by Julian Spivey
Best Athlete: Tom Brady
There were a lot of athletes who could’ve taken this honor this year: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Altuve, Russell Westbrook, Justin Thomas just to name a few would’ve all been deserving. But, I’m going to go with New England Patriots quarterback (and possibly the greatest QB in NFL history) Tom Brady, who’s still winning championships and getting things done as a 40-year old. In February, Brady led his Patriots to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history after being down 25 in the second half to the Atlanta Falcons for his fifth Super Bowl ring and his fourth Super Bowl MVP. This season he’s led the Patriots to an AFC best 11-3 record thus far and a trip to an eighth Super Bowl certainly looks possible.
Best Team: Houston Astros
For the third year in a row my Best Team winner comes from Major League Baseball. The Houston Astros build the team from the ground up via the draft and their minor league system with great young players like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and others, added one of the game’s best pitchers Justin Verlander in a key last second trade deadline deal, and won the franchise’s first championship in a wild seven-game World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Astros seemed to be a team of destiny as Sports Illustrated’s now famous 2014 cover told us the Astros would be the 2017 champs. The Astros also lifted up the town of Houston, greatly in need of something special after flooding from Hurricane Harvey decimated the area in late August. It was a great team and great story all-around.
Best Coach: Cole Pearn
I fully expect this to be my most controversial honor of 2017 as many people likely have never heard the name Cole Pearn and truly great coaches Bill Belichick, Steve Kerr, A.J. Hinch, Roy Williams and Dabo Swinney all led teams to championships this year. I don’t believe any coach had an impact on a championship the way Cole Pearn did as crew chief (essentially the coaches of NASCAR) did for NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. Truex had three career Cup Series wins in a decade of racing prior to the 2016 season and in the last two years has won an incredible 12 races, including a series high eight in his championship season this year. I don’t believe it’s just that Truex is a late bloomer, but rather Pearn is a next level NASCAR crew chief who could be the next Chad Knauss for the sport.
Best Game: World Series Game 5
This is the third year in a row that a World Series game has taken my honor for best game of the year, meaning we’ve had a good run of good World Series (including the last two going the distance). I understand some might be confused as to why the Super Bowl wasn’t chosen this year, but that was a blowout for three quarters before the Patriots made an unbelievable comeback. Game five of this year’s World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers was wild from the start. It also looked like it was over from the start when the Dodgers offense gave baseball’s best pitcher Clayton Kershaw a 4-0 lead through three and a half innings. The Astros offense got to work and scored four off Kershaw in the fourth. But, then the Astros bullpen gave the lead immediately back with the Dodgers scoring three in the fifth. That lead didn’t even last an inning though as the Dodgers let the Astros tie it back up in the bottom of the inning with three runs of their own. It would continue to go back-and-forth like this long into the night in a game that lasted more than five hours. The Astros would seemingly take the lead for good with four runs in the seventh. But, the Astros could not shut the Dodgers down giving up three runs in the ninth to tie the game up and send it to extra innings. The Astros wouldn’t make us wait very long though as third baseman Alex Bregman would hit a game-winning single off the best closer in baseball Kenley Jansen to win the game in the tenth inning. The wild game saw a record seven home runs hit, including five by the Astros. The Astros would go on to win the series in game 7.
Best Breakthrough Athlete: Aaron Judge
No offense to any other breakthrough athletes in 2017, but this one was a no-brainer. New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge was on absolutely nobody’s radar coming into the 2017 baseball season. He almost immediately took the nation by storm with his slugging that almost led him to becoming just the third player in MLB history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve deservedly won MVP instead. But, Judge set a MLB rookie record with an American League leading 52 home runs, while adding 114 RBI and hitting an impressive .284.
Best Play: Julian Edelman’s Super Bowl Catch
When you’re down 25 points in the second half in the Super Bowl you’re going to need a little bit of luck to eventually win the game. And, the New England Patriots got some of that with two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on the way to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady should’ve thrown an interception on the play, but an Atlanta Falcons defender tipped the ball into the air leading to a scramble by Pats receiver Julian Edelman and two Falcons defenders for the ball. The ball bounced around an assortment of body parts, before Edelman finally secured it just above the ground for a completion. The Patriots would end up tying the game, forcing overtime and winning the game on their first OT drive. Edelman’s catch likely surpasses David Tyree’s for the Giants in Super Bowl XLII as the greatest in Super Bowl history.
Best Upset: Mississippi State beats undefeated UCONN
All winning streaks must come to an end and all dynasties must fall – they don’t always occur at the same time, but in the Women’s College Basketball tournament in late March both sure did for the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies when the four-time defending champions saw their record 111-game winning streak snapped at the hands of Mississippi State when junior guard Morgan William sank a 14-foot jumper as time expired in overtime. It was the shock heard round the women’s college basketball world.
Best Media Personality: Jeff Gluck
NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck took a major risk this year and it paid off brilliantly, and could become a playbook for other journalists. Gluck had covered NASCAR for USA Today, but when opportunities arrived for his wife on the west coast, he quit his job, packed up and went with her to chase her dreams. He still had a dream of covering NASCAR and set out to do it his own way with his own website (JeffGluck.com) crowdsourcing his way to races throughout the country and the year via Patreon. Gluck might be the best journalist NASCAR has to offer and it’s cool that it’s fans of the sport and fans of him that helped pave the way for him. It wouldn’t be surprising to see journalist in the future follow his example.