Monday, August 18, 2008

Detroit Athlete of the Decade Tournament: Round One

UPDATE: Polls are closed on round one

The results:
LIONS: Jason Hanson wins 79% to 21%
PISTONS: Billups wins 67% to 33%
RED WINGS: Lidstrom wins 60% to 40%
TIGERS: Ordonez wins 67% to 33%

Round Two can be found here.

For some reason, blogger is flipping out, so some of the post below may not display correctly. I hate blogger sometimes.

Detroit has become known as one of the best sports cities in the country, supporting four major franchises (three of which have been very successful recently). In the past decade, the city has brought home two Stanley Cups, and NBA Title, an out-of-nowhere AL Pennant, and, well, a lot of top-10 NFL Draft picks.

My question is, who is the best Detroit athlete from this prosperous decade? Several Detroit sports bloggers have graced the site with their answers, and now it is up to you to decide who you think is worthy of the title of Detroit Athlete of the Decade. In the first round, each team will be given two nominees, who will face off for the title of their franchise's athlete of the decade:

Lions: Hanson vs. Williams

Jason Hanson (Big Al, SideLion Report)


When [Ace] asked me to pick the Detroit Lions player of the decade as part of his "Detroit Athlete of the Decade" project, I knew it would be a tough assignment. Pro football is a meat grinder, where short careers are the norm. The Lions grind up players like cheap hamburger. The Lions are in the midst of their worst decade ever, with players and coaches coming and going through Matt Millen's fast spinning revolving door. Players come and players go, most of whom make little impression.

But there's one player who's been a Lion seemingly forever, and is likely to retire with the same team who drafted him, an exception to the NFL rule. Even today, after 16 NFL seasons, he is still at the top of his game. This Lion has survived several regime changes, playing for 7 coaches, and has had countless teammates. Despite the constant adversity, he's persevered to become one of the franchise's All-Time greats.

I'm sure you've figured out by now who is my nominee for Detroit Lions player of the decade. Kicker Jason Hanson. Yes, a placekicker. But one of the best placekickers ever.

The stats speak for themselves. Hanson is in elite NFL company: 10th overall in scoring NFL history, 6th overall in field goals made, 16th overall in field goal percentage, along with playing in a pair of Pro Bowls (1997, 1999). Hanson has missed only 12 kicks inside the 40 in those 16 seasons. 12!

In many ways, the Lions' elder statesman is the face of the franchise. Hanson is one of the few players fans can point to with pride. In what's been a decade of disappointment, and full of more ugliness than we care to remember, Hanson has never wavered. The man is money, a big time player on what's been a penny ante franchise.

I've often jokingly called Hanson the Detroit Lions' Most Valuable Player. Thinking about it, it's no joke. As bad as the Lions have been over the past 10 years, it would have been much, much worse without Jason Hanson wearing the Honolulu blue and silver.

Roy Williams (Ace)


Will someone please give this man a decent quarterback? The Lions grabbed Roy Williams with the 7th pick in the 2004 draft, and all the man has done since then is catch 245 passes, find the end zone 28 times, and become the first Lions wideout to make the Pro Bowl since Herman Moore in 1998.

On a team with few spectaular (or even half-decent) players, Roy Williams has been a standout since joining the Lions four seasons ago, and has been a consistent weapon on a team that goes through running backs and wideouts like Matt Millen goes through coloring books. He has a knack for making the ridiculous catch, gets open more than any other Lion (though Calvin Johnson will certainly rival his skill in the near future), and even finds time to
deliver a pizza or two.

Besides the ageless Jason Hanson, Roy has been Detroit's only reliable source of offense these past four years, and in a decade this miserable, that earns him my nomination for Lions Athlete of the Decade.

POLLS ARE CLOSED: Jason Hanson wins 79% to 21%

Pistons: Wallace vs. Billups

Ben Wallace (Natalie Sitto,


Talk about making a team relevant, Ben Wallace brought his hard nosed work ethic and attitude to a Pistons team that at the time was simply dreadful.

The undersized, un-drafted, center from Alabama landed in Detroit in 2000 via a sign and trade for the then face of the franchise Grant Hill. While plenty of Pistons fans scoffed at the deal Big Ben proved his worth and importance.

Ben racked up NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 02, 03, 05, and 06 the seasons, and was selected to six All-Defensive teams. In the 02 and 03 seasons, he led the league in both rebounds and blocked shots. And don't forget about the All Star appearances. Starting in 03, Ben was voted by fans to the first of his four NBA All-Star Game appearances as the starting center for the Eastern Conference.

If that's not enough to convince you that Ben is The Pistons player of the decade let's talk about how he helped add another NBA Championship to Detroit's trophy case in 2004.

