by Julian Spivey
Over the last month or so in NASCAR there seems to have been more interest on what’s wrapped around the racecars than who’s driving them or their performance on the track.
More controversy over what’s on a racecar struck the sport this week when it was announced the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Mustang driven by Corey LaJoie would be sponsored by the Patriots of America PAC, a political action committee advocating for the reelection of President Donald Trump and the car would prominently feature ‘Trump 2020’ on its hood and rear quarter panel.
The Patriots of America PAC sponsorship for the No. 32 team will be a nine-race deal with the paint scheme debuting in this Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the sport’s biggest races of the season.
According to Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports, the PAC paid Go Fas Racing $350,000 on June 29, but it’s unclear if that payment is for the full nine-race deal or if there will be future payments.
The PAC previously sponsored a car driven in the Xfinity Series by Joe Nemechek for Mike Harmon Racing earlier this year. It’ll be the first time President Trump’s name had appeared on a Cup Series car since Reed Sorensen had a ‘Trump/Pence’ paint scheme for Premium Motorsports on his car just days before the 2016 presidential election.
Of course, Go Fas Racing being sponsored by a Trump for reelection committee has caused backlash toward the team, the driver and the sport. It’s the second time in the span of a month that something wrapped around a racecar has caused a lot of backlash for the sport after Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. raced a car with Black Lives Matter on it at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on June 10. That car was not actually sponsored by the Black Lives Matter group but was a statement by Wallace and his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team with racial injustice being a major topic at this time in the country.
Go Fas Racing team owner Archie St. Hilaire said: “I’m honored to be part of the President’s re-election campaign through the Patriots of America PAC. As a Trump 2020 supporter, this team will do everything possible to secure victory on and off the track electing President Donald Trump to a second term. Let s bring this country back and Keep America Great!”
LaJoie, who currently sits 27th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings with one top-10 finish in 15 races, said: “With an estimated 75 million NASCAR fans out there, I was surprised that about 15 million of those fans are not registered voters. I will give my best effort to get NASCAR fans registered to vote, through our team efforts on and off the track. When they see the car, hopefully it makes them race to the polls in November.”
After receiving backlash to his car’s newest sponsor LaJoie has turned his Twitter profile to private and according to popculture.com turned off the comments to his latest Instagram post and cropped out the ‘Trump 2020’ decal in a photo that featured his car.
NASCAR teams rely so heavily on sponsorships that it can be hard for a small team like Go Fas Racing to turn down opportunities, though it’s clear the owner of the team fully supports President Trump. But many are claiming fans should take it easy on LaJoie for the sponsor of his car.
While drivers aren’t always in control of the sponsors on their rides they are, of course, in control over whether or not to drive for those teams. This is a hard situation for LaJoie to be in, there’s no doubt about that. If he were to refuse to drive under this sponsor, he would simply be replaced with another driver who would. However, that is an option he could take. And after the courage we’ve seen from at least one other driver in the Cup Series within the last month it’s valid to question his decision to drive the car with that sponsorship.
My belief is that NASCAR should make it policy within the sport that cars cannot feature sponsorship of politicians. That would keep fans from getting angered by seeing names of politicians on cars, it would make the sport stop seeming like it’s siding with one political party or another and most importantly it would keep drivers like LaJoie from either receiving backlash or having to make potentially career altering decisions.
NASCAR does have control over team sponsorships. In 2017 driver Carl Long was forced to remove a sponsor logo for Veedverks, a Colorado-based marijuana vaping company, from the car he owned and competed in.
There’s always going to be the chance that some sponsors are going to be controversial or offend people. Many didn’t like Wallace’s Black Lives Matter scheme (though, again, it wasn’t a sponsor) and I’ve always despised the National Rifle Association sponsoring cars driven by Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr. and others in the past, as well as sponsoring races at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s going to be nearly impossible to please everyone. But it makes sense for the sport to want to eliminate political candidates from using cars as political ads, especially in today’s climate. Hopefully, the sport will look into that for the 2021 season.
by Julian Spivey
The FBI investigation of the noose found in NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.’s garage stall on Sunday morning at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala. revealed on Tuesday (June 23) that the entire thing was essentially a big coincidence and misunderstanding as photographic evidence shows that the noose was actually a garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose that had been in that garage stall since at least October of last year the last time NASCAR traveled to Talladega.
NASCAR said in its statement on Tuesday: “This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment.”
While the realization that the noose was in fact a garage pull rope tied to resemble a noose is good news in that it means it wasn’t an intentional racist act perpetrated by someone either within the sport or employed by the track it’s also a bit of an embarrassment for NASCAR in that so much had been made since the sport went public with the story on Sunday night about it being a heinous, racist act.
I can’t help but feel incredibly bad for Wallace right now because he’s catching so much flack from ignorant individuals on social media, many of whom are tagging him directly, claiming that the entire thing was a hoax, instead of the unfortunate coincidence and misunderstanding it is. So many folks were talking about the event being a hoax and likening Wallace to actor Jussie Smollett, who was caught staging a hate crime assault against himself last year, in the hours after NASCAR’s statement that Wallace’s name was trending on Twitter with the unfortunate hashtag #BubbaSmollett.
These individuals are merely pissed at the fact that a black man, the only full-time black driver in NASCAR, had the guts to speak out against things like police brutality, the confederate flag at racetracks and other racial issues and are taking this misunderstanding as a moment to push back at him despite the fact that it has been reported multiple times by NASCAR and media outlets that the supposed noose was found by a member of the 43 team before Wallace stepped foot in the garage area on Sunday and he never saw it in the garage and the fact that it’s been there since at least last October, meaning that not only did he not have anything to do with it, but neither did anyone on his race team. But, let’s face it, facts aren’t exactly the friend of these individuals trying to push their bullshit on Wallace and NASCAR.
Even with Tuesday’s announcement that the noose wasn’t intended as a noose a lot of good came out of the controversy on Monday when the GEICO 500 was run at Talladega after being rained out on Sunday and the sport and its drivers and other members thought it was real and decided to stand with one of their own by pushing Wallace’s 43 Chevrolet to the front of the grid on pit road with every one of the other 39 drivers in the field in tow and much of their pit crews following in unison. It was a beautiful sight from the sport to show that they wouldn’t bow down to racism and they had Wallace’s back.
The realization that the noose wasn’t planted by a racist as a threat toward Wallace and what he means to the growth of the sport doesn’t do a damn thing to change anything that happened on the track before the race on Monday. This sport is with Bubba Wallace and if that bothers you than move along. NASCAR doesn’t need you.
by Julian Spivey
NASCAR did things a bit differently at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. on Sunday (June 7). The race itself didn’t look any different than it has since returning from a multiple month Covid-19 hiatus as the series competed without fans in attendance and Kevin Harvick dominated the race for his second Cup Series win of the season. But the broadcast and start of the race certainly was different than fans are accustomed to and it was a much-needed, but also divisive way to begin things at Atlanta.
For much of the past two weeks our nation has seen protests against police brutality after Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin killed an African-American man George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes. Video of this incident, along with a spate of other racial killings and the killing of black people by police, has led to calls for police reform and a movement to remind the country and the world that black lives matter.
Fox Sports began its race telecast on Sunday by airing an emotional video that Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., the only active African-American driver in the Cup Series, shared earlier in the week about current events in the country that led into broadcaster and former four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon sharing his thoughts on the matter by saying, “We are listening, we are learning, we are ready change.” While standing on pit road before the race Wallace wore a T-shirt that said: “I Can’t Breathe. Black Lives Matter.”
NASCAR held its weekly invocation; the National Anthem was performed and the drivers were told to start their engines. The 40-car field took its pace laps, but with one pace lap to go before the field took the green flag to start the race something unprecedented happened. The pace car brought the field to a halt right at the track’s start-finish line, the crew members of all the teams lined up against the pit road wall and Steve Phelps, the President of NASCAR addressed the drivers and the viewing audience at home (something I’ve never seen in my 20 years watching this sport).
