Is there anything people need more right now than a "Year in Review" column?
I think there is, yes. I really do. How about a "Year in Review" column complete with awards! Never heard of such a concept? Well, prepare for 3,000 words that will make you wonder if 2009 ever happened. Have no idea what that means? Well, I'm not sure I do, either. Better if I just skip the prologue and get to the winners and losers, no?
Athlete of the Year: No Twitter account. No recording contract. No reality show. No girlfriend that was on a reality show. Won’t be opening a restaurant. You’ll never see him on SportsCenter’s Sunday Conversation. He doesn’t even really have a nickname, does he?
So what, exactly, is Wes Welker?
Well, for starters, the best pass-catcher in the history of the Patriots. He has the first, second and third spots on the team’s single-season reception chart. Not too shabby, when you consider that he hasn’t even played three full seasons in New England.
But then there is this: If Welker can catch 10 passes Sunday he will pass Marvin Harrison (2000-02) for the most catches by any player in NFL history over a three-year span. And don’t forget that he missed two games this season (Harrison did not miss a game in those three seasons).
But this isn’t the Athlete of the Last Three Years Award. So let’s stay on 2009. Welker leads the league in catches (by 21) and catches per game. He’s second only to Andre Johnson in receiving yards per game and is third overall in receiving yards. Barring a voting screw-up to rival the one that someone landed ABBA in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame there is going to be a place for Welker on the All-Pro Team in 2009. And if you have even kept one eye on the Pats this season you know that the MVP of the team is wearing No. 83. And, yes, it is nice that he seems to require less care and attention on the sideline after a concussion than Randy Moss needs after dropping a wide-open pass. If you like ‘em low maintenance then you’ve found your man.
He just catches the ball and keeps moving is all. Doesn’t seem to matter which QB is throwing it. He does it in good weather and bad. Day and night. Against the good teams and the bad ones, too. And in 2009 he played his position better than anyone in his sport. Can any other athlete in Boston make that claim?
Also considered: Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Luke Kuechly, a token Bruins player (note: remember to put in an actual player here to pacify the Bruins fans. Also remember to call that guy you know in Chelmsford and ask him for the name of a Bruins player.).
Worst Athlete of the Year: Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess have had a Maris/Mantle like duel for this award from the start of the season and neither man allowed the other to move too far ahead (or behind, I guess). It’s really been just like 1961, complete with grown men and little boys sprinting to the newspaper stand for the afternoon edition, just hoping to read a couple of words on whether either guy actually got within three yards of the quarterback. I’m sure we all expected Mike Wright to make more plays this season than the two combined.
No ties allowed here so I guess I’ll go with Thomas, for two reasons:
(1) My expectations were higher for Thomas before the season started. I thought Burgess could provide some pressure on the QB and maybe finish with eight or so sacks, but he hadn’t done much the past two seasons. Thomas seemed ready for a big season, didn’t he? Third year in the system, time to step up with Seymour gone, he was starting to look like the old Thomas before he got hurt in 2008. There was actually a chance we might see the player we thought the Patriots thought they were getting in 2007. Instead they got Dwayne Saab with a broken watch. Speaking of being late …
(2) “I was told to go home, I went home,” Thomas said. “I enjoyed my day off. Put my toes up in the air and relaxed.”
Nice. That’s’ what the folks making thirty grand like to hear, especially when they are about to go put and spend a couple hundred bucks on dopey Pats gear for Christmas. And Burgess?
“Shocked is one of the words you can use, but I’m more disappointed in myself.”
“Late is late,” Burgess said. “My disappointment is in me.”
Also this: Burgess is actually having a better season than he did in 2008 (more sacks, tackles). And between the two Burgess had the best single game of the season (at Buffalo).
Good news for Thomas, though. He has no chance of repeating in 2010.
Also considered: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jason Varitek, Ty Warren, Stephon Marbury, a token Bruins player (note: Remember to put in an actual player here to anger Bruins fans).
Best Game: Bulls 128, Celtics 127 (triple OT) in Game 6 of the first-round series on April 30.
Twenty-one lead changes (106 lead changes in the first six games of the series).
Three hours and 56 minutes (longer than any Springsteen concert but still short of Collin Gouldin’s world record for longest drum roll — four hours and six minutes, set in Maine last October).
