Friday, November 14, 2008

Philly's Sportsman of the Year?

Sports Illustrated has rolled out its red carpet and begun its Super Bowl-style pre- pre-game announcement of SI’s 2008 Sportsman of the Year. The early essays allow writers to profile those who won’t win, kind of like the Super Bowl pre- pre-game shows that interview NFL stars not in the game.

SI has chosen to go with a big red carpet, considering its off-beat selections, which, for the most part, are just topics the writers want to feature, and not genuine Sportsman candidates.

They offer kind-hearted athletes, such as two Central Washington softball players and Oakland Raider good guy Nnamdi Asomugha (Spell-check, please!), plus the adversity-challenged, like boxer Bernard Hopkins and soccer star Hope Solo.

The winner to be announced Dec. 2, of course, will be Michael Phelps, or SI is off the Mark Spitz.

So who would be Philadelphia’s Sportsman of the Year? As with the Phelps pick, there’s really only one place to look. And the winner is: Andy Reid!

No? Okay, it’s just as easy to eliminate other Philly hopefuls. Any Sixers? Two Andres but no Answer here. The Flyers? They have an Ossi and a Lasse and if you know them, you’re reading the wrong blog.

For the Eagles, it’s kind of like Reid’s play-calling: McNabb, McNabb, McNabb. He’s having a good year—except for that small part about the team’s last place standing in the NFC East—but it’d take a miracle run to the playoffs. And everyone knows the Eagles don’t run.

Hopkins, college hoops, horses, or any Olympic hopefuls can’t compare to the area’s biggest story, the World Series champion Phillies—who provide more choices than Baskin-Robbins.

Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer—even Charlie Manuel, of all people. You could make a great case for each one: the MVP candidate, MLB’s top closer, the NLCS and World Series MVP, the early-season anchor, the team’s winningest pitcher, and the Manager of the Year runner-up.

But to pick one guy would be like selecting an MVP from the 1980 team—not the ’80 Phillies, the ’80 Miracle on Ice team. Like Mike Eruzione and his crew, this ’08 miracle that ended in icy conditions was utterly unpredictable.

The Phillies rallied from 3.5 games back with 16 to play—and won the division by 3. That’s a 6.5-game swing in 16 games.

They finished 13-3 in the regular season, 11-3 in the postseason. And throughout the entire season, a new player would pick up others who were struggling.

From Utley and Pat Burrell early, through Hamels, Moyer, and Jimmy Rollins in the middle, to Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Brett Myers back from the minors down the stretch this year’s Phillies were a roller-coaster ride that ended at just the right time.

And since when do the Phillies have a bullpen as dominating all season as the one anchored by Lidge, Ryan Madson—the bridge to Lidge—and J.C. Romero, among others?

Would it have been easier if the 79 days spent in first place had been 100 or more? Easier, sure; as memorably exciting? Not a chance. Was there a better way to end a 25-year city title drought than a wild season that ended with snow in October and a last game that lasted three days?

SI has chosen two teams as its Sportsmen of the Year since making the ’80 Olympic team its choice: The ’99 U.S. women’s soccer team, and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The ’08 Phillies won’t be the third.

But anyone along for the wild ride knows the validation would be nothing compared to the celebration.

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