Chris Young, XFINITY Sports
Pumped for the start of the NFL Playoffs this weekend? That makes two of us. But before we gather ‘round for a weekend of Wild-Card ousters, let’s hand out some much-needed regular season awards. If you’re looking for the typical run of the mill awards list, you may want to look elsewhere.
The I Won ESPN’s ‘Best of the Best’ Award
Winner: Jerome Simpson
In an alternate life, Jerome Simpson would be an eagle or some other predatory bird. In the NFL, he catches footballs for the Cincinnati Bengals, flops like a circus clown and flips in near-superhuman ways. It’s the flip I’m interested in. Simpson’s somersaulting touchdown will forever be engrained in ours and Daryl Washington’s minds as the day a Bengal flew higher than a Cardinal. There were physics and something about rotational joules involved, so much so that this guy has charts.
The We Should Have Seen Him Coming Award
Winner: Jason Pierre-Paul
Ever stand next to a man that is 6’ 5”, 278 pounds? Not a rotund 278, but a lean 278? Me neither, but I’m willing to bet Jason Pierre-Paul is a grown man. Here are some numbers to support my theory: 86 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 16.5 sacks and a trip to the 2012 Pro Bowl. The key is that third one. In just his second NFL season, Pierre-Paul went from the “other guy” playing opposite Justin Tuck to the Giant no one can block. This guy has a bright NFL future. Just ask Kion Wilson.
The Who Knew Cue Cards Marked the Path to Stardom Award?
Winner: Cam Newton
We’ve all seen the War Eagle’s play-calling cards. We’ve all had our fun with them. I’m a Carolina Panthers fan and I don’t get paid to admit it. Like other Panthers fans, I was skeptical of the Cats taking Cam Newton No. 1. Like other Panthers fans, I knew he was a gifted athlete with a nose for the end zone. I knew he was a National Champion, but I never thought he had the brains to be an NFL quarterback, or at least a smart one. I was wrong apparently. Cue cards for everyone.
The Since It’s Common to Have an MVP Award, How About the Most Valuable Punt?
Winner: Shane Lechler
All too often kickers and punters are the brunt of our jokes. They kick balls for a living, tackle rather poorly, with the exception of Houston’s Neil Rackers, and kick balls for a living. Then there’s Shane Lechler, who neutralized the game’s best punt returner, Devin Hester, with this 80-yard gem.
The Offensive Offense Award
Winners: Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes
I don’t hate Mark Sanchez, even if this and this are unforgivable. I just don’t see what Rex Ryan (or Kate Upton?) sees. From where I sit, it’s as if Jets fans have been forced to settle for meat loaf instead of filet mignon. Preach on about the consecutive AFC Championship appearances. I get it. What I don’t get is why this guy is one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. Maybe I’m not alone.
The Vanilla Ice Award
Winner: Jason Garrett
“We very well could have taken a timeout there,” Garrett said. “We felt like we were in field-goal range. We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game. We felt like we were in range at that point. Tony had them on the line of scrimmage quickly, so we went ahead and clocked it and used that as a timeout … You see so many situations where you have negative plays in those situations. We felt like we were in his range to give him a chance to kick the game-winner.” Technically, Dan Bailey did kick the game-winner… it just didn’t count because you didn’t trust him.
The My Arrest Was Heavier Than Your Arrest Award
Winner: Sam Hurd
Kenny Britt (twice), Louis Murphy, Chris Cook, Julian Edelman and Rolando McClain all had some fascinating run-ins with the boys in blue this season. None compare to Sam Hurd’s. The former Bears backup receiver was arrested on federal drug charges after he attempted to purchase an alleged five to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana from an informant in North Texas. Hurd, who appears to have done this sort of thing before, planned to distribute said “weight” on a weekly basis in the Chicago area. That’s gangster, so gangster it cost Hurd his job and quite possibly his freedom for years to come. Hurd hiring high-profile defense attorney David Kenner, who had Snoop Dogg acquitted of murder charges, is a testament to the mound of crap he got himself into.
The I Shouldn’t Be Here but the NFL Is Thrilled I Am Award
Winner: Denver Broncos
Tim Tebow’s ascension has been a warming (and wildly lucrative) story this season. But the 8-8 Broncos have no business being in the AFC Playoffs. I love underdog plots just as much as the next guy, and Tebow, backed by a seldom praised John Fox, has provided plenty of drama. But if memory serves, New England proved where the line of incredibility meets that of credibility in Week 15. I’ve heard whispers of a Broncos upset over the visiting Steelers this Sunday, but I’m not listening.
The Fool’s Gold Standard Award
Winners: Norv Turner, Andy Reid
If there’s a will, Norv Turner finds a way to stay employed in San Diego. 49-31 (3-3 in playoffs) over five seasons apparently does it for Dean Spanos. For Eagles fans, Big Red is hanging around for his 14th season. Owner Jeffrey Lurie made it somewhat clear that this will be Reid’s final chance to go all-in again.
The Best and Worst TD Celebration Wrapped into One Award
Winner: Marion Barber
Antonio Brown’s “Bennie Biggle Wiggle,” Deion Branch’s “Fireman Ed,” Stevie Johnson’s “Plaxico Burress,” and Chargers fullback Mike Tolbert doing whatever it was he did are great. But for me, Marion Barber’s faceplant takes the cake.
The We Paid Too Much Award
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
When the Arizona Cardinals signed Kevin Kolb to a five-year, $63 million deal in the offseason, Philadelphia welcomed Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick with open arms. But the moves proved poor for both parties. Kolb’s first season in the desert was a bust, and DRC’s (28 tackles, zero forced fumbles and zero interceptions) was at best mediocre. The Cards gave too much in return for Kolb. They know that now, which is why they have a $63 million decision to make after backup John Skelton went 6-2 as a stand-in starter.
The World Changes but I Hate Change Award
Winner: James Harrison
I love the way James Harrison plays the game. I’d say there isn’t any crying in football, but I’d be wrong. Despite what Roger Goodell believes, it’s beyond hard to ask a man to change the way he plays the game when he’s played the game the way he plays it for so long. If that sounds confusing it really isn’t. James Harrison likes to hurt people. Football is pain, and he gets off on bringing the pain. Fine him and suspend him all you want. The man isn’t in it for the money.
The If These Walls Could Talk Award
Winner: Referee Jerome Boger (Giants-Cardinals)
NFL officials botch calls all the time, even with the aid of instant replay. It’s natural to be imperfect. But there is one play in particular that remains a divisive topic and it occurred in Week 4. Down 27-24 and driving late in the fourth quarter, Giants receiver Victor Cruz caught an Eli Manning pass, ran some, fell down, and released the ball on the turf before he was touched by an opposing Cardinal. Cruz was not touched, therefore, he wasn’t down by contact, which should have resulted in a fumble. That’s where things got hazy. Referee Jerome Boger cited the rule of a dead ball (Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1 if you care), and determined that Cruz declared himself down by falling down and making “no effort to advance.” The Cardinals recovered the ball, but by the rule that’s really more or less not a rule if the ball carrier does not slide feet first (which Cruz did not) the play was blown dead and could not be challenged. Two questions: what the hell did the refs discuss in their dressing room after the game, and who owed who dinner the following night? I’m still awaiting answers.