It's that time of year again. With 2019 coming to a close, we're honoring (and remembering) the highs and lows, the ups and downs and the good and bad that happened in the world of sports media over the past year. Check back for Part II, where we hand out hardware for the absurd moments of 2019.
Broadcast Team of the Year: Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Doris Burke, ESPN/ABC
This has been the NBA's most prolific broadcast team when it comes to calling the NBA Finals and they're coming off a year where they were as good as ever. While Marv Albert is the greatest basketball play-by-play man of all-time, Breen has become 1A. That is no small feat. Van Gundy has no filter. Jackson likes to mix it up and have fun. And Burke is superb on the sidelines. During the playoffs and Finals, night in and night out, you're going to get as good a call as possible because of Breen and you're going to get opinion and debate thanks to Van Gundy and Jackson. Plus, Burke provides more insight than other sideline reporters and always gets the most out of her postgame interviews. There are great national broadcast crews all around sports, but this is the only one that openly fights with one another. And when that happens, we all win.
Best Single Game Performance: Tony Romo, CBS, AFC Championship Game
Many people forget about the Patriots-Chiefs AFC title game that took place way back on Jan. 20, but no play-by-play person or analyst had a better game during the rest of 2019 than Romo did that day. During the season, CBS' lead analyst had cut back on his trademark of calling plays before they happened, but during the second half of the Patriots wild 37-31, Romo predicted practically every play in the second half. The Chiefs defense didn't know what was going, but Romo did.
Best Call: Kevin Harlan, Westwood One
During the Cowboys-Giants Monday Night Football game in Week 9, a cat got loose on the field. The man with the best pipes in the business, Kevin Harlan, was calling the game on the radio and he let listeners know exactly what was happening with that cat. "He's walking to the 3, he's at the 2... now a policeman has come on the field and the cat runs into the endzone, THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN!"
Best Sports Morning Show: Good Morning Football, NFL Network
This show has it all: chemistry, consistent humor, originality, a great cast (Kay Adams, Nate Burleson, Kyle Brandt and Peter Schrager) and all the hardcore football you need while mixing in entertaining and offbeat bits. When you tune in, it feels like you're just hanging out with four friends talking football.
Fastest Riser: Dan Orlovsky, ESPN
The former NFL quarterback has become the Babe Ruth of breaking down game film. Whether it's X's and O's that shows viewers why and how a certain play happened or analysis of body language and communication, Orlovsky provides insights for football fans like no other analyst in the business today.
Best Interview: Stone Cold Steve Austin interviews The Undertaker on WWE Network's Broken Skull Sessions
The Undertaker has been in the WWE since 1990, but you can count the number of interviews he's done on one hand. The man behind The Undertaker, Mark Callaway, has done everything possible to protect the mystique of his character. That's why it was totally mesmerizing to see Callaway open up and reveal so many things about himself and his character in the 98-minute interview. In addition, whether you care about wrestling or not, Stone Cold Steve Austin has become one of the best interviewers around.
Biggest Disappointment: Hard Knocks, HBO
Everyone had such high hopes for the Raiders thanks to Jon Gruden, Antonio Brown, Mike Mayock and others. The season was a complete and utter dud. The franchise limited the access cameras would have, they barely scratched the surface on all of Brown's controversies and viewers were left unsatisfied each and every week. What made it all even worse was that the previous season, which followed the Browns, was an A+.
Best New Show: FOX's Big Noon Kickoff
Many people, including yours truly, didn't think FOX had a chance to compete with ESPN's iconic College GameDay. We were all wrong. The new pregame show leading into FOX's weekly noon game—featuring Rob Stone, Urban Meyer, Reggie Bush, Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart—became a solid alternative for college football fans in its debut season. With FOX airing games from the Big Ten, Pac 12 and Big 12, many fans who believe—true or not—that ESPN is too SEC-heavy sampled Big Noon Kickoff at the start and stuck with the show during the course of the season.
Best Studio Show: Inside the NBA, TNT
It's kind of a cop out to give it to Inside the NBA because they can and should win it every year, but this is the best studio show in all of sports. Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal deserve the honors here. Bottom line: There isn't a more entertaining sports show on all of TV.
Worst Demise: The end of Deadspin
Deadspin launched in September of 2005 and quickly became one of those websites readers checked several times a day because it would have stories no other mainstream outlets would touch. The site's last post was on Nov. 4, 2019. In late October, new management came in and told the staff they had to "stick to sports." Deadspin's staff first tried to fight back and ignore the new edict. When the new bosses fired deputy editor Barry Petchesky after he posted a series of non-sports stories, Deadspin's entire staff ended up quitting. That led to Deadspin hiring one writer, who ended up quitting on the same day he published his first story after social media supporters of the protesting editorial staff revolted against him. That led to Deadspin's higher up posting stories with no byline, which lasted a couple of days before the site went dark for good.
