Top 10 D.C. athletes of the decade
This was supposed to roll out last Thursday. Then Bruce Allen happened. That puts his name near the top of my list of "Top 10 D.C. Sports Executives Whose Hiring Delayed Scheduled Blog Posts."
Anyway, after nearly two weeks of your voting on the local athlete of the decade, here's my list. You can still vote on the the top local sports story and biggest sports bust of the decade; my choices in those categories will come Tuesday and Wednesday.
10. Sean Taylor (Reader rank: 4*) I mean no disrespect by putting him this low; he only played three and a half seasons in D.C., and we'll never know exactly what he would have become on the field. He clearly became a forever Washington sports icon, and he had way more than his share of highlights for such a short career. It's also easy to forget, but he scored the game-winning touchdown during Washington's last playoff win, and he was leading the NFL in interceptions when he died.
9. Ryan Zimmerman (7) The team has been awful for almost all of Zimmerman's tenure, but his numbers have been outstanding, especially in 2009, when he was judged both the best offensive and best defensive third baseman in the National League. It's hard to be the Face of the Franchise when the franchise loses 100 games, and Zimmerman's far more reserved than just about every other star in D.C. If he continues to improve and the Nats rise out of the muck, he could do far better on this list 10 years from now.
8. Jeff Green (19) While John Thompson III is the symbol of Georgetown's resurgence, Green was its biggest star. During his career, he earned Big East rookie of the year, Big East player of the year and Big East tourney most outstanding player honors. His last-second shot against Vanderbilt during the 2007 NCAA tournament helped spark the Hoyas to their first Final Four since the Ewing Era. And he was chosen fifth in the NBA draft.
7. Antawn Jamison (12) As I type, Jamison is 12th in scoring among active NBA players, and 14th in rebounding among active players. The other names who join him in the top 14 of both lists? Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and, um, Juwan Howard. Heady company, with one exception. And while Howard's time in D.C. was marked by futility, Jamison's has been marked by the four straight playoff appearances, the first time the franchise had done such a thing in well over a decade. Jamison also made two All-Star appearances this decade.
6. Olie Kolzig (2) His true glory years came in the last decade, but Kolzig was the Caps' internal leader and public face well into this decade. While the Redskins and Wizards floundered in the early part of this decade, Kolzig's Caps were still a postseason regular, losing in the first round three of the first four years of the decade. He'll likely end up with his jersey in the rafters at the Verizon Center, which is reason enough for him to be on this list.
5. Jaime Moreno (10) I know. You don't know who this is. You don't care about soccer. And even if you do, you might note that in a decade when two of Moreno's D.C. United teammates won MLS MVP awards (Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez), Moreno never did. And yet he's the all-time leading scorer in his league history, and his play during the 2004 MLS Cup was crucial in D.C. United's title. He has individual and team accomplishments that virtually no one else in D.C. can match, and he spent virtually this entire decade as one of the club's stalwarts.
4. Clinton Portis (8) Here are the names above Portis's in the all-time list of rushing yards per game: Jim Brown, Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson. That's it. The names behind him on that list include LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson. My friends at Mister Irrelevant have howled Portis's praises louder than anyone, and the man has the paperwork to back them up: the ninth-most rushing yards in NFL history through seven seasons, the fifth-most rushing yards of any active running back. Portis also carried the Redskins into the playoffs twice.
3. Gilbert Arenas (3) Very few D.C. athletes this decade have even been mentioned as possible league MVP candidates. Before the knee injury, Gilbert's name was in that conversation. But more than that, he made the Wizards matter, both locally and nationally. Before his arrival, the franchise had one playoff appearance since the '80s and hadn't won a playoff series since 1982, an almost unfathomable streak. In his second season in D.C., the Wizards made the playoffs and won a series, with Arenas's game-winner in Game 5 against the Bulls the defining moment. Only one other D.C. athlete has had such a transformative affect on his franchise this decade.
2. Juan Dixon (9) At some point, great athletes are defined by their teams' results. During a decade of local mediocrity, Juan Dixon won a national championship. He was the most outstanding player of the Final Four, became Maryland's all-time leading scorer, was the player of the year in what was then the nation's best conference, was a first-team all-American, and won more games than anyone in Terps history. Sure, not every D.C. sports fan is a Maryland fan, and sure, Dixon's pro career has been spotty, but in my opinion, he left a larger mark on this region than any of the names listed above.
1. Alex Ovechkin (1) He's D.C's first major pro athlete you could plausibly argue was the best in the world at his sport in at least 25 years. And to be honest, comparing NFL MVP Joe Theismann or Super Bowl MVP John Riggins to Ovechkin is a severe reach. It's hard to imagine Ovechkin not being on the short list of top D.C. athletes of the 21st century. He won two MVPs, brought life back to a moribund franchise, created unforgettable highlights, and became one of the faces of his league. There's no debate that he was D.C's best of this decade.
* - Reader rankings based on these poll results, as of 1 pm on Dec. 21
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