Phelps said: “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
At the end of the statement the network rolled a video featuring nearly every driver in the race’s field talking about how it’s time for everybody to listen and do better for those in the black community.
Once Phelps’ statement ended and the field continued back on its final pace lap before the start the Fox Sports camera panned to a black NASCAR official who had taken a knee on pit road during the statement paying tribute to other protestors, like former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who had protested police brutality by doing the same.
This is an important moment in the history of NASCAR, a sport whose fan-base is almost certainly on the conservative majority side. It was an important step to take for the sport to go into the future. However, it was a moment that was certainly divisive among its fanbase as a search of the word ‘NASCAR’ on Twitter would show in the moments and even hours after the statements by NASCAR, its drivers, Gordon and Fox Sports and Wallace.
Seeing a chunk (though you can’t tell what percentage of the fanbase was happy or angry with the statements simply by perusing social media) of angry NASCAR fans claiming that they would never watch the sport again was not surprising to me as someone who’s followed the sport for two decades. It once again made me angry that so many who claim to be fans of the sport could be so misguided, ignorant and racist. But it also made me hopeful that their statements of “I’ll never watch the sport again” might possibly be true, because the sport doesn’t need racist and ignorant fans and if this step into the future rids NASCAR of these deplorables than it’s a win-win.
The aspect of so many of those complaining that truly threw me for a loop was how many accused the sport of being political. This bugs me for two main reasons. The first being that equality and black lives mattering are not political issues. They are humanity issues. The second thing that really bugged me about folks accusing the sport of being political and saying they’d never watch NASCAR again is these are the same fans who’ve been watching races this season after President Donald Trump attended and spoke before the season-opening Daytona 500 this year. So, the President, the leading political figure in the country isn’t NASCAR being political, but standing up for the basic human rights of an entire race of people somehow is?
Some fans had well-intentioned questions about whether or not NASCAR will continue to support the movement of equality for all and against police brutality, and one Twitter user who goes by the screen name @RunAloneRunner brought up the reasonable point that “NASCAR doesn’t so this with fans in the stands” saying the sport took advantage of its largely conservative fanbase not being in attendance due to the sport’s current Covid-19 restrictions. I would hope NASCAR would’ve had the courage to do it regardless, even if the crowd’s reaction might have given the sport a huge blackeye on live television in response (or possibly the crowd could’ve roared and cheered in agreement), but I guess due to Covid-19 we’ll never truly know. Either way I was proud of NASCAR and its drivers today for standing up for what’s right.
If the sport ends up losing fans over this I say, “good riddance.” The sport and the world will be better off without them in the long run.
by Julian Spivey
You get to work tomorrow and your boss calls you into his/her office and says, “things aren’t going too well right now, we’re going to need you to take as much as a 75 percent pay cut.”
What would you do? Would you take the pay cut and keep your job or would you give them the old Johnny Paycheck “take this job and shove it!”
What about if you had already agreed to as much as a 50 percent pay cut at an earlier date, because, you know, things aren’t going so well, and they come back and said, “we’re going to need to take more.”
Well, that’s what Major League Baseball is trying to do to its players.
The MLB Players Association had already agreed to prorated salaries when the league announced in March it would have to shut down indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the proposed 82-game season the MLB hopes to complete that would’ve been about a 50 percent pay cut, where those making the most within the game would see their salary this season go from around $35 million to just under $18 million and those making the MLB minimum of $563,500 would go down to $285,000.
Believe it or not about 65 percent of major leaguers make less than $1 million a year, according to a recent article on ESPN.com.
I get that many people, even those who consider themselves to be baseball fans, will simply see this as millionaires bickering over money, but try to put yourselves in their shoes. You likely wouldn’t see a pay cut of as much as 75 percent as reasonable … so why should they even if it’s more than you would make at the same cut?
Also, don’t forget the players immediately agreed to the prorated salaries and it’s the owners, the billionaires within the sport, coming in with the greedy ask of more cuts. The millionaire athletes are the little guys being taken advantage of in this situation.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan said on Tuesday, this week would be especially important between the league and the MLBPA and there’s still a long way to go in the week, but baseball’s first proposal to the players was essentially taken by them as being a slap in the face. For baseball to begin it season on July 4, as they hope to, the two sides would have to come to an agreement by the end of the first week of June.
St. Louis Cardinals reliever and union representative Andrew Miller told USA Today: “We want to play. It’s what we love to do. We also have principles and a responsibility to protect the rights of players. If this was truly about getting the game to the fans in 2020, we would have no issues finding that common ground. We will continue to work toward that, but I’m disappointed where they have started the discussion.”
Throughout this entire process the league’s owners have been attempting to make the players look like the villains of the scenario, especially when they first came out with a 50/50 revenue sharing plan a couple of weeks back by going to the media first without even talking to the MLBPA. Based on what I’ve seen on social media, the plan by the owners is working. Fans just see “greedy millionaires” wanting more (when it’s actually what they contractually agreed to and then, again, agreed to take less of), instead of the owners using a pandemic scenario to try to get more from the players.
And, yes, the owners will be losing out too, but as USA Today reported on Tuesday: “The owners would be guaranteed $777 million in postseason TV revenue, which would be inflated to nearly $1 billion with a postseason format expanding to 14 teams from its normal 10.
I know fans want the players on the field, I do too, but I’m never going to fault athletes for standing up for what they believe, especially when all the signs point to the owners trying to stick it to them. Maybe the owners will give the MLBPA a reasonable proposal? Maybe the MLBPA will eventually cave and decide taking as much as 75 percent less than planned is better than receiving nothing at all? But, as of right now, I’m not expecting there to be any Major League Baseball played in 2020 … and with the two sides being where they are at it might not even be played in 2021.
All I know is if my boss came at me with a 75 percent pay cut, they’d be getting: “take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more” mighty fast.
by Eric Fulton
The National Football League (NFL) is easily the most popular sport in the United States. However, whether you realize it or not, the NFL does have an image problem when it comes to who is in charge of its teams. Of the nearly 1,700 players, the majority of players are African-American, but only four of the game’s 32 teams have minority head coaches and only two teams in the league have minority general managers. The Miami Dolphins are the league’s only team with a minority in both positions with Brian Flores as head coach and Chris Grier as GM. This is a major failure on the part of the NFL and they know it and are trying to make changes to fix the issue – the only problem is their recent proposal basically makes a joke of the issue.
The league’s latest idea of rewarding teams who hire minorities by moving up in the NFL Draft just seems to be a terrible idea, so terrible the league has already moved to put this possibility behind them since the start of this writing.
NFL.com first reported that if a minority head coach is hired, a team would move up six spots in the third round before the minority head coach’s second season. If a team hires a person of color, they would move up 10 spots in the third round of the draft. If a team hires both a minority head coach and general manager in the same year, a team would move up 16 spots (or half a round). There would also be additional incentives for teams if the head coach and general manager are not fired within their first two seasons.
There are some who say the NFL still doesn’t get it when it comes to hiring the best people available. I am one of them. What is the motivation for hiring a person of color just to move up in the middle of the draft? This resolution just might be one of the worst ideas any professional league has ever had. This plan is essentially a slap in the face to minority coaches and GMs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts did not receive any incentives when they both added Hall of Famer Tony Dungy as head coach. The Pittsburgh Steelers did not receive any incentives when they hired Mike Tomlin. Both Dungy and Tomlin made their teams better and leading the Colts and Steelers to Super Bowl victories. I don’t think they needed extra motivation to lead their teams to championships.
The NFL created the Art Rooney Rule in 2003 for teams to at least interview minority candidates in head coaching and senior operation jobs. Although some minorities did receive head coaching and operational opportunities, most of them were fired within three seasons. Whenever a new coach or front office personnel is hired, it usually takes about three years to have a system fully developed to which teams can be in contention to win a championship. Ownerships and fans don’t have enough patience to see their teams rebuild and win the Super Bowl and if things really fall off the wagon, coaches and personnel are fired in two years. That is not a whole lot of time for a team to develop into a contender.
