Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Of course, Eli Manning was the major force behind the Giants coming down the stretch and into the playoffs. And, of course, the quarterback deserves the major share of the credit. But Manning wasn't as good a quarterback as Victor Cruz was a receiver. Cruz wasn't just the possession guy, the one you went to on third-and-five. He was the big-play guy, the one you went to when it was third-and-10 or longer. He had 82 receptions, 11 for TDs, for 1,536 yards—that's 18.7 yards per catch, the kind of stat that forces defensive coordinators to double-cover a receiver. He was the Giants' best breakaway receiver since . . . who? We can't recall anyone in the Bill Parcells years who was such a threat going over the middle. If he does this for another season, we're going to have to wake up the echoes and compare him to Del Shofner and Frank Gifford.
It's hard to overlook Mike Woodson's work in bringing the Knicks together late in the season, or Joe Girardi's in repairing the Yankees pitching staff after losing several key pitchers. But they didn't win championships last season. Incredibly—and we say "incredibly" because we've ripped him as much as anyone else—Tom Coughlin did. We still don't know how. The Giants were just 9-7 during the regular season and were outscored by their opponents, becoming the first team ever to win the Super Bowl after giving up more points than they scored—but they stormed through the postseason, beating two teams—the Packers and the 49ers—who seemed to be much better than they were. And the Giants did it on their home fields. And despite the gripes of several players who felt they weren't being used properly, Coughlin never gave in to pressure and held them together when it counted the most: "You get the credit for the wins," Casey Stengel once said, "so you gotta take the blame for the losses." Coughlin gets credit for the wins.
Two seasons ago, the Jets' defense was just about the best in the NFL. Since then, it has steadily unraveled, with only one player who could be counted among the league's best defensive backs. Darrelle Revis was a first-team All-Pro selection last year, the third time he has been chosen and the fourth time he had made All-Pro at first or second level. He is, by consensus, the best one-on-one cover man in the league, and the only reason he didn't intercept more than four passes last year is opposing quarterbacks' reluctance to throw the ball in his general vicinity. Revis is not just a great athlete, he's also a great football player, as good a tackler as he is a cover man. The question really shouldn't be "Is Darrelle Revis the best player on the Jets?" The question should be "Is Darrelle Revis the greatest player in Jets history?" Let's pray he's as great next year, after this year's season-ending knee injury.
There really isn't much of a debate here. Carmelo Anthony was sixth in the league in points per game last year (22.6) and was even better in the postseason (27.8). He's a pretty good all-around player and became a much better one under Mike Woodson. It should be interesting to see how much better he gets this year with the opportunity to play a full season with Woodson. Anthony is proving he can sacrifice for the team—or he can give up burgers and fries (at least the supersize)—and lost 12 pounds by the end of June at Woodson's request. (Fifteen to 20 more would be even nicer.) We're happy to see that he has not metamorphosed into a wax figure at Madame Tussauds. Melo says he's motivated by watching LeBron and the Heat take the title and that "I truly believe my time is coming." As his time goes, so goes the Knicks' time.
In terms of impact, Matt Harvey didn't do much for the Mets this season. The Mets strictly limited his starts and innings pitched. Still, Harvey brought with him something better than a couple more in the wins column—he brought hope for 2013. "I don't want to jinx him," says Ron Darling, "but he's got mechanics as good as Tom Seaver." That's not hype: Everything about Harvey points in a Seaver-like direction, from his ERA (around or under 3.00 for most of his stint with the Mets) to his better than one strikeout per inning pitched. He has got speed, variety, and control. And he can even hit a lick; against Cincinnati earlier this season, he got two hits in a game. (At the U of North Carolina, he even played a little first base.) He admits to having grown up (in Connecticut) a Yankees fan but quickly earned forgiveness for that one character flaw.
No contest. Deron Williams was the biggest prize of the 2012 free-agent market and at 28 is at his peak. Now he's one of the best players in the history of Nets franchises. Mark Cuban, who wanted him for the Mavericks, called him "a great, great, great player." But when Cuban tried to justify not signing Williams because the Mavs really wouldn't have been better off with him, ESPNDallas's Jean-Jacques Taylor jumped in: "To suggest the Mavs are better off without Williams than with him is to insult the intelligence of the Mavs' fan base." Williams's skills are multiple. Last season, he led the Nets in minutes (36.3), points (21.0), assists (8.7), and was second in steals (1.2). Merry early Christmas, Brooklyn.