best Breakthrough Athlete
Patrick Mahomes, QB Kansas City Chiefs

A year ago, Patrick Mahomes was a backup quarterback, and now he’s a fixture in the NFL’s record book, leader of the league’s top offense, and the front runner of the MVP race. He’s one of three players in league history (alongside the esteemed company of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) to throw for 50 touchdowns in a season and one of six who have ever thrown for 5,000 yards in a year. Manning is the only other player to have ever done both in the same season.

No matter when it occurred in his career, the numbers would have been staggering. That they happened in his first season as a starter is unheard of. And it came so easily. No look passes. 89 yard bombs. Pressure coming from his right? Fine, he’ll just roll left, put the ball in his left hand, and throw a first down that way. He had a game-worn jersey displayed in the Hall of Fame…after two starts. You know the scene in Napoleon Dynamite when Uncle Rico brags about being able to throw a ball over the mountains? Mahomes actually can. In warmups, for an October game in Denver, a video went viral of Mahomes leaning back and launching a 90-yard pass without seeming to exert any energy at all.

Mahomes’ old high school coach, Adam Cook, put it best in an interview with ESPN this year. “God didn’t give out too many arms like that,” he said.

Last year, all the talk in the NFL was about how the next generation of quarterbacks had arrived. Writers anointed Jimmy Garropolo, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Jared Goff as the heirs to the throne about to be vacated by Brady, Brees, and Rodgers. Who would’ve thought that the truly transcendent one was riding the bench behind Alex Smith?

Most Impressive Performance
Colin O’Brady, Antarctic Adventurer

Back in third grade, I was home sick when my classmates picked out their books for their next book report, so the teacher picked one for me. It was a big, long biography. Looked boring. Looked hard. I wanted to change, but the teacher wouldn’t budge.

As those things normally go, I’ve never forgotten that book. I read it with my mom, and by the end, from the second we put it down for the night, we couldn’t wait until we could start reading again. It was a precursor to our days binge watching Making a Murderer.

The book was about Ernest Shackleton and the famous voyage of the Endurance. The short version of the story goes like this: Shackleton was a member of a generation of adventurers in the early 20thcentury that were pushing the limits of knowledge to explore Antarctica. When Ronald Amudsen reached the South Pole before he could, Shackelton dreamed up a new challenge: he was going to cross Antarctica on foot from one side of the continent to the other. But his ship got stuck in ice and sunk, and in an extraordinary test of, well, endurance and leadership, Shackelton got all his men to safety. I highly recommend you at least read the Wikipedia page, but Shackelton’s place in lore is best remembered by another Antarctic explorer, Sir Raymond Priestly, who said, “Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency, but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

I mention this all because that book got me hooked on Antarctica. I’ve learned the history of Robert Falcon Scott and Amudsen, read more books about their generation of explorers. It’s enchanting, a place of incomprehensible power. Here’s a land that swallows up ships and where men disappear forever without a trace. How can a place like that actually be real?

Ever since Shackelton returned to England in 1917, accomplishing his goal of crossing the continent has been considered the greatest feat left to conquer in Antarctic exploration. As recently as 2016, Henry Worsely, a British army captain, died trying to attempt it.

This year, two men set out to make history. Louis Rudd, a close friend of Worsely’s, and American Colin O’Brady started their treks on the same day, miles apart from one another. They trekked across the snow on skis, pulling all of their own supplies on a 300-pound sled. Each day, they would travel for about 12 hours mostly uphill (the South Pole is 9,000 feet above sea level), before setting up camp for the night. O’Brady would ski every day for eight, 90-minute intervals, taking a short break between each one. They’d go anywhere from 10 to 26 miles in a day, through white outs and temperatures as low as -50°F. O’Brady described it as “being inside a ping pong ball.”

It wasn’t all mundane. The New York Times reported that once, O’Brady listened to Paul Simon’s album “Graceland” on loop for an entire day. A week later, he was told to call a number on his satellite phone, and it was Paul Simon. They talked for a half hour and promised to get together when the journey was finished.

