Sports' most fascinating for 2011 (cont.)
I'm fascinated to see if Tebow can take his college quarterback talents and make himself a star NFL quarterback. Tebow has started the last two games, including a 308-yard passing performance against the Texans' league-worst pass defense in Week 16. It seems likely that he will be the Broncos' starter next year as they try to right what has rather suddenly become one of the more disastrous football franchises.
Tebow probably is not an NFL-caliber passer. But he can really run, and he's obviously smart and determined. He is, at this point, a lot more like some of the old-fashioned quarterbacks, like Joe Kapp or Billy Kilmer (only a lot bigger). Can he use those talents to make the Broncos a winner? It will be fun to watch.
Speaking of fun to watch -- Roy Halladay is a two-time Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee is a one-time Cy Young winner, Roy Oswalt is one of the best pitchers of the last decade and Cole Hamels won both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards just two years ago. All seem in their primes. There has never been a four-man rotation quite like it.
But what will it mean? Philadelphia's offense looked old in the postseason last year. The bullpen looks old and could be shaky. What will it mean to have a dominant starter out there four out of ever five games? Will the Phillies win 105-plus games and dominate the National League? Will they find some rough sledding the way the Miami Heat did in the early part of their season?
When Lee signed with the Phillies, I wrote that their rotation can now do only two things: win or disappoint.
With Brett Favre finally exiting the stage (one would hope), Manning will become everybody's favorite old quarterback. Manning turns 35 in March, and though he has often looked as good as ever in 2010 -- especially when you consider how many injuries have happened all around him -- there were a few signs of age. Manning threw late-game interceptions a couple of times and tossed 11 picks in a three-game span. He also took some of the hardest hits of his career.
Thing is, the Colts are not as good a team, and Manning has had to take on a much larger responsibility. He has, for the first time in his career, thrown the ball more than 600 times, and he has a shot at Drew Bledsoe's record of 691 attempts in a season (1994). Manning, at his best, can still throw it as well as ever, but how much longer can he put in the intense preparation and withstand the immense punishment of a quarterback -- especially if the Colts keep losing ground? He certainly sees himself doing this for a while yet, but I think 2011 is a key year for him.
Signs seem to indicate that Cowher is ready to get back into coaching. He was one of the most dazzling coaches of his time, not only because of his success (his Steelers won 62 percent of their games, two AFC championships and a Super Bowl) but also because of the way he achieved it. He coached like the old coaches, like Noll and Lombardi, with intensity and fury and precision. He fit perfectly in Pittsburgh -- that was his home, these were his people, the Steelers were his perfect image of a team.
Can he rebuild that same thing somewhere else -- say, New York? Can he find the same passion and intensity after spending a couple of years yukking it up with the fellas on an NFL pregame show? I think he can, but plenty of very good coaches could not.
She has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 more doubles titles, two Olympic gold medals in doubles ... and yet the talk with her always seems to be about how much better she could have been. You could call this the Wilt Chamberlain syndrome. No matter what Wilt did, it was never enough. Williams won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2010 -- she did not even drop a set at Wimbledon -- and yet the year was said to be something of a disappointment.
Williams will almost certainly not catch Margaret Court (24) or Steffi Graf (22) in Grand Slam singles championships. At age 29, she seems unlikely to even catch Martina Navratilova or Chris Evert, who have 18 apiece. But people around the game will tell you that she might just be the best who ever played anyway. No women's player ever combined Williams' combination of power, speed and will.
You never know when she will just walk away from the game. She has many other interests besides tennis. She writes. She's involved in fashion. And so, despite the gnawing sense that her career could have been even better, I plan to enjoy watching Serena Williams play tennis for as long as possible.
Johnson won his fifth consecutive NASCAR championship in 2010. It's unprecedented, of course. There is a sense around NASCAR that Johnson did show some vulnerability, though, and the feeling is that 2011 will be wide open and Johnson is about ready to fall.
Maybe. But it's fair to say that nobody ever made any money underestimating Johnson. He's a ferocious competitor and the guy who will do exactly what he needs to do to win, no more and no less. There are people who say that NASCAR has gotten boring because Johnson has dominated. Maybe they're right. But that's only if you think greatness is boring.