Who will be the most fascinating sports person in 2014?
It's a question I pondered earlier this month and my top-of-the-head thoughts centered around LeBron James (since he may be a free agent this summer) or the first NFL player to publicly announce he is gay (which could easily happen in 2014). I thought the query could produce interesting answers from an interesting group and with that in mind, I paneled 44 well-known people in the sports media to answer the question. The panelists were given no requirements outside of a due date, and they could answer with multiple people if they so chose. Here's how the panelists answered and thanks for reading this column in 2013:
Troy Aikman, Fox Sports NFL analyst:
Jon Gruden. I know he announced he's coming back to ESPN but I really expect him to coach again. I think he will go through the season with ESPN but at this time in 2014, I think he will be making a move.
Erin Andrews, Fox Sports host and reporter:
Chip Kelly. It's the little things behind the scenes he is trying to do that I believe will have a big impact on the league in the future. The NFL is very much like an old boys' club, from the top of management to the bottom. Change doesn't happen often, especially from a first year coach out of college. Chip doesn't care: He wants to be different and he doesn't care who doesn't approve. For example:
Practices: They are shorter, held on different days, they seem like track meets (similar to his ones in college), and he has them choreographed to music, with a DJ that lowers the music and turns it back on at full blast when appropriate.
Defense running with sleds every week: They (the players) hate it, put up a fight -- and Chip won. He wants them to be fit and mentally tough, and that's why he's making these athletes run with sleds.
Recovery: Sleep is very important to him. He has the guys hooked up to something that shows how much REM sleep they are actually getting. It then turns into a competition with guys --how much REM sleep did you get, how much did you get?
Quarterback: He didn't let the past of Mike Vick being the No. 1 quarterback hang over his head. He dealt with the situation at hand and moved forward. The best quarterback won the job.
Riley Cooper: Situations like this could hurt a team or separate a locker room. Chip didn't allow that to occur. Much like how he handled the LeGarrette Blount situation [at Oregon], he addressed it with his team (in an unique and creative way) and moved on.
Guys are buying in. Even old school (and I say that with the utmost respect) broadcasters really like him and what he's doing. I respect my coworkers like Howie Long, Troy Aikman, and John Lynch, and I've pulled them aside to see what they really think of Chip. I was delighted to hear they are fans and believers. I truly believe the impact of all these small steps will be felt in years to come in Philly and the NFL.
Charles Barkley, Turner Sports NBA analyst:
LeBron James, especially with the upcoming free agency. But I think you could really name him every year, to be honest.
Michelle Beadle, NBC Sports and Access Hollywood reporter:
Let's go with little Johnny Manziel. I assume he'll be collecting legal payments in the NFL, and I'm looking to him for that circus atmosphere we haven't had since the premature departure of Timothy Tebow. PR's headache will be our entertainment. I'm also rooting for the little fella to crush with the big boys (when he's not running for his life.)
Bonnie Bernstein, Campus Insiders Vice President and On-Air host:
Johnny Manziel. There will be an industrial-sized microscope on this kid in any scenario. If he sticks around College Station, there will be national championship/Heisman expectations. If he goes pro, how will his game translate? And will his freedom (finally) to (legally) indulge in the NFL lifestyle be his Achilles heel? You never know what's gonna show up on Twitter. His account. Or someone else's.
Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst:
Adam Silver. With David Stern stepping down after 30 years as NBA Commissioner, Silver takes over for arguably the best and most successful commissioner in pro sports history. Silver is smart, hard working and creative, and I'm hopeful he can lead the NBA to even greater heights and also help the game at all levels by fostering greater cooperation and synergy with the college game. To do that, though, he may need college basketball to get its act together, and put someone in charge.
John Buccigross, ESPN SportsCenter anchor:
The most fascinating person in 2014 will be the young, male athlete that comes out of the closet. The momentum of this civil right has been mesmerizing. The structure is in place in terms of supportive pillars like You Can Play, as is the evolving attitudes of young athletes and a growing number of the fan bases. It's time.
Joe Buck, Fox Sports broadcaster:
My best stab would be Russell Wilson -- low paid, second-year quarterback on the best team in the NFL right now. I see them winning the whole thing, taking down a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady. Any quarterback who can pull that off and win a Super Bowl in the first cold weather game gets my vote. I also believe he will come out of his generic quote shell and show the kind of engaging guy he is. Good, solid, married guy; he seems to have it all. Or they could lose in the division round and then I'll pick Charles Barkley. He is the most interesting EVERY year.
