Wednesday night was the sporting world's lone opportunity to go Hollywood. For the most part, it didn't disappoint.
The stars were out in LA for the ESPYs, and everyone from LeBron James to Michael Phelps showed up with the spiffiest of threads and brightest of smiles. The ESPY Awards don't hold the salience of real sports hardware like MVPs and title rings, but a fan vote, a relaxed summer atmosphere, and the comedic stylings of Jon Hamm make for a good time.
The popular decision was a little questionable though. While fans got most of the nominees right, we have to knock a few choices the morning after. Here are three awards that should have gone elsewhere.
1. Best play
The winner: Jadeveon Clowney's hit
What deserved it: Ray Allen's three
An award as encompassing as "best play" is naturally tough to chose. After all, a calendar year in sports provides hundreds of diving catches, clutch shots and improbable scores. To determine the "best play," in my opinion, you have to look for context.
Clowney's hit in the Outback Bowl was legendary for its brute physical force. South Carolina was burned by an awful ruling on a Michigan fourth-down play, but the very next snap, the Gamecock defensive end made sure that no whistle would ruin his team's day. Clowney exploded past the line of scrimmage to lay out Wolverine running back Vincent Smith right as he got the ball. It forced a fumble, knocked off a helmet, and catapulted the rising senior to national stardom.
What you have to remember, though, is that there was 8:22 left in the game when Clowney laid down his hit. Far more clutch was Ray Allen's three at the end of game six of the NBA Finals.
The Heat were down three with seven seconds to go, and as LeBron James' heave rattled against the rim, it appeared as if Miami was going to lose its second Finals in three years. A chance rebound, a quick shift to the corner by Allen and a devastating corner three resurrected the would-be champs and sent game six to overtime.
Without Allen's three, the Heat don't win "best team," and game six doesn't win "best game." No knock on Clowney, but that shot was nothing short of historic.
2. Best female athlete
The winner: Serena Williams
Who deserved it: Brittney Griner
I called this hours before the show. Brittney Griner's unparalleled in the world of women's basketball, taking home every college player of the year award, topping the NCAA in all-time blocked shots and finishing second in career scoring. She exuded courage and openness off the court, was considered by Mark Cuban for the NBA, and is already making a serious impact as a rookie with the Phoenix Mercury. If Griner's success was in tennis, swimming or gymnastics, she would win hands down.
Williams was dominant in her rout of Wimbleton and both the US and French Opens. But her 2012-13 wasn't historic the way Griner's was, and the popularity of women's tennis gave her far more media exposure. The most palatable female option won through what was largely a male popular vote, but Griner at least walked away with "best female college athlete" honors.
3. Best NFL player
The winner: Adrian Peterson
Who deserved it: Peyton Manning
Nobody can take away from what Adrian Peterson did in 2012. Defying the odds to return to the gridiron, let alone pushing for 2,097 rushing yards and buoying the Vikings to the postseason, is deserving of accolades. But best NFL player — again, in my opinion — can't go to a skill position player.
Football is by far the most interconnected sport. A corner's only as good as his defensive line; a wideout's only as good as his quarterback; a running back's only as good as his tackles. With 22 players on the field at one time, individual performances are contingent on dozens of other factors.
Peterson was amazing last year, but a skill position player isn't nearly as integral to his team's success as a quarterback. Peyton Manning capped off just as impressive a comeback, lead his Broncos to a league-best regular season record and broached 5,000 passing yards at 37. Manning elevated the Broncos past lowly expectations, just as Peterson did with the Vikings, but he did it at the league's premium position.
Peyton's win probability (football's WAR) was 4.04, over twice that of Peterson. Both deserve it, and Peterson's numbers were more historic for his position, but from a purely football standpoint it should've gone to Manning.