O’Brady held a short lead over Rudd for most of the trek, and on the 53rdday, he had 77.5 miles left. His team estimated it would take three or four days for him to finish. But after already travelling nearly 850 miles, O’Brady woke up on Christmas morning and decided to go for it. He got on his skis and didn’t stop until 11 PM, 40 miles later. As he boiled water, he texted his wife, “I’m not stopping.” He ate dinner and carried on through the night (it doesn’t get dark in Antarctica this time of year). After 32 sleepless hours, O’Brady became the first man to ever cross Antarctica solo and unsupported.

Think about that. After two months of dragging 300 pounds 10-20 miles a day on limited rations, he went out and did something I could never do with a week of rest and a year of training. Making it across the continent alone is legendary. The way he finished it? That’s going to make a great book report one day.

Best Play
Minnesota Miracle

I was lost in the middle of the West Texas desert earlier this year, and my buddy and I were freaking out because my car said it had 30 miles of gas left and the sign we just passed said the nearest gas station was 50 miles away. We turned off the radio and air conditioner, filling the air with nervous worries as we tried to calculate how to make it. Then it got dark outside, and we tried to figure out how not to get axed to death by a psychopath or eaten by coyotes when the engine eventually sputtered dead. Then, a minute of cell service. We had some options: call AAA, try to find a closer gas station, or…

We checked the Vikings-Saints score.

“Uhhhh, dude. The Vikings are driving. Down one. Minute left.”

“Do we turn it on?”

“Do we have a choice?”

When the radio announcers tried to explain what happened on the last play of the game, neither of us could figure out what exactly had just occurred. Part of the problem was the Vikings color commentator couldn’t stop screaming. Then we lost cell coverage and spent the next several minutes trying to figure out which team had won and which sports god we needed to thank for letting us hear what we assumed was a special play. We were pretty sure the Vikings scored a touchdown, but maybe it was a pick-six?

There was another god to thank when we were soon after greeted with a nice, long descent that let us coast into town. We made it to the filling station with five miles left, and before pumping the gas, we found the highlight online.

There’s not much to say about what has been rightfully dubbed a miracle, because miracles, by definition, are inexplicable. We were left shaking our heads, and when we walked into the mini mart, the guy working the register asked us if we could believe that game. We couldn’t. I still can’t find the words. So instead, I will just leave you with that radio call we heard in the middle of the West Texas night.

Worst Play
J.R. Smith loses Game 1 of the NBA Finals

LeBron’s face says it all. If we learn in 20 years that after this play, LeBron made up his mind to ditch Cleveland, would anybody be surprised? 

Best Recovery
Ball boy crashes into wall

For the normal ball boy, this would have been a leading contender for the “Worst Play” Joey. But this is no normal ball boy. Look at the speed of that recovery. Despite getting what has to have been a concussion, by the time the tennis player looks over his shoulder, all is well. Right out of a cartoon. 

Best Speech
LeBron won’t shut up and dribble

I already wrote about why I think this speech and LeBron in general is so special. So watch it for yourself. Pay special attention to how he is always careful to take the high road, never offend, but still retain a point of view and some signature LeBron empathy. Take notes.

Stick to Sports Award
Kawhi Leonard and his laugh

Listen to this. What is possibly going on here? (head to the 20 second mark)

A word of advice, Kawhi. Stop laughing. Stick to sports. 

Smokin’ Jay’s Honeybadger Award
Vontae Davis retires at halftime

Ah, Vontae Davis. There’s no better way to sum up the Bills season, and probably no moment as hilarious in the NFL since the Buttfumble™.

It’s week two of the NFL season, halftime. Bills are down 28-6 to the Chargers a week after getting blown out 47-3. Cornerback Vontae Davis, the 10-year veteran, has had enough. He can’t take it anymore. He tells his coaches he’s done. Hangs up the pads and leaves. Retires at halftime.