Cari Champion, ESPN2 First Take host:
Robert Griffin III. I was "All In for Week 1" but by Week 10, I found myself no longer making excuses for one Robert Griffin III. The Redskins blew a 13-point second half lead and lost to the Vikings. Statistically, it was RG3's best game of his season and I assumed he could put the team on his back and get the win as he did during his breakout rookie year and meteoric rise. The subsequent fall -- but hopeful ascension -- is why the Redskins quarterback is my pick for 2014. Last year he seemingly won over the nation's capital and became a favored and much-protected son in the NFL. In his sophomore year, RG3 seemed to alienate his team and I believe unknowingly exposed the issues of his franchise, namely the coach and the owner. This is a real-life soap opera literally playing out on the field. What can we expect from RG3 and the Redskins? Which supporting cast of characters will leave and who will stay? And most importantly, can RG3 regain favor and form?
Ian Eagle, CBS Sports, Westwood One and Yes Network announcer:
Russell Wilson. His profile is already on the rise, and a Super Bowl title would make him a household name. He is a superb talent, incredibly likable, and has a noteworthy backstory. All the ingredients are there for him to be a breakout star in 2014.
Jeannine Edwards, ESPN college football reporter:
I've thought long and hard about this and two names came to mind: LeBron James and Condoleezza Rice. I think more people might say LeBron, so I'm going to go with the less obvious one. Rice's appointment to the Football Playoff Selection Committee raised some eyebrows and seemed quite polarizing. For this reason, I think her every move, comment, opinion, and decision will be scrutinized next year. Actually, this could apply to the entire 13-person committee. The committee could fit the bill for this scenario -- the most fascinating person/people in sports in 2014. With Rice's accomplished professional background she brings a global and diplomatic view to the art of negotiating and problem solving. How many women can say they were named Most Powerful Woman in the World (twice) by Forbes? She grew up with a love, understanding and appreciation for sports -- her father was a lifelong football coach. This time next year will be very interesting.
Rich Eisen, NFL Network host:
My most fascinating person of 2014 is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and not just because he's my boss. You see, 2014 could be the year in which the most popular sport in America -- among other items -- expands its national television package, its annual playoff field and its annual International Series schedule. All eyes will be peeled to see if the NFL can also continue to expand its remarkable ratings hold on the American television viewer. And the person in the middle of it all is the only man in American sports who makes news every time he opens his mouth -- the NFL Commissioner. Ever since taking over the reins of the NFL, Goodell has always had an open-door policy on the way the NFL conducts its business and offers up its platform. Nothing is unchangeable and untouchable and no opinion is disregarded as long as it improves and expands the scope of the only thing that is sacred -- the NFL shield. So, what I've just mentioned could actually be the short list for the coming year. I call that fascinating.
Paul Finebaum, ESPN Radio host:
Cam Newton. From out of nowhere to a legitimate MVP candidate, Newton has emerged as one of sport's most fascinating figures and his star is ascending, not only on the field, but on Madison Avenue as well.
Alex Flanagan, NFL Network and NBC Sports reporter:
There are two huge events in 2014 that will have worldwide impact. Rio will be put to the test in 2014. Can they successful and safely host a World Cup with the most fanatic fans in all of sports? It will be a precursor to how they will handle the 2016 Summer Olympics. I think fascinating people always emerge in Olympic years. There will surely be someone the world has never heard of that will overcome huge adversity and we will all fall in love with. I think the early favorite is Lindsey Vonn. If she can come back from knee surgery and win gold again - this time with Tiger Woods looking on -- she'll have a good shot at win my vote for most fascinating person of 2014. I'm also interested in seeing who will be the Chip Kelly or the Colin Kaepernick of the NFL in 2014. Will someone come from college that might revolutionize the way football is played in the NFL? What will happen to the quaterback's we talk about non-stop. Johnny Manziel? Once he's in the pros, does he go down the path of Justin Bieber or Peyton Manning? I hate to bring this one up but it is also fascinating: Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. What will happen with his trial in 2014? How does an athlete go from being adored and admired to being in jail possibly for the rest of his life? Did he think he was above the law, did he get caught up with the wrong people or was he always a bad apple that had us fooled?
Mike Florio, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network NFL analyst, and Pro Football Talk.com founder:
Johnny Manziel. He combines ability and celebrity in a way that could make "Tebowmania" look like even more of a short-term fad than it was. Kept largely under wraps by Texas A&M during a season that teetered on the rails in August before smoothing out quickly, Manziel soon will waltz into the oversized NFL media blender and we'll collectively press the "liquify" button. From the perfunctory drum roll regarding whether he'll enter the draft (he surely will) to the obsession with which team will take him and how high he'll go, to the extent to which he takes his first NFL city by storm to his preparations for his rookie year to his every move off the field to his week-by-week performances on the field, Manziel will be the guy we're all sick of writing, talking, and/or hearing about in 2014 -- as we all keep writing, talking, and/or hearing about him into 2015.
