Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
I could try to work this into a piece about how Derek Jeter's drive for 3,000 hits inspired the Yankees to hang close to a Red Sox team that, at first glance, seemed much superior. But I won't because it's obviously not true. I could make a case that Curtis Granderson, Robbie Cano, Mark Teixeira, and, of course, Mariano Rivera deserve this honor. But the truth is that for most of the 2011 season, the Yankee who meant the most all by himself, the one who made the most difference, is C.C. Sabathia. Although he was clearly a lesser pitcher the last half of the season, he still wound up with a 19-8 record, good for number two in the league, behind only Justin Verlander, and he did the bullpen a favor by averaging over seven innings per start. He wasn't just the Yankees ace; he was the only reliable starting pitcher on the staff.
Maybe it's because he has been in New York for only one full season. Maybe it's because this town is too fixated on Eli Manning to see that he's never going to be much more than mediocre, but I still get blank, uncomprehending stares from Giants fans when I tell them that free safety Antrel Rocelious Rolle is the best player on the New York Giants. Many Giants fans I know aren't even sure what position he plays. I can understand their confusion, because when you watch the Giants on TV, Rolle is all over the field. Let me refresh your memory: He was usually the man on Big Blue's defense making the tackle on a running back or receiver after he had shredded the rest of the Giants' defense. Remember? The last guy left on the defense who could make the play? That was Rolle. On the roster, he's listed as free safety, and if he isn't the best at that position in the league, he is at the very least a bona fide Pro Bowler—in fact, the only Pro Bowler on the team last year.
For once, Rex Ryan was understating the case about Darrelle Revis. Revis isn't potentially the best Jet player ever, he is the best Jet ever—with the obvious exception of Joe Namath at his peak. The problem is that Joe, because of his knee, was already damaged goods when he got here and had only three winning seasons in New York. Revis might be the best all-around player in the NFL right now. But he wasn't the best Jet last year. The man who made more big plays than any Jet in 2010—maybe more big plays than anyone else in the NFL last year—was Santonio Holmes. A defensive back is at a disadvantage in being compared to a receiver: Offense can always choose to throw away from a D-back when the money is on the line. And offense can always single out its best receiver in a tight situation. That's what the Jets did with Holmes. The plain numbers—52 receptions, 14.3 yards per catch, six TDs—don't tell the story. In at least four games last year, he made the big catch when it didn't seem catchable. And you can put two, perhaps three W's in their win column because of him.
Amar'e Stoudemire by a hair over Carmelo Anthony. Really, we're happy to have both, and watching Anthony over a full season—not just the 27 games we saw him last year—might change our minds. But right now, even in consideration of the different roles they play on the team, the nod must go to Stoudemire. He averages about a point less per game but has a shooting percentage that's four points higher, grabs more rebounds on both sides of the court, and is considerably better at blocking shots, and steals balls at precisely the same rate as Carmelo. Moreover, there is at least the perception that Stoudemire makes his teammates better, and if that's true, he's going to make an even better player out of Anthony. But the truth is if either one of these guys wants to capture the mythical title of "Best New York Knick," he's going to have to come up better when the other team has the ball.
We were going to say Brook Lopez, not just because he's a good player but because there's something cool about guys who have prep-school-WASP first names and Hispanic surnames. But upon further speculation and even though he played just 12 games with the Nets last season, Deron Williams is currently the most valuable player on the team, besides being a two-time All-Star guard. During his brief stint with the Nets, he averaged 12.8 assists per game. This season, Williams is going to be the straw that stirs the drink. Unfortunately, that drink might be Turkish coffee; as we go to press, if the NBA lock-out situation isn't resolved, he might well be continuing his fine play for Besiktas. Think about it. If Williams goes to Turkey then returns to the Nets, he'll have collected jerseys from Utah, New Jersey, Turkey, and Brooklyn—all in the space of three seasons. That's got to be some kind of a record.
Let's admit it: Rex Ryan is the most entertaining football coach New York has ever had. He makes Bill Parcells seem like a mere drill instructor and Tom Coughlin like a junior college coach. And he's not a bad coach, either, putting Gang Green in line for the Big Game two years in a row. Yet there's a certain reluctance among area sports fans to call him a great football coach. This can only be because Ryan has failed to live up to some standards—those set by himself. Which means, of course, winning the Super Bowl. Still, by the standards of just about anybody else, Sexy Rexy has been damned good. In January, Bill Maher said the cure for the Jets's ills this season might be to just "shut up and play." We don't care about the shut-up part, just the playing. Rex and the Jets can continue to talk, so long as they punch it through from the one-yard line in key situations—like they didn't do against Pittsburgh in the AFC championships game.