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On July 17th at 9 PM, Jon Hamm takes the stage to host The ESPYS, and although we didn’t pick the nominees, we’ve got our choices for who the winners should be.

Best NFL Player

Nominees: Calvin Johnson (Lions); Peyton Manning (Broncos); Adrian Peterson (Vikings); Aaron Rodgers (Packers); JJ Watt (Texans)

Our Picks:

  • Rob – Without a doubt, Aaron Rodgers. More touchdowns than Peyton Manning, fewer interceptions, considerably more yards rushed. The other guys are deserving of being in the conversation, but to me, no one is more deserving than a great QB because no other position has more responsibility.
  • Bryan Lienesch – I would say Megatron. Manning and Peterson are more comeback stories and I wasn’t super impressed with Rodgers this past year. Watt would probably be my runner-up, but there’s just no one as good at what he does in the NFL as Calvin Johnson right now.

Best NBA Player

Nominees: Carmelo Anthony (Knicks); Kobe Bryant (Lakers); Kevin Durant (Thunder); LeBron James (Heat); Tony Parker (Spurs)

Our Picks:

  • Rob – To me, this comes down to LeBron vs Durant vs Bryant, and with their Points Per Game averages being all about the same, LeBron’s advantage at Assists Per Game as well as Rebounds Per Game makes him the clear favorite to me.
  • Bryan Lienesch – As much as I hate to do it, you have to give it to LeBron. This repeat championship was more squarely on his shoulders as Bosh and Wade were incredibly less effective than they were a year ago. Carmelo is the only one with a real solid argument other than James, but he had to take the Knicks farther to get my consideration.

Best MLB Player

Nominees: Miguel Cabrera (Tigers); R.A. Dickey (Mets / Blue Jays); Buster Posey (Giants); David Price (Rays); Mike Trout (Angels)

Our Picks:

  • Rob – As you might not have noticed, I’m a stats guy, and when you can win the Triple Crown one year and then be right in the mix to do it again the next season, that makes you one of the best players in MLB history… and that’s Miguel Cabrera.
  • Bryan Lienesch – It’s Cabrera, hands down. Mike Trout burst onto the scene, but so did half a dozen other guys that didn’t get Subway endorsement deals. All Cabrera does is murder baseballs. And the first Triple Crown of what really is the modern era of baseball? Come on. Plus, his successful move across the infield points to a defensive flexibility most people hadn’t given him credit for when he was stationary at first.


Best NHL Player

Nominees: Henrik Lundqvist (NY Rangers); Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals); Martin St Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning); John Tavares (NY Islanders); Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Our Picks:

  • Rob – He plays for my team’s rival, and although I’d like to pick my hometown guy, I just can’t make an argument for Alex Ovechkin being elevated above Sidney Crosby. The marque Penguins forward was near the top in a lot of statistical categories this season, and he only played 36 games compared to the 48 most got. Plus he helped lead his team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Bryan Lienesch – There’s so much parity in hockey, I usually say the “best” player has to be on the championship team just as a matter of principle. But since Chicago has no nominees, I’ll go with Lundqvist. If everyone on the Rangers played like he did this year, they would’ve been on cruise control to the Stanley Cup like so many pundits picked them to do before.

Best Coach/Manager

Nominees: Bruce Arians (Colts & Cardinals); Geno Auriemma (UConn); John Danowski (Duke Lacrosse); Rick Pitino (Louisville Basketball); Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat)

Our Picks:

  • Rob – The task at hand for any coach navigating the NCAA tournament is tough, but when you have to find a way to deal with a horrific injury to one of your players and then beat some key teams en route to winning the championship, that’s impressive… Rick Pitino is my pick.
  • Bryan Lienesch – Let’s just give it to Pitino and cap off what has to be the best year of his life. A national championship, a hall of fame induction. Hell, even his horses are winning. He has to be the coach of the year, no?