Between the Art Rooney Rule and the new proposed benefits, the NFL has done a terrible job not giving minorities the chance to succeed in the most crucial parts of an organization. While some coaches like Dungy, Tomlin and Marvin Lewis (who spent 16 years as Cincinnati Bengals head coach) have stayed long term with their teams, others weren’t as lucky (such as Todd Bowels and Hue Jackson). General Managers like Rick Smith, formerly of the Houston Texans, built a contender, but couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs. Therefore, Smith was let go, but has not received another offer since his dismissal. I get it is about the owners finding the right person to represent their teams, but they shouldn’t be awarded a higher spot in draft just for hiring a minority. It’s an insult to those wanting the chance. It is time for the NFL to make sense and do a better job giving minorities a fair shot to prove themselves and quit trying to use benefits.
by Julian Spivey
ESPN’s 10-part docuseries “The Last Dance” on Michael Jordan and the final championship season of the Chicago Bulls wrapped on Sunday, May 17. Though “The Last Dance” garnered rave reviews for itself and the network there wasn’t a whole lot knew for many basketball fans to learn, which has been my predominant issue with ESPN documentaries in the past. They’re often entertaining, but not as informative as I’d like. The fact that we didn’t get too much new knowledge from “The Last Dance” kind of makes it hard to do a piece called “10 Things I Learned from ‘The Last Dance’,” but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.
1. I didn’t realize that this was more so a Michael Jordan documentary than a documentary on the ’97-’98 Chicago Bulls. I think it’s the biggest issue facing the documentary, as well. The advertising ESPN had put out for the documentary made it seem like it was going to focus on that ‘last dance’ championship, but it mostly does so through the lens of Jordan, and the reason why is that Jordan is the one who owns the footage from that final Bulls championship season. It wasn’t until maybe about halfway through the second episode, that begins with Scottie Pippen’s story, that we realize “oh, this is mostly about Jordan and, just like it might have been on the real-life Bulls roster, these other guys are just supporting characters.” Listen, I knew we weren’t going to get an entire episode on Dickey Simpkins, but this didn’t seem to be exactly what it was billed to be. Most folks don’t really seem perturbed by that though.
2. Anybody who was an adult at the time of the ’97-’98 Bulls likely remembers this, but I was only 10-years old at the time and have no recollection about Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who was certainly billed as a villain in “The Last Dance,” wanting to break up this time after its fifth championship (and ultimately did after the team’s sixth). I just can’t understand why anyone would willing bring a dynasty to an end, but as the docuseries points out (and this series is mostly told from Jordan’s point of view and Krause died in 2017 and can’t defend himself) Krause was jealous of the credit everybody else was getting for the team’s success – a team that he worked so hard to build around Jordan.
3. The biggest jaw-dropping moment of “The Last Dance” for me came in just the beginning of its second episode that began by focusing on Scottie Pippen when I found out that the future hall of famer was only the sixth highest paid player on his team and unbelievably only the 122nd highest paid player in the league. That’s outrageous. He took an extremely team friendly deal early on in his career and truly got screwed.
4. I didn’t realize that the Chicago Bulls put a minutes restriction on Michael Jordan after he came back from a broken foot late in his second season in the league. Not only did the team put M.J. on a minutes restriction, which many felt was a strategic move to stay out of a the postseason and receive a lottery pick (which seems the case as the team removed this restriction in the playoffs), but it completely soured his trust toward management for the remainder of his career, because not trying to win goes against everything Jordan believed in.
5. I’m not surprised the Chicago Bulls didn’t like the Detroit Pistons. It doesn’t seem there was anybody within the league that did because of the “Bad Boy” style of their play, but I didn’t realize they hated them to the point of still hating them to this day almost 30 years later. The biggest reason is the Pistons walked off the court without congratulating the Bulls (or even letting the clock expire), which is something that certainly wouldn’t fly today, but wasn’t unusual back in the day (as was proven by video of the Boston Celtics doing the exact same thing to the Pistons). Sure, it was horrible sportsmanship, but worthy of a three decade grudge?
6. I had no clue that the New York Knicks had the two-time defending NBA champion Bulls down 2-0 in the ’93 Eastern Conference Finals. It seemed like the best chance during the Bulls dynasty run for a team to knock off the champs and they just couldn’t hold them off. The Knicks of the Patrick Ewing era, of course, would not win a title and were eliminated from the postseason by the Bulls four times (Ewing is the hall of famer most knocked out of contention by Jordan).
7. Everyone knows that when Michael Jordan un-retired he came back with jersey No. 45, the number he wore as a kid growing up and during his minor league baseball stint with the Birmingham Barons of the Chicago White Sox organization, instead of his iconic No. 23. But I didn’t realize just how short-lived No. 45 was – it didn’t even last the remainder of the season. After struggling against the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 1995 NBA Playoffs, Nick Anderson remarked to the press, “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to. No. 45 is not No. 23.” Jordan came out for the next game in his old No. 23 jersey and lit up Anderson. The Magic would still win the series but would be swept out of the playoffs the next season by No. 23 and his Bulls.
8. I didn’t realize as a kid, I would’ve been only nine at the time, how stupid it was that Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl didn’t want the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton guarding Michael Jordan for the ’96 NBA Finals because he wanted “The Glove,” as Payton was called for his defensive pickpocketing skills, to focus on scoring because Karl though they’d need him as a scorer to beat the Bulls. That was the 72-10 Bulls, so even with Payton on Jordan it might not have mattered, but once Payton over-rode his coach’s decision in game four of the series the Sonics began winning – it was far too late though. Karl should’ve known to “let ‘The Glove’ be ‘The Glove’.”
9. I knew Michael Jordan had the personality of a jerk, based on articles I’ve read, interviews he’s given and his egotistical Hall of Fame speech. I also knew he was a bit of a bully to his teammates – I’d heard the stories of him punching Will Perdue and Steve Kerr before. But I never truly knew the extent of what an absolute asshole he could be before “The Last Dance” – it’s really the one thing other than his dominance on the basketball court that runs through the entire series. I don’t know how guys who used to play with him have anything to do with him anymore. I realize he said something to the effect of winning comes with a price, but I’ve never heard any thing like this about other legends of the sport, or really any other sport.
10. I didn’t realize that Michael Jordan needed to believe he’d been slighted so badly that he’d almost become delusional about it. I understand taking slights like the previously mentioned Nick Anderson quote to heart and wanting to shove the ball down a team’s throat as a response, but there were multiple times in this series where it just seemed he was creating stuff to piss him off, like SuperSonics coach George Karl not acknowledging him at a restaurant or the admission from M.J. himself that he faked a quote from LaBradford Smith, who had lit him up the night before in a career performance, just so he could feel enough anger to torch him in the next game. That just doesn’t seem mentally healthy.
by Julian Spivey
NASCAR is making its return to the track on Sunday at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. after two months off due to the Covid-19 pandemic and will become the second major sport to return to the U.S. after the UFC (and the first in which it’s main events aren’t pay-per-view).
Though the sport is returning there are aspects of it that won’t look exactly like you remember, so we’re going to layout what you should expect with the sports return.
To make up for some of the races missed NASCAR is trying to pack as many races into a short amount of time as it can and as a result Darlington Raceway has been given an additional two races (the two the sport is resuming the season with) and Charlotte Motor Speedway has been given an additional race (the one being run on Wednesday, May 27). These three races are replacing those on the schedule that were supposed to go to Richmond Raceway (will still have its fall date), Chicagoland Speedway and Sonoma Raceway. The sport will see seven races amongst its three series in a span of 11 days once the season resumes this Sunday, which should make for a fun week and a half for auto racing fans.