Dan Fouts, CBS Sports NFL analyst:
My choice for most fascinating person in sports is Brian Wilson of the Dodgers. Yes, "The Beard" is choosing another beard. For Wilson to come back from his second Tommy John surgery is remarkable. For him to convince the Dodgers to pay him $10 million for next season is commendable. And to see how long his beard will get is watchable.
Jay Glazer, Fox Sports NFL insider:
I have been racking my brain on this. It's so hard to predict because the most fascinating stories are those that are most unpredictable. I guess I'd have to say Roger Goodell because what happens in the NFL often transcends sports as SpyGate, BountyGate, the lockout, concussions and Incognito-Martin did. People complain so often these days about direction of football but I don't think it has ever been dissected and discussed on so many non-sports levels as it is now.
Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN2's Numbers Never Lie:
I'm going with Jonathan Martin. My suspicion is that the investigative report will be released after the Super Bowl, and at some point, when he speaks, we'll find out more about what the tipping point was between him and Richie Incognito. Or if it was about more than a deteriorating relationship with Incognito. I'd also be surprised if he ever plays football again.
Bomani Jones, co-host of ESPN2's Highly Questionable:
This is a no-brainer for me -- Jameis Winston. After the BCS Championship, we may be considering the 2013 Florida State Seminoles' place among the greatest teams of all-time. Afterward, we'll almost certainly be looking at a team that will lose several players to the NFL draft. That'll leave our latest freshman Heisman Trophy winner to try to trump one of the great individual and team season ever while in many ways, starting over. Oh, and he'll probably start the season as the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft, meaning it'll be open season on finding everything wrong with his game, plus questions about "character" tied to the allegations of sexual assault that came to light last month. And this will all happen to one of the most precocious, charismatic athletes we've seen, one who happens to be a quarterback and black, a combination that remains one of the most provocative ideas in sports. 2014 will be all about Jameis: We'll have to see what exactly "all" entails.
Bob Ley, ESPN Outside The Lines host:
I'll take Jurgen Klinsmann, who has so totally adopted and become enamored of American culture, and has lifted the level of performance and expectation for the US National team. He now faces the prospect of taking that team to Brazil in a group headed by Germany. Klinsmann is a German sporting icon, from his time as one of the world's elite goalscorers, who led Germany to the 1990 World Cup, to managing a young German side to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup. The way the U.S. schedule in Brazil falls, it's quite likely Klinsmann's U.S. team will need a result in its final group game against Germany to advance to the knockout stage - the stated U.S. goal. In addition to the collision of Klinsmann's two identities - as American coach and German icon - there are the obstacles the U.S. team faces with the singular worst travel itinerary of any of the 32 teams, and having to face the best player in the world (Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo) in addition to Germany in group play. Watching Klinsmann select and prepare his players for this task with his trademark approach equal parts ebullient enthusiasm and constantly rising expectations will be a continuing and fascinating exercise.
Rebecca Lobo, ESPN college basketball analyst and reporter:
I'll go with LeBron James. He will be a free agent at season's end and may be coming off another NBA championship. It'll be fascinating to see how differently he'll handle the situation then with The Decision.
Rebecca Lowe, NBC Sports Network Premier League and NBC Olympics host:
David Moyes. In many a walk of life, good advice is to avoid succeeding a legend. It's a word often overused but for one Scot from a tough shipbuilding area of Glasgow, there is simply not a better description. Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful British soccer manager in history with 38 major trophies won over a 26-year period at the helm of one of the most at the helm of one of the most recognizable clubs the world. So when Ferguson retired at age 71 last May, United faced a huge challenge to replace him. Such was his power, Ferguson picked his own successor, a man also from Glasgow and raised with similar values, David Moyes was 'told' one afternoon at Ferguson's house that he would be leaving his 11-year reign as Everton boss to take over at United. Ferguson is not a figure you disobey and so the club's first new manager since 1986, was 'unveiled' this July.
Unfortunately for Moyes, never has a manager in the English club game come under more scrutiny. His results have fallen well below expectations. His dealings in the transfer market have been criticized for their sluggishness, naiivety and worst of all, their poor judgement. Moyes has lost matches this season at United's home ground of Old Trafford to teams who have not won there in generations. All is not well. The Scot must look to 2014 and hope desperately for better things. The Premier League title race looks out of reach already, unthinkably even qualification for Europe could be a push. So as we pass into 2014, how will David Moyes save this season? How will he cope with the pressure of working under a brand name and a business? Can he deal with the constant negative press whilst still trying to steady a huge ship that is used to sailing under a different Captain? In his quiet moments, Moyes must wonder how it's all come to this. After all, not so long ago he was a man whose star was on the rise in the notoriously fickle world of English soccer management. In the meantime, as Moyes drives into Old Trafford every week, down Sir Alex Ferguson Way, past the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and catching sight of the Sir Alex Ferguson statue, he could be forgiven for wishing he had in fact been second in line to the United throne. Not first.
