The Bear Cave

July 20, 2009 8:40 AM

Crosby Wins NHL's Lone ESPY Award

If you were at home searching for something sports related to watch on Sunday night, there's a good chance you flipped over to ESPN for the 2009 ESPY Awards. For those that missed it, the night as a whole was a success, filled with music, jokes, and plenty of hardware to go around. A total of 35 awards were handed out, ranging from the top athletes in each sport, to some emotional stories that left quite a few wet eyes in the audience.

Before getting into the competitions, I do have to make mention of the three best awards of the night. The Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, and the Best Comeback Award were phenomenal stories that are definitely worth reading up on. The Arthur Ashe Courage Award went to President Nelson Mandela for uniting the nation of South Africa with the World Cup of Rugby. The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance went to Don Meyer, who is the head basketball coach at Northern State University. Meyer's 903 wins are the most in the history of NCAA Men's Basketball. However, this season was amazing, as was able to return to coaching, despite losing a leg during emergency surgery after a car crash, and also battling cancer in his liver and intestines. Dara Torres won the award for the best comeback, as she returned to the Olympics at age 41, winning three medals in swimming. This was after Torres sat out the 2004 games in Greece.

The next set of awards went to one player from each sport. Most of these weren't all that surprising, as many of the athletes already have Most Valuable Trophy awards in their possession. One of the few surprises was the Best NHL Player, as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby took home the honor. Now, Crosby is a phenomenal player, but was he truly the best player this past season? He didn't win any regular season awards, the only statistical category he led was goals in the playoffs, and his performance was nearly invisible during the Stanley Cup Final. A few months ago, I wrote a piece asking who the face of the NHL was at the time. Considering that the fans decide on the winners of the ESPY Awards, I think it's safe to say that that honor belongs to Crosby.

Speaking of fan voting, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Sidney Crosby was the only hockey player to win an award on Sunday night. The ESPYs are all decided on by the fans, and let's face it, fan voting has become a popularity contest. Whether it's awards, all-star games, or anything else that requires outside decisions, fans are going to pick who/what they like. Unfortunately, that doesn't always translate into who/what is most deserving. Need proof? Boston's Jason Varitek made the 2008 MLB All-Star Game, and Montreal's Mike Komisarek made the 2009 NHL All-Star Game. Varitek and Komisarek are strong defensively, but Varitek was barely hitting .230, and Komisarek had a whopping two points to his credit. Sorry, but those are far from being worthy of starting an all-star game.

There is one other point to make regarding the lack of hockey on the ESPYs. Would it really kill ESPN to show a little bit more of it on shows such as Sportscenter? Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin could stickhandle into the offensive zone, bounce the puck on their sticks, go through their legs, behind their backs, and dangle around all five members of the other team, before going top shelf on the opposing goaltender, and they would probably still barely crack the top ten plays. Okay, so that's an exaggeration, but you get the drift. Granted, hockey isn't the most popular sport in the USA, but it still deserves to be highlighted in depth on a regular basis. It kills me to say it, but as long as both of these facts are true, don't expect the NHL to win more than one ESPY award each year. Fans will vote for their favorite sports/teams, and ESPN isn't helping the cause.

So, what about those individual/team/performance awards?

Well, let's begin with the award for Best Male Athlete. The nominees were Kobe Bryant (NBA), LeBron James (NBA), Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR), and Michael Phelps (Swimming). In my opinion, the fans were correct on this one, selecting Michael Phelps as the winner. This should have been obvious - Phelps broke the all-time record by winning a gold medal in all eight Olympic events he participated in. That is simply amazing. My one gripe with this was two NBA players and no NHL. Alex Ovechkin's 56 goals and Evgeni Malkin's 113 points weren't impressive enough to be considered?

The Best Female Athlete came down to Natalie Coughlin (Swimming), Nastia Liukin (Gymnastics), Maya Moore (NCAA Basketball), Candace Parker (WNBA), and Serena Williams (Tennis). Let me be the first to admit that I don't watch many women's sports, so I don't necessarily have an opinion on this one. The award went to Nastia Liukin, who did participate in the Olympics, so that works for me.

The nominees for the Best Championship Performance were: Kobe Bryant (NBA), Cole Hamels (MLB), Michael Phelps (Swimming), and the combination of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh (Volleyball). Once again, this was a no-brainer. Bryant, Hamels, Treanor, and Walsh each won one award. Phelps won eight. That would be like a baseball player winning a World Series and an MVP, while leading his league in batting average, home runs, RBI, runs scored, stolen bases, and walks. Phelps led the way with five ESPYs on the night.

