The stadiums have grown quiet, the parking lots barren – the last of the confetti has fallen. Hear ye, brothers! The long winter of off-season is here. But take heart!
Before ye gather – shivering masses, huddled for warmth around buzzing police blotters, desperate for scandal-ridden stories of intrigue and the latest victim of King Roger’s vindictive wrath – come hither and celebrate this past season with me one last time.
Most Valuable Person – Cam Newton
This was undoubtedly The Year of Cam. Like it or not.
And as you all know – since he, the media and anyone with a mouth and an opinion has been quick to remind us – Cam Newton is so much more than just a football player. He’s also a person. And a symbol…of great things! Of terrible things!
He’s a leader. But he’s also immature and a sore loser. Didn’t you see him walk out of that press conference? But he doesn’t care if you think he’s a sore loser.
Cam: I’m on record as being a sore loser. I hate losing. You show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser
— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) February 9, 2016
He’s brilliant and beautiful, but he also knows it. AndBOYdoes that piss people off! Like former unfrozen-caveman linebacker Bill Romanowski, who deserves consideration for the most subtly racist sports-tweet of the year so far thanks to this gem…
He’s polarizing and divisive, and depending on whom you ask, he might be a proud black man fighting against racism or a culturally exuberant player pushing back against old perceptions of how quarterbacks are supposed to behave. Then again, he might just be a kid having the time of his life. It is just a game, after all.
Amazingly, Cam somehow found time in his busy schedule to also be just a quarterback, throwing for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns, adding 10 more on the ground and leading the league in passing TD-percentage at 7.1%.
For handling an enormous amount of off-field distractions and negative editorials this year, while still “Dabbing” his way to (a league-leading) 45 of the 54 total touchdowns for the Panthers’ #1-ranked scoring offense this season – the MVP of this season had to be Cam Newton.
Offensive Player of the Year – Carson Palmer
This one was close. Russell or Carson? Palmer wins by the red hairs of his chinny-chin-chin. And because his team won the division; but damn, Carson – could you have ended the season more pitifully?
I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because for nine-tenths of the season, Carson was outstanding – finishing with 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. He also led the league in a number of key statistics this year – yards per attempt, yards per completion, QBR, game-winning drives, and net-yards per attempt.
It was the best season of Palmer’s career and a bold statement from the veteran quarterback.
But, man…that last game… just look into the light for me, please, Carson.
The J.J. Watt Award for Defensive Excellence – J.J. Watt
It was a tight race this year for the J.J. Watt Award. Considered a “down year” overall for “Best Defensive Player” by many pundits (myself included), Luke Kuechly, Aaron Donald, Josh Norman and Kawann Short all flirted with the J.J. Watt Award for Defensive Excellence before, ultimately, conceding to the clear winner – J.J. Watt.
As I mentioned before, the J.J. Watt Award normally prefers to celebrate excellence – as in 20.5-sacks a season – not the kind of mediocrity we saw this season when J.J. only posted 17.5 sacks, 8 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles with only 1 recovery and no interceptions. I mean, come on, J.J. Were you even trying?
Last year, you had an 80-yard interception return and 3 receiving TDs. Just saying. Step up your game, boss.
The Roller Coaster of Agony & Ecstasy Award – Green Bay Packers
We all know that look. We’re just glad it isn’t us.
From the despair of playoff defeat to the soaring heights of possibility, even playoff legend…then the floor drops out from underneath you and you’re right back to the crushing lows of defeat – all in a matter of moments.
Congratulations, Packer Fans! You’ve just won this year’s Roller Coaster of Agony & Ecstasy Award!
Why the long faces? You witnessed two of the most improbable Hail Mary’s in NFL history! And in the playoffs – to force overtime! This was unprecedented! To a 15th-string receiver, no less.
That’s what makes this award so special. It goes to the fanbase who endures not just the highest, but most compacted amount of drama in a single game of the season. Last year, it was obviously Seahawks fans for the absurdity of the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX. And while this year’s recipients didn’t have to endure something quite that awful, what makes this award so special (and great) is that you should try telling Packer fans that. They are no strangers to playoff heartache lately. From an embarrassing 15-1 flameout, to a historic NFC championship loss last year (on the first play of overtime), and now a playoff comeback FOR THE AGES from Aaron Rodgers – dashed – on the second snap of overtime by Larry Fitzgerald playing like he has “cheat-mode” on.
And that coin flip.
We see you Packer Fans. We see your pain. While your NFC brethren laugh and mock your pain, some of us, kind of, sort of, do feel sorry for you.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Jameis Winston
Expectations were high after Winston was selected #1 overall by the Buccaneers. Many armchair GM’s openly voiced their opinion that Winston wasn’t even the best quarterback available in the draft – an opinion they championed even louder when their quarterback-of-choice, Marcus Mariota (the #2 overall pick in the 2015 draft) outplayed Jameis in their opening-weekend matchup.