Verne Lundquist CBS Sports broadcaster:
I have absolutely no idea who the most fascinating person in sports will be for 2014. And, isn't that part of the attraction of athletics? As we enter a new year, as the seasons pass by, some personality, be it an athlete, an administrator, a commissioner, or, heaven forbid, a network executive or a print journalist, might compel our attention to the extent that next December she or he is deemed the "most fascinating person in sports in 2014."
Mike Mayock, NBC Sports college football analyst and NFL Network NFL analyst:
It's an Olympic year and I'm always fascinated by an individual or team that catches the attention of our entire country. I remember 1980 and the men's hockey team like it was yesterday. Will it be a "newer" event like the halfpipe and Shaun White, or Ashley Wagner in figure skating or some 16 year old we've never heard of? That's the beauty of the Olympics.
Curt Menefee, Fox NFL Sunday host:
Jay-Z. He's taken his Empire (State of Mind) into the world of sports as an official/unofficial agent. He's shown that he's able to get a superstar client such as Robinson Cano one of the richest contracts in sports history. Being affiliated with him didn't cost his client any money. Yet, at the same time, that client had to give up the bright lights of NYC for the late night highlights of Seattle. Can Cano still have the name recognition and up his potential marketing presence after grabbing the big paycheck? If Jay Z can still pull off that end, numerous big-name clients at the pro level, and particularly coming out of college, will flock to his company. That gives him the chance to be a modern-day Scott Boras/Drew Rosenhaus/David Falk combo, the likes of which the sports agent business has never seen. If Cano fades from the spotlight of sports relevancy, other agents will use it to show that Cano simply got a contract he deserved, and that Jay-Z "can't-do-anything-for-you-that-I-can't".
Rachel Nichols, CNN host and reporter:
It's Jay-Z's world, and more than ever, in 2014, we'll just be living in it. Sure, when he was certified as a sports agent this past summer, he was treated more as a curiosity. Robinson Cano, Kevin Durant and Victor Cruz signed on with him, along with a handful of others, but for the most part, big-name athletes stuck with their more established current agents, who were warning them that while Jay-Z had flash, he didn't have the experience or sports relationships necessary to get deals done. They said he'd probably just get bored soon and move on to something else. They reminded their clients how Master P tried to be a sports agent, and then bungled things with Ricky Williams. (This was sort of like saying that you shouldn't drink a 30-year Scotch because drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon gives you a headache, but, hey, it was an argument being made.)
That all changed when Jay-Z orchestrated Cano's 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners, the third-largest in baseball history. Yes, there was some last-minute wrangling that nearly killed the deal, but all most other athletes saw in the headlines the next day was the number of zeroes. The "he can't get a big deal done" argument was officially dead. We're seeing athletes chase Jay-Z, instead of the other way around (see: Clowney, Jadeveon) and why not? Working with Jay-Z means a connection to the most iconic entertainer in a generation, his talented and beautiful wife and all the special events he attends and hosts. I'm guessing we're about to see a lot more big names sign with Roc Nation Sports, and who knows? That in turn could domino into other major entertainers trying to follow Jay-Z's example with agencies of their own. Just not Master P.
Kevin Negandhi, ESPN SportsCenter anchor:
Intriguing question, especially with the controversy surrounding Vladimir Putin's stance on a law that is widely regarded as anti-gay leading up to Sochi. Will we see an Olympic athlete or a government take a public stand during the Games and create more awareness of what's really at stake beyond the athletic accomplishments? And the superstar NBA free agent class heading into the summer of 2014 could dominate headlines during the spring. But I think the Jameis Winston story will develop more on the big stage and be the most fascinating one in 2014.
He turns 20 the day of the national title game. We're talking about a redshirt freshman who had the charming weekly news conferences with his open answers and big smile in the first two months of the season and then the investigation came out and questions were raised. No charges were brought against him but how will the public judge him? Is the innocence lost? He's projected to be the No.1 pick, a legit franchise quarterback, in the 2015 NFL draft by many experts. What will the bubble be like around him if FSU wins the title heading into the 2014 season? How will he handle the next level of fame comparable to what we saw with Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel? His fame could be the combination of both those young men. What will the narrative be like 12 months from now with the hype? I'm looking forward to 2014.