Just today NASCAR released what the schedule will look like after Charlotte. The series will head to Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn., Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va. (to be held on a Wednesday night and mark the first ever Cup race under the track’s recently added lights), Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. and Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., which gets the sports into late June.
Below is the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Truck Series Schedules for the next two weeks:
Darlington 1 – Sunday, May 17 (Fox, 2:30 p.m. CT)
Darlington 2 – Wednesday, May 20 (FS1, 6:30 p.m. CT)
Charlotte 1 – Coco-Cola 600 – Sunday, May 24 (Fox, 5 p.m. CT)
Charlotte 2 – Wednesday, May 27 (FS1, 7 p.m.)
Darlington – Tuesday, May 19 (FS1, 7 p.m. CT)
Charlotte – Monday, May 25 (FS1, 6:30 p.m. CT)
Gander Truck Series:
Charlotte – Tuesday, May 26 (FS1, 7 p.m. CT)
Once the green flag is dropped to resume the NASCAR season the actual races are going to seem mostly normal. The races are going to continue with the regular stages and points handed out at the end of each stage. The Darlington races and the second Charlotte race will have three stages and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on Sunday, May 20 will have its usual four stages due to its extended length as the longest race in NASCAR.
NASCAR has opted to check the temperatures of any personnel, including drivers, entering the track.
There obviously won’t be any fans in the grandstands for the foreseeable future. This is for the safety of everybody within the sport from the drivers, crews, officials, media and most importantly the fans.
Setting the Field:
The biggest change to these races is going to come before the green flag is dropped. NASCAR is not holding qualifying or practices for these events, so when the green flag drops in the first Darlington race on Sunday the drivers will be making their first laps period in their cars. The first Darlington Cup Series race is going to be set via a random draw. The first 12 positions on the grid will be determined by a random draw from charter teams in the top 12 positions in owner points. Positions 13-24 will also be a random draw from charter teams in positions 13-24 in owner points. The same will be done for positions 25-36. The final four positions in the 40-car field will be set by non-chartered teams in the order of their owner points. The lineup for the first race will be selected on Thursday, May 14.
The second Darlington Cup Series race held Wednesday, May 20 will use an inversion of the first Darlington race finishing order. This inversion will be done for the top 20 finishers in the race. So, whichever driver wins the first Darlington race will begin the second one in the 20th starting position and so on. The 20th place finisher in the first race will start on pole for the second. The drivers who finish in positions 21-40 will start the second Darlington race in the position they finished the first one. If there are any new entrants for the second race those cars would start at the tail of the field.
Because the Coca-Cola 600 is one of the most prestigious races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule the series will do time trial qualifying for that race and the field will be set by the fastest qualifiers. The second Charlotte race on Wednesday, May 27 will be the same way that the second Darlington race will be set with the one inversion for the top 20 finishers of the Coca-Cola 600.
The starting lineups for the Xfinity Series races at Darlington and Charlotte and the Gander Truck Series race at Charlotte will be set with the random draw based on owner points that the Cup Series is using for the first Darlington race.
Old Faces Returning:
Ryan Newman, who received head injuries in a terrible crash at the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, has been cleared to return to racing after the two month layoff due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of the sport being dormant for two months Newman will only have missed three races.
Matt Kenseth has come out of retirement, though he told Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his Dale Jr. Download podcast this week that he doesn’t like the “r-word” because he ever officially retired, to take over the no. 42 seat for Chip Ganassi Racing when the team fired driver Kyle Larson over the layoff due to usage of a racist slur caught on a hot mic during a virtual iRacing event. Kenseth last raced for Jack Roush Racing in a part-time capacity in the 2018 season.
The broadcast of the race might seem a bit different than what you’re accustomed to seeing. The biggest change is that Fox NASCAR commentators Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon will not be calling the Darlington race in-person from the track, but rather from the Fox Sports NASCAR studio in Charlotte. Some fans on social media are concerned this will lead to the announcers missing some of the action or at least being late to it, but many announcers likely rely on their monitors even when covering a race in-person, so this might not be a huge issue. Some broadcasts of races, especially in other series, have been done remotely from studios away from the track before as cost-saving measures and this could potentially be something fans of the sport might need to get used to if networks ever decide to go that route. One thing that might affect the broadcast is it doesn’t seem Fox Sports will have the same number of pit reporters at the track with NASCAR cutting down on non-essential personnel for these events. Regan Smith will broadcast from the track for Sunday’s Darlington race and Matt Yocum will be live from the track for the Wednesday, May 20 race.
Winner interviews will be conducted via Zoom following the race.
If you like to follow print media for NASCAR coverage many of your favorite NASCAR journalists will likely be covering races from their homes. NASCAR is limiting traditional media to only four journalists, one from the Associated Press, one from a local publication if the publication so chooses and two randomly selected from other national publications. These reporters will be restricted to the track’s press box.
by Julian Spivey & Nathan Kanuch
25. Cody Bellinger
At only three years of service time Cody Bellinger is the most recent debut to make this list, and he’d probably be higher had he had more experience under his belt. Bellinger burst onto the seen with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 and ran away with the league’s Rookie of the Year award with a whopping 39 homers and 97 RBI. Despite playing 162 games in his sophomore run he experienced a bit of a slump, even though he still hit 25 homers and only saw his batting average drop off by seven points. Going into last season it was somewhat of a question mark as to whether Bellinger would fall off again, but he quickly put any doubters to rest with a MVP season that included 47 homers, 115 RBI, raised his batting average almost 50 points to .305 and played Gold Glove defense in the outfield. It certainly seems Bellinger will be one of the league’s best over the next decade. JS
24. Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor is bringing back consistent power to the shortstop position that the American League has not seen since the days of A-Rod, Nomar and Miguel Tejada. From 2017 to 2019, Lindor has smashed 33, 38 and 32 home runs respectively. He keeps his OPS up around .850 and contributes above average defense for Cleveland. A four-time All Star and Rookie of the Year Award runner-up in 2015, Lindor faces an uncertain future in Cleveland. From what he’s said, Lindor likes being in Cleveland but wonders if the team will shell out the appropriate money. The Indians already traded Corey Kluber in the offseason and may decide to move Lindor after tabling contract talks. Wherever Lindor ends up will be a major coup for any organization. NK
23. Adam Wainwright
As a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, there have been several players in the N.L. Central over the years that struck fear into my heart when I looked at the day’s lineups. Sammy Sosa. Albert Pujols. Ryan Braun. Joey Votto. But when I knew Adam Wainwright was on the bump, it seemed like the game’s outcome was a certain win for the St. Louis Cardinals. Wainwright is a gamer, a pitcher who saves his best for the key moments. In 27 postseason games and 105.2 innings pitched, Wainwright owns a 2.81 ERA and a WHIP of 1.069. He comes through when the Cards need him the most, and even now in the twilight of his career, I can’t think of anyone else I’d want on the mound in a must-win game. NK
22. Corey Kluber
Five pitchers won multiple Cy Young Awards over the last decade: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom and Corey Kluber. In 2014, Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts for the Cleveland Indians. The Indians ace would have an even better 2017 going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA and 265 strikeouts. One of the game’s best power pitchers he manages to baffle batters with essentially two pitches, a two-seam sinker and a breaking ball that often can resemble a slider or a curve. Kluber won a career high 20 games in 2018 for the Indians, but injuries kept him off the mound almost the entire 2019 season. During the offseason he was traded to the Texas Rangers. JS
