Do you remember when sports were the greatest thing in the world?
Well, sports have changed.
Okay, that’s not exactly right; I have changed. Grown up, mostly. I’m older now, probably wiser too, and have invested more time and energy in many different facets of my life, leaving sports kind of the odd thing out. I still love it, still play it, but there’s just no way that I can invest as much as I used to in something that, truly, is mostly pointless in life. I’ve also spent time over the years reporting on sports; this basically kills any kind of fandom you may still have, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
But still, #sports is sports and over the years I’ve loved teams, and athletes, more than others. This blog post is one I knew I’ve had in me for some time and which I decided to finally write after discussing the options with #myguyyy Andrew (@FakeAndrewEvans). Now is as good a time to write it as any: tennis and baseball are gone for winter while it’s still mostly too early to care about hockey and basketball.
Let’s turn momentarily into Bill Simmons the sports-zzz guy and make the case for my five favourite athletes of all time. "But, but, the Mount Rushmore has four heads!?" Whatever.
Tom «Tommy Boy» Brady
Yep, Tom Brady was always going to be number one. Brady has it all, the records, the titles, the money, the perfect life, and it all came about in a PERFECTLY FAIR, PROPER BALL INFLATION AND LEGAL WAY!! #FreeBrady
It’s easy to forget, but the Golden Boy was once thought of as mere game manager, which wasn’t quite so bad because he still won two Super Bowls that way. He stepped up again and defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, but it’s really only in 2007 that Brady became Brady. I mean that for me as well: for the opening game of the 2007 season, my dad and me traveled to New York to watch the Pats kill the Jets. Bill Belichick had finally invested in giving worthy receivers to his quarterback, bringing in Wes Welker and Randy Moss—and, well, they became the best team of all time. In large part because of Tommy Boy.
But don’t take just my word for it. Listen to the boy Moss.
Novak «Djoker» Djokovic
If the world were a fair place, the Djoker would be at the top of the list; and really, as I grow older and struggle more and more with the morally bankrupt activity of watching football, maybe he will. Likewise, maybe Novak Djokovic will finish his career as the best tennis player of all time. For now, he’s just a notch below Tommy Boy.
This, of course, doesn't make him any less of a stud. Up until 2011, the Serb was the third wheel, or the also-ran, to the perfect duo of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He had turned pro in 2003 in the same era as two of the five best players ever and seemed destined to forever be underappreciated. (That’s also why I loved him a whole lot.)
Until Novak Djokovic made this era his own and started 1) beating Federer and Nadal and 2) winning major titles. I was a Djokovic fan before it became a cool thing and I felt vindicated then. I felt vindicated when he captured the 2012 Australian Open, beating Nadal in the final a day after outlasting Andy Murray in 4 hours and 50 minutes. That final match, at 5 hours and 53 minutes, remains the most surreal match I have ever watched in real time, staying up all night to do so.
Forget AMC, Djokovic and Nadal were were the real Walking Dead by the time that 2012 final finished in Melbourne—with only the Djoker still standing.
Randy «MOSS» Moss
Randy Moss was running right at me. Like, seriously. With each stride, Moss was heading my way; I was sitting seven rows up from the left corner of the Jets endzone. Moss had a step on whichever two shitty members of the J!E!T!S! secondary—he had a step because he always had a step, even when he didn’t—and Moss was going to score his first touchdown as a Patriot.
I still can’t believe I was at the 2007 Patriots season opener. My dad and me had bought tickets through a traveling group of sports fans, a few hundreds of dollars for the entire weekend, and somehow I had a $70-some ticket for a seat on the seventh row. We had wanted to go see an NFL game in person for a while and figured that this was as good a time as ever to do it.
The Pats, who had relied on a meagre and spectacularly unspectacular diet of David Givens, David Patten and Reche Caldwell at wide receiver up to this point, had gone all-in for the 2007 season and brought in Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney and Sammy Morris, sure, but also goddamn Randy Moss. The guy who pointed to the back of his jersey when he scored a touchdown because he wanted you to get used to the sight when he beat you. The guy who was possibly the greatest pure wide receiver ever. The guy who later gave us a wonderful 30 for 30, and BOOM. That guy?
I had to see it in person. I had bought a Brady jersey the day before in Manhattan and suffered through ignominious insults through the tailgate and pregame celebrations. Because the Patriots weren’t losing that day or, as I would find out, at any point during that regular season. Suck it, Jets fans.
Brady, of course, hit Moss with the deep ball. Moss easily scored. It’s still my favourite moment ever.