The next award we'll look at is the Best Breakthrough Athlete. The nominees for this were: Shawn Johnson (Gymnastics), Evan Longoria (MLB), Derrick Rose (NBA), and Matt Ryan (NFL). Matt Ryan was the one who took home the hardware, and it really isn't much of a surprise. Football is the most popular sport in this country, and Ryan was a name that most fans seemed to like. This isn't to take anything away from the Atlanta quarterback, as I am a Boston College fan who will always pull for former Eagles. The one name I would have added to this list from the NHL is Columbus' Steve Mason. Mason has only been a professional for one season, but can already be considered one of the top five-to-ten goaltenders in the league.

The award for the Best Game hit a bit of a nerve for me, as this was popularity at its finest. The nominees were: the Wimbledon Final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the six-overtime NCAA Basketball game between Syracuse and Connecticut, and the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. The winner was the Super Bowl. Now, the Super Bowl was exciting, but I didn't think it was all that spectacular. To me, it was another year with a tight finish - been there done that. Syracuse and Connecticut went six overtimes, and was nearly ended multiple times before the ultimate final buzzer. When have you ever seen six overtimes in a playoff basketball game? Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played an individual championship match that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes. Imagine competing one-on-one for that amount of time. These were both deemed as "Instant Classics," meaning one of them should have won, right? Unfortunately, not so. My hockey nomination for this award is an easy one - game seven of the Stanley Cup Final. This game determined who would take home the grand prize, and the Detroit Red Wings came a crossbar away from sending this epic contest into overtime. That's not to mention Marc-Andre Fleury's lunging save at the buzzer to clinch the whole bowl of wax. However, no mention, no nomination, no nothing.

The last popularity contest came during the final award of the evening - the award for Best Team. This was a battle featuring all four professional champions, along with both college basketball championship teams. Despite a perfect 39-0 campaign with all 39 games decided by ten or more points, the University of Connecticut's Women's Basketball Team fell short in comparison to the Los Angeles Lakers. Credit has to be given to the Lakers for winning the NBA Championship, as any league championship is certainly an impressive feat. However, Los Angeles is one of the most popular teams in the nation, making it an almost guaranteed victory. The same scenario would apply to teams such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Boston Celtics. If there is a big enough fanbase, that team will likely win this award each and every year.

To sum this all up, the goal of the ESPYs was to give the fans what they wanted. That was certainly the case this time around. However, nights such as this continue to make me wonder, as they are almost always turning into popularity contests. Fans are great for the games, as they are always very supportive of their teams, but they should not be deciding awards such as these.

Here is the complete list of Sunday's winners.

Special Awards

Arthur Ashe Courage Award: President Nelson Mandela
Jimmy V Award For Perseverance: Don Meyer, Northern State University coach
Best Comeback: Dara Torres, Olympic swimmer.

Best in Sport

Best Female Athlete: Nastia Liukin, Gymnastics
Best Male Athlete: Michael Phelps, Olympic Swimming

Best Moment: US Swim team wins thrilling finish in Olympic relay
Best Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Best Coach/Manager: Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers
Best Game: Steelers vs. Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII
Best Championship Performance: Michael Phelps, Olympic Swimming
Best Play: Roethlisberger to Holmes Super Bowl Winning TD
Best Upset: US Soccer shocks Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals
Best Breakthrough Athlete: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Best Record Breaking Performance: Michael Phelps, Olympic Swimming
Best Sports Movie: The Express: The Ernie Davis Story
Best Male College Athlete: Tim Tebow, Florida Football
Best Female College Athlete: Maya Moore, Connecticut Women's Basketball
Best Male Athlete with a Disability: Jason Lester, Ironman Triathlete
Best Female Athlete with a Disability: Erin Popovich, Swimming
Best International Male Athlete: Usain Bolt (Jamaica, Sprinter)
Best International Female Athlete: Lorena Ochoa (Mexico, Golf)

Individual Sports
Best Baseball Player: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Best NBA Player: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Best WNBA Player: Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Best NFL Player: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Best NHL Player: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Best MLS Player: Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy
Best Male Action Sports Athlete: Shaun White, Skateboarding/Snowboarding
Best Female Action Sports Athlete: Maya Gabeira, Surfing
Best Bowler: Norm Duke
Best Driver: Jimmie Johnson
Best Fighter: Manny Pacquiao, Boxing
Best Male Golfer: Tiger Woods
Best Female Golfer: Lorena Ochoa
Best Jockey: Calvin Borel

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