Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ten best athletes of 2007

1. Boise State-As the Bowl Championship Series rolled around this year, we were treated to not just the usual round of complaining about the flaws of the BCS system from the teams who got left on the sideline for the national champion game, but a Cinderella Story of epic proportions. Undefeated Boise State, angry at the lack of respect showed to them by Oklahoma, took matters into their own hands delivering on 3 crucial plays down the stretch, each one imaginative and perfectly executed. It made for gripping television, especially when running back Ian Johnson proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend after making the game winning play.

2. Florida Gators-Showing that sports wasn’t about money, players Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, and Al Horford brushed aside millions of dollars and unapolegetically dove back into amateur status for another year at the University of Florida on a mission to make their squad the first back-to-back NCAA champions in over a decade. Their reward? Top 10 picks in the NBA draft the following year. Showing that money wasn’t everything, Coach Billy Donovan reneged on an NBA contract he hastily signed with the Atlanta Hawks because he realized his heart was with the Gators. His reward? A probable blackballing on future NBA coaching positions, but on the flipside, the loyalty and cheers of his fans in Gainesville, and the respect of anyone who can appreciate integrity in a world where selling out is just a multimillion dollar contract away.

3. Sidney Crosby-The city of Pittsburgh got to see hockey's next great hope enter the NHL and play alongside Mario Lemieux, and now they've seen him surpass him. Crosby broke Lemieux's NHL records for most points and assists by a rookie and became the youngest player to reach 1000 points. Seems like Pittsburgh hockey fans and the NHL has a lot to look foward to from the sport's new saviour.

4. Tony Dunghy-Overcoming great adversity with the death of his son, Dunghy became the first black coach to win a superbowl.

5. Colorado Rockies-The Red Sox might have won the World Series but it is hard to forget the Rockies' unforgettable run, having won 14 of their last 15 regular season games, beating the Padres in a playoff, and riding that heat all the way to the World Series and the series produced new household names in Todd Helton, Kaz Matsui and Matt Holliday it was caree

6. Chicago Fire/Cahutumec Blanco-David Beckham might have been the bigger newsgetter, but this highly seasoned and entertaining midfielder from the US's biggest rival crossed the Rio Grande this year to empower Chicago's soccer fan base in a way never seen before. While he's raised some controversey for his dirty style, he's been highly effective for the Fire helping them reach the MLS Eastern Conference Finals and with Beckham only appearing in 5 games, he's been MLS's more consistent star attraction this past year.

7. Kevin Durant-The player of the year honors aren’t usually supposed to go to a freshman but by being one of the nation's leading players in points, rebounds, and blocked shots, one has to wonder if there's ever been a more dominant freshman in history. Durant was also an ideal poster boy for the high school hoops prodigies forced to endure a year of college under the new bargaining contract, fully embracing college life and his team and has set the bar pretty high for the class of '08. His transition to the NBA thus far has been smooth as he's settled into command as the go-to guy on the Supersonics.

8. Don Nelson & The Golden State Warriors-Revenge is a dish best served cold for Nelson who left the Dallas Mavericks only to have their number come playoff time. Nelson and the perennial lottery entrants the Golden State Warriors squeezed into the playoffs the last night, and with the new acquisitions of Stephen Jackson and Othella Harrington proceeded to turn the 1st ranked Mavericks inside out. When the sports media treats the NBA playoffs as a story of one winners and fifteen losers, it was a breath of fresh air to see a team uplift themsleves and their city just by breaking through to the second round in an improbable upset.

9. John Papelbon-It wasn't sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz saving the day for the Red Sox, but the closer who held under pressure. Papelbon finished off five of the Red Sox last seven games, logging three saves in the World Series where he allowed only five scattered hits. Upon recording his last out to end the season and give the Red Sox their 2nd title in four years, Papelbon was too excited to celebrate, but he'll have the rest of his life to relish being a legend in Boston folklore.

10. Ryan Hall-Hall finished third at the national high school championships his senior year and he has spent much of his running career since being eclipsed by the two guys who finished ahead of him, Olympians Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenheim, who have long been hailed as the future of American distance running. This year, Hall might have emerged as the one to carry the torch for the cause. He became the first American to break an hour for the half-marathon in January and four months later he finished 6th in a highly competitive field at the London Marathon, setting records for the fastest time for a Marathon debut record and fastest time ever run by an American-born citizen.

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