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Seven athletes we can't get enough of, and seven we need to appreciate more

Some athletes you can't take your eyes off. If you're passing a television and they are on, you have to stop and watch at least for a moment to see what they're going to do next. Other athletes are great, and we know they are great, and yet they don't get enough of our attention. We should stop to watch them, too, but they are taken for granted, and we don't fully appreciate what they do. Here some athletes who go hand in hand: Those we can't turn away from paired with those we need to appreciate more.

Can't get enough of: Tiger Woods

Need to appreciate more: Roger Federer

Perhaps the best golfer and tennis player ever are Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Whenever Tiger plays, we watch. TV ratings go through the roof when he is in the hunt at a tournament, and they barely register when Tiger, right, isn't playing. Even when he is hovering around 10th place and seven or eight shots off the lead on Sunday, the networks show his every shot because they know viewers want it and his next shot might spark him back into contention. Meantime, Federer is recognized as the best player of his generation, and everyone knows he's special, but be honest, when is the last time you really watched him play? Some would say Federer is the Tiger Woods of tennis, but if Federer wins Wimbledon today, he will have the most men's singles major titles in his sport. Tiger can't say that. Not yet.

Can't get enough of: Alex Ovechkin

Need to appreciate more: Henrik Zetterberg

You flip on a hockey game and see Alex Ovechkin take the puck, and you immediately are mesmerized. If you're at the game, you can feel the buzz in the crowd as Ovechkin, top left, starts to wind it up. You know there's a chance in the next 10 seconds that you'll see something incredible, something that will make you say the next day to a co-worker, "Did you see that goal Ovechkin scored last night?'' On the other hand, Henrik Zetterberg has a few nifty moves on his resume, but his game is the tortoise to Ovechkin's hare. Zetterberg isn't necessarily flashy, but he's dependable, night in and night out at both ends of the ice. Ovechkin is the best player in the world. But plenty of hockey people would rank Zetterberg No. 2. Put it this way: If Zetterberg was a free agent, all 30 NHL teams would want him.

Can't get enough of: Evan Longoria

Need to appreciate more: Willy Aybar

Whether it's on television or at the Trop, whenever you hear that violin at the beginning of the Tantric song Down and Out, you know what's next. The Rays' Evan Longoria, top right, is coming to bat. He's our A-Rod, our Big Papi, our Manny. We stop to watch and expect him to hit a home run, or least a shot into the gap. If you're at home and about to head out to the supermarket or to jog, or even for an important errand, you will wait until after Longoria's at-bat. Then there's Willy Aybar. He's not a star. Heck, he's not even a regular starter with a regular position or spot in the batting order. But he's clutch no matter whether he's batting fifth, sixth or seventh and playing third, first or second base.

Can't get enough of: Danica Patrick

Need to appreciate more: Jimmie Johnson

It's Sunday afternoon, you're channel surfing, and you come across an IndyCar race. Maybe you're not an autos fan, but you look at the ticker at the top of the screen to see where Danica Patrick is running. Then you check back occasionally the rest of the race and in the paper the next day to see where she finished. Everyone has a reason for following Patrick, top left. Some pay attention because she's a woman in a traditionally male sport. Some pay attention because she's a good-looking woman in a traditionally male sport. Some like her driving and competitive spirit. Sure, we all know Jimmie Johnson. But do we really appreciate how good he is? He has won three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in a row. The only other driver to do that was Cale Yarborough (1976-78). While everyone follows Jeff Gordon and Junior, JJ just goes out and wins championships.

Can't get enough of: LeBron James

Need to appreciate more: Tim Duncan

Basketball is a five-player sport, but don't you get the feeling you could throw LeBron James out there with four guys off the street and the Cavs still could win on any given night? LeBron, top left, is good enough to win games by himself. Heck, he almost won a championship by himself. There is no better one-on-one player in the world, and every time he's on, we watch to see if he'll end up with 60 points. Tim Duncan is on the back end of his career, but what a career it has been. Eleven All-Star appearances. Two league MVP awards. And, in what really counts, four NBA championships. We always hear about LeBron, Kobe and D-Wade, but it could be argued that Duncan has been the most dominant player over the past 15 years.

Can't get enough of: Tim Tebow

Need to appreciate more: Matt Grothe

Could Tim Tebow be the greatest college football player ever? The Gators quarterback has been on two national championship teams and won a Heisman Trophy. And Tebow, top right, has another season left. When he lines up behind center, what's he going to do? Pass? Run around someone? Run through someone? Run and then pass? On the other side, there's Matt Grothe, entering his senior season at USF. We're not comparing Grothe to Tebow, and Grothe is occasionally inconsistent. But consider this: In the three seasons before Grothe took over as USF's starter, the Bulls went 17-17. His record as a starter is 25-13. Texas' Colt McCoy (32) and Wake Forest's Riley Skinner (26) are the only active college QBs who have won more games.

Can't get enough of: mixed martial artists

Need to appreciate more: boxers

Mixed martial arts are not everyone's cup of tea, but there must be an audience for it, judging by the explosion of associations. Seems like you can turn on the television at almost any time and find a MMA fight. Meantime, boxing continues to fade from the national consciousness. The only time the casual sports fan pays attention to it is when a megafight is set. But the sport hasn't changed from its golden era. When done correctly, it deserves to be called the "sweet science.'' Truth be told, we'll take boxing over MMA any time, and the moments before a big-time championship match remain among the most exciting in sports.

Seven athletes we can't get enough of, and seven we need to appreciate more 07/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 5, 2009 5:26pm]
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