21. David Price
David Price is a freakin’ workhorse. Price led the American League in most starts three different times over the last decade and has averaged 33 starts per season over his career. He’s not quite the same dominant pitcher he was in the early part of the last decade with the Tampa Bay Rays or even in short stints with the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, but he’s still good when healthy for around 15 wins per season. The only issue is the 2012 A.L. Cy Young winner has only averaged about 21 starts a year over the last three seasons. Whenever the 2020 season begins Price will be in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation making his National League debut. JS
20. Edwin Encarnacion
In an era of big stars, massive names and astronomical contracts rocking the baseball world every year, Edwin Encarnacion stands out for his quiet consistency. He’s one of the best pure sluggers of the past decade. He’s mashed over 30 home runs every year since 2012 when he started his run by clearing the deck 42 times. Encarnacion drives runners in at a phenomenal pace, and he’ll give you an OPS near or above .900 every season he steps on the diamond. His best season came in 2015 with Toronto when he slashed .277/.372/.557 with an OPS of .929. Encarnacion also sent 39 balls out of the park and drove in 111 runners. Fine work indeed. NK
19. Jose Altuve
I realize there will be some eyerolls over the inclusion of Jose Altuve on this list after the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal broke over the offseason and everybody has the right to be pissed off at the guy and his teammates, but its hard to tell just which of his numbers were aided, if any, by what the Astros organization was doing. After all, Altuve was winning batting titles and compiling 200-plus hits a year well before the sign-stealing seemingly began. Throw in Altuve’s speed, he led his league twice in steals over the decade, and the pop he’s added I believe there’s no doubt he belongs here. JS
18. Manny Machado
When Julian and I chose which players to write about for this list, Machado was in the last group remaining. I think that’s for a reason. He’s an enigma. At once supremely talented and annoyingly frustrating. He can electrify a crowd and then in the same game be criticized for not hustling. I love watching him play at one moment, and then in the next, I wonder how Machado earned that 10 year/$300 million contract with the San Diego Padres. Basically, what you see is what you get from Machado. He’s hit over 30 homers per season since 2015 and is an above average run producer. But it’s the defense that allows Machado to stand out. While in Baltimore, he routinely made Brooks Robinson-esque plays at the hot corner. That continued in Los Angeles and now San Diego. What will we get from Manny over the next decade? Whatever he gives us, I’m sure it’ll have us dropping our jaws in both excitement and bafflement. NK
17. Mookie Betts
Mookie Betts has only played five full seasons in the big leagues but has clearly already earned a position on this list. In 2018 he won the American League MVP award when he hit .346, winning the A.L. batting title, hit 32 homers and stole 30 bases while leading the BoSox to a World Series title. Betts has averaged 28 homers and 96 RBI thus far in his career while hitting over .300 and is one of the best defenders in the outfield winning four consecutive Gold Gloves. The Red Sox traded Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason before he becomes a free agent after the season and I’m sure L.A. is desperately wanting to see him hit the field for them before that time comes. JS
16. Buster Posey
The San Francisco Giants get nowhere near enough love for what the franchise achieved from 2010 to 2014. Three World Series championships. All won with the full *team* contributing. Other than Madison Bumgarner’s playoff heroics, the Giants just won and won and won again thanks to a full complement of weapons. But if you wanted to pick someone as the face of those Giants, you couldn’t go wrong with Buster Posey. During the 2010s, the 2012 National League MVP gave the Giants the defense of Yadi Molina and a threat at the plate like Joe Mauer. Like most catchers, Posey’s offensive numbers have steadily dropped as the wear and tear of the position have begun to take their toll. But Posey is a grizzled veteran and provides steady leadership that the rebuilding Giants desperately need. NK
15. Jacob deGrom
There’s something old school about Jacob deGrom. It’s a workmanlike mentality from a pitcher in an age when managers are too quick with the hook. The past three seasons, deGrom has given the New York Mets at least 200 innings pitched with his high coming in 2018 with 217. deGrom won the Cy Young Award in 2018 and 2019 with 2018 proving to be a particularly iconic pitcher’s season. He posted an insanely low ERA of 1.70 with a WHIP of .912. deGrom takes the ball each start, gives his team at least seven innings, and punches the time clock. What does deGrom do each time he takes the mound? He does his job. NK
14. Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper was never going to fulfill everyone’s expectations. What was expected of Harper was truly astronomical. The spotlight’s been on him since appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16. From the Minor Leagues to The Show, an entire franchise’s hopes seemed to sit squarely on his shoulders. So, yeah, no matter what Harper did with his career, he simply could not live up to what the fans wanted. And yet even with that disclaimer, Harper hasn’t flamed out. He hasn’t let the pressure stunt him. And he’s become a pretty great ballplayer. Harper’s greatest season thus far has been 2015. He won the MVP with a unanimous vote, slashed .330/.460/.649, and led the league with an OPS of 1.109. Harper also made his presence known worldwide with his performance in the 2018 Home Run Derby, winning the competition in his ballpark. Harper has since moved to Philadelphia from the nation’s capital, and I suspect he’s got plenty of surprises left for the fans yet. NK
13. Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton is simply the greatest power hitter of his generation. His National League MVP winning 2017 season with the Miami Marlins is one of the all-time great seasons as he clubbed 59 homers – the third most ever by a batter who did so arguably clean – with a league-leading 132 RBI and league-leading .631 slugging percentage. His annual average includes more than 40 homers and 100 RBI. He only got into 18 games last season for the New York Yankees, but with him only entering his age 30 season in 2020 there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to kick the injury bug. And, if he does with the hitter friendly Yankee Stadium he might be as scary as he’s ever been. JS
12. Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich always had potential. It just took Miami trading him to Milwaukee to put it all together. The past seasons with the Brew Crew have seen Yelich playing on a whole other level. He won the NL MVP in 2018 and, despite his injury, probably should have won the award again in 2019. Statistically, even with his season cut short, Yelich was on pace for a *better* 2019 than 2018. He improved his home run total from 36 to 44. And let’s look at the slash lines. He produced .326/.402/.598 with an OPS of 1.000 in 2018. In 2019, Yelich slashed .329/.429/.671 with an OPS of 1.100. Yelich signed a long-term contract with the Brewers in March 2020 guaranteeing he’ll be terrorizing National League pitching for years to come. NK
11. Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre is the only retired player that made our list of the 25 best MLB players of the last decade. That’s really impressive because it shows that he pretty much kept up high productivity into the twilight years when most players are faltering. During his age 37 season in 2016 Beltre hit .300 with 32 home runs and 104 RBI. Beltre just seemed to get better in the second half of his career and truly made himself a Hall of Famer when many were on their backside. Over the decade he became a Texas Rangers legend while hitting .300 or better in six seasons of the decade, while making the only four All Star teams of his career. JS
10. Freddie Freeman
I don’t think people realize just how good Freddie Freeman has been over the last decade for the Atlanta Braves. When doing research for this piece I developed a formula for trying to rank the best offensive players of the last decade. I took statistical categories like WAR (Wins Above Replacement), homers, batting averages, on-base percentage then ranked where all the players on my list placed in each of those categories and averaged it out – Freeman came in fifth behind only Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. Over the last decade he’s averaged nearly .300, 30 and 100 for a season and yet has never finished in the top three in his own league’s MVP voting. Underrated is the first word to pop into my head when thinking of Freddie Freeman. JS
9. Joey Votto
Joey Votto is a getting on base machine. He’s the active MLB leader in on-base percentage at .421 and frequently leads the National League in drawing walks, as he’s done exactly half of the last 10 seasons. At 35 his productivity with the bat and his power have gone downhill over the last two seasons (though he still led the league in OBP two years ago), but the 2010 National League MVP still know the way to get himself on the basepaths. JS
