The answer is simple: On the 10th anniversary of
Understand, I don't take the idea of stripping McGwire and Sosa lightly. But over the years SI has been proud to serve as the conscience of sport, and taking a stand against McGwire and Sosa -- whose drug-tainted home-run exploits are now beyond any reasonable doubt -- would be taking a stand against the steroid era in baseball, to say nothing of the performance-enhancing drug era in all of sports. If Major League Baseball won't remove McGwire and Sosa from the record books, then we can at least remove them from our halls of honor.
But I don't want my 2008 award to be a wholly punitive action, as cleansing as that might be. So who should be named as the rightful winner of the 1998 SI Sportsman of the Year? Based on transcendent performances in '98 we could consider the pluses and minuses of several nominees.
Two other candidates come closer to fitting the bill:
But I'm going with Elway. It's easy to forget that Elway entered 1998 as a 37-year-old three-time Super Bowl loser who, for all of his late-game heroics over the years, was known as a choker in the big game. But then look at what happened. Elway didn't put up big numbers in Super Bowl XXXII, but it was his third-and-six scramble (and refusal to run out of bounds) deep in Green Bay Packers territory that was the play of the game in the Denver Broncos' taut 31-24 upset.
And while I know that Elway's jaw-dropping MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXIII took place a few weeks after McGwire and Sosa won the '98 Sportsman of the Year award, I'm going to include it in my argument anyway. It was the culminating game of the 1998 NFL season, after all, and the final game of Elway's Hall of Fame career. The Broncos quarterback was spectacular, completing 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards and a touchdown in a 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
How many other athletes in the Pantheon have been able to retire at the top?