Now that 2009 is coming to a close, thought we'd give you our Players of the Decade. But before we get to the list, Mascaro, La Monica and I want to wish you and your the very best for the coming New Year. Be safe, be happy, be prosperous.
And thanks for reading!
QB: Tom Brady, Patriots. You want Peyton Manning instead? I'll understand. After all, he's about to win his unprecedented fourth MVP award, and is in the midst of yet another brilliant season for the 14-1 Colts. But to me, the way you decide greatness is what happens in January and February, and that's where Brady comes in: Four Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl MVPs. Manning? One Super Bowl win and a Super Bowl MVP, in addition to his regular season awards. Bottom line: We'll take the guy with the rings.
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers: He's no longer the player he once was, but from start to finish this decade, his numbers as indisputable: 12,489 rushing yards, 138 rushing TDs, 15 receiving TDs, and eight straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2001-08.
WR: Randy Moss, Patriots. Yes, he was unmotivated with the Raiders. Yes, he is occasionally lazy in his route-running. Yes, he hasn't always been the best teammate. But he is clearly the most athletic receiver of the decade, and we give him the nod over Terrell Owens, who has been a far more disruptive player during his time with the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys. Moss' production is unquestionably brilliant: 148 touchdowns, including 23 in his transcendent season of 2007. Others in contention were Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt, but we think they're a notch below Moss and T.O.
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. He is the pre-eminent tight end of our time. Maybe ever. He has 996 career receptions, the most by a tight end. His four 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the decade are better than a lot of wide receivers. Sure, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark are in the discussion. But Gonzalez wins that discussion by a mile.
OL: Jonathan Ogden, Ravens. At 6-9, 345 pounds, he was a physical specimen rarely seen in the NFL. But there have been other big men to play the position, just not quite as well as Ogden, and certainly not this decade. Walter Jones and Orlando Pace are worth contenders, but we'll take Ogden, whose brute strength and nimble feet made him a certain Hall of Famer.
DL: Michael Strahan, Giants. There was no better player adept at playing both the run and the pass than Strahan, who enjoyed a 15-year career with the Giants before walking off into the sunset after helping the team to the Super Bowl championship after the 2007 season. With 141 1/2 career sacks, he set the team's all-time record. But as much as his pass rushing acumen, Strahan was just as dominant as a run-stopper. That's why we give him the edge over All-Decade contenders like Jason Taylor and Warren Sapp.
LB: Ray Lewis, Ravens. He is among the most dominant linebackers of all-time, no less this decade. Lewis has had 100 or more tackles every year this decade except the two seasons he was injured. And he hasn't lost much at age 34; he was selected to the Pro Bowl this week. Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks is a worthy challenger, but we'll go with Lewis' overall body of work, which includes anchoring Baltimore's historically great defense in 2000.
CB: Champ Bailey, Broncos. Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha are the pre-eminent shutdown cornerbacks today, but Bailey has been the model corner through most of the decade. Teams routinely wouldn't even try throwing against him, and when they did, the results were usually unfortunate. Bailey has 46 interceptions, including a combined 18 in the 2005-06 seasons.
S: Ed Reed, Ravens: Plenty of competition with Troy Polamalu, Brian Dawkins, Rodney Harrison and a few others, but we like Reed's athleticism and productivity over the course of the decade. Polamalu and Dawkins are better run-stoppers, and Harrison has an edge in leadership, but in terms of pure athleticism and a knack for taking over games, we'll take Reed. He has had four seasons of seven or more interceptions, compared to just one season of 7 picks for Polamalu.
K: Adam Vinatieri, Colts: He made his mark with the Patriots during their Super Bowl years as the best clutch kicker of all time. Can anyone remember a bigger kick than that 45-yarder he made in the snow against the Raiders in the 2001 AFC divisional playoffs?
P: Shane Lechler, Raiders: Might have the biggest leg of any punter of any era. Which is a good thing, considering the Raiders' offense is so bad he routinely punts from deep inside his own territory.