8. Paul Goldschmidt
Paul Goldschmidt might be the single most underrated player in baseball of the last decade. When I was coming up with my list, I took some major offensive categories, ranked the players on my list in those categories from first to last and then averaged it all together. Only three hitters placed higher than Goldschmidt – Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto. Goldschmidt’s first full season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 and was gangbusters right out of the gate. In his seven-plus seasons with Arizona Goldschmidt averaged more than 30 homers, 100 RBI and an average of .292. Goldschmidt struggled a bit in his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals last season and still hit 34 homers (second most of any season in his career) and drove in 97. He’s the greatest active player who hasn’t won a Most Valuable Player award. JS
7. Andrew McCutchen
A.J. Burnett may sneakily be the player most responsible for the fundamental culture shift the Pittsburgh Pirates experienced in the early to middle part of the 2010s, but Andrew McCutchen, rightly, is remembered as the star of the show and the face of the franchise. McCutchen, though the numbers do speak for themselves, is one of those baseball players throughout the game’s history that can’t be defined just by statistics. A leader. An MVP (2013). The player who came to define the relationship between Pittsburgh and its baseball club during its magical three year run from 2013-2015. NK
6. Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in baseball and has been for some time. He’s won the Gold Glove every season since debuting in 2013 and provides the Rockies with serious power while still maintaining a high average. Arenado is also incredibly durable, appearing in no less than 155 games each season since 2015. Though the classic Triple Crown numbers have become somewhat devalued by the hardcore analytics crowd over the decade, Arenado is consistently among the lead leaders among home runs and RBIs. The only thing missing are some memorable playoff moments. NK
5. Clayton Kershaw
I had Clayton Kershaw ranked as the greatest pitcher of the last decade on my list and as the third best MLB player overall. After averaging out mine and Nathan’s lists he fell to the third highest pitcher overall behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. I never asked Nathan why he felt those others belonged over Kershaw, but both Scherzer and Verlander have been the ace of World Series winning teams and Kershaw’s biggest knock against him has been that he’s just not the same guy in the postseason. That’s fair. But his regular season stuff is too much for me to ignore. Kershaw won three Cy Young Awards in a four year span in the last decade, including a National League MVP during one of those seasons. His career average of 17-7, 242 strikeouts and a 2.44 ERA per season is far too much for me to last his postseason numbers tank him. JS
4. Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander was the American League Cy Young winner last season for the Houston Astros at the age of 36 with a record of 21-6, 2.58 ERA and 300 strikeouts. At a time when the majority of pitchers throughout the history of baseball have been slowing down Verlander is looking like he’s in his mid-20s. Ever since joining the Astros right at the trade deadline in 2017 Verlander’s ERA has been a full run lower than it was in his 13 years with the Detroit Tigers and he had hall of fame stuff with them. He’s an absolute marvel. JS
3. Max Scherzer
Myths and magic have a specific and special place in baseball lore that can accidentally and unintentionally shove a player’s accomplishments to the side. Take Mad Max for instance. The nickname. Pitching with a black eye from breaking his nose the day before while practicing bunting. Waiting until hours before the deadline to sign with the Diamondbacks after being drafted because he knew his worth as a future stud pitcher. And that’s what he turned out to be. He pitched two no-hitters in 2015 and won the World Series in 2019. He’s a seven-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner. He’s also led the National League in strikeouts three times. Numbers and accolades are hard and concrete and can make a player seem distant. In the case of Scherzer, it’s a glorious thing we have the stories and legends to make Scherzer’s excellence that much more tangible. NK
2. Miguel Cabrera
In my opinion, Miguel Cabrera is the greatest natural hitter of this century. In his prime, Miggy hit for power, average, and was a threat every time he stepped to the plate. From 2010 to 2013, Cabrera produced OPSs of 1.042, 1.033, .999, and 1.078. Those 2012 and 2013 seasons both found Cabrera winning the A.L. MVP. And, oh yeah, Cabrera also happened to win the Triple Crown in 2012, the first player to win the award since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. And yet by the more advanced metrics Miggy’s 2013 season was somehow better. Simply put, other than Mike Trout, Miggy has owned the 2010s. Hopefully more people appreciate the legend they’re looking at with whatever time left Cabrera does have on the diamond. NK
1. Mike Trout
Come on! You knew who was going to be No. 1 on this list before you even clicked on the link. Placing anybody other than Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout at the top spot would’ve had this website burned down by the Sabermetrics crowd. There’s no doubt Trout has been the best player over the last decade in baseball, all you have to do is count his MVP awards (he has three of them and many believe that number could easily be doubled). Also, check out the bold type on his baseball-reference page – led the league in runs four times, on-base percentage the last four years consecutively, slugging percentage three times, RBI once and even led the American League in stolen bases in his rookie year, though that part of his game has mostly fallen to the wayside. The only knock against Mike Trout is in almost a decade of playing he’s only appeared in three playoff games, losing every one – but in the game of baseball it’s hard to pile that upon a player. JS
by Julian Spivey, Preston Tolliver & Eric Fulton
I asked Eric Fulton and Preston Tolliver who often collaborate with me on sports pieces for this website to jot down a bit about their “first favorite athlete” or the athlete who initially got them interested in sports. With “The Last Dance,” the documentary about Michael Jordan and the last hurrah of the 1998 Chicago Bulls, airing on ESPN now I felt this was a good time for such a piece. I just knew that one of those guys would pick M.J. as their first favorite athlete. It turns out both of them chose Jordan and left me standing out alone with my weirdo pick. That’s alright, I suspect most folks who grew up in the ‘90s as we did would’ve picked Jordan as the athlete who truly got them into sports.
Eric: Michael Jordan
Growing up as a kid, basketball was not my favorite sport. However, the biggest reason why I liked it was because of Michael Jordan. What made Jordan incredibly great was he transcended the game as a guard. Most guards before his time was known for just passing the ball. With Jordan, it was his ability to score baskets whether it was by dunking or scoring a mid-range jumper. Jordan alongside teammate Scottie Pippen were the two biggest reasons I started liking basketball. He’s the first athlete I can ever remember truly calling a favorite when it came to my love of sports.
Preston: Michael Jordan
Like many people, I suspect, I didn’t come to my first favorite athlete by choice, but by influence. Sports were a rarity in my household; outside of professional wrestling and the occasional NASCAR race my stepdad would turn on to sleep through, we didn’t watch a whole lot. However, as I suspect was also commonplace across mid-‘90s America - a certain fascination of the Chicago Bulls and His Airness loomed large over our household. Family members loved basketball and tuned in to watch Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen make mincemeat of Karl Malone and John Stockton. As for myself, I mostly just played with my toys when the games were on, but I knew who Jordan was; that he was the greatest basketball player in the world, so good that he transcended basketball and was a household name, as recognizable as grandma and grandpa, and that he helped Bugs Bunny avoid eternal servitude for an alien theme park owner.
My interest in basketball, along with the rest of the household’s, waned after Jordan won his sixth ring and entered what I’ll always consider his true retirement (Wizards? Wizards who?). When I got older - arguably old enough to gain agency of my own interests, rather than leeching off those around me - my eyes turned to Larry Bird, a player who left the league decades before my love of the sport really blossomed. I read stories and bought DVDs and watched documentaries to learn all I could about the “Hick from French Lick,” finding inspiration not just in how hard he worked to become Larry Legend, but in all the trash he talked on his way there. Michael Jordan may have been my first love, but Larry Bird was my true one.