Let me say that again: the man said screw it, and retired in the middle of the game.

Bravo, Vontae, for getting out of Buffalo and nabbing yourself a Joey while you were at it. You, sir, do not give a shit.

Happy Trails Award
Larry Culpepper

The long national nightmare is over. We never have to hear “Get your Dr. Pepper here!” yelled again in a horrible, fake southern accent. Between that voice, the visor, and the gut, Larry Culpepper might actually count as cultural appropriation of the SEC fan. The only thing that kept him from ever being full blown offensive is that those SEC goons probably loved him. Hopefully he enjoys retirement in the Redneck Riviera. That’s fine by me, so long as I never have to see (or hear) him ever again.

The Bud Selig Memorial, Most Likely To Be Caught To Have Taken Steroids Award
Conor McGregor

McGregor’s most notable fight of 2018 was against a bus. Two words: roid rage.

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

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

This is supposed to be a fun column, and the entire Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal is sickening. I’ll just say this. It was the worst sex scandal in sports history, and no, I couldn’t think it could get much worse than Joe Paterno either. “It couldn’t be worse. It couldn’t be bigger,” is how the USA Today’s Christine Brennan described it recently on NPR, and she’s exactly right. The chairman of the US Olympic Committee was forced out. The former head of USA Gymnastics was arrested, and the woman brought in to clean up the mess lasted less than 10 tumultuous months. The whole organization needs to be completely rebuilt—and OH BY THE WAY, it’s a governmental body. Where is the Congressional investigation into USA Gymnastics and the USOC and the Indianapolis police department, who, according to the Indianapolis Star, helped cover up Nassar’s abuses for years?

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

(Image Group LA via Getty Images)

The good news for gymnastics is that the idea that the corrupt, incompetent organization that runs it in America could be rebuilt from the ground up. It’s been oft-repeated but couldn’t be more true: if it wasn’t for the gymnasts who spoke out, nothing would ever be able to change. A perfect 10 from them, with extra points for bravery, grace, and class.

The Gordie Howe Memorial Old Geezer Excellence Award
Tiger Woods

If you would have said back in 2009, when the Cadillac was still crashed into the tree, that Tiger would be the most universally beloved player in golf (if not all of sports) nearly a decade later, I would have probably taken a page out of Elin Nordegren’s playbook and chased you out of the house with a golf club. And if you would have said back in May 2017, when Tiger was pulled over for a DUI with a cocktail of prescription drugs in his system, that a year later, he’d be a favorite at Augusta, I’d have probably done the same. But a year later, and here we are. Tiger’s back.

Why the change? I can’t explain how he came back on the golf course; I can’t even drive a ball straight. Why the change of heart from the fans, though? Here’s how Wright Thompson explained it on ESPN before the Masters: “This feels somehow more impressive than his 14 majors. Because if that was a triumph of talent, then this is a triumph of spirit.”

He didn’t win any of the majors, but he was playing well and that was enough. How could you not root for him? What a comeback story. Even if he never wins a major, the Tour Championship in September will act as a storybook ending. Tiger was leading heading into the 18thhole, 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…

Most Epic Fail
Serena Williams at the U.S. Open

The US Open should have been a passing of the torch, a time for tennis to celebrate 20-year-old Naomi Osaka as the sport’s next champion. Instead, it ended with both Osaka and Serena Williams crying during the trophy presentation.

Everyone was at fault. Serena should have kept her cool, the umpire handled the whole episode about as badly as he could have, and tennis’ ugly history of sexism was brought to the surface once again. One of Serena’s complaints was that a male champion would never be treated the same way. She’s right, no doubt about it. If nothing else, officials would never allow for a men’s championship to be stained by that type of argument. It was an ugly, ugly, ugly incident, without many silver linings anywhere to be seen.