Didier «The God» Drogba
The God is, shoutouts to Joan Osborne, one of us now. Seriously. The (likely, or at least possible) greatest player in the Chelsea Blues’ somewhat fabled history now plays in my native Montreal for the MLS’s Impact.
But Didier Drogba is my God for what he did wearing Chelsea blue. For what he didn’t get a chance to do in the 2008 Champions League final. And for when he finally righted that wrong four years later in the 2012 final. For his last kick as a Chelsea Blues player (before momentarily coming back and leading the side to another Premier League title but shhhh, the sequel is never as good.)
Look at Drogba; he’s the final one to take his penalty and, if he scores, the Blues win the Champions League right in Bayern Munich’s backyard—but there was never any doubt in my mind that the God would come through. That Chelsea was in the final was a major miracle to begin with, as the side was scrappy at best that season but maybe not actually all that good. They had changed manager after a disastrous first leg against Napoli in the round of 16 only to storm back and take the win. Beating Benfica next wasn’t entirely surprising but parking the bus and coming back against Barcelona a man down in the second leg of the semifinal? That’s insane.
Equally insane was going down 1-0 to Bayern in the 83rd minute, but nothing’s impossible when the God is on your side. Drogba headed one in five minutes later and off they went, to overtime and penalties. And to glory.
Now, the fun begins. I’m giving a fifth head to my Mount for the sake of 1) argument, 2) fun and 3) making this post about 500-plus words longer.
Hockey: P.K. Subban and Peter Forsberg
Give P.K. Subban a year or two more and he maybe makes it; I love the guy, who is apparently a much better person than he is a hockey player. In my perfect world, it’s he who would have been named captain of the Habs. It’s just too bad the team doesn’t need to take risks. Ever.
Meanwhile, Peter Forsberg was my favourite athlete by far in the early 2000s; I even have quite the Forsberg-centric set of hockey cards. But we're 10 years later.
Football: Asante Samuel
Look, I never said there wouldn’t be surprises. I’m not really sure why Asante Samuel is here, but I’ve always loved him, even though he played only half of his career with my team before leaving for the shitty Eagles and the silly Falcons. He is the one former Patriots (other than Moss obviously) whom I continued to cheer for and love after he left New England.
Samuel isn’t the best cornerback in the Patriots franchise’s history, far from it, but he was great and so much fun throughout his 11-year career. He gambled and baited the opponents into silly mistakes and, with 51 career interceptions, mostly made the big play when he could and had to.
Of course, Samuel could have saved 19-0 in Super Bowl XLII and made an interception just before David Tyree’s helmet catch, but I never stayed mad for long against him. I was hurt, but not mad. It’s probably because I like to think that if I ever played football, I would have played 1) cornerback and 2) with as much swagger and brazen confidence as Samuel always did.
Plus, for a while a year ago I changed my Twitter avatar to one of Samuel—with a Falcons jersey, mind you, but whatever. That’s gotta mean something.
Basketball: Baron Davis and Stephen Curry
If I’m being totally honest, I prefer Baron Davis. Stephen Curry is the better player by any objective measure, I know that, but this is a subjective exercise, remember? Once upon a time, I was just a fan. I believed and being a fan was central to my identity—and though Curry will likely surpass BDiddy before 2016 if he keeps this up, we never love sports as much as we do in our late teens or early twenties.
That the "We Believe" Warriors were mostly an accident that worked out fine makes it all the more better. They peaked in the 2007 playoffs and took down the Dallas Mavericks, then spent the next two-ish seasons trying to recapture that magic. But you don’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. Plus, you know, Baron did this, not Curry.
Baseball: David Ortiz
Right, I probably made this entirely too difficult, because David Ortiz has to make the cut. Big Papi will have an outside chance at the Hall of Fame when he retires after this upcoming season, and I may or may not have my own party for every Red Sox game.
When it became harder and harder to love the Montreal Expos, and clearer and clearer that the team would leave Montreal, I stopped caring. Jeffrey Loria stopped caring. And when the team actually left after the 2004 season, the Red Sox were a natural choice. They had Pedro. They were great. They were in Boston. And, I realized quickly, they had Papi. The braggadocious DH. The Killer Mike and Big Boi all rolled into one of major league baseball. The king of clutch.
You’re the king, Papi!
So after all that, who is on my Mount Rushmore of favourite athletes? Tom Brady. Novak Djokovic. Randy Moss. Didier Drogba. David Ortiz. What's yours?