Thanking the Thankless in Sports

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↵It's easy to think of a lot of the things that we're thankful for in sports -- Kobe's magic, Chris Johnson's agility, Usain Bolt's speed, Albert Pujols' power, and all the stuff Dan Levy et al. mention here -- but there always seem to be a few names and things left off the lists made around this time. So let this be a list of the otherwise unlisted. ↵

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↵Charlie Strong, Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp, and Dick Bumpas. Defensive coordinators are underappreciated up until their charges let up scores, at which point they immediately become overrated. These four guys, coordinators for Florida, Alabama, Texas, and TCU, respectively, haven't reached that juncture yet. They've earned compliments they've never received, and sans one NSFW sideline outburst by Muschamp, are more or less personality-free guys tutoring punishing defenses. Bumpas is the one I'd like to thank in particular: That mustache! That name! The defense that he transformed from the 100th best in total defense in 2004 to one that hasn't been out of the top 25 in total defense in the last five years! That mustache! ↵

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↵Pau Gasol. How easy is it to forget that the Lakers' second-best player is the guy whose concession to fame is cameos on CBS procedurals? Gasol is smooth underneath the basket, and gifted from mid-range, and though he's not as powerful as the rest of L.A.'s talented forwards or as exciting as Shannon Brown, his subtle grace is worth the attention it is rarely paid. ↵

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↵Alex Rodriguez. Bear with me: We appreciate him as a star, as fans of or fans against the damn Yankees, and we appreciate the foibles that go along with it. But we forget that he may be one of the five best baseball players ever when all is said and done. Check his similar players on Baseball-Reference: Aaron, Ott, Foxx, Mantle, Mays. His on-base percentage hasn't been under .375 in a season this decade. He hit 30 homers in just 124 games in 2009, and that was probably his worst year this decade. His failures are magnified and his successes, especially before this year, were largely ignored. They shouldn't be: He's an all-time great. ↵

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↵Offensive linemen. If you're not Michael Oher, you're not getting more than the rare "Hey, offensive linemen are the key to everything!" piece written about you. You probably get more concussions in duels with defenders, eye-gouges at the bottom of piles, and wrecked knees on roll-ups by your teammates than most realize. The only fans who throw on your jerseys are the husky guys trying to be funny. Yeah, you get paid, but you deserve some recognition every so often, too. ↵

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↵Every ref, ever. The rewards for being a major league's official are well worth the effort, sure, but coaches don't get certain expletives chanted at them by for making decisions based on years of training and closer proximity to plays if they happen to displease the fans. (Well, except Andy Reid.) The vast majority of referees are good people who strive to make games as fair as possible, and the scorn that is aimed at them for one mistake is often grossly disproportionate. ↵

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↵Venus and Serena Williams. They gave us a decade of brilliant tennis, even with lulls to pursue non-athletic pursuits. Capriati, Hingis, Davenport, Henin-Hardenne, Sharapova, and Clijsters have been around for parts of the Williams sisters' reign, but their only real rivalry has been with each other, and seems likely to continue for as long as they have the desire to play tennis. Forget Federer and Nadal; this is the great pairing in tennis of this century so far. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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