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Sports Illustrated Media Awards: The best and worst of 2014

SI.com annually highlights a select group in the sports media who were newsworthy, both for positive and negative reasons. Here are the selections for 2014:

Person of the Year

THE PICK: Mike Emrick (NBC Sports)

Emrick has been praised often in this space over the years. The rare sports broadcaster exalted both by fans and critics, he had another exceptional year in 2014, including calling the Olympic hockey tournament and the Stanley Cup playoffs. The latter was exhausting: Emrick called one overtime game in the opening round (Game 4 between the Bruins and Red Wings), one overtime game in the second round (Game 1, Rangers-Penguins), two overtime games in the conference finals (Games 3 and 4 between the Rangers-Canadiens) and two overtime games in Stanley Cup Finals (Games 2 and the clinching Game 5 between the Rangers-Kings).

What struck me most this year about Emrick during the playoffs was when he chose silence. He stopped talking for 1 minute and 50 seconds following his call of Alec Martinez's Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Kings. Viewers heard crowd horns blaring, Kings players' whooping it up on the ice, and the winning goal announcement from the public address announcer. What they did not hear was Emrick, which was perfect. During games, he is part wordsmith, part historian, but most of all he is the consummate professional.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jay Bilas (ESPN); Joe Buck (Fox); Bob Costas (NBC Sports and MLB Network); Rich Eisen (NFL Network); Bob Ley (ESPN); Rebecca Lowe (NBC Sports); Rachel Nichols (CNN and Turner Sports); Adam Schefter (ESPN); Mike Tirico (ESPN).

Broadcast Team of the Year

THE PICK: Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman (ESPN)

This unlikely duo – the everyman Englishman and pretty boy former U.S. star – were terrific at the 2014 World Cup. Darke is a lyrical maestro while Twellman (who has become a big news-breaker on Twitter for MLS news) has improved every year as an analyst. The pair were harmonious on John Brooks’s epic goal against Ghana at the World Cup.They were equally good on Varela’s equalizing score during Portugal’s 2-2 draw with the U.S.

Darke and Twellman were paired 12 times in 2014, including four U.S. games in Brazil. They were first together on Feb. 29, 2012 -- Twellman’s birthday – for a 1-0 U.S win over Italy. Here's hoping the best is still to come for this partnership.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr (TNT); Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN); Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (Fox); Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts (CBS); Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk (NBC); Chris Fowler and Darren Cahill (ESPN); Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman (ESPN); Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth (NBC), Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson (beIn Sport), Trey Wingo, Trent Dilfer, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (ESPN’s NFL Draft Day 2 and 3 coverage)

Best Studio Show

THE PICK (tie): College GameDay (ESPN) and Inside The NBA (TNT).

I find it impossible to choose one over the other so I’m calling it a tie. College GameDay didn’t miss a beat despite host Chris Fowler doubling as a game broadcaster on Saturday nights. The show continues to be creative with game sites (Among the selections this year: a return to Fargo, a first-time to Oxford, Miss., and Baltimore for Army-Navy) and improves specific elements yearly. The show’s feature work this year really stood out, with Tom Rinaldi delivering magical stories weekly.

Inside The NBA remained as good as ever in 2014. The show’s nine-minute conversation last month on Ferguson was remarkable television.

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I’d remind everyone that staffers Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith all called for Donald Sterling’s suspension immediatelyif his voice was found to be the one on the TMZ tape (which it was). Those immediate comments were bold for an NBA rightsholder and a company that is very tight with NBA brass. “This is the first test for Adam Silver,” said Barkley, when the Sterling story broke. “He has to suspend this guy. This is habitual. He has already had the lawsuit for discrimination that he settled so clearly he was doing something wrong… He has to suspend this guy.” Added Johnson: “If it’s true, and it’s him [on the audio], there’s no place in the league for Donald Sterling in my mind.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Last Call (ESPN’s post-match World Cup show); Premier League Live (NBC Sports Network); Sunday NFL Countdown (ESPN).

Newcomer of the Year

THE PICK: Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir (NBC Sports)

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Lipinski and Weir were the breakout stars of the Sochi Games thanks to their fantastic chemistry, devil-may-care attitude and their youth (neither is over 32). NBC has since promoted them to the No. 1 team on figure skating for the company. Why did the partnership work?

“Something that Tara and I do very well is we don’t take everything so seriously so that people can’t relate,” Weir told SI in April. “We are freshly-minted broadcasters and we take that seriously and our sport seriously. But at the end of the day we were there watching the event and teaching people about it, and we were doing it in a very real and organic way. I think many people in the audience respected that because we were not talking down to them or reading off some piece of paper. …Now the fact that Tara and I are such close friends and that we value everything about each other, I think that comes through on television. That is rare in the world we come from – figure skating – to find a friend like that because it is very Black Swan, very cutthroat and you never know who you can trust. We tried to bring out the reality of the Olympics.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Roger Bennett and Michael Davies (NBC Sports Network); Jon Champion (ESPN); London Fletcher (CBS); Allie LaForce (for CBS’s SEC coverage); Tim Tebow (SEC Network), Jim Trotter (ESPN), Dave Wandstedt (Fox).