Best series I have ever seen, and this was the best game of the seven. Yeah, tough to pick a loss, but who can forget Ray Allen carrying the Celtics with 51 points (nine three pointers)? And Rajon Rondo, playing just shy of 58 minutes (57:30) and finishing with 19 assists and ZERO turnovers? And Joakim Noah finally shedding the idea that he’s merely a dead ringer for the Russian unibrow girl in "Dodgeball"? It had it all.
You know, 10 years from now you’ll remember the 2007-08 team for the comeback in Game 4 and the blowout in Game 6 vs. the Lakers. They won a title, so they’ll stick, just the like 1986 Celtics mean more than the 1987 Celtics. But for two weeks in late April into early May of 2009 the Celtics and Bulls gave basketball fans a fortnight of hoops bliss. It was a sports war that meant nothing (you knew that neither team had a shot of winning a title) but also everything (as only a great series can, you started to both hate and respect the Bulls). And ten years from now someone will mention it and you’ll give it the “yeah, that was great” half-ass treatment. Without a title it will never truly resonate. Kind of feels like it’s starting to be forgotten already. And I get that Mike Lowell’s thumb gets more page views and phone calls to the station. But it was easily the best two weeks of the year in Boston sports and deserves a spot here.
Also considered: Celtics/Bulls, Games 2 and 5, Celtics/Magic, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals (Large Infant at the buzzer!), Patriots/Ravens, Week 4, Patriots/Colts, Week 10, Red Sox/Yankees, June 11 (Sox win 4-3 to move to 8-0 on the season against the Yankees).
Worst Game: Look, you can try and sell me on the idea that they were already down 2-0 and that the Angels were a better team, but was there a Red Sox fan anywhere who didn’t think that with a 6-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS that (A) Papelbon (he of the perfect postseason ERA) would close it out and (B) the Sox would at least find a way to get to a Game 5? Of course not. And that is why this loss matters. The Red Sox were the team in town with the best chance to win it all in 2009, even when they were down 2-0 in the series. Toss in the end of Papelbon as untouchable in the playoffs and you’ve got a winner.
Also considered: Pats/Colts, Week 10, Pats/Saints, Week 12, Celtics/Magic, Game 7.
Story That Wasn’t Covered Enough: So, Rajon Rondo is 23 years old. In his first three seasons he has won a championship, landed a spot on the All-Defensive Team and nearly averaged a triple-double in the 2009 playoffs (16.9/9.8/9.7). OK, we can all agree that his game is a little quirky, but with the Big Three* firmly in the autumn of their hoops years it would make sense to hand Rondo the keys and lock him up for half a decade or so. And that’s exactly what happened.
So what’s the problem?
Just this: For a few weeks this summer it appeared to many in the know that instead of using Rondo as the bridge to the future they were going to trade him.
I guess what I wanted to know was: Why? And I never felt I got that answer. Sure, it seems that he isn’t the most liked guy in the locker room. I get that. But come on, that’s reason enough to move a player like Rondo? What is missing here? I know there is a story waiting to be told. We have the best Celtics beat writer in town in my man Paul Flannery. I demand he breaks this baby in 2010. Make something up if you have to, P-Flan, but I want it done.
Also considered: Trading Phil Kessel, Patriots trading out of first round in the 2009 NFL Draft, What it is that makes Lenny Clarke so incredibly funny.
Story That Was Covered to Death:
And we have our first repeat winner! Hey, let’s waste hours and hours of radio time and kill 40 million trees wondering if Jason Varitek is going to come back or not. Because nothing matters more than a backup catcher that might — might — hit .220 if everything goes right next year. Why does anyone care again? Oh, I forgot, he has an extra letter on his shirt. Hopefully this story has, in the style of The Captain, sprinted away at full speed and will never be dealt with again.
Also considered: Mike Lowell traded/not traded, fourth-and-2, Randy Moss vs. Carolina.
Best Season By A Nearly Bald Man: He’s not the best running back in Patriots history (that would be Sam Cunningham or Curtis Martin), but I think Kevin Faulk might just be the most valuable. Is there anything he doesn’t do well? And give Belichick credit, he’s smart enough to realize that Faulk doesn’t need to be on the field all the time. Keep him fresh for when it matters most. Puts about 15K worth of miles on the Faulk tires each season. But you and I know that if the Patriots are down to their final drive in a playoff game (think down four points with two minutes left) it won’t be Maroney or Morris or Taylor in the backfield.