Best Fighter

Nominees: Jon “Bones” Jones; Floyd Mayweather Jr; Anderson Silva; Canelo Alvarez; Danny Garcia

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Well, I would’ve given to Silva prior to his last fight, but now I don’t know. It’s probably still him, but I could see plenty of arguments for other nominees. I’ll go with Silva.
  • Rob – Had Anderson Silva taken care of business recently, he would’ve been my pick, but part of being a good fighter means that you don’t underestimate your opponents. I’m not a boxing fan, and when you’re talking about the BEST fighter, I want someone well-rounded… Jon “Bones” Jones is that guy.

Best Comeback

Nominees: Peyton Manning; Adrian Peterson; Buster Posey; Mariano Rivera

Our Picks:

  • Rob – It’s becoming more and more commonplace for athletes to make a decent comeback with a knee injury like the one Adrian Peterson came back from. Sure, it was impressive the degree to which Peterson was able to rack up the stats and carry his team… but some people thought Peyton Manning would be forced to retire due to all the surgeries he had to deal with, which affected more than just one part of his body. My pick is absolutely Peyton Manning.
  • Bryan Lienesch – Oh man, this one is tough. Can we give it to all four? If I have to, HAVE to pick one, I would say Peyton Manning. It just felt like it was virtually impossible for him to come back to his old level of play. And he did without blinking. What a great story, but they all were, really.

Best Breakthrough Athlete

Nominees: Colin Kaepernick; Johnny Manziel; Yasiel Puig; Mike Trout; Russell Wilson

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Puig. Mania. I agreed he didn’t deserve to go to the All-Star Game, but, unlike Trout, this kid came out of NOWHERE. I was not as taken with Kaepernick and Manziel as most people were, so maybe I’m a little bit biased, but Puig is putting up video game numbers right now.
  • Rob – As a third-round draft pick who took his team deep into the NFL Playoffs, I’m picking Russell Wilson in this category. For Colin Kaepernick, he was a second round pick who has an additional year of learning the offense and what it means to be a NFL player. I’d go with Puig if I had a larger sample size.

Best Championship Performance

Nominees: Joe Flacco (Super Bowl MVP); LeBron James (NBA Finals MVP); Brad Keselowski (NASCAR Sprint Cup Champ); Pablo Sandoval (World Series MVP)

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – I’ll say the Panda. Everyone knew the Giants had the pitching, and Sandoval singlehandedly gave them the weapon the answers they needed on the other side of the ball. I would go so far as to say no other player was singularly more important in their teams conquest of the championship as him. Which is why I’m picking him, obviously.
  • Rob – I have to go with Joe Flacco here, not only because of how he played in the Super Bowl XLVII victory, but also because he had three consecutive playoff games with at least three touchdowns. He got them there, he won it for them. Not only did he not throw an interception in the Super Bowl… he didn’t throw one the entire post-season.

Best Game

Nominees: Bruins vs Leafs (Game 7 of Round 1); Heat vs Spurs (NBA Finals Game 6); Ravens vs Broncos (AFC Divisional Playoff)

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Ravens-Broncos, easily. That was old school football. Bruises, blood, and ball skills. I said before that game that that was going to be the real Super Bowl, and the game lived up to its bill.
  • Rob – Knowing what’s on the line is almost as important as how the game goes, and for that reason, it’s Heat Vs Spurs – Game 6.

Best Upset

Nominees: Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown (NCAA Tournament); Louisville women over Baylor (Women’s NCAA Tournament); Marquez over Pacquiao; Texas A&M over Alabama

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Let’s put something into perspective here for a minute. How long has Florida Gulf Coast been a school? Or had a basketball team? People IN Florida didn’t know about these guys and they knocked off a team with a resume good enough for a #1 seed.
  • Rob – Florida Gulf Coast…? Who? EXACTLY.

