Before last NFL season, no team had ever lost to the Bucs and then went on to win a Super Bowl. That changed when the Saints lost to the Bucs on Dec. 27 then got their act together to win the Lombardi Trophy. What made the upset so fun was Saints owner Tom Benson started to celebrate when he thought the Saints had kicked a winning, last-second field goal. Turns out, Garrett Hartley shanked the 37-yarder then the Bucs won in overtime 20-17 on Connor Barth's 47-yarder. The look on Benson's face when he realized the Saints' last kick was no good made this upset priceless.
When USF started its football program way back in 1997, USF alumni and fans dreamed of the day it could knock off one of the big boys, such as Florida or Florida State. The Bulls soon would go on to win big games and even found themselves ranked No. 2 in the country for a week in 2007. But in September, it could be argued, the proudest moment in school history occurred when USF beat the No. 25 FSU Seminoles 17-7. Turns out FSU wasn't really that good, but no matter; USF showed it could play with the state's big boys.
Best NFL player
Yikes, not a whole lot to choose from when you have a 3-13 team. There's cornerback Aqib Talib, who is going to be an All-Pro someday, but we're still annoyed with him over that incident with the cab driver. You can never go wrong putting Barrett Ruud on a list. But our 2-C goes to tight end Kellen Winslow, above. He didn't get off to the best start as he missed offseason workouts because it took him like three months to, uh, "move" here. We weren't holding out much hope after that, but then he turned in the best season ever for a Bucs tight end with 77 catches and 884 yards. Those numbers were even more impressive when you realize other teams knew he was the Bucs' best (and sometimes only) offensive weapon.
Best NHL player
Don't discount what the Lightning's Steven Stamkos, above, did last year by scoring 51 goals. Only 20 years old, Stamkos is the third-youngest player to record 50 goals in an NHL season behind Jimmy Carson and another guy you might have heard of — Wayne Gretzky.
Best breakthrough athlete
We pick Steven Stamkos, if for no other reason than we can remind everyone again how Barry Melrose, who coached the Lightning for like eight seconds, said Stamkos was not ready for the NHL. With brilliant evaluations like that, Melrose is back on television with nothing to do with Stamkos except talk about his 51-goal season.
Best MLB player
True, we did choose David Price as our best male athlete, but we can't ignore Evan Longoria, above. What's amazing is the Rays told everyone when they drafted Longoria in 2006 that he would be a future superstar. Of course, every team says that about its high draft picks. But it has taken only four years for Longoria to establish himself as a mega star. He already has three All-Star selections and is well on his way to being the best player to ever wear a Rays (or for that matter, Devil Rays) uniform.
ESPN held its ESPY Awards last week, and Tampa Bay was shut out of the honors. Of course we were. Our football team is rebuilding. Our hockey team was a borderline joke for the past few years, and our baseball team still is trying to recapture the magic of the 2008 World Series. So if you can't join 'em, you beat 'em. We'll just take our ball, go home and start our own game. Two Cents has decided to have a local version of the ESPYs. We'll call it the 2-Cs, using some of the same categories as the ESPYs. We couldn't get Seth Meyers to host our event, so Two Cents editor Tom Jones will hand out awards. The envelopes please …
Best male athlete
Actually, Steven Stamkos was nominated for the ESPYs' best NHL player, and the Rays' Evan Longoria is already among the most popular major-league players. But geez, Longoria gets all the attention, doesn't he? The 2-Cs want to go a bit off the board, and we found a deserving guy, anyway. The Rays' big lefty, David Price, above, is just in his second season and was the American League starting pitcher in the All-Star Game. Then he went and busted 100 mph on the radar gun. The 2-C goes to David Price.
Best female athlete
It's hard enough to win a state title in any event, what with the pressure and all. But to win a state title and set a state record in the process? That's clutch, baby.
Countryside swimmer Melanie Margalis won two individual state titles, including the 200 individual medley for the third straight year with a time of 1 minute, 57.07 seconds. That just happened to break a state record that had been in place since 1994.
We would love to pick James Wilder Jr.'s long TD run for Plant in the state championship game, but not many of us saw it live or on television. So our pick is a play that made the rounds on SportsCenter: Steven Stamkos' spectacular goal in a game Nov. 19 against Anaheim. Stamkos took a shot as he was falling to the ice, but Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller made a save. The puck popped into the air and Stamkos, from his back, swatted it past Hiller. Stamkos called the shot "luck." We call it our "best play."
We continue to be amazed by the Bucs' Cadillac Williams. When he obliterated his right knee in October 2007, we would not have been surprised if he never played football again. When he returned and then blew up his left knee in 2008, we would not have blamed him if he quit for good. So what happened? He returned last season to rush for 823 yards on 211 carries and four touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
High school athlete of the year
Plant High's James Wilder Jr. was considered the best football junior last year. Not just around here. We're talking in the entire country. That's what Rivals.com, which knows about these things, wrote. Wilder was named USA Today all-USA second team. What's scary is the kid still has another year of high school left. Rivals.com has him as the third-best high school player in the country.
Best championship performance
You've heard of James Wilder — star running back for the Bucs back in the 1980s. Now meet someone who is going to be better — Wilder's son, James Jr. The junior Wilder put on a stunning display in Plant's 5A state championship victory against Bradenton Manatee. Check it out: 20 carries, 137 yards, four tackles, two sacks, a pass breakup and a dazzling 41-yard touchdown that some call the greatest run in Hillsborough County football history.
None of the local pro teams has even reached a playoff game over the past year, let alone won a championship. No problem. We didn't have to look far to find a championship team. Just head over to South Dale Mabry in Tampa to find a powerhouse. The Plant High football team won its third state title in four years by holding off Bradenton Manatee 21-14 in a thrilling 5A state championship game in December.
We're taking the Rays' Joe Maddon, doggone it! Why? Because it seems no one else out there likes him. Fans gripe about him. Talk show hosts run him down. They complain about his lineups and strategy and how he plays this guy or doesn't bench that guy. Know what no one complains about? The Rays' record. Heading into the All-Star break, the Rays were 20 games over .500 and hanging with the best team in baseball (the ultra-rich Yankees). So we can easily defend our pick with one word: scoreboard.