In one of the closest and highly contested votes in history, the online Blogcritics Magazine named you as 2006's Athlete of the Year.
Edging out Tiger Woods by mere votes, you were an integral part in helping the St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Heat, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Hurricanes, Team Italy, Texas Longhorns, and Florida Gators to national championships by caring and cheering them on from preseason to the title game. You were also ever present in the stands when Roger Federer, Jimmie Johnson, and the aforementioned Tiger Woods won their championships.
Many editors left you off the ballot because you went all season without officially recording a touchdown, home run, rebound, birdie, TKO, sack, assist, shot-on-goal, save, pole position, ace, or bunt single. Yet those voters failed to recognize that you recorded many of these stats in your backyards, in the streets, in your dreams at night, and on countless hours of video games.
By the same token, many editors put you first on the ballot because you never held out for a contract, called out a teammate in public, refused to enter a game, became benched for poor sportsmanship, butted heads with the coach, hogged the ball, or took steroids. You did, however, yell at the refs an awful lot and talked trash to the opponent, but that's okay.
Other athletes who received honorable mentions:
Vince Young: After being slighted in the Heisman voting, Young upstaged shiny trophy holders Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart with 267 yards passing and 200 yards rushing, including a memorable 4th-and-goal scamper to score the winning touchdown. Our cunning sports editor, however, slept through the damn thing.
His paths with Bush crossed yet again in the NFL Draft. Young was drafted third — one spot below Bush (but hey, seven above Leinart!) — to the Tennessee Titans. Proving even more critics wrong, Young became the starting quarterback in Week 4 and beat teams like the Giants, Colts, and Jaguars, as well as helped the Titans win six straight games and remain in contention for a Wild Card spot in the final week of the season.
Dwyane Wade: The Miami Heat guard had a breakthrough season as he led the team to their first ever NBA championship. In the finals, he averaged over 34 points a game, much in part to everyone in the world fouling him, including several players sitting on the bench.
Ryan Howard: In only his second season the Philadelphia Phillies' first baseman hit 58 homers — a number you can blame on the steroid era as just being okay — to snag the MVP award.
Zinedine Zidane: The French soccer star may have crippled his team in the waning minutes of the World Cup finals by gently placing the top of his skull in the ribs of Marco Materazzi, but come on — that was one kickass headbutt.
LaDainian Tomlinson: To channel the spirit of Kenny Mayne, the San Diego Chargers' running back is "gonna get his name in the paper." Through 15 games LDT scored 31 touchdowns — 28 of those on the ground — and broke Shaun Alexander's one-year-old rushing touchdown record and Paul Hornung's 46-year scoring record, leaving Hornung with just one scoring record left intact.
Shaun White, Ted Ligety, and Chad Hedrick: Wow, we had Olympic Games this year. Weird. It's sort of hard to remember when a lot of the athletes from Bode Miller to Lindsay Jacobellis ate it big time, but White, Ligety, and Hedrick more than made up for the slackers. And if the sports editor had it his way, he'd get an opportunity to mention Pete Fenson giving America its first curling medal.
Jerome Bettis: In a little known fact that slipped through the cracks of big media, the Steelers' running back grew up in Detroit, which also happened to be the backdrop for Super Bowl XL. Funnier still, "XL" is the Roman numeral for "40" but it can also mean "extra-large," which is what Bettis is. Boy, the reporters really should have done something with that. Oh well. Hindsight.
Bettis and the Steelers topped the Seattle Seahawks 21-10, after which Bettis immediately retired. While not everyone agreed the Steelers were the year's best story, they all struck common ground when they said the officiating in the game was superb.
Barry Bonds: Ha! Just kidding.
The prestigious voting panel consisted of sports editor Matt Sussman and assistant to the sports editor Sal Marinello. No other editor voted, since not one could think of a single athlete's name.
We would have included you in the voting, but this was thrown together rather hastily, so to cover our collective ass we just gave the award to you.