The Russell Westbrook Award for Crimes on Fashion
Matt Nagy’s visor

As a Bears fan, it’s really hard for me to criticize our Lord and Savior Matt Nagy. But c’mon man…as a general rule of thumb, visors are completely off limits to all men, no exceptions. Want shade? Wear a hat. Want to show off your head? Don’t wear anything!

But for a bald guy to wear a visor? Utterly disgusting. Potentially a criminal violation. Hats were made for people like Nagy to cover up their bald spots. Instead, he wears a visor, which frames his blinding baldness for all to see. It makes no sense. And I know, I know, the results on the field speak for themselves…but his headwear choice seriously makes me consider if he has the wherewithal to lead an NFL team.

Best Innovation
Gritty

What makes a good mascot? They should be funny. They should be unique. They should have a bit of an edge. Gritty has all of those qualities. I’m also a little worried that there are a few screws loose upstairs. Imagine being on the opposing team and seeing this skating around the ice:

Well played, Flyers. Well played…  

Best NFL Player
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

See “Best Breakthrough Athlete”

Best College Football Player
Tua Tagovailoa, QB Alabama Crimson Tide

 

This year’s Alabama team is so good, it’s leading ESPN to run articles with headlines like, “Is the 2018 Alabama team the Tide’s greatest ever?”But Bama is always good. They have the best running backs, receivers, defensive lineman, linebackers, cornerbacks. The difference is that they’ve never had a great quarterback. The best QB Saban had ever coached before Tua was AJ McCarron. Yeah, that AJ McCarron.

In comes Tua, not only Saban’s best QB, but the best QB in college football, too. He was the backup last year, until Saban decided he wasn’t during the National Championship. In came the true freshman to the biggest game of his life, and he responded by getting the game to overtime and delivering a ball that flew straight into Bama lore.

That lore has only grown this year, as he led a Tide offense that averaged 47.7 points a game. Tua only lost the Heisman because voters penalized him for playing the final two weeks of the season on one leg and for crushing teams so much that he only had to throw 14 passes in the 4thquarter (three of them were touchdowns).

Still think Kyler Murray’s better? I present exhibit A:

And B:

OU STILL SUX.

Best NBA Player
LeBron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers

See Best Male Athlete.

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

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

This is Trout’s fourth time winning this award, and that’s especially impressive because when we first started handing these out, Trout was still a minor leaguer. And while Trout has been getting better and better every year since, we’ve been trending in the opposite direction. Oh, well. It’s hard to compete with the best baseball player since Willie Mays.

The best players make it look effortless (see: LeBron James, Simone Biles, and Patrick Mahomes mentioned above). Trout certainly belongs in that group. I’ve written some version of this same spiel all the other times he’s won this, but Trout is so quietly good at what he does that it’s necessary to stop and reflect on his place in history. If the Joey’s accomplish nothing else, at least they force you all to remember that.

Some numbers: since 2012, the longest stretch that Trout has gone without reaching base is a whopping two games. Then there’s this: Trout has now played in 1,065 games. In that same period of time, Hank Aaron hit 224 home runs. Trout has 240. He’s not all power, though. At the same point in his career, Pete Rose had racked up 1,329 hits, with Trout just behind him at 1,187. Finaly, there’s my favorite: his career WAR is now at 64.3 according to Baseball Reference, more than 83 Hall of Famers—and Trout hasn’t even played the mandatory 10 seasons to be eligible for the Hall of Fame yet.

Enjoy the 2019 MLB season. I’ll see you right back here this time next year, handing out the same award to the same guy.

Best NHL Player
Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has always been one of the best players in hockey, but 2018 was the year he finally won his Stanley Cup. And sure, I could talk about his play on the ice, how he scored 15 goals en route to the championship and added another 12 assists. But you can look up those highlights yourself.