Biggest Retirement: Bob Ley, ESPN
It shouldn't be totally shocking when a 64-year-old broadcaster hangs it up, but no one expected Bob Ley to walk away from ESPN when he did in late June. Ley had been on leave from the network to recharge his batteries, but the Outside the Lines host enjoyed not working so much that he decided to make the leave permanent. Widely considered "the voice of ESPN," the impact of Ley’s decision can't be understated. Not many people could've ever imagined Ley not being part of the World Wide Leader, but that ultimately became the reality this year.
Best Podcast: Pardon My Take, Barstool Sports
Everyone knows about the humor that Big Cat and PFT bring to each and every episode as well as the recurring segments/bits that (Fastest Two Minutes, Football Guys, Fyre Fest, etc.) that listeners love, but the duo don't get enough credit for their guest list and interviews. There isn't a podcast around that gets more impressive guests or a wider variety of guests. From A-list athletes such as J.J. Watt, Blake Griffin and Alex Bregman to actors such as Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart, Zac Efron and Samuel Jackson, to the bizarre such as Gary Busey, Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer, PMT covers it all.
Best Podcast Episode: The Bill Simmons Podcast, Aug. 27
The single-best podcast interview of 2019 took place on this show when The Ringer's Bill Simmons interviewed Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the first time. You might be questioning this selection since Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn't a sports figure, but the discussion she had with Simmons about being a sports parent (her son was a basketball player at Northwestern) only enhanced the overall interview which also covered her career as well as being a child of divorce.
Most Innovative New Show: WWE Backstage, FS1
We'll never believe that this is 100% a FOX show that WWE has no input in, but CM Punk's appearances do prove that FOX has considerable pull, given the bad blood between Punk and WWE. There are two simple reasons why this show is a must-watch for WWE fans: Renee Young and Punk. Nobody ever knows what Punk will say or who he will rip, so you have to pay attention to him. But Young is the anchor and a star. She's a total natural when it comes to hosting and is impossible to dislike. Wrestling fans love to go behind the scenes and get the "inside" story more than anything and this show does a lot of that. A wrestling talk show that often pulls back the curtain and offers an honest assessment of storylines is unique.
Best Sports Movie: Ford v Ferrari
It’s no surprise Ford v Ferrari brought in $31 million at the box office during its opening weekend alone. After all, the film—the true story of the two carmakers' epic 1966 clash at Le Mans, a 24-hour endurance race in France—stars two of the biggest movie stars on the planet in Matt Damon and Christian Bale, who play iconic car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles, respectively. There's a classic underdog narrative and plenty of dizzying race scenes, but what sets director James Mangold's film apart is its depiction of a postwar era of ingenuity. The most interesting battle of the film isn't necessarily between the two automakers, but rather "man versus his natural limitations," as SI's Mark Bechtel wrote in his excellent piece on the movie in November. As Mangold told SI, "There's something deeply romantic to me about a moment where people are making discoveries off their gut instincts as opposed to staring at a monitor." Maybe it's a bit nostalgic—after all, the film portrays the golden age of auto racing—but that's an ideal we could stand to remember. —Stanley Kay
Best Investigation: ESPN's TJ Quinn on Tyler Skaggs drug use
Andrew Luck retiring from the NFL may have been the most shocking sports story of 2019, but that was a transaction. When it came to an investigation there was no more stunning story than the one broken by ESPN's Quinn on the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Not only did Quinn reveal that Skaggs had dies of a drug overdose, but he also uncovered that an Angels PR employee who admitted to providing Skaggs with oxycodone—and that the PR person had used opiates with five other players on the team.
Biggest Disruptor: All Elite Wrestling
Who would've thought a wrestler who was used terribly in the WWE would help start a wrestling company to compete with WWE and succeed? That's exactly what happened thanks to Cody Rhodes, son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes. Technically, Tony Khan, who is a co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the founder of AEW, but it was Rhodes who got it all started in 2018 when he held an independent event the featured the biggest audience for a non-WWE or non-WCW wrestling event since 1993. This led to Khan starting AEW with Rhodes as the executive vice president. They began a weekly show in 2019 on TNT, which WWE decided to put head-to-head against NXT. Despite having the powerful WWE behind NXT, AEW has won most of the weekly ratings battles.
Best Social Presence: @Jomboy_
If there are mics on a field and if there are lips to be read, Jomboy (real name: Jimmy O'Brien) will let everyone know what was said. When Aaron Boone told an umpire that his guys are "f----ing savages in that f---ing box," Jomboy gave us the full version of the conversation.
And when the Astros were accused of cheating to steal signs, Jomboy exposed it all.
Line of the Year: Rob Gronkowski on FOX
In his first year as a studio analyst for FOX, Gronk tried to describe what his former teammate, Julian Edelman, is like. Here's what he said: "He calls himself the squirrel. You wanna know why he calls himself a squirrel. Because he is a squirrel. He’s furry. He’s cute. He’s elusive. He’s feisty. And most importantly, whenever he gets a chance, he gets that nut!"