Jay Onrait, Fox Sports Live anchor:
This was a tough one! But I gotta go with LeBron James -- three titles would cement his legacy but more importantly does he stay in Miami or head elsewhere again? Free agency is coming up and I am just hoping he has erased Jim Gray's contact info from his phone. And does he do more commercials with his adorable family? So many questions...
Dan O'Toole, Fox Sports Live anchor:
The most fascinating person in 2014? Alex Ovechkin. You want a reason why? The Olympics are in his home country of Russia so he will be a man possessed once they begin. Ovechkin is so committed to these Games that he was going to be there even if the NHL wasn't sending its players. So Ovechkin has a chance to win a homegrown Olympic gold and Stanley Cup silver in the same season, something not even Sidney Crosby was able to accomplish in the same year.
Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports MLB reporter:
Alex Rodriguez. Love him or hate him, A-Rod is compelling. No matter long his suspension is, he will remain great theater. Will he come back? Will the Yankees keep him? Will he sue half the world? Will he do a reality show? It will be fascinating to see it all unfold.
Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter and host:
The most interesting person in sports in 2014? I can't say exactly who it will be, but I can tell you what he will do. He will be the first active player in the National Football League to announce that he is gay. With all due respect to Sheryl Swoopes, Robbie Rogers and Jason Collins, it's going to be different, and harder, for the first openly gay pro football player. Football simply carries more cultural weight in this country. What Robert Lipsyte called the masculine mystique is linked in so many ways with the culture of football, on the field and in the locker room. It's my guess that in 2014 a pro football player will have the courage to come out. Whoever it is will have a helluva story to tell.
Adam Schefter, ESPN NFL reporter:
Even a football person like me has to say LeBron James. Who else? His contract is up, right? Last time it was up he didn't have any championship pelts on his belt. Now he's got two. I can envision Jim Gray scribbling notes right now for The Decision II. Or maybe not. But The Decision II, even if not broadcast, still has to make LeBron the most fascinating person in sports in 2014. And by the way, put me down for the Cleveland Cavaliers (as it should be).
Dave Sims, Westwood One Radio and Seattle Mariners broadcaster:
How about Russell Wilson, winning the Super Bowl in just a ridiculous weather day coming February in New Jersey and becoming a nationwide household name? He's currently the prince of the city in Seattle. With a Super Bowl win, the rest of the country will get to know what Seattle already does about this charming, well rounded young man who has tremendous leadership skills.
Eric Stangel, writer and executive producer, Late Show with David Letterman Show (Grandfathered in as a 2010 SI.com Media Awards winner):
2014 will no doubt be another interesting year for Alex Rodriguez. As a comedy writer, I'd like to offer him my utmost gratitude.
Sage Steele, ESPN NBA host:
Robert Griffin III. From a phenomenal freshman campaign to a controversial sophomore season, I am fascinated to see how RGIII will fare on the field and in the locker room in 2014. I have never been a Redskins fan but found myself pulling for Griffin shortly after his NFL career began. Not because of his obvious talent, but because of who he seemed to be as a young man, and particularly, how he carried himself. However, something seems to have changed. Forget about the fact that he has simply not been the same player since injuring his knee last January. Forget about the fact that the nation's capitol, the football nation and a nation full of marketing execs fell in love with him overnight. I'm focusing on the way RGIII is carrying himself now. There was drama all offseason and preseason between he and Mike Shanahan regarding his recovery, and there has been drama inside the Redskins locker room because of what the star quarterback has said outside the Redskins locker room. Sure, RGIII is still a young man. And sure, winning can fix everything. It always does. But the way someone responds in adverse situations, publicly and privately, tells us so much. So I am looking forward to seeing if the "old" RGIII from way back in his rookie year, the quarterback (unfairly) dubbed the 'Skins "savior" resurfaces in time to help salvage the mess at Redskins Park, or if what we've seen in year two, truly is the Real RGIII.
Michele Tafoya, NBC Sunday Night Football reporter:
Peyton Manning. What does 2014 hold for the freakishly consistent superstar? Does he get back to the Super Bowl? And if he takes the Broncos to New York, does he win? If he loses, he will almost certainly look forward to the 2014 season as another opportunity, especially with the Super Bowl in the warm confines of Arizona. But if he's able to win his second ring in New York, does he stick around and try for another? Or does he ride off into the sunset looking for another role? Manning is wildly talented. Physically, his neck and ankles may tell him to hang it up. But then what? Television? NFL ownership? Entrepreneur? Full time dad? What fascinates me about Manning is that he can do anything, and he's pretty darned good at everything he tries. He carries his superstar mantle with good humor and class. All NFL fans are wondering, "When and why and how will Manning's career be over?"