READER REACT: A number of readers suggested adding Greg McElroy (SEC Network) to this list.

Broadcaster of the Year

THE PICK: Mike Tirico (ESPN)

Obviously, Emrick would be the de facto choice given he won the top award, but this category is geared more toward broadcasters who excelled at multiple assignments during a calendar year. Here was Tirico’s ESPN schedule in 2014: As a play-by-play announcer, he called the Outback Bowl, the BCS Championship Game for ESPN Radio, Big Ten college basketball, the NBA regular season and playoffs and, of course, Monday Night Football. As a host, he worked the first two days of The Masters, the World Cup in Brazil, The Open Championships and the U.S. Open tennis tournament. He also hosts an ESPN Radio show on Friday nights. Impressive.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: John Buccigross (ESPN); Doris Burke (ESPN); Joe Buck (Fox), Mary Carillo (NBC Sports and Tennis Channel); Bob Costas (NBC Sports and MLB Network); Rece Davis (ESPN); Fowler (ESPN) Kara Lawson (ESPN); Steve Levy (ESPN); Michaels (NBC Sports); Jim Nantz (CBS), Dan Patrick (NBC Sports and DirecTV); Joe Tessitore (ESPN and SEC Network), Scott Van Pelt (ESPN).

Best Sideline Reporter

THE PICK: Donna Brothers (NBC Sports)

Brothers plies her trade not on the sidelines but on a saddle, as NBC’s on-track reporter for horse racing. Year after year, she does excellent work, interviewing jockeys before and after Triple Crown races, always with an eye toward providing information for viewers. She was part of NBC’s excellent post-race coverage of the controversy after the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At the start of the race, the winning horse, Bayern, took a sharp left out of the gate and rumbled into pre-race favorite Shared Belief (owned by sports-talk host Jim Rome). Immediately after the race, Brothers spoke with winning jockey Martin Garcia, offering viewers insight into a crazy start. Always smart and prepared with her questions, she’s a huge part of a consistently excellent NBC production.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: David Aldridge (TNT), Doris Burke (ESPN), Heather Cox (ESPN), Lewis Johnson (NBC and TNT), Andy Katz (ESPN); Allie LaForce (CBS); Sam Ponder (ESPN), Tom Rinaldi (ESPN); Lisa Salters (ESPN), Michelle Tafoya (NBC Sports).

Most Improved

THE PICK: Cris Carter (ESPN)

Carter’s emotional commentary on Adrian Peterson’s misdemeanor reckless assault on his 4-year-old child shined during a contentious public discussion. He connected with the audience through the prism of his own experiences with corporal punishment, telling the story of how his mother “whooped” him as a kid. It was powerful, honest television and part of a year in which he emerged on multiple ESPN airwaves after signing a four-year deal with ESPN in January. Along with Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown, Carter became a regular on ESPN Radio throughout the NFL season, appearing  most weeks on the Mike & Mike show. While I’m not a Mike & Mike regular – I’m loyal to Howard Stern and the BBC World Service in the morning – every time I heard Carter on that show he was interesting. “As a broadcaster I want to be the best there is,” Carter told SI in September. “I want to be recognized as I was on the field. Every day I approach it as if I was playing. I like research, I love following the sport, I love telling stories about the game.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jerome Bettis (ESPN); Max Bretos (ESPN) Chris Evert (ESPN); John Lynch (Fox Sports); Jade McCarthy (ESPN); Louis Riddick (ESPN); Maria Taylor (SEC Network); Amy Trask (CBS); Taylor Twellman (ESPN); Kurt Warner (NFL Network).

Reader React: Among those who got votes when I asked for reader feedback on Twitter: Ronde Barber (Fox), Joey Galloway (ESPN), Dave Pasch (ESPN); Bart Scott (CBS), Chris Spielman (ESPN); Isiah Thomas (NBA TV), Tom Verducci (Fox and MLB Network) and Bram Weinstein (ESPN).

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Best News Feature on a Sports Program

THE PICK: “Lauren Hill: One More Game” (ESPN)

This was ESPN at its creative, journalistic and storytelling best. Producer Ben Webber, editor Josh Drake and reporter Tom Rinaldi combined for a remarkable SportsCenter long-form feature on Lauren Hill, a 19-year-old Mount St. Joseph freshman who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and expected to live only until December:

Hill played her first college basketball game in November – her lifelong goal – and Webber spent the week with the family leading up to the game. I asked Webber how difficult it was to shoot a story where you know the subject you are shooting might not live past the end of the year.

“This was by far the hardest story I have ever worked on in my career,” Webber said. “There were times throughout the week where I was not sure Lauren would be able to play in the game, that she may have physically just been too weak to make it out there. We saw her in pain a lot, and that was really difficult to experience, but her attitude throughout helped to get us all through it. She is so positive and happy the majority of the time that you can’t help but feel that way when you are around her. The toughest times this week were when I allowed myself to think about how her story is going to end, and that broke me every time. This is a story that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”