Since it’s award season on the Internets, with everyone handing out notional hardware for their Ten Best ------ or ------ Of The Year, I decided to try bestowing some completelly meaningless, but mildly entertaining, honors of my own. Behold: the inaugural, and possibly annual, Blue Flame Awards!
- Game of The Year: Detroit Lions 23, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20
This was a difficult choice. Of course, my indelible memory from this year will be my son’s first Lions game, against the Jets. But in a season with five-and-counting wins, one of the ten heartbreaking losses can’t be the game of the year. The completely improbable 7-3 defeat of the Packers will stand out as the Lions’ most impressive victory, the tallest giant they toppled. But the win that snapped the Lions’ road streak gets my vote as the Game of the Year. It featured the game of Drew Stanton’s life, a sustained rushing attack, a masterful drive to tie the game, and a suspense-ending first-possession overtime victory. Drama. Majesty. Victory on the road against a quality opponent. Game of the Year.
- Tom Moore Coach of The Year: Scott Linehan, Offensive Coordinator
Three different quarterbacks have started (and won) football games for this team, and Linehan has done a flatly masterful job of tailoring the offense to the strengths of each. A downfield aerial attack with Stafford in, a high-percentage shell game with TEs and RBs in the slot with Shaun Hill, and an wild grab bag of quarterback runs, running back by committee (if not an entire Congress), and quick slants with Drew Stanton in. For most of the season, the Lions have been in the top ten in the NFL in scoring (they’re currently 14th). Considering the revolving door at quarterback, their nearly-a-touchdown-per-game improvement in scoring over last year (from 16.4 ppg to 22.8) borders on miraculous. Honorable Mention: Gunther Cunningham, defensive coordinator; Kris Kocurek, defensive line coach.
- Barry Sanders Cannot Hope To Stop Him Award: Calvin Johnson, WR
Given to the most dominant offensive player, this award was a complete no-brainer. For reference, see Johnson’s preposterous 46-yard touchdown catch against the Bears. He consistently presents a nightmare matchup to any defense in the NFL, anywhere he is on the field. Just before “print time,” Calvin was named a Pro Bowl starter. Honorable Mention: Jahvid Best, RB
- Mike Cofer Tecmo Super Bowl Beast Mode Award: Ndamukong Suh, DT
Given to the most dominant defensive player, this award was much harder to give out. For starters, an argument could be made that Suh, despite the numbers, has not even been the most consistently dominant defensive lineman on the roster. Corey Williams has been a force against both the run and the pass, and Cliff Avril has blossomed into the edge rusher we all thought he could be. But Ndamukong Suh, in a position that practically demands two or three years of physical maturation, has brought down the enemy quarterback nine times in his rookie season, leading all NFL DTs. Further, he’s done it against frequent double-teams. He’s still against the run, and some of his sacks have more to do with pursuit than penetration—but Suh is a monster talent who’s already dominant—as of this writing, he’d just been named a starter in the Pro Bowl—and is nowhere near his ceiling. Honorable Mention: Corey Williams, DT; Cliff Avril, DE
- Mel Gray Three Phases of the Game Award: (tie) Stefan Logan, PR/KR/WR; John Wendling, ST
I couldn't just pick one of these two as the most game-changing special teams player of the year. Logan’s long, dynamic returns consistently shortened the field for the offense—and once, even put points on the board. Logan was also a willing and able tackler on the kick coverage unit. Wendling consistently lengthened the field for the opponent with his amazing play as a punt gunner, both with on-the-spot tackles of opposing returners, and heroic kills of Nick Harris’s punts.
- Chris Spielman Heart of a Lion Award: Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE
Given to the Lion who most profoundly exudes fire, toughness, and determination to win, KVB had this one sewn up Week 1. His ten-tackle, sideline-to-sideline performance against the Bears was one of the most incredible single games any defensive Lion has had in my memory—singlehandedly willing the Lions to victory. He clearly set the tone for the Lions’ best unit, both on the field and off. His approach to practice, preparation, training, and games were cited by coaches and teammates alike as the model for the rest of the squad. Honorable Mention: Drew Stanton, QB; Dominic Raiola, C
- Bryant Westbrook Realized Potential Award: Cliff Avril, DE Cliff Avril, perhaps the prototypical 3-4 rush OLB, was as surprised as anyone when Rod Marinelli drafted him to play as a 4-3 end. After his rookie season, where he picked up 5 sacks in just four starts, it looked as though the third-round pick was going to quickly develop into the Lions’ premier pass rusher. However, a change to a philosophy that emphasizes bigger ends, and a lingering hamstring injury, stunted his growth in 2009. Gunther publicly questioned his “mean streak.” However, he showed up to OTAs and blew the coaches away with his preparedness, physically and mentally. He immediately locked down a starting spot, and has racked up eight sacks so far this year—including three against Green Bay. He responded to the loss of KVB by taking his play to the next level; a sure sign that he has arrived. Honorable Mention: DeAndre Levy, MLB
Commenter Matt TLiW Commenter of the Year Award: echo Those of you who’ve been reading for a long time know that “Matt” has been a prolific, intelligent, and well-spoken commenter since nearly the beginning. I’m going to name the award after him—but I’m going to give this year’s award to “echo,” who blew up the Emmitt vs. Barry: By the Numbers post with page after page of incredibly well-researched info. Given how high that post ranks for “Barry vs. Emmitt” searches, echo has done the whole world a permanent favor. Thanks, man.