Once again, we’ve decided to break out the athletes, moments and other things of interest that won and lost at sports in the month of February. Some are truly awesome moments of spectacle. Others are only here to make you laugh. Because winning at sports is important.
Winner: Denny Hamlin
With one lap left in the 2016 Daytona 500, three drivers all had a chance at bringing home NASCAR’s biggest single-race championship. Matt Kenseth had the lead, Martin Truex Jr. was stuck in second and Denny Hamlin was a few paces back. However, Hamlin surged ahead and dueled with Truex for a thrilling final stretch. Kenseth amazingly ended up 14th, with Hamlin defeating Truex by just 0.011 of a second — quite literally a blink of the eye.
Loser: Terrell Owens
The 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was announced in February, as legends like Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace and Kenny Stabler will all be inducted in August. However, with all due respect to Harrison, Terrell Owens seemed like the more likely wide receiver to be chosen. The six-time Pro Bowler was on the ballot for the first time, and it appears his surly behavior toward the media means that Owens will be on the ballot once again for consideration in 2017.
Winner: Jared Allen
The always personable Jared Allen finally decided to call the NFL quits in February, as he announced his retirement in fantastic fashion. Allen, a key contributor to the Carolina Panthers defense last season, recorded a video for Twitter in an attempt to ride off into the sunset. Unfortunately, there was no sunset. Nonetheless, he did cut an epic video.
Riding off into the sunset pic.twitter.com/wZXovseGKS
— Jared Allen (@JaredAllen69) February 18, 2016
All hail Jared Allen, legend.
Loser: Blake Griffin
The Blake Griffin situation went from bad to worse in February. The Los Angeles Clippers announced that the team is suspending Griffin four games when he returns from injury. The suspension comes after a fracas involving Griffin and his friend and Clippers trainer Matias Testi. Griffin broke his hand punching Testi, and the All-Star forward required surgery. Blake is expected to miss four to six weeks of game action, along with a few paychecks. Don’t fight your friends, Blake. It’s literally not worth it.
Winner: Zach LaVine
Basketball fans had low expectations coming into the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, but at the end of it, we were all witnesses to the greatest professional dunking exhibition in a generation. Zach LaVine became a two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion by completing five perfect dunks in front of a sold-out crowd in Toronto. LaVine’s dunking arsenal included a windmill jam from the free-throw line, a through-the-legs dunk from just below the free-throw line and a through-the-legs reverse bucket starting from under the baseline. Lavine was crowned the winner, and yet …
Loser: Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon might have been the best dunker in the competition. Gordon introduced the world to Stuff, the Orlando Magic mascot. Together, they made history, as Gordon had Stuff riding a hoverboard and being a worthy prop in the forward’s ultimate scheme. From jumping over the mascot to grabbing the ball from him and completing an incredible 360 dunk, Gordon’s incredible athleticism left viewers amazed. In any other dunk contest, Gordon would be an easy winner. However, Gordon’s second-place performance means that 2016 is in the running for best dunk contest of all time.
Winner: Von Miller
Von Miller has been following behind Cam Newton for five years, as the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft was selected after the Heisman Trophy winner was chosen by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 1 pick. Miller’s quest to one-up Newton finally came to fruition in Super Bowl 50, as the Broncos’ all-world pass rusher earned Super Bowl MVP honors after leading Denver’s defense to a dominant performance that included four turnovers and seven sacks on Newton in the 24-10 win. Miller now has hopes to be the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, and after his Super Bowl performance, it’s hard to say he isn’t deserving.
Loser: Cam Newton
Cam Newton had a rough patch following the Super Bowl. The NFL’s 2016 MVP struggled mightily against an elite Denver Broncos defense, as the offensive line struggled to protect and his wide receivers failed to regularly get open for their quarterback. Following the 24-10 defeat in Santa Clara, Newton was despondent and gave reporters short answers in the post-game press conference. That presser didn’t sit well with the general public and the media, and to make matters worse, Newton told folks that he was proudly a “sore loser.”
While many in the public didn’t agree with how Newton handled the Super Bowl, Newton firmly stated that the Panthers will be back in 2016. For Cam, his ability to keep the Panthers playing at a high level will be the best way to quiet his doubters moving forward.
Winner: Tony Allen
Kobe Bryant is also riding off into the sunset this season, and the 20-year veteran seems to be enjoying his final moments in the NBA. One player who always got under Kobe’s skin was Tony Allen, and in February, the Lakers legend paid Allen the ultimate compliment. Bryant presented the Grizzlies guard an autographed pair of white Kobe XII’s after their final contest. Allen was so excited by Bryant’s gesture that he tweeted a picture of the shoes, which read: “To Tony, the best defender I ever faced!”
Never forget, Allen is the same man who tries to intimidate players by yelling “FIRST-TEAM ALL-DEFENSE!” So seeing one the greatest ever pay homage should not be surprising. Well-deserved, Tony Allen, well-deserved.
Loser: Johnny Manziel
The former Heisman Trophy winner is in the midst of the roughest time in his life. His tenure with the Cleveland Browns is all but assuredly over as soon as the franchise can release him, and his ongoing issues with the law are coming to light. Manziel is not only currently being investigated in a domestic violence dispute involving his ex-girlfriend, but reports have surfaced that the quarterback was at practice drunk and the organization tried to cover up for him by stating he was in the concussion protocol. Needless to say, the former Texas A&M star is clearly in need of some help. Let’s all hope he gets what he needs to start living a better life.