However, any further doubts were quickly put to rest as Winston put his slow start to the season behind him – finishing with 4,042 yards, a combined 28 total TDs and overseeing an offensive improvement from 30th to fifth in total yards from the year before.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Leonard Williams
The popular pick here is Marcus Peters or Ronald Darby, but no rookie was better this season – game-in and game-out, down-for-down – than Leonard Williams. He might not be tied for the league lead in sacks (like Peters is for interceptions), but he’s also not leading the league in touchdowns given-up like Peters.
Replacing suspended starter, Sheldon Richardson, Williams dropped into the starting lineup from Week 1 without missing a beat, and while his sack totals aren’t stellar, he still finished the season with the third-most quarterback hits and 13th-most hurries for a 3-4 Defensive End. And that’s to say nothing of his outstanding play against the run – ProFootballFocus.com rated Williams as the fourth-best 3-4 Defensive End against the rush. Their praise for Williams was early, often and effusive throughout the year.
Leonard Williams’ +8.5 grade last Sunday was the highest we’ve ever seen from a rookie 3-4 defensive end. pic.twitter.com/22mBDv5746
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 10, 2015
Jets’ rookie DL Leonard Williams has now graded positively in 11 of his first 13 career games (+2.1 v Tennessee)
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 14, 2015
Marcus Peters might’ve had a better second half of his season, but because of the boom-or-bust nature of his play, Leonard Williams is still my pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Coach of the Year – Lady Gaga’s Voice Coach Don Lawrence
JE-SUS! That SB50 Anthem was magnificent…and absurd…and glorious!
Basically, everything a national anthem at the 50th edition of the Super Bowl should be.
Gaga went “Full-Whitney” on us – and for that, some props are due to her vocal coach Don Lawrence for cultivating this precocious talent.
Kudos as well to Gaga for being the first singer in a while to look like she actually wanted to be there singing the anthem – and not being a deer in the headlights trying to get through the song without getting exposed for lip-syncing.
A true show-woman.
The Kenny Britt “F$%#-up of the Year” Award – Johnny Manziel
One of my favorite awards.
The Kenny Britt is open-ended in its selection criteria. It’s namesake once boasted an impressive streak of 8 arrests in only 5 NFL seasons – and while our winner this season can’t claim anything close to that, he has completely reinvented himself in the span of two seasons to arrive at a remarkably similar place.
Johnny “Football” Manziel had the world was at his fingertips two years ago – insomuch as the world can be at the fingertips of any Browns quarterback, that is – but his first year didn’t go as planned and his hard-boozing, cocaine-cowboy ways landed him in rehab during the offseason. Luckily for him, though, the Browns were dumb enough to use the 22nd overall pick on him, so cutting their losses after just one season was too much to bear, and Johnny was offered a second chance to rejoin the team and earn the starting quarterback job. Even better, he still had his Nike endorsement deal and his pal LeBron James on speed-dial. Things were looking up for Johnny Football.
Alas, poor Johnny could not resist the call of that sweet, sweet nose-liquor. Or maybe it was just regular liquor. Who knows? But after going 2-6 in games he started this year, he didn’t do enough to engender any sympathy or support among the Browns staff or players. This came to a head in December, when he showed up to practice drunk and was promptly sent to the concussion protocol.
Now, he’s staring down the barrel of a domestic violence complaint against his ex-girlfriend in which he allegedly struck her so hard, he ruptured her eardrum, and the very real possibility that his NFL career is already over. If I were a GM, I wouldn’t touch Manziel. He’s radioactive.
And so we say…Au Revoir, Johnny Football! May you find peace in Harmony…
(Harmony is a stripper, ya’ll.)
The “Thanks for Making Me Fall in Love with Football” Award – Charles Woodson
And one last serious award – a bit of a personal one, as well.
The end of the 2015 season has seen a number of high profile retirements. With Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Wayne and Justin Tuck (among others) already announcing their intentions to walk away from the game – and Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson looking likely to hang up their cleats as well – it has been a watershed year for the NFL and retirement.
However, none of them have personally inspired this author as much as one Charles Woodson. From humble Fremont High School to Michigan to the Raiders to the Packers and back to the Raiders, the ups-and-downs of his dazzling and dizzying football career have been many – and not always flattering – but through it all, Woodson has endured and thrived, winning a Super Bowl, a National Championship, a Heisman trophy, defensive rookie and player of the year awards, and a list of other awards so long that it’s downright embarrassing…and we don’t have the time.
One of the most unique – and uniquely-gifted– players I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, I’ll never forget the first time I noticed Woodson. It was 1997 – Michigan vs. Michigan State – then-MSU quarterback Todd Schultz takes the snap and briefly surveys the field before flushing to the right because of pressure. Upon seeing no one open downfield, Schultz decides to simply throw the ball away.
What happened next was just a taste of the 19 years to come…
Woodson had many such brilliant plays throughout his career. Just ask a Raiders/Packers/Wolverine fan. They’ll happily gush for you all day.
He is tied for fifth all-time in interceptions (65), tied for second all-time in interceptions returned for touchdowns (11), and retires as the first player with 50 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career. He’s also the second player in history to intercept a pass in 18 straight seasons (second only to Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green). Again, I could go on…but we don’t have all day.
So, I’ll simply say…
Cheers! To you, Chuckie! Thanks for all the memories.