Everyone loves an award show, so I figured I'd put my own little spin on the first half of the 2009 NFL season and dole out some kudos, and throw a few tomatoes as well. So here goes ...
Most Menacing Mullet Award
Best Newcomer, AFC
I'm going with a three-way tie between Ravens tackle Michael Oher, Texans LB Brian Cushing and Bills safety Jairus Byrd. Oher had to play some left tackle against elite teams with Jared Gaither out, Cushing is fast becoming the lifeblood of Houston's defense and Byrd is an interception machine. Yeah, it's a cop-out. But darn it, it's my cop-out, and I'm going to own it.
Best Newcomer, NFC
Can't Judge a Book By its Cover Award
Josh McDaniels. So many of us thought he might be too young, or overmatched or plagued by a controversial offseason. All he does is reel off six straight wins to open the season. Not too shabby.
Most Overblown Story
Schism, anyone? I've got to go with that "report." The alleged deal about how Mike Vick's presence was constituting a controversy/distraction/threat for Donovan McNabb is right up there, too.
Welcome to the Greater Sports Consciousness Award
Those Broncos throwbacks are atrocious. I got seasick the first time I saw them (Photos). It's like watching 11 barber poles run around the field. There must be some karmic redemption coming to Josh McDaniels' guys in the second half of the season for inflicting such an aesthetic nightmare upon America.
Toughest Jaw Award
Jim Zorn. Refuses to resign despite incredibly tense conditions and major blows from management. Absorbs Sherm Lewis being brought in from a bingo hall, first to "consult" on offense, and then two weeks later to call plays. Zorn exudes class through all of this, while still maintaining his candid and open nature. (Also, no truth to the rumor that Redskins players now scream out, "That's a bingo!" on the rare occasions in which they actually get into the end zone.)
Tasmanian Devil Award
DeSean Jackson. He's like a blur tearing across your screen. Six touchdowns of 50 yards or more in half a season? Are you kidding me? Watching him play is too much fun. I'm a sucker for his end-zone dances and gregarious nature as well. What an asset the Eagles found in a 2008 draft that looks rife with receiver busts.
Best Play of the First Half
Fool's Gold Award
Week 1 Monday night games. Tell me I wasn't the only one, bleary eyed around 1 a.m. on the East Coast, who came away thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Bills and Raiders, even though both lost, might make a statement this season? They were the moral victors of the opening week, and, well, since then not so much.
Most Ill-fated Coaching Decision
Someone explain to me again exactly what Eric Mangini hoped to accomplish by yanking Brady Quinn a mere 10 quarters into the season, on the road at Baltimore while getting blown out (what is it about coaches yanking their passers at halftime against the Ravens?)? Yeah, that's been a masterstroke. In taking over, Derek Anderson has been historically bad since, while the first-round pick sits and waits for his chance to get another shot in Cleveland or elsewhere.
Disturbing Trend Award
Major staff changes in-season or slightly before the season. Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Kansas City all change play-callers just before the season, then the Redskins do the same in October? Check the standings to see how that's working out. And the Browns fire a rookie GM in Week 8. That'll fix it! If I'm the Raiders, do I overhaul my grounds crew just for the heck of it? I don't get this. There's like a seven-month offseason, guys, ample time to adjust accordingly.
Favorite Trend Award
Ageless linebackers. Junior Seau and Jeremiah Trotter come out of retirement to return to teams and coaches very close to their hearts.
Mark Sanchez. Couldn't quite sneak that hot dog past the cameras, could you? I applaud finding a free hot dog, anywhere, anytime. But you don't hear a whole lot of that "Sanchise" talk these days. He's going to be a very good quarterback, but the learning curve is steep up here.
Backward Buzzword Award
Parity. When one quarter of the league is dominant and the bottom quarter is oppressively bad, I'm not sure parity applies the way it has in the past.
Fantasy Team Crusher Award
Going to split this between two sophomore running backs who are, well, slumping. Matt Forte and Steve Slaton are being cursed by fantasy owners. Forte isn't actually that far off his yards-per-carry pace from 2008, especially at home. Slaton is 1.5 yards per carry off his pace from his rookie year. Yeah, that's a problem.
Best Deal at the Trade Deadline
Hmm, where should I start here with so many moves to parse through? Guess I'll go with the Eagles acquiring Will Witherspoon from St. Louis. Actually, even though this was the lone deal on deadline day, it's already paid dividends. This guy is playing like someone who went from the outhouse to the penthouse.
Comeback Player of the Half
Anthony Hargrove, DL, Saints. He overcame personal demons and addiction and about as heart-wrenching of an upbringing as you could imagine to come back from league-mandated suspension and a halfway house to become a key cog for the Saints. He got a game ball after New Orleans' win at Miami, and has flourished since replacing the injured Sedrick Ellis as a starter. On Sunday against Carolina, he was a one-man wrecking crew, forcing a fumble, recovering two and scoring his first NFL touchdown. Amazing story.
Gregg Williams. The Saints' defensive coordinator has turned the team's liability into a strength rivaling the offense. The culture and mentality of that defense has been completely revamped. The Patriots snagging a 2011 first-round draft pick from Oakland for Richard Seymour is a close second. They weren't going to re-sign Seymour anyway, and stumbling across Al Davis dangling a first-round pick is like knocking on the door of that one house every Halloween that was giving out full Almond Joys (not the bite-sized junk), wrapped in $20 bills. (Okay, that house doesn't exist -- or, at least it sure didn't in downtown Baltimore where I grew up -- but you get the point).
Most Transparent Publicity Ploy
Rush Limbaugh's ploy to buy the Rams. Dubious, Rush, but totally predictable. Dude was gonna own, at best, a lil sliver of the team, with no voice in matters, but has to go off yapping about it, to the point it becomes news, to the point where league officials and owners have to comment on their apprehension about having such a divisive figure in the league. All of which is just a contrived scheme for the shock jock to then get to play the role of the poor, scorned millionaire and then bemoan how, boo-hoo, life and private enterprise is just so unfair. Oh, Rush, we're all crying with you, big boy.
Man I'd Most Fear in The Second Half Award
Best Little Man Award
Maurice Jones-Drew. A one-man gang. And when he got a little worked up about the Jags not running the ball enough you just knew he was going to back it up, and then he comes back and scores three touchdowns.
We've all heard the one about the decline of running backs with a ton of carries under their belt approaching age 30. And it pretty much holds true. LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson spring to mind. Both have been dominant performers, and all that they have accomplished on the field should be celebrated, but they play a position of extreme attrition and it's showing. Forget the off-field issues Johnson had, the Chiefs were just as tired of his 2.7-yard average.
It's Just Not Their Year (Half-Year?) Award
I thought the Seahawks couldn't possibly endure the kind of injury woes they had a year ago. I was wrong. Leroy Hill, Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant. Um, yeah, I was wrong, Buffalo Bills come in second, and San Diego, playing without its center and nose tackle, is right there, too.
Man, where to begin? So many options. While Tampa was the last of the winless, there are still five one-win teams and three more with just two victories. That's a quarter of the league with two or fewer wins. But this award is about dysfunction. Oakland, Washington and Cleveland have to be finalists, and of the three, given the most recent events, I'll take the Browns.