Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The highest-paid running back in Dallas Cowboys' franchise history received a seven-year, $45 million contract in the spring despite starting just one game and never producing a 1,000-yard season. How's that, you ask? Because Marion Barber is a badass, forged out of muscle, menace and downright mean. He's the NFL's toughest, scariest runner, fueled by the disposition of a traveler about to check six pieces of luggage on an American Airlines flight. Proof? Barber made a habit last year of violently stiff-arming potential tacklers in the kisser. So effective, and so unfair, was the move that the NFL Competition Committee deemed it illegal for the upcoming season. Told of the league's new "Barber Rule," prohibiting him from going for opponents' facemasks, the Barbarian never looked up and immediately growled "What about the throat?" Shiver.
Kenny Cooper just may save American soccer or at least take it to the next level. At just 23, Cooper has all the skills to develop into a premier-level striker, the one thing the U.S. National Team has always lacked to go from middling to elite status. Unlike Landon Donovan, the current poster boy for American soccer, Cooper has not just speed, but also brawn, making his game a good fit for the bruising international stage. This year Cooper is an MLS All-Star and one of the league's leading scorers.
We assume it's easier to part with an Olympic gold medal when you have four more on your mantel, but still, the legendary Dallas sprinter made us all proud when he dashed toward integrity in June. After learning that four of his U.S. 1,600-meter relay teammates had admitted to taking steroids in preparation for the Sydney Games in 2000, Johnson announced he would return his medal because "I know the medal was not fairly won and that it is dirty." Johnson, who maintains he's never doped, still owns the world record in the 200 and 400 meters and still has a burgeoning training facility in Mc-Kinney. Thanks to his class act, he also still possesses his good name.
SMU's AD, turns out, could sell green bananas to an astronaut headed for the International Space Station. After all, he's got the Methodists again believing in big-time sports. In his two-year reign, SMU has constructed the $13 million Crum Center basketball practice facility, spent $1 million upgrading Moody Coliseum, splashed Dallas with a $750,000 "Pony Up" marketing campaign, drawn blueprints for a new outdoor tennis center, eased admission standards, maintained a 97 percent graduation rate and hired former national coaches of the year in basketball (Matt Doherty) and football (June Jones). To pay for Jones' unprecedented five-year, $10 million contract, Orsini persuaded a "Circle of Champions" to invest $100,000 for five years. Miracle on Mockingbird, indeed.
It's OK. Your heroes can still be Cowboys. Best buddy Tony Romo has more famous girlfriends, and Terrell Owens has more shiny endorsements, but no player was more important to the Cowboys last season than Witten. Already with a spot reserved in the Ring of Honor as the franchise's all-time best tight end, the Pro Bowler caught everything thrown his way and yanked us off the couch with his helmet-less gallop against the Philadelphia Eagles. Precise routes. Nimble feet. Pillowy hands. But the best reason to be smitten with Witten: He balances his $28 million contract with a 28-cent ego. A night after rubbing elbows with Jamie Foxx and Serena Williams at T.O.'s birthday party last December, Witten spent the day making friends at Carrollton's Rainwater Elementary School. Oh, and also, Witten's smart enough to realize it's not a good idea to sing at Wrigley Field when you can't, in fact, sing. Right, Tony?
By all accounts, the manager was as good as gone in late April. His team had baseball's worst record (9-18). The Bad News Bears displayed better fundamentals. Washington was this close to getting axed. Owner Tom Hicks admitted it was "pretty close." But just as management began constructing a contingency plan and even a list of potential successors, the Rangers suffered injuries to front-line veterans, began getting production from unheralded youngsters and shockingly climbed back into playoff contention by the All-Star break. One of Washington's strengths is his patience and his unflappable demeanor. The Rangers deserve credit—albeit barely—for giving him the chance to display it.