Instead, I would like to focus on what happened after he hoisted the Stanley Cup. He told TSN postgame, “Fans, we did it! Get some beers, get some whatever, and start celebrating!” Ovi took his own advice; I’m not sure any player has ever had as much fun celebrating a championship.

There were these videos, from the Capitals’ party postgame. Ovechkin reportedly stayed until 5 am. By the way, if you’re going to win a championship with a bunch of meathead hockey players, Vegas is a great place to do it.

Then, back to D.C. where Ovechkin threw out the first pitch at the Nationals game (in flip flops). Well, actually, he threw out the first and second pitches after he sailed the first one over Max Scherzer’s head and got a do-over. It’s unclear how long it had been since Ovechkin changed clothes or slept.

The party didn’t stop when the game was going on.

Nor did it end after the final out.

And finally, Ovechkin found a fountain.

How can you not love hockey players?

Vin Scully Award for Lifetime Achievement
Rocky Balboa

 

While watching this year’s best documentary, Creed II, I was reminded what made Rocky such a special fighter all those years ago: it was always bigger than boxing for him. You look at the famous fighters today—Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Conor McGregor—and it feels like they fight just because they’re good at it. Rocky always fought for so much more. You know how I said way back at the beginning of this that what makes LeBron special is that he stands for something? Rocky’s always been that way. It was never about the money (he still lives in his cramped Philadelphia apartment, according to the documentary). Against Apollo Creed, it was proving himself to a girl. In the rematch, it was about proving himself to himself. Against Ivan Drago, it was about honoring a friend. He fought with heart because the thing about Rocky is that he’s a lover, a hopeless romantic. Maybe the reason why boxing has lost popularity is because there aren’t fighters like him anymore.

At least, there weren’t fighters like him anymore. Then he took Adonis Creed under his wing, and suddenly, it seemed like Rocky’s spirit would live on for who knows how many more fights? It’s inarguable that Creed is a talented boxer—I mean, look at him. He looks like a Michelangelo sculpture—but it’s also common knowledge that he’s special because of Rocky and what he taught the youngster. Just look at Creed’s two fights against Viktor Drago. Without Rocky in his corner, Creed didn’t just look lost during the fight but in everything that came before as well. From the prefight press conference to his walk out to the ring, he didn’t seem himself. I’m sure you’ve read the reports by now, but it was Rocky who took him to the middle of the Mojave Desert to get his head screwed on straight again.

That’s Rocky’s value now that he’s done fighting. He’s ensuring the sport survives long past he does, and for all of us whose only fighting experience is wrestling with siblings growing up, his underdog story remains an inspiration. I’m remembering a scene from the new documentary. Creed is healing from his first fight with Drago when Rocky comes to visit. He asks a simple question: “What’s the valuable stuff?  What are you really fighting for?”

Rocky’s always had his priorities straight. It’s a lesson the entire country would be wise to follow.


Once again, we’ve run out of Joey’s. Thanks for indulging me and hanging in all this way. I hope your favorite player comes home with a Joey in 2019—unless of course, you’re a Sooners fan, in which case, please get off of the site and never come back. We don’t want you here.

A quick note on the blog. I was really bad at writing regularly on here this year, but the plan is for that to change in 2019. I somehow managed to score a schedule that only has me in class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which means I’ll have a whole lot more time to write. So here’s the goal: about three new posts every week. Two of those will be short weekday thoughts on games, coaching decisions, or other sports news, and then every Sunday there will be one longer column.

What’s it going to be like? I’m going to do the old trick where I tell you what it won’t be. Sports writing online these days exists on one of two poles: either it’s super brainy and filled with advanced mathematics that I will never be able to comprehend, or it’s all Barstool-style humor, dumbing down sports into nothing more than a vehicle to generate memes. There has to be somewhere in the middle. I’ll use some numbers and of course I’ll try to keep it fun (sports shouldn’t be so serious all the time, either), but I’m also going to do my best to make the writing smart, original, and hopefully, worth your time. To a big 2019 for the Rally Caps!

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