Design by Randall Montanari
Another year, another crop of sports games featuring the best real-world athletes in the business. Welcome to our second annual Grading the Cover Athletes feature, where we take on all the stars who appeared on the cover of major American sports game in 2005. After all, their play in 2004 might have earned them that cover appearance, but last year is last year. All we're concerned about here is 2005. Did those cover studs turn into pine-warming duds this year, or are they meriting that cover appearance with more brilliant play on the field? It's time to separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, and the Eli Mannings from the Kellen Winslows. Who got bit by the Madden Curse? Who made the cover but hasn't seen a smidge of game time yet? Who played big when it mattered most, and who disappeared once the game was on the line? The answers are here as we look back at the sports gaming year that was.
Madden NFL 06Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles)
After a year in hibernation, the Madden Curse has seemingly struck again, and boy, this time it was a doozy. Donovan McNabb started his year with so much promise--he had come off a tough Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with a reloaded and revitalized offense led by wide receiver Terrell Owens. It wouldn't take long, however, for the tension that emerged between the two during the tail end of the 2004 season to come to a head after the former 49ers receiver decided to once again make himself a locker-room cancer, this time on the East Coast. After T.O. was unceremoniously kicked off the active roster by the Eagles organization, McNabb was in a prime position to show the entire NFC that Philly hadn't needed T.O. and that the team could win without him. Instead, the Eagles have lost four straight, and the Philly offense is in free fall. As if that weren't enough, McNabb's season ended this week with his decision to undergo sports hernia surgery. Provided he can come back from this injury, McNabb's got some good years ahead of him. It's just likely he'll want to forget this one.
NCAA Football 06Desmond Howard (Michigan Wolverines)
Beyond coming up with a great pose during a rivalry game between his Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State, Desmond Howard hasn't done much of late to warrant his inclusion on a game cover. There is his stint on ESPN's College GameDay to consider, but bearing in mind that the show also has included guest spots with professional reality show personality Nick Lachey, it's tough to include this as a big positive on Howard's resume.
Blitz: The LeagueQuentin Sands (as played by Lawrence Taylor)
|Year||Roughing the Passer||Hits With Intent to Maim||Excessive Celebrations||Yards Penalized|
Big hits, a big mouth, and, at one time, a big drug problem. Is there a better cover athlete choice for Blitz: The League than Lawrence Taylor? The former New York Giants linebacker and scourge of quarterbacks everywhere during the late 1980s, Taylor makes a welcome comeback in Blitz as badass Quentin Sands. As Sands, LT takes great pleasure in taking out your rookie pick late in Blitz's single-player game, and even if it's your job to beat him and his New York Nightmare in order to beat the game, you'll still enjoy LT's above-average voice acting as much as you'll rue his punishing hits. Here's hoping the big man makes it back to the inevitable sequel.
MLB 2006Vlad Guerrero (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Vlad was a cornerstone of our fantasy baseball team for years before he caught on with the rest of the baseball fans out there. Solid power and a resistance to injury have given him great numbers during his eight years in the league, including, most prominently, a lifetime .324 batting average and nearly 1,000 RBIs. In all, with his numbers reaching their peak, it seemed like Vlad (the 200 American League MVP) was in a perfect position to take home a few World Series rings before his career wrapped up. Then his Angels hit the playoffs in 2005, and Vlad simply...disappeared. During the postseason, Vlad managed only seven hits in 38 at bats, resulting in one RBI, a meager .184 batting average, and a paltry .244 on base percentage. This from a guy who managed 108 RBIs in 2005 and 126 the year prior. His lack of performance was most noticeable in the ALCS, where Guerrero managed only one hit and one RBI in the series, at a time when his team needed him most. With The Angels' best player hiding his head in the sand, is it any wonder the White Sox took the AL pennant?
Grade: B+ (regular season), D- (postseason)
MVP Baseball 2005Manny Ramirez (Boston Red Sox)
It would be hard to top 2004 for Manny or, indeed, for any player on the Red Sox roster. After rescuing the franchise from perpetual frustration, Manny and his teammates were heroes who could do no wrong. That is, until this season, when Boston ran into a white-hot White Sox team, who took the Beaners down in three straight. To his credit, you can't place much of the blame for Boston's playoff performance on Manny; the guy put up personal best RBI numbers and tied his best single-season home run record. Perhaps this is why we're hearing a familiar postseason refrain from Ramirez, who, as in seasons before, is looking for a trade from Boston to...well, any team that will eat his nearly $20 million-per-year salary. It's hard to believe that after bringing so much glory to Boston, Ramirez would want to leave for some place like Milwaukee or Tampa Bay, but it could happen.
ESPN MLB 2K5 Derek Jeter (New York Yankees)
It's been a rough couple of years for Derek Jeter and his Yankees. Of course, for New York, "a rough couple of years" means simply not winning the World Series (again). Still, we feel bad for Jeter, who managed to put up yet another solid slate of stats, only to be snubbed when it came to All-Star voting time. Perhaps people were tired of his good-guy image and all-out play on the field. Actually, we can be certain that at least two people were tired of Jeter--his teammate Gary Sheffield, who vociferously claimed in an August interview that "Jeter is our captain. He's not the leader," and the racist idiot who sent him a threatening e-mail warning that he would be "shot or set on fire" if he didn't stop dating white women. And you think you've got problems. We expect Jeter will react to both criticisms once the 2006 season rolls around in much the same way he always has: spectacular play on the field and quiet humility off.