Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sportsman of the Month - retro to Jan/Feb

You know how Sports Illustrated does its "Sportsman of the Year" thing every December? They leave out so many good candidates, and, well, they can only choose one man or woman each year. So I came up with this idea to spread it out, and do a Sportsman of the Month that helps give more great athletes and sports personalities their props. I'll have my March choice at the end of the month; but in the interest of spreading it out, here's my January and February picks.

January: Larry Fitzgerald

Celebrities behaving badly seem to dominate the headlines so much more than celebrities doing positive, enlightening things. That’s why when we are blessed with a feel-good story, ESPN is so good at ramming it down our throats so much that we can eventually get sick of many “good guys.” Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Tim Tebow, Stephen Curry, even lovable Jason McElwain… hate to say it, but I grew tired of hearing about each of them. (No offense to J-Mac and his cool story...I just think it got overblown, particularly due to those annoying "G" commercials.)

Well, I hope I never, ever, ever get sick of Larry Fitzgerald, Jr.

(Now his dad, that’s another story. Larry Senior showed up at the Big Ten Tournament wearing his kid’s jersey to cover … who, exactly, I don’t know. Seems that fame got to the old man’s head. But I digress from a wonderful story.)

In lifting the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl (think how ridiculous that sounds), Fitz put up one of the greatest back-to-back-to-back-to-back efforts in the history of postseasons. Many people labeled this the greatest postseason ever, but I use the words I do because it properly illustrates that he did it consistently in four straight games, instead of having one monster game and a couple of okay efforts.

One great game against the Falcons (six catches, 101 yards, and a touchdown) and one massive game at the Carolina (eight, 166 and a score) wasn’t enough to convince the two Keystone State teams. Even when everybody in the ballpark knew that Fitz was getting the ball, the Eagles (nine, 152 and three touchdowns) and Steelers (seven, 127 and two scores, including the go-ahead 64-yarder with 2:37 to go that nearly won it for ‘Zona) couldn’t stop him. Then just for good measure, Fitzgerald went down to Hawaii and was the MVP of the 2009 Pro Bowl with five, 81 and two scores (only the AFC All-Stars could keep Fitz under the century mark for yards).

How colossally insane is that? 33 catches, 627 yards, and nine touchdowns. In five games. And unless you were living under a rock in January, you already know that Fitzgerald ranks in the top five humblest, most soft-spoken athletes in America today.

Let’s just make sure Fitzgerald, 25, doesn’t go the obnoxious ways of Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson.

January honorable mentions: Tebow, Tony Dungy, Barack Obama, Michael Phelps’ bong

February: Rafael Nadal

On the night the calendar flipped to February and America slept soundly in preparation for another Super Bowl, a remarkable accomplishment was happening on the other side of the planet, and I’m proud to say I pulled the all-nighter to witness it live.

Rafael Nadal officially grabbed the reins of the men’s tennis circuit from the potential GOAT, Roger Federer, with a gutsy, gripping, high-octane, not-as-great-as-their-Wimbledon-final-but-pretty-darn-close five-set victory down at the Australian Open. Nadal now has six Grand Slams, to his name, at age 22. The Fed Express, who sits at 13 majors (one shy of Pete Sampras’ all-time mark), had the grand total of one Grand Slam on his 22nd birthday.

Most telling that Nadal is officially inside Federer’s head was seeing Federer weep at the post-match ceremony – any sort of outward emotion from Roger has been extremely uncharacteristic throughout the past five years. Perhaps he’s starting to realize that not only will every Grand Slam title he shoots for from here on out will be a daunting task, but he’s also gotta be thinking: even if I do surpass Sampras, how long will I actually hold the record?

The world took a long time to embrace Roger as an all-time great. Let’s not make the same mistake with Rafa.

February honorable mentions: Santonio Holmes, Big East men’s basketball coaches, Nate Robinson, A-Rod’s cousin


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