Joe Tessitore, ESPN college football announcer and host:
The most fascinating person in sports in 2014? Well, that's easy. Welcome to the NFL, Johnny Football. For a generation now, the NFL leading men have been corporate QB conformists. I'm fascinated to see if, the rebel without much pause, Johnny Manziel, will play and pop in the league. If he does, watch out. Just ask network executives at ESPN and CBS how much they will be missing the full throttle bad boy from their Saturday afternoons of bonanza ratings. At first glance he seemed harmless. We thought he was this era's Doug Flutie -- a fearless, fleet-footed, football wielding magician with a Heisman Trophy in hand yet plenty of NFL skeptics in tow. Little did we know he was a rock star. Manziel was the must-watch, must-follow, buzz magnet of this past year.
My elderly aunts knew he "overslept" at the Manning Passing Academy. My mailman asked if I saw the Twitter pics of frat party antics, and hanging with Drake and LeBron. Time Magazine photo editors knew that he was likely the biggest spark to the debate of paying college athletes. He signed a few autographs, too. Plus, he flat out balled when he hit that field this fall - ask Nick Saban. Now comes the fascinating part: Will he even make it in the NFL? Can you imagine what we are in store for when he's beyond the limitations of NCAA rules. I'm fascinated to see Johnny with cash he is free to flaunt. I'm fascinated to see which team drafts him and how high. I'm fascinated to hear the details of that draft party deep into the night by way of TMZ. I'm fascinated to hear Darren Rovell tell me more Manziel jerseys have sold in one week than.....fill in name of thought-to-be comparable recent young star QB. Or will I be fascinated to see if he even gets a real shot? Am I really just fascinated to see if he can even make it in the NFL? Were these past two years just an SEC attention fueled shooting star? It'll be Tebow type of coverage with an edge.
Charissa Thompson, Fox Sports Live anchor:
My man of 2014 can be found on the pitch. When I was lucky enough to attend the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, Landon Donovan's goal versus Algeria left an indelible mark on me that still resonates three years later. So in the spirit of the beautiful game, the return of the World Cup, and my New Years resolution to be overly optimistic and patriotic...Jozy Altidore will be the man of 2014 when the U.S. wins the World Cup! Slow clap. And a wink.
Mike Tirico, ESPN broadcaster:
Adam Silver. On February 1, the highlight of the NBA schedule is a marquee Super Bowl Saturday Night matchup in New York City, with the Knicks hosting LeBron and the Heat. But the biggest basketball story on that day is what happens a mile and a half uptown. That is the day that, after exactly 30 years, a new boss takes over in the league office. Commissioner David Stern retires that day to be replaced by Adam Silver. Pete Rozelle's NFL tenure is viewed by man as the standard by which all other league head honchos should be measured. In my opinion when you take into account, television contracts, perception of a league, packaging and selling of it's superstars and global growth, Stern's three decades are certainly the equal of Rozelle's accomplishments. That is what makes Silver so fascinating to me.
Not only is there the challenge of following Stern's stature and management style, but also a league facing some major decisions. There is a new national television contract to be negotiated; an on-court product that has drawn criticism from several inside the game; franchises in New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles with major questions about their return to glory; and the troubling subject of tanking for top draft selections. But it is also a league with a global sports icon who is at the apex of his career in LeBron James, healthy smaller market teams like Oklahoma City and Indiana gaining national attention, and multiple college freshmen who seem ready to make a splash in the pros next fall.
As deputy commissioner, Silver gained immeasurable, granular knowledge of every issue facing the league. He also has long relationships with the various constituencies on both the basketball and business side. All of this should make the transition seamless and has me believing Silver will be an excellent fit following Stern. On draft night the picks always towered over Stern, but no one every argued who was the biggest man in the NBA. Adam Silver will see more eye to eye with the rank and file of the league, but how will he transition stepping into one of the biggest jobs in sports. It's a fascinating question for me.
Amy Trask, CBS Sports Network NFL analyst:
Vladimir Putin. With the upcoming Sochi Olympics, I find him fascinating. He claimed a Super Bowl ring; perhaps he will claim a gold medal.
Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN NBA analyst:
Every general manager in the Eastern Conference, except for Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn and New York. How far will they take the tanking issue? How many teams really want to win in the Eastern Conference? How blatant will they be? How disappointed will they be if they make the playoffs? Could this be the first year we see a midseason firing of a coach for actually winning too much? How many of these guys and their owners go home at night disappointed after games they win? In some ways, long term, I feel this issue needs to almost be embarrassing to force the league to recognize the absurdity of not trying your best in sports - and to come up with a plan to change it.
Scott Van Pelt, ESPN SportsCenter anchor and ESPN Radio host:
I am going to go with Tiger Woods.
There were those who labeled him "graveyard dead" post scandal. That's proven to be less than prophetic.
