The Opening Pitch: The 10 Most Intriguing Athletes of the Decade reads like a sports Rushmore on steroids — not just all-time greats, but some of the best ever in their sports:
Tiger. Phelps. Lance. Federer. Bolt. Bonds. Brady. LeBron. Tebow. Danica.
As referenced two weeks ago, go back to December 1999 — from this list, only Tiger was the bonafide uber-star. (Bonds was close, but had yet to have his early-decade rampage; Lance had a single Tour de France title, not a half-dozen.) Everyone else? Virtually unknown.
Rather than try to ID the uber-stars of the next decade, it is a lot easier to peg the 20-teens against the Aughts:
— Tiger will break Nicklaus's career record for major titles.
(But no one will come close to matching Phelps' eight golds.)
— Bonds' career HR record will be broken by A-Rod.
(But no one will match Tebow's two titles/three Heisman finalists.)
— Usain Bolt will lower his own world record in various dashes.
(But no one else will win six Tours in a decade like Lance.)
— LeBron will eventually win an NBA championship.
(Danica might not win a NASCAR race, but a woman driver will.)
OK, Danica makes the decade's-best list because of her extraordinary novelty. But the rest of them are there for being prolific winners. (Bonds is the exception, but he "won" his individual battle with pitchers, like no one since Ruth.)
This might have been the decade where marketing mattered more than ever — the "me" decade, the era of the "personal brand." But the lesson for the next decade from this past one is obvious:
To stand out across a decade, winning matters more than anything.
Some things don't change, no matter what year it is.
Vikings can't get it done: "I know we're fortunate to be in the playoffs but we have to play better than we did the last few weeks or we'll be home fairly quickly." At least Brett Favre is being forthright.
And so if you weren't feeling confident anymore about the Saints winning the NFC, how do you feel today about the Vikings? All of a sudden, the Eagles or Cardinals seem like the team to beat — and Larry Fitzgerald (@lfitzgerald11 wants to tweet you something: "Oh #2 NFC seed...Knock Knock.We r coming 4 u..."
Wild Card Recap: Or, as I like to call it, "Week 17 Playoffs." The Jets are in, if they beat the Bengals — who have little to no incentive. The Ravens are in, if they beat the Raiders — who have little to no incentive. Everyone else is on the outside looking in, helplessly. They all had their chances. I have sympathy for none of them. (Anyone give either of the AFC Wild Card teams a snowball's chance in hell of winning the conference anyway? Didn't think so. This is fun for the sake of making Week 17 interesting, but it's largely academic.)
Colts Imperfection: The Colts' season was always going to come down to "Super Bowl champs" or not. Going 19-0 is fine, but winning the Super Bowl matters more. Just ask Pats fans. Here's the thing: If the Colts lose in the playoffs, it won't matter if it's their first loss, second loss or third: The season will be a complete failure.
(The only reason I would let the starters keep playing is because I think teams that shut it down in the regular season lose their mojo in the playoffs; playing the starters — at least until games are well in hand — is the optimal strategy to win the Super Bowl. By the way, compare the Colts' strategy to the Chargers, who are going full-speed ahead.)
Gone Bowlin': Double-header! Eagle Bank (UCLA vs. Temple in D.C.) and Champs (The U vs. Wisconsin in Orlando). Nothing says "reward for a season well-played" like a late-December game in Washington. Meanwhile: Jacory Harris. 'Nuff said.
Independence Bowl: Georgia was not a particularly good team in the SEC this season, and yet they destroyed a Texas A&M team that was able to score all over Texas. Apply a transitive property for the BCS title game as you see fit.
Texas Tech suspends Mike Leach: Controversy over how coaches treat injured players is one of the hot-button topics of 2009, but it's still a really big step to suspend your coach for a bowl game over it. Suspect this is an irreparable breach between institution and coach, and it wouldn't surprise me if Leach is coaching for another team in the fall of 2011. (And it's not crazy to wonder if Leach will be coaching Texas Tech in 2010.)
Meyer Watch: Florida fans (and former players) may not have 100 percent confidence in interim head coach Steve Addazio, but the players themselves got behind him, publicly. Presuming Meyer still has his finger on the recruiting pulse, Addazio can't do much damage between now and September.
CBB Mania: Northwestern is ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in 40 years. If that isn't an omen that this will be the year that the program finally — finally — makes the NCAA Tournament. ... Huge "prove-it" game at Illinois tomorrow.
NBA Talking Points: With the Thunder coming off a win (Durant: 40) and the Wizards coming off a loss (to the Grizz), the only thing about their game tonight that inspires me as a Wizards fan is the idea that Durant could want to come back home when he is a free agent in 2012. "Durant to DC in 2012" is my version of the Knicks fan's "LeBron to NYC in 2010."
MLB Hot Stove: Rick Ankiel — one of the great baseball stories of the decade — is still looking for a team. Why?
The Last Word: Wow. I had my chance to talk about my sports moment of the decade yesterday, but I hope you had the chance to read the excellent contributions from the rest of the TSB team:
— Shoals on NBA Xmas Day '03
— Tunison on the Steelers' sixth ring
— Levy on the Phillies in '08
— Hutchins on Joakim Noah in 2007
— Freeman on the 2007 Warriors
— Littmann on Cincinnati hoops in 2000
— LSUFreek on the Saints' post-Katrina homecoming
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff.â†µ
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