And the winner is...Frank Luksa? Retired. John Gonzalez? Relocated. Gerry Fraley? Really big yawn. But yes. In a local sports writing landscape that has become as pedestrian as it is predictable, The Dallas Morning News' Fraley wins by default for the mere fact that he usually has an opinion. While the rest of our soiled scribes routinely roll out painfully obvious "Life: Good; Death: Bad" columns, Fraley's "Just Venting" offerings aren't afraid to take a contrarian approach. Most of the time he even has stats to back them up. By no stretch is Fraley a creative writer, but every once in a while the crotchety cuss in the goofy shirts can even deliver a zinger. Explaining the Rangers' latest demise Fraley offered the "Curse of the Crotch Grab," a cruel karma brought on by closer Francisco Cordero's crude gesture toward an opposing dugout. Fraley's suggested exorcism: "Have Cordero pitch with his athletic supporter full of atomic balm."

Readers' Pick
Tim Cowlishaw The Dallas Morning News
Don't get us wrong, lots of people love the Thursday Weekend Planner column. Mostly, people who are under 4 feet tall, don't know a rhyme from a dime and make a nightly habit of begging "Please, just this once! I'll be good!" to stay up and watch Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. The answer, invariably, is no. Same as it as to Todd Davis' attempt--we think--at humor. A sampling of his half-assed scribbling: "Hey local golfers, is your putting the pits? Are your wedges not worth a bag of chips? Are you weak at pumping irons?" It's as though the column were penned by Dr. Seuss. Only without the humor. Or life lessons. Former Sports Day czar Dave Smith and his smug rug must be rolling over in their retirement.
The Rangers pitcher attacked two cameramen and then he...oh, you know the story. He's a double douche bag sundae topped with jackass sprinkles. Let's just crown his sorry ass and move on, shall we?
The Mavericks' Mark Followill is a rising star and the Rangers' Eric Nadel is classically listenable. But in the Cowboys' Brad Sham, metroplex sports fans have an icon at the threshold. In an era when broadcasters exploit their booths as Gong Show stages used to trot out contrived, cutesy catch-phrases, Sham's style is both understated and underrated. He can be as smooth as a Roger Staubach spiral or as hyper as Keyshawn Johnson after a third-down catch. He has a knack for criticizing without ruffling feathers and for encouraging you to root without being a cheerleader. Like Chick Hearn with the Lakers, Vin Scully with the Dodgers and Harry Caray with the Cubs, Sham (in his 27th season with the team) is a legend. He started by hosting Dallas' first sports radio talk show. Here's hoping he ends up in the Ring of Honor.
He's young, recently having turned 21. He's talented, considered one of the best players in the U.S. He's rich, earning $875,000 this season. But, unless you know what Dallas' "FC" stands for, he's also anonymous. For now. Overcoming the handicap of growing up fatherless in a Florida housing project, Johnson is suddenly the brightest young star in American soccer. Yes, even hotter than Freddy Adu. The FC Dallas striker has eight goals in eight games for the U.S. National Team and will next summer become a household star. He'll play for the Americans in the 2006 World Cup in Germany and, more important, be prominently featured in Nike TV ads leading up to the world's biggest sporting event.
Granted, it's uncomfortable bestowing a sports award on the noggin of a guy who takes pride in not knowing first down from third base. But, then again, it's exactly that awkwardness that makes Gordon Keith's role on The Ticket's Dunham & Miller morning show so damn entertaining. Hosts George and Craig provide adequate knowledge and guests to keep you interested, but it's the sadistic sidekick that violently yanks their show above the generic goo that is morning radio. Listening to Gordo is like watching slow-motion video of a human birth. Backward. Whether he's interrupting an Avery Johnson interview with "What's up with basketball?" or orchestrating a fictional "Jeremiah Ontario" bit in which the monotone Cowboy reads "Last night Jerry Jones snuck in my room and sawed off my leg," Gordo will gleefully push you down the dark staircase. And continue tickling as your skull smacks the concrete floor.

Readers' Pick
The Hardline The Ticket, 1310-AM
He doesn't have Mike Doocy's hair, Babe Laufenberg's history or Newy Scruggs' hip factor, but what Dale Hansen still has is the metroplex eating out of the palm of his hand. Two reasons: Hansen is both plugged in and unplugged. He provides viewers with a confidence (re: cockiness) that he knows the Cowboys privately and isn't afraid to rail on them publicly. While the other anchors provide similar news and slick features, Hansen continues to attract audiences with bullish opinions and brutal honesty. Whether it's on the Rangers: "They have sucked since the day I got here, and they suck again. Why are you people acting surprised by this development?" Or even on himself: "I'm a soft, fat old guy. Who am I to criticize? But you know I'm going to anyway, so here goes..." Rip on, old, soft fat guy. Rip on.

Readers' Pick
Dale Hansen
Five years ago this category's only candidates would have been State Highway 121 and dirt. Now the boomin' burg boasts IKEA, FC Dallas, the Dallas Stars and, lest we forget, the state's largest MILF population. But rising above even the soccer moms with their pretentious SUVs and plastic DDs is the small, humble baseball team playing home to the best bang-for-your-buck ratio in our sports equation. At the 7UP/Dr Pepper Ballpark you can entertain your family of four for about $50, let the kids run around on the grassy hill beyond the outfield fence and watch Rangers pitching stars of the near future in John Danks, Thomas Diamond and Edison Volquez. Plus, you don't have to drive to Arlington. Even better, Kenny Rogers won't be there.
We didn't want to give this to Academy. For one, it's a chain; worse, it won Best of Dallas last year. We wanted to give this award to some boutique. Some start-up. Something, anything else. We tried Uptown. We tried Duncanville. But in the end, that big box of a sporting goods store called us home. Do you need to outfit a youth football team with shoulder pads? Do you need a jock strap? A pair of $8 running shorts? Fishing apparel at 25 percent off? An adjustable basketball hoop? Tennis balls? Baseball bats? Camping gear? Well then, there's only one place to shop. Better still, all of this stuff's easy to find at Academy. Big signs point the way. And the store's layout makes sense: camping gear bleeds into fishing tackle, tennis rackets are near golf clubs. Sometimes, chains are good. Sometimes, excellence is worthy of repeated praise.

Readers' Pick
Academy Sports & Outdoors
It's history, man. Wallow in it; don't run from it. Sure, your knees cramp pressing against metal chair backs. If you're lucky you'll get one of those "obstructed view" seats where the upper-level overhang hides half the scoreboard. And there's nothing like the lingering stench of Ted Nugent's puke/piss cocktail, circa 1978. Ah, Texas Jam, inhale the bouquet. As has been the case since it opened in 1921, the Cotton Bowl is all substance, no style. In a perfectly polished era of luxury suites, retractable roofs and corporate names, this old joint refreshingly reeks of old school. Tom Landry coached the first Cowboys game here in '60. Sinatra, Elvis and Jim Brown all played here. President Franklin D. Roosevelt packed the place back in '36. In what-have-you-built-for-me-lately Dallas, our sterile stadiums are all waiter service and thunder sticks and hi-def replays on plasmas as big as Sri Lanka. Give us the charm. Give us the character. And, before Texas-OU bolts, give us one more trip through a living, breathing, stinking museum.

Readers' Pick
American Airlines Center 2500 Victory Ave.

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