Julian: Horace Grant
I lived the first almost eight years of my life in Deltona, Fla., about half an hour from Orlando. At the time of my birth in 1987 there was no such thing as an NBA team in Orlando, actually there wasn’t even an NBA team in the state of Florida at that time. The Orlando Magic franchise began in 1989 almost two months after my second birthday and just a little more than a half decade later they were the talk of the league thanks to a duo of young superstars in Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. But, neither of those stars – a future hall of fame big man and a lanky point guard who likely would have joined him in enshrinement had it not been for injuries – were my first favorite athlete. Nah, I liked the hard-working, blue collar-like power forward Horace Grant, who wore those goofy blue goggles. Ok, so Grant’s work ethic is something I probably grew to love as I aged, but those goggles made him the star of my first grade class with class projects of coloring paper goggles and strapping them around are eyes to imitate the big man. The Magic being the talk of the town didn’t last too long, as they were swept in the 1995 NBA Finals by the more mature, veteran Houston Rockets led by two future hall of famers in Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Within two weeks of the Magic losing in those Finals I’d be arriving at my new home in rural Arkansas – a state I still call home 25 years later. But, for many years after moving to Arkansas the Magic were still my team (it likely helps that the closest team at the time was the then bad Dallas Mavericks – now the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder are both local-ish). I had this Horace Grant poster hanging on my bedroom wall for years (and wish I still owned it) but could buy it if I’d like off eBay for $14.99. I grew to be inspired by Grant’s previously mentioned work ethic as I got older and saw him as more than goggles guy. When I played school yard basketball with my friends, I prided myself on going after rebounds more than I did on trying to score. Grant was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics before the ’99-’00 season, but I was happy for him when he won the title in 2001 after joining his former teammate Shaq in Los Angeles with the Lakers. He had won three previous titles with Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the early ‘90s, but that was before I’d gotten into the game. I was elated when Grant returned to Orlando for the ’01-’02 season, but he was past his prime and didn’t get along with coach Doc Rivers or star Tracy McGrady and was cut. I realize now in my 30s that Grant was an unusual player to become a first favorite as he’s not exactly a legend of the game, but I’ll never forget how he and his bad eyesight got a young kid into basketball and sports in general.
by Julian Spivey
32. Drew Brees (San Diego Chargers – 2001)
San Diego had one helluva 2001 NFL Draft. The team originally had the no. 1 overall pick that year but traded it to the Atlanta Falcons (who selected quarterback Michael Vick) for the fifth pick. The Chargers selected future hall of fame running back LaDanian Tomlinson with that pick. Then with the first pick of the second round they drafted quarterback Drew Brees out of Purdue. Brees was expected to go mid-to-late first round, but some thought his six foot height was a bit small for an NFL QB. Rather idiotically the Chargers acquired Philip Rivers in a 2004 NFL Draft day trade and Brees would leave for New Orleans after the 2005 season as a free agent. Brees would become a legend with the Saints leading them to the first ever Super Bowl title in franchise history and he’s become the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, passing yardage and completions.
31. Curley Culp (Denver Broncos – 1968)
Curley Culp would become one of the most feared defensive tackles of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, mostly for the Kansas City Chiefs, but never played a single NFL game for the Denver Broncos, who selected him 31st overall (the fourth pick of the second round) in the 1968 draft. Their loss. Culp would win Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs, while making six Pro Bowl teams and winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1975. Culp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
30. Sam Huff (New York Giants – 1956)
When Sam Huff was drafted by the New York Giants out of West Virginia in 1956 as the 30th overall selection it was already the third round of the draft. Huff would become one of football’s most fearsome linebackers of the late ‘50s and ‘60s with the Giants and Washington and is a member of both team’s Rings of Honor. Huff was a five-time Pro Bowler, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
29. Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings – 1961)
Fran Tarkenton was drafted by both the NFL and AFL in 1961. The Minnesota Vikings selected him 29th overall in the third round of the draft in the NFL draft. The Boston Patriots selected him in the fifth round of the AFL Draft. He signed with the Vikings and would go on to become the greatest quarterback in franchise history leading the team to three Super Bowls, unfortunately losing all three. The nine-time Pro Bowler was named league MVP in 1975.
28. Darrell Green (Washington Redskins – 1983)
Cornerback Darrell Green would be the final first round selection of the 1983 NFL Draft by Washington. He would go on to be one of the franchise’s greatest defensive players of all-time and one of the most feared defensive backs of his era. Green would win two Super Bowls with Washington and was named to seven Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
27. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins – 1983)
Dan Marino was part of the famous quarterback club of the 1983 NFL Draft and the lowest selected future hall of famer of the three to be inducted from the first round of that draft. The Miami Dolphins took Marino out of the University of Pittsburgh with the 27th pick. He would go on to become the best player in the history of the franchise, but notably also likely the greatest player in NFL history to never win a Super Bowl.
26. Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens – 1996)
Ray Lewis is arguably the second greatest linebacker in NFL history behind Lawrence Taylor, who you’ll see a little bit later on this list. The Baltimore Ravens selected Lewis out of the University of Miami with the 26th pick in the 1996 draft. Lewis would lead a terrifying Ravens defense to its two franchise Super Bowl titles, the first in 2001 and the final in his farewell season in 2012. The 13-time Pro Bowler was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner in 2000 and 2003.
25. Stanley Morgan (New England Patriots – 1977)
In a list filled with Pro Football Hall of Famers and some of the most legendary names to ever set foot on a gridiron here we have Stanley Morgan, a name many hardcore football fans may not even recognize. It seems crazy that in the long history of the league that a position this high in the draft wouldn’t have a greater name than Stanley Morgan, but let’s stop ragging on the poor guy. Morgan was selected with the 25th overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots and would go on to make four Pro Bowls for the franchise. Here’s a Stanley Morgan tidbit – he’s the NFL record holder for most yards per catch for a career at 19.2.
24. Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens – 2002)
The Baltimore Ravens sure knew how to draft excellent defensive talent in the first round in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. In the 2002 they took safety Ed Reed from the University of Miami and he went on to be the best and most feared safety in the league for the majority of his career. Reed would win a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012, was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and was a nine-time Pro Bowler.
23. Ozzie Newsome (Cleveland Browns – 1978)
The Cleveland Browns selected Ozzie Newsome 23rd overall in the 1978 NFL Draft out of the University of Alabama. Newsome would go on to be one of the league’s most dominant, if not the most dominant, tight end of the 1980s. The three-time Pro Bowler finished his career with the most receiving yards and receptions in Browns franchise history. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
22. Ernie Stautner (Pittsburgh Steelers – 1950)
Ernie Stautner might not be a household name today among NFL fans, but he was one of the game’s best defensive tackles in the 1950s. Selected 22nd overall in the second round of the 1950 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stautner would go on to make nine Pro Bowl teams and was named the league’s best lineman in 1957. Stautner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
21. Randy Moss (Minnesota Vikings – 1998)
It’s somewhat crazy that Randy Moss, often considered the second greatest receiver in NFL history behind only Jerry Rice, could go as late as 21st overall in the first round. The stand-out from Marshall was taken by the Minnesota Vikings and would go on to excite the league with his circus catches with the team for seven seasons. Moss would also notably team up with quarterback Tom Brady for a few season stint with the New England Patriots. Moss would be named to six Pro Bowl teams, lead the league in receiving touchdowns five times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
20. Jack Youngblood (Los Angeles Rams – 1971)
Jack Youngblood was one tough sonuvabitch. One of my all-time favorite NFL stories was how Youngblood broke his leg in 1979 and still played the entire postseason and in Super Bowl XIV. Youngblood was taken with the 20th pick by the L.A. Rams in 1971 and would play his entire 14-season career with the franchise. Youngblood was named to seven Pro Bowls, was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (’75 & ’76) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
19. Marvin Harrison (Indianapolis Colts – 1996)
The Indianapolis Colts selected wide receiver Marvin Harrison with the 19th selection in the 1996 NFL Draft out of Syracuse and he would reward the franchise by playing his entire 13-season career with them and becoming the greatest receive in franchise history. Every great quarterback had a great receiver catching passes for them and for Peyton Manning it was Harrison. Harrison won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, was named to eight Pro Bowls, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
18. Paul Krause (Washington Redskins – 1964)
Paul Krause played the bulk of his career with the Minnesota Vikings, but he was drafted 18th overall (in the second round) by Washington in 1964 out of the University of Iowa. Krause would become one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history and to this day his 81 career interceptions are an NFL record. Krause would make eight Pro Bowls during his career and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
17. Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys – 1990)
Emmitt Smith would go on to rush for more yards than any running back in the history of the NFL and would certainly appear on a Mount Rushmore of running backs, but he wasn’t originally the Dallas Cowboys first option. The Cowboys wanted to draft Baylor linebacker James Francis, but he was selected before them by the Cincinnati Bengals. After Francis was taken the Cowboys decided to focus on their running game and Smith was falling in the draft due to some GMs believing he was too small for the NFL despite collegiate success at the University of Florida. The Cowboys moved up four positions, giving the Pittsburgh Steelers a third round pick, to take Smith overall. It obviously became one of the all-time draft steals.
16. Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers – 1985)
Jerry Rice seems to top more “greatest NFL players of all-time” lists than any other in NFL history, thus making his selection at the 16th pick a genuinely great draft steal when the San Francisco 49ers took him there out of Mississippi Valley State. If the 49ers hadn’t scooped him up with that pick, the Dallas Cowboys were set to take him with the very next selection. Rice was more highly sought after by the NFL’s then competition, the United States Football League with the Birmingham Stallions selecting him first overall in that draft. Rice decided on the NFL and the USFL would fold the next year. Rice would go on to win three Super Bowls with the 49ers, while making 13 Pro Bowls and setting virtually every important record for the wide receiver position.
15. Alan Page (Minnesota Vikings – 1967)
Only two defensive players in the history of the NFL have ever been named Most Valuable Player of the league – Lawrence Taylor (who you’ll see a bit later on this list) and Alan Page. Page, a defensive tackle, was drafted 15th overall by the Minnesota Vikings and would become a key member of their feared Purple People Eaters defense of the ‘70s. Page led the Vikings to four Super Bowls, but unfortunately the team never won one. He would be named to nine Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
14. Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills – 1983)
Jim Kelly was the second future Hall of Fame quarterback selected in the famed QB class of the 1983 draft and much like the first overall pick in that draft – John Elway by the Baltimore Colts who forced a trade to the Denver Broncos by refusing to play for the team – his selection proved to be a bit controversial. Kelly was taken by the Buffalo Bills, who he’d play his entire Hall of Fame career with, but he first shunned the Bills to join the NFL’s rival USFL and play for the Houston Gamblers. When the USFL folded in 1986 he moved over to the Bills and would help lead the team to four consecutive Super Bowls, all of which the team lost, from 1990-1993. Kelly would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
13. Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs – 1997)
Tony Gonzalez is arguably the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs knew he had a world of potential during the 1997 NFL Draft when they traded up five positions to select him out of the University of California. When Gonzalez’s stellar career was said and done, he’d have the second most receptions in NFL history (he’s since been surpassed by Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald to slip to third).
12. Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1995)
Warren Sapp was set to be drafted much higher in the 1995 NFL Draft than 12th overall, but the night before the draft reports appeared of multiple failed cocaine and marijuana tests that saw him slip to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The defensive tackle would go on to become one of Tampa Bay’s greatest players of all-time and helped to lead the to the only Super Bowl title in franchise history in the 2002 season. Sapp’s 96.5 sacks are the second most in league history for a defensive tackle. He would make seven Pro Bowls and win Defensive Player of the Year in 1999. Sapp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
11. Frank Gifford (New York Giants – 1952)
This might be the most controversial selection of this list as I’m taking Frank Gifford, who became a standout for the New York Giants as both a halfback and a receiver, over Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Dallas Cowboys hall of fame receiver Michael Irvin. Gifford would score 77 career touchdowns in a 12-year career for the Giants (43 receiving and 34 rushing). He was the league’s MVP in 1956, the same year he led the Giants to the NFL Championship title.
10. Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh Steelers – 1987)
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected defensive back Rod Woodson with the 10th overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft out of Purdue and he would go on to become one of the most feared defensive backs in the league for 17 seasons (10 of which he spent in Pittsburgh). Woodson would win Super Bowl XXXV with the Baltimore Ravens and was a part of many greatest defensives in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Oakland. The 11-time Pro Bowler was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 with the Steelers and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
9. Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers – 1983)
Back when The Word did a Greatest Football Players of All-Time tournament during the most recent football season fans voted Bruce Matthews as the greatest offensive lineman of all-time. Matthews was selected ninth overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers and would spend his entire 19-season career with the Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. Matthews was so versatile that he started at every position on the offensive line throughout his career and incredibly never missed a single game in 19 seasons. The 14-time Pro Bowl was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
8. Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers – 1981)
Ronnie Lott was likely the most feared defensive back in the history of the NFL. He was selected eighth overall in the 1981 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and would lead that defense to four Super Bowl titles in the ‘80s. Lott was such a tough SOB that he once had doctors amputate the top of his left pinky finger just so he wouldn’t miss games. The 10-time Pro Bowler was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
7. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings – 2007)
Adrian Peterson, the University of Oklahoma standout running back, was taken seventh overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 and has been the league’s top running back in the almost decade and a half since that pick. Peterson was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player with the Vikings in 2012 when he became just the fifth player to ever rush for more than 3,000 yards in a season. The seven-time Pro Bowler to date is still going strong as Washington’s running back and rushed for almost 900 yards in 15 games last season. His 14,216 rushing yards are currently the fifth most in NFL history, three of the four guys ahead of him are also on this list.
6. Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns – 1957)
Some consider Jim Brown to be the greatest player to ever set foot on the gridiron and perhaps he’d appear at the top of even more lists had he not retired young after just nine seasons. The Cleveland Browns selected Jim Brown out of Syracuse with the sixth pick in the NFL Draft and he’d go on to be the greatest player – by far – that franchise has ever seen. Making the Pro Bowl every season of his career Brown retired as the league’s all-time leading rusher. He led the Browns to the NFL Championship title in 1964, the most recent title in franchise history and was a three-time league Most Valuable Player.
5. Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons – 1989)
A two-sport star at both football and baseball Deion Sanders was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons out of Florida State. Sanders is considered by many to be the greatest cornerback in league history, spending the bulk of his career with the Falcons and the Cowboys. He’d win back-to-back Super Bowls with two different teams (San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys) in the mid-‘90s and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1994.
4. Walter Payton (Chicago Bears – 1975)
The Chicago Bears had experienced some down years after the retirement of their star running back Gale Sayers in 1972 and sought to reenergize its running game by taking Walter Payton out of Jackson State with the fourth overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft. They certainly wouldn’t regret that decision as Payton went on to become one of the two-to-four greatest running backs in NFL history and retired as the league’s all-time leading rusher (a record since broken by Emmitt Smith). Payton would be named to nine Pro Bowls, win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 1977 and lead the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl title in the 1985 season.
3. Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions – 1989)
The greatest running backs in the history of the NFL are all on this list (Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith) and Barry Sanders was taken highest of them all in the draft when the Detroit Lions selected him third overall in 1989. Sanders would spend his entire 10-year career with the Lions before retiring early, something that certainly kept him from surpassing Walter Payton as the league’s all-time leading rusher (which Emmitt Smith ultimately did). Sanders won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 1997 and was named a Pro Bowler in all 10 of his seasons (like Jim Brown had done decades before him).
2. Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants – 1981)
Lawrence Taylor is almost always considered to be the greatest defensive player in NFL history and it all started at the 1981 NFL Draft when the New York Giants took him with the second overall pick. Taylor would lead the Giants defense to two Super Bowl titles in 1986 and 1990 and was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year three times (1981, 1982 and 1986). In 1986, Taylor became just the second defensive player in league history to win Most Valuable Player (and he still is to this day). Taylor would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
1. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts – 1998)
I could’ve gone with John Elway, who spurned the Colts franchise after being taken first overall in 1983, but I think Peyton Manning, the one who stuck it out with the Colts, is the rightful selection here. Manning is arguably one of the three greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and retired with the most touchdown passes and passing yardage in league history (he’s since been passed by Drew Brees and Tom Brady). Manning quarterbacked two teams to Super Bowl titles, the Colts in the 2006 season and the Denver Broncos in his final season in 2015. The 14-time Pro Bowler won an incredibly five Most Valuable Player awards in his career and holds the record for most passing yards and touchdowns in a single season.