(Hey, this will mean nothing to you so feel free to move on if you’d like, but I just figured out who Faulk looks exactly like. My cousin Derek. Spot on. True, Derek is a 40-year-old white man, but it is uncanny. Don’t care? Ready to move on? Are you sure? Because I could tell you how Derek spent a couple of summers following the Grateful Dead around before realizing that listening to an endless amount of 30-minute guitar jams wasn’t the best way to meet the future Missus. No? Nothing? Got it.)
Worst Season By A Nearly Bald Man: The John Smoltz thing should have had a better ending. It made too much sense not to work. Short money for the Sox, one last chance at a World Series ring for maybe the best playoff pitcher in history. It seemed a perfect fit for both sides, but was a disaster from Pitch One. I think this quote from John Henry the day of Smoltz’s release said it all.
“What can be said? We really thought this relationship would be baseball’s version of Trista and Ryan. Instead it turned out to be Andrew and Jen. If you’ll excuse me, I have four episodes of “I Love New York” burning up my DVR. Thank you.”
Moment That Wasn’t Nearly As Overdue As You Think: I really don’t have a problem with Jim Rice getting into the Hall of Fame, as long as Dick Allen, Dwight Evans, Darrell Evans, Ron Santo, Ted Simmons, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Tommy Henrich, Jack Clark, Charlie Keller, Roy White, Fred Lynn, Minnie Minoso, Dom DiMaggio and Albert Belle are also inducted at some point. Because at the very, very worst each was at least equal to Rice as a player. What those fellas never had, however, was a PR machine hell-bent into convincing voters that they were the most feared hitter of their generation.
Jim Rice. Really good hitter for three years, great even. But never forget that he was not much more than a product of Fenway Park. If he had played his entire career at the Astrodome he wouldn’t have made it to a second year on the ballot.
Player A: .277 batting average, .330 on-base percentage, .459 slugging
Player B: .266 batting average, .377 on-base percentage, .480 slugging
Player A represents Jim Rice’s career road numbers. Player B? Jack Clark’s career road numbers. Jack Clark was on the Hall of Fame ballot for one year (1998) and received seven votes. And for (at least) half of his career he was a significantly better offensive player than Jim Rice, who never received fewer than 137 votes (1995) in his 15 seasons on the ballot. How does that make any sense? Oh, I keep forgetting that Jack Clark never broke his bat on a check swing.
Moment That Has Yet To Happen And Is Exactly As Overdue As You Think: You mean other than Jim Corsi and Brian Daubach getting their own show on WEEI?
Time I start getting next to the idea that Dennis Johnson will never be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s just not going to happen. Doesn’t matter that he was a better player than James Worthy or Alex English or Joe Dumars or even Robert Parish. The people who vote on this (and I fully admit that I have NO CLUE who votes for the Basketball Hall of Fame) don’t look at him as up to snuff. I get that I’m of four people that care about the Basketball Hall of Fame, but this is a Level One Sports Disgrace.
(And while I’m sort of on the subject, it’s also bothersome that if Tony Allen stays with the Celtics through the 2010-11 season he would have played as many years in Boston as Dennis Johnson. This is somehow offensive to me. Isn’t Tony Allen the kind of player that should be on his fifth or sixth team by now?)
Most Romantic Five Minutes and Four Seconds Involving a Member of the WEEI.com Staff: All that was missing from the Josh Beckett/Rob Bradford fishing segment that was broadcast on Comcast in March was a shot of Randy Quaid peering through his binoculars and spitting out some chew in disgust.
The Top Ten Things You’ll Be Reading About In 2010:
10. Patriots sign Vince Wilfork to a long-term deal.
9. Jason Varitek retires, after hitting .188 in 126 at-bats during the 2010 season.
8. Manny Ramirez homers in return to Fenway on June 18th.
7. Celtics decide not to re-sign Ray Allen.
6. The Bruins make a run to the Eastern Conference finals before falling in seven games to the Capitals.
5. The Raiders start the 2010 season 0-6 and the prospect of landing the top overall pick of the 2011 draft is a real possibility as the year ends.
4. The Red Sox win 92 games and the wild card, but fall to the Yankees in six games in the ALCS.
3. The Patriots beat the Jets but lose a 34-31 thriller to the Chargers in the conference semifinals.
2. But the Celtics win No. 18, beating the Lakers in six. Series MVP? Paul Pierce.
1. Jonathan Papelbon moved to the Cubs at the trade deadline.