He's No. 1 again.
He's won a bunch.
It's been baffling to see him shrink in the spots on the weekend where he once soared.
In 2014, he plays three major venues where he has won and another, Pinehurst, where he was only beaten by an astonishing back nine display from Michael Campbell. I'm not saying he HAS to win one in 2014 to have a chance to catch Jack, I'm saying that since that's been his expressed goal since he was a child, it'd be awfully helpful to get to 15 in '14.
Lesley Visser, CBS Sports reporter:
Vivek Ranadive. The first Indian-born majority owner of an NBA franchise (the Sacramento Kings), Ranadive left Mumbai as a teenager with $50 in his pocket to go to MIT and Harvard Business School, with visions of changing both technology and basketball. His company revolutionized Wall Street into real-time, digitized analysis 20 years ago and, knowing nothing of basketball, he coached his 12-year-old daughter's team to the National Junior Championship game by using mathematical principles. His goals for 2014 include televising the Kings' games in India, home to 1.2 billion people (who have all that purchasing power!)
Tracy Wolfson, CBS Sports reporter:
I think all eyes will be on Lindsey Vonn in 2014 - the knee, the Olympics, the boyfriend.
My Best Of 2013
Choosing the best writing and reporting in a given year is an impossible task as well as an entirely subjective enterprise. I've forwarded 100 or so stories (some links include multiple pieces) that stood out for me, but I honestly could have chosen hundreds. They are not ranked.
• This New York Times series on an 12-year-old homeless girl -- the series was reported and written by Andrea Elliott and photographed by Ruth Fremson -- was public service journalism at its best.
• The Los Angeles Times had a remarkable special report on the manhunt for Christopher Dorner.
• Indiana Daily Student reporter Jessica Contrera's story on the closing of a Bloomington Waffle House was as good a feature as I've ever read from a college student.
• American photographer Angelo Merendino photographed every stage his girlfriend went through in her battle with cancer. Heartbreaking and beautiful.
• MLB.com reporter Anthony Castrovince checked in with the families of Tim Crews and Steve Olin 20 years after the death of the two Indians pitchers.
• SI's S.L. Price wrote a heartbreaking story on six-year-old Jack Pinto, a huge sports fan who died one year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
• New York Times Magazine writer Stephen Rodrick wrote a brilliant fly-on-the-wall examination of what happens when you cast Lindsay Lohan for a movie.
• The Lance Armstrong scandal ended in vindication for David Walsh, the journalist who first accused him of doping to win the Tour de France. This was an amazing piece here from Walsh.
• Janelle Nanos of Boston Magazine reported a fantastic oral history of Good Will Hunting.
• Washington Post writer Eli Saslow wrote a brilliant piece mourning parents struggling after the shootings in Newtown, Ct.
• This Economist's obituary on Richard III, who died in the 15th century but was rediscovered in February, was sensationally done.
• Michael Jordan isn't known for introspection -- or for giving reporters access -- but ESPN's Wright Thompson beautifully illuminated a middle-aged Jordan.
• This first-person piece on domestic violence by poet Courtney Queeney was brilliantly written about a subject that demands attention.
• Via The New York Times: "The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble."
• Extraordinary work by Boston Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz on a couple impacted by the Marathon bombing.
• Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski displayed a writer at the top of his game with this piece on Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.
• Sensational reporting by Craig Wolff of the Newark Star-Ledger on Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann.
• ESPN writer Kate Fagan had a fantastic profile of WNBA player Brittney Griner.
• If you love great profile writing, New York Times senior writer Dwight Garner wrote a beautiful piece on singer/songwriter Jason Isbell.
• Washington Post writer Kent Babb had a superbly reported piece on the descent of former NBA star Allen Iverson.
• Loved this feature by ESPN NBA insider Marc Stein on how sideline reporters (gingerly) approach Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
• Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi's dispatch from Camden, New Jersey was a sobering, must-read.
• Brilliant work by Tampa Bay Times writer Lane DeGregory on a 99-year-old man who lives to work.
• ESPN The Magazine's Chris Jones had a fantastic piece on a 16-year-old Japanese pitching prospect and the duty he feels toward his country's national baseball tournament.
• Susan Elizabeth Shepard wrote a brilliant piece for Buzzfeed on being a topless dancer in an American boomtown. This is sensational work.
• SI's Gary Smith profiled an Ohio high school assistant football coach who saved lives during a school shooting.
• Incredible and heartbreaking reporting from the Washington Post's Saslow on hunger in rural America.
• Cannot recommend more highly this brilliant piece of journalism on the abuse of civil forfeitures by Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker.
• New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall wrote a brilliant piece on what she learned after spending two decades covering the United Kingdom.
