Who is this season's Most Valuable Player?
I respond to the question with another question: Who cares? Certainly not the NFL.
Maybe it has something to do with the cliché that claims "football is the ultimate team sport," but America's most popular game clearly doesn't have much interest in honoring its best player.
Don't get me wrong, there's no shortage of opinions on the subject. The Associated Press, the Maxwell Club, The Pro Football Writers Association, Pro Football Weekly and The Sporting News all announce their respective choice for the league's best player. Matter of fact, there are roughly as many organizations naming an NFL MVP as there are players in the NFL. In matters like this, though, it's not about quantity, but rather quality.
Take college football, where the only annual individual honor that counts is the Heisman Trophy. Same goes for Major League Baseball. The annual awards presented to the American and National League MVPs by the Baseball Writers Association of America are baseball's unrivaled gold standard for recognition of excellence. The NHL MVP gets the Hart Trophy (by the way, kudos to puck for having the coolest collection of trophies in sports), and the NBA MVP gets the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Alright, that's a decidedly uncool name for a trophy… but at least there's only one of 'em. And that's the point: When there's only one award that matters, the significance of said award grows exponentially.
Movies have the Academy Awards, music has the Grammys, theater has the Tonys. Shouldn't the NFL -- arguably our society's most beloved form of entertainment -- have a singular award, replete with a cool trophy, to honor the season's top performer? It just ain't right that I can name the last 10 Heisman, Hart and Best Picture winners, but not the last three NFL MVPs. (It also ain't right that "The Hurt Locker" won over "Inglourious Basterds," but that's a conversation for another time.)
C'mon, Commish: Why not take a page from all the aforementioned examples and formalize a group of voters -- ideally comprised of media types, ex-players, current players, and, of course, me -- who determine the yearly winner of the NFL MVP? Matter of fact, all you need to do is study your own league's existing affinity for honoring individual achievement. There's the Pro Bowl, the Super Bowl MVP and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the last of which features a handsome trophy that neatly pays tribute to the annual winner and the man for whom it's named.
It's the same reason why the Lombardi Trophy and the Heisman Trophy work. Okay, so the Stanley Cup is kinda odd in that it's named after a 19th-century Canadian Governor General… but mixing in a little history lesson with your sports isn't gonna kill ya. If it weren't for the British Open's Claret Jug, I never would've known that former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett was a two-sport athlete (although the misspelling of his name on the trophy is a major boner!).
For the purposes of my proposed MVP award, however, I think it's best to celebrate one of the legends of pro football. That's easier than it sounds, though. My first thought was to call it the Unitas Trophy, but then I remembered the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the best quarterback in college football. So I turned to the greatest QB of my lifetime, Joe Montana. No dice. He's already got an award for the best quarterback in high school football. Jim Brown? Nope, the Touchdown Club of Columbus beat me to the punch, naming their award for top college running back after "The Dirty Dozen" star. Butkus? Spoken for. Lambert? Ditto. Bednarik, Buchanan, Mackey, even punter Ray Guy… all gone.
See? All of the good names are already taken. I guess we could go with Brett Favre, except that it really oughta be named after a retired player, and he's an almost-mortal lock to be in either 49ers or Cardinals red next season. And I don't know that winning an award named after either O.J. Simpson or Lawrence Taylor would be much of a compliment at this point. What about Jerry Rice, who NFL Network* just named the top player of all-time? No can do. That list also labeled Peyton Manning as the eighth-best ever, and I simply can't bring myself to validate such hooey and applesauce.
( In the name of full disclosure, I was deeply wounded as a diehard black-and-gold aficionado to be left out of the voting for the NFL Network's Top 10 list of the Greatest Steelers Ever (debuting Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET). Here's how my ballot looks, with these two caveats: I can't judge guys I never saw play, so pre-Noll Dynasty players are out; and as much football as I've watched in my lifetime, I still can't identify great play by specific offensive linemen (and neither can almost anyone else), so names like Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Alan Faneca are also not accounted for. My Top 12 list:*
It's times like this that I feel bad for Bengals fans. Guys named Icky and Ocho are in their* top five. Ick, indeed. Anyhoo, let's get back to the task at-hand.)*
So… where were we? Oh yeah, struggling to find a legendary name for the NFL MVP award.
Wait a second… I've got it: the Weegie Sistrunk Award! Ding-ding-ding, we've got a winner!
Speaking of winners, here's how I'd like to see the inaugural presentation of the Weegie Sistrunk Trophy play out…
INT: NYC BALLROOM
Commish Goodell, dressed in a tuxedo and carrying a sealed envelope, steps to the podium. The capacity audience applauds, then settles into silence as the Commish begins speaking.
That's right, I said it! Brady's been great, but as we learned when that Cassel guy took over for him a couple years ago, the Pats can win without him. Vick has been a thrilling revelation, but the Eagles probably would've won the division with Kevin Kolb under center. And for anyone who argues that Cassel deserves it based on what happened to the Chiefs in San Diego when Brodie Croyle filled in, I refer you to the Steelers without Polamalu. When he's out, they're 6-7 (assuming their Thursday night win over the Panthers counts as an actual victory). When he's in, they're 14-4. Now that's what I call valuable.
Settle down, curmudgeons: that's just my vote. And until the Weegie Sistrunk Trophy becomes a reality, no one's vote means anything.