Winner: Klay Thompson
In the 2016 NBA Three-Point Shootout, it was the other Splash Brother who took center stage in February. Klay Thompson overcame Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker and his teammate Steph Curry by making all five money balls in the final rack, compiling 27 points and winning the title. While Curry continues to shatter the NBA record books with his barrage of three-pointers, Thompson’s All-Star Weekend accomplishment is one he’ll always have over his fellow Splash Brother.
Loser: Manny Pacquiao
The fighting pride of the Philippines brought shame to the tiny country with his controversial statements about gay people. Pacquiao stated that people in gay relationships are “worse than animals” and that allowing men to marry other men or women to marry other women would make human beings less civilized. The fighter’s apparel sponsor, Nike, immediately ended its relationship with the former world champion, adding that it found his comments “abhorrent.” Pacquiao since apologized for hurting people’s feelings but has refused to back down from his stance.
Winner: Russell Westbrook
The 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend featured a variety of things, including the farewell of one Kobe Bryant, the master of ceremonies Drake and the crowning of a new era in the Golden State Warriors. Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, had other plans, as the Oklahoma City Thunder dynamo went on another rampage to bring home his second All-Star MVP award in as many years. Westbrook recorded 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals in 22 minutes, and became the first player in All-Star history to win consecutive MVPs outright. All hail #0.
Loser: Colin Kaepernick
Simply put, things are getting weird with Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s agents reached out to the San Francisco 49ers in February to seek a trade away from the club. This came after head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke made it clear publicly during the NFL Scouting Combine that Kap was part of the team’s plans in 2016. Teams like the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans have made overtures regarding the former Nevada signal caller, but Kap could be out over $11 million in salary if he’s not on a roster by April 1. This is either a shrewd move to get out of town or a silly one that could’ve been avoided.
Winner: Peyton Barber
College football players have varying motivations for pursuing a career in professional football. For some, it’s the fame while for others it’s the chance to prove themselves against the best. For Peyton Barber of the Auburn Tigers, the tailback is making an economic decision, hoping to be able to turn football in to a living to help get his mom out of homelessness. Barber’s mother is currently living with her daughter and grandkids, trying to find her way through tough times.
The evaluation of Barber will be interesting, as he rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and was leaning toward being a breakout star next season. However, duty calls for the NFL prospect, and it’s likely that a team will call his name come late April.
Loser: Grayson Allen
It’s normal for marquee players to be loathed by their rival fan bases, and then there’s seething hate toward star players for the Duke Blue Devils. Grayson Allen has officially etched his name in stone of hated Duke players, as he was observed intentionally tripping another player during a game.
In late February, Allen was chastised by the ACC for tripping Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes during the end of the contest, and earlier in the month he also tripped Louisville’s Ray Spalding and was called for a flagrant foul. Allen has always been known as a character on a basketball court, but he’s now a marked man. Do better, Allen, do better.
Winner: Steph Curry
You could call Steph Curry a winner for a variety of reasons, but he makes the list this month for the heroics he pulled off on a magical Saturday night in Oklahoma City. OKC’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook tried to keep their collective foot on the necks of the Golden State Warriors all night, and the defending champs were down double digits with just four minutes remaining.
Then Curry happened, as a barrage of threes and stellar defense by the supporting cast forced the game into overtime. Then, with the game tied at 118 with just seconds remaining, Curry splashed a 35-footer with no hesitation that broke the back of the Thunder. Curry’s memorable night ended with 46 points and tied an NBA record with 12 threes made in the game. All hail Wardell Stephen Curry II.
Loser: James Harden
The relationship between the Houston Rockets and their superstar guard James Harden has been rocky to say the least. After falling short to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors last year, the Rockets have been in a constant funk this season. As such, Kevin McHale was relieved of his coaching duties, and Dwight Howard was reportedly on the trading block.
What was the catalyst for all of this? Word on the street is that Harden pushed to get both out the door. Whether or not this is ultimately the case, Harden’s play has been less than his usual par for greatness. The Rockets are barely hanging ont o the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and if they miss the playoffs, the blame will fall squarely on his beard and shoulders.
Winner: Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan announced his retirement earlier this month, and for many wrestling fans, this was a truth that was hard to take. Bryan, whose real name is Bryan Danielson, was a three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion and most notably one of the marquee performers both inside and outside the ring. He is retiring at the age of 34 after over 15 years of wrestling professionally, citing medical issues arising from multiple concussions and a possible brain lesion. Bryan’s departure from the WWE is a tough pill to swallow, but his run over the past five years has been nothing short of incredible.
Loser: Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval is easily one of the most talented players in Major League Baseball, but his weight has always been an issue since his days with the San Francisco Giants. The aptly nicknamed Kung Fu Panda arrived early to his second season for the Boston Red Sox, and his physique looks no better than when he left the team last season.
Red Sox manager John Farrell stated that the third baseman had shed about 20 pounds, but recent photos of Sandoval don’t seem to support the notion. If Sandoval can up his production like back in his San Francisco days, his weight will never be an issue, but the Dominican star had one of his worst seasons in his career last season. Maybe losing a tad bit of weight wouldn’t hurt the Panda.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”