Brett Favre is Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year? Really?
It's not that Favre doesn't deserve the recognition. It's not that he hasn't put together a stellar season in his 894th year quarterbacking the Green Bay Packers. But Brett Favre? Really?
To be more precise, I don't have a problem with Brett Favre as a player or even that he receives more media attention than, say, the Pope. The pontiff actually loses the Google News hits matchup 10,835 to 4,451. It doesn't even bother me that Favre comprises one third of John Madden's personal holy trinity (Favre, Turducken and Tinactin). It just seems like Favre garnered the Sportsman of the Year award for his lifetime achievements more than for anything he's really accomplished this year, thus putting some scrutiny on that whole “of the Year” bit of the award's title.
The annual award is defined as “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” No one would doubt Favre's sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game, especially if they saw his reaction to breaking the career passing touchdown record. But as far as yearly achievements go, breaking the all-time mark is about all Favre's done in 2007. And for the record, when Dan Marino eclipsed the all-time TD mark in 1994, a pair of Olympic speed skaters — Bonnie Blair and Johan Olav Koss — took home the award. Just one more trophy Marino never won.
Yes, Favre's team is 11-2 and has clinched the NFC North, but Tom Brady's Patriots are an unbeaten 13-0. Not to mention that Brady is on a record-setting pace for touchdown passes in a season with 45 compared to Favre's 24.
And what kind of a sample size is Sports Illustrated using here? The Packers didn't even make the playoffs last season, so there were only 12 games at the time of the award on which to base Favre's performance. That's the same number of top 10 finishes Tiger Woods had this year — seven of which were victories — en route to capturing the inaugural FedEx Cup, while starting the Tiger Woods' AT&T National and welcoming his first child into the world.
Again, nothing against Favre, but SI is overlooking some very notable personalities from the past year. Personalities that may have equaled even Favre's mystical level of notoriety. For example, David Beckham.
First of all, it is criminal that a male soccer player has never been SI's Sportsman of the Year, though the women's U.S. World Cup championship team won in 1999. But consider Beckham's year. Yes, there was the lackluster, injury-plagued first year playing stateside for Major League Soccer, but before joining the L.A. Galaxy, Beckham gave Real Madrid its 30th Spanish Premier League title. The championship ended the club's longest title drought in more than 50 years. That's kind of like the Yankees winning the World Series again after the barren 1980s and early 1990s.
Though the title came before his Galaxy debut, it was after he signed the $250 million mega deal and after Beckham weathered a spat with Real coach Fabio Capello, who benched Beckham while club president Ramon Calderon called the star “a Hollywood B actor.” He had already been dropped by the English national team.
It was undoubtedly a low point for the soccer superstar, but Beckham would respond as champions often do — with a championship.
In February Beckham was reinstated for Real and led the team on an 11-1-5 spurt that took them to the top of the league standings. The run also earned Beckham his spot back with England. And all of that is in addition to the ridiculous amount of attention generated by his transatlantic relocation. That's one heck of an interesting year in my book.
Another interesting approach, which the Washington Post's John Feinstein beat me to in his Monday column, would be to treat the award as something akin to Time's “Man of the Year.” Thus, the label would be given to the person that had the most impact, good or bad, on the world of sports in the past year.
With nods to Tim Donaghy and Michael Vick, the person who impacted the sports world more than any in the past 12 months just capped his year of peaks and valleys by pleading not guilty to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Barry Lamar Bonds, take a bow.
All year long there was speculation that federal charges may be brought against the San Francisco Giants slugger, charges that would contain evidence finally proving that Bonds used steroids while he pursued both the single-season home run record and Hank Aaron's career home run mark. Aaron's record finally fell on August 7, when Bonds blasted a pitch by the Nationals' Mike Bacsik 435 feet and whipped the fans at AT&T Park into a frenzy. Outside of San Francisco, Bonds had been generating a different kind of frenzy all season long, as columnists around the country argued that Bonds' alleged steroid use would taint the record.
With the federal indictment, and perhaps Bonds' pending retirement, baseball is set to turn the page on the Steroid Era with the findings of the Mitchell Report due before January 1. But the image of Bonds trotting around the bases before a faithful few and beneath a cloud of controversy cannot be undone and, for me, it is a moment that defines the sports year of 2007.
So congratulations to Favre, who deserves every ounce of immortalization he is given for his tremendous career. And better luck next time to Beckham, who will likely have to bend American opinion of his sport before his name graces the SI award. But for me, when I think of 2007, for better or worse, I'll be thinking of Barry Bonds and all he brought with him.