Best Record-Breaking Performance

Nominees: Drew Brees (Unitas’ TD record); Calvin Johnson (Jerry Rice’s season yardage record); Michael Phelps (most decorated Olympian); Abby Wambach (international scoring record)

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Calvin Johnson, without a doubt. His is the only broken record among then nominees than you genuinely thought couldn’t be broken. Everyone knew Phelps and Wambach and, yes, probably even Brees with a Bountygate-ravaged team would eventually get there. I didn’t think anyone was going to touch Rice’s record. But, hey, that’s what made what Megatron did so special.
  • Rob – When it comes to NFL records, to me, given my age and when I started watching football, Jerry Rice is THE MAN. To break one of his records? To me, that’s a big deal. No offense to Johnny Unitas or what Drew Brees has done, but Brees has more control over whether he can break that record than Megatron does, so let’s go with a member of the DETROIT LIONS getting an accolade.

Best Moment

Nominees: Jack Hoffman (Kid’s Touchdown run in Nebraska’s spring game); Alex Morgan (winning goal vs Canada in Olympic semifinal); Chuck Pagano (returning to the Indianapolis Colts); Andy Murray (winning gold medal in the Olympics in London)

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – I’d have to say Pagano. If you teared up at movies like Rudy, you must’ve bawled when Pagano gave that speech in the locker room. Bruce Arians deserves as much credit for getting that team to the playoffs as Pagano does, but the stories of him focusing on football in the hospital are just the stuff of legend. Truly an incredible story.
  • Rob – I really like watching the Jack Hoffman clip, but that essentially amounts to a group of people deciding that a moment was going to be created. I can’t go with the scoring of a goal in a game, or winning a gold medal in your home country. Chuck. Strong.

Best Female Athlete

Nominees: Brittney Griner, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin, Serena Williams

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Brittney Griner. When you’re so good people are talking about whether you could cross the gender gap and play with “the boys”, that speaks to just what a level of dominance Griner achieved. You’re probably looking at the Michael Jordan or LeBron James of the WNBA now.
  • Rob – What he said. The fact that Brittney Griner was talked about as someone who could cross the gender barrier is huge.

Best Male Athlete

Nominees: Miguel Cabrera, LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Michael Phelps

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Adrian Peterson. If, for no other reason, he hasn’t gotten the nod thus far in so many other deserving nominations. Just when you think the shelf life of running backs is getting shorter and shorter, here comes a guy, on a high-mileage, surgery-repaired legs, and becomes arguable the best at his position once again. If you can dominate the flavor-of-the-week field that is NFL running backs, you’re a pretty damn good athlete.
  • Rob – I can’t go with Phelps, as he hasn’t shown me anything aside from being a great swimmer (though it’s hugely athletic, it’s just one skill). Miguel Cabrera can hit a baseball and play the field among the best all-time, so that puts him in the running. LeBron James is probably the most athletic out of anyone on the list and is more unselfish than most of the other superstars in his sport… but I’ll go with Adrian Peterson, who not only made a huge comeback and put up some huge numbers in the running game, but he also catches the ball… all the while getting hit – hard – on most plays, and still comes back to produce.

Best Team

Nominees: San Francisco Giants, Alabama Football, US Women’s Gymnastics, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Blackhawks, Miami Heat, Oklahoma Softball

Our Picks:

  • Bryan Lienesch – Alabama. Take away that A&M loss, and we’re not even really having a debate right now. Look at all the schools we thought had a chance at the title at one point or another. And, in the end, it was the favorites all along. After that loss to the Aggies, I doubted them at every turn, and I ate my foot puh-lenty as a result.
  • Rob – When you think of the Miami Heat, you think of the Big Three, but in this year’s NBA Finals, it wasn’t the Big Three dominating. It took the involvement of the role players to defeat the San Antonio Spurs. Mario Chalmers was arguably more important to the Championship series than Chris Bosh. Ray Allen and Shane Battier were huge in spots. I was tempted to go with Alabama, but I partially attribute their success to their head coach, their momentum, and having one game to win to get a championship. They were close, but I decided to go with the back-to-back champions who had to defeat a hugely tough opponent in the Spurs.

Thanks to Bryan Lienesch for contributing on this article with me.

Check out his home website: SportsHead Blog

Follow him on Twitter: @BCLienesch

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