• Richard Sandomir, James Andrew Miller and Steve Eder co-wrote a must-read examination of ESPN's influence over college football.
•A fascinating essay in the New York Review of Books on how jellyfish are threatening the future of our oceans.
• There were some remarkable pieces on Lance Armstrong's admission, but none better than this from ESPN.com's Bonnie Ford.
• ESPN The Magazine's Scott Eden wrote a sensational piece on one of the world's best NBA gamblers.
• New York Times reporter Mary Pilon delivered a fantastic story on an MMA fighter faking his own death.
• Boston Stands As One. SI's S.L. Price on Boston after the Boston marathon bombings.
• Esquire's Chris Jones wrote a sensational piece on what happened in the crowded cabin of Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963 after President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas.
• Terrific work by ESPN.com's Paul Kix on a high school coach with a dark past -- he was a meth dealer and user.
• GQ Magazine's Adam Johnson on the sushi chef who served Kim Jong-il and his heir.
• Great piece by ESPN's Tim Keown on the relationship between the city of Oakland and its pro sports teams.
• A brilliant profile by Texas Monthly executive editor Mimi Swartz on former Texas women's track and field coach Bev Kearney and her fight with her former university.
• Deadspin's Tommy Craggs delivered a killer piece on what Howie Schwab -- who was dropped by ESPN without warning after 26 years of service -- meant to the network's soul.
• Esquire's Charlie Pierce wrote brilliantly from Watertown following the manhunt for Dzhokar Tsarnaev.
• Want to get angry? Read this Kansas City Star story about football and privilege in a Missouri town.
• Mike Tyson had a riveting first-person piece for New York magazine: My Life As a Young Thug.
• The Globe and Mail story on the Ford family's history with drug dealing was remarkable journalism.
• Grantland's Bryan Curtis and Patricia Lee reported a great oral history of the 1989 World Series.
• Grantland's David Shoemaker offered a concise history of racism in pro wrestling over the last three decades.
• Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang on the end of the road for Don King.
• The MMQB's Robert Klemko, on the use of the n-word in an NFL locker room.
• ESPN's Don Van Natta examined whether the seminal Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King Battle of The Sexes tennis match was fixed.
• "Lee Harvey Oswald Was My Friend." A fascinating first-person memoir from a friend of Oswald's.
• The intersection of porn and murder in Miami. Great work by Michael E. Miller of Miami New Times.
• A college football player's death from brain injury was called an accident. Then a haunting email arrived. Nathan Fenno of the Washington Times had the story.
• Terrific piece by Meagan Flynn of Urban Plains Magazine on the one-woman town (yes, population: 1) of Monowi, Nebraska.
• Actor Michael Cera, writing for the New Yorker, on text messaging a stranger.
• Newsday republished this Jimmy Breslin column from Nov. 1963. The subject is the man who dug John F. Kennedy's grave at the Arlington National cemetery. Many consider it the best newspaper column of all-time.
• Matt Stanmyre of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote a beautiful piece on a 17-year-old New Jersey athlete's devotion to his sick mother.
•If you love to run, no matter your speed, I think you'll love this short film.
• The MMQB's Peter King embedded with an NFL officiating crew for a week and produced a groundbreaking series on how NFL officials prepare for their job.
• Golf Digest reporter Gabriel Thompson produced a special report on the everyday lives of the Latino immigrants -- both legal and undocumented -- who dominate the maintenance worker ranks on American golf courses.
• Jessica Contrera makes this list again for her work on the death of an Indiana University freshman.
•Paying Til It Hurts: The New York Times examined why the U.S. leads the world in health expenditures.
• One of the best obits I've ever read -- a beautiful piece of writing by Gawker's Tom Scocca.
• ESPN Outside The Lines staffers Steve Fainaru and John Barr produced a thought-provoking piece on the longtime Jets team doctor and why he had so much authority over the NFL's concussion program.
• Amy K. Nelson (for Deadspin) tracked down Jeff Gillooly, the former husband of Tonya Harding and one of those behind the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.
•Grantland's Molly Lambert is the Leo Messi of Mad Men recaps.
• Some photo genius from former SI.com staffer and New York Times staff editor Nicki Jhabvala: The evolution of Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
• That Other School Shooting: Jay Caspian King on One L. Goh, who killed six people at Oikos University in Oakland, California.
• Deadspin's Emma Carmichael did a fabulous as-told-to with Craig Ehlo, who explained what it was like to guard (and get torched by) Michael Jordan.
•Grantland's Eric Raskin had an oral history of the 2003 World Series of Poker, which produced a boom for the game.
•Omaha World-Herald sports reporter Dirk Chatelain wrote a beautiful piece (with great images) on the disappearance of small-town football in Nebraska.