Chauncey Billups (Sam Weiss)


If Ben was the heart, Rip was the legs, Tay was the arms, Sheed was the soul and Darko was the appendix, then Chauncey Billups was the head of the 2003-2004 World Champion Detroit Pistons. David Thorpe, Executive Director of the Pro Training Center at IMG Academies, called Chauncey arguably the smartest player in basketball and most Pistons fans would probably agree. In addition to Basketball IQ, Chauncey brought good defense, unselfish play and a cool head to the world champions. One can use descriptions ranging from the vague terms of amateur sportscasters to numbers that only a stat-geek could appreciate. (Examples: unlike most players given the label from nimrod Sportscenter analysts, Chauncey is ‘clutch’. Also, a stat-geek might point out that his Free Throws Attempted per Turnover Committed is outrageously high, tops in the NBA year after year, demonstrating the ability to operate in traffic without losing the ball).

For the last 30 years, the team with the best individual player has always won the NBA finals. Except for the 2003-2004 Pistons. Because of their unique accomplishment, it is difficult to pick any one of them as most responsible. Any one of the starting five could have won the Finals MVP. Were someone to argue that Tayshaun, Rasheed or Ben was more deserving of this honor, his or her argument would certainly have merit, so I’ll keep mine very simple:

A. No sports accomplishment of the last decade meant more to the people of Detroit than the 2003-2004 NBA Championship.
B. By almost any statistical measure, Chauncey was the best player on that team and has been the best player on the Pistons ever since.
C. As a fanatic who has watched the team play (and who loved/loves all Stones equally, even Carlos Delfino and Ronald Dupree), I agree. Chauncey was the most valuable player.

Chauncey doesn’t need to become a symbol of the entire Piston’s team or the city of Detroit itself; he’s got a ring and a Finals MVP Trophy.

(Of course, he could go out and win another championship next year just to make my argument a little bit better. Just a thought.)

POLLS ARE CLOSED: Billups wins 67% to 33%

Red Wings: Lidstrom vs. Yzerman

Nicklas Lidstrom
(Dave, Gorilla Crouch)


Nick Lidstrom is widely considered to be one of the top 2 or 3 defensemen to ever play the game. He has been awarded the Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman six of the last seven seasons. He trails only Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey for most Norris trophies awarded to an NHL defenseman. This would be comparable to a pitcher winning 6 out of 7 Cy Young awards or an NBA player winning Defensive Player of the year award that often. It's an incredible feat that has been accomplished by a remarkable and rare talent.

While awards help to make the point, statistics show what a player actually did on the playing surface against his competition. Over the past 10 regular seasons, Nick Lidstrom has averaged playing in 80 of his team's 82 games, and averaged 14 goals and 49 assists per year. That comes out to 63 points per season with an average plus/minus rating of +24. Night in and night out he's faced the absolute best talent in the league and the Red Wings have outscored the opposition by 24 even-strength goals on average every year for the past 10 years.

Regular Season:

Lidstrom's 142 goals is the 3rd most by a defenseman over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's 489 assists are the most by a defenseman over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's +237 rating is the best by a defenseman over the past 10 seaons.
Won 6 of the last 7 Norris trophy awards.


Lidstrom's 26 goals is the most by a defensemen over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstroms's 76 assists is the most by a defenseman over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's +20 rating is the 4th best by a defensemen over the past 10 seaons.
3-time Stanley Cup champion over the past 10 seasons.
He was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in the 2002 playoffs.


Lidstrom has averaged just under a point a game in Olympic competition over the past three winter competitions and scored the gold-medal winning goal for Sweden in the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Nick Lidstrom is the best athlete in Detroit over the past ten seasons. He's been acknowledged as one of the best defensemen in the history of hockey and his regular season and playoff stats bear that out. He's also a three-time world champion over the past 10 seasons, once winning the playoff MVP award in addition to an Olympic gold medal.

Steve Yzerman (Christy Hammond, Behind the Jersey)


After 22 seasons in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman epitomizes the definition of a world class athlete. Not only does he have impressive statistics like 692 career goals or the most playoff points in the franchise history (185), but he was also the heart and soul of Hockeytown leading the team to three Stanley Cup titles in five seasons. If you were going to pick the Detroit Athlete of the Decade based purely on statistics, Yzerman might not be your guy. If you were to base your decision on the player's leadership, character, skill, and what they did for their city, Yzerman should be the easy winner. He became captain shortly into his career and eventually became simply known as The Captain. Under the eye of Scotty Bowman, Yzerman transformed into one of the best two-way forwards to play the game. By sacrificing the big numbers, Yzerman demonstrated that he bought into the system and that helped transform the team from being known as the Dead Wings into a dynasty. His willingness to not only sacrifice statistically speaking, but in terms of his knee was incredible as well. Yzerman played during the 2001-2002 postseason essentially on one leg. His courage and perseverance was inspiring to his teammates. What amazed fans even more was that they saw him struggling to get up after being checked to the ice, yet he led the team in offensive points (23) that postseason and averaged over 21 minutes of ice time each game. The glory that he brought to the city of Detroit without demanding much in return combined with his sparkling statistics and incredible leadership and perseverance should make Yzerman the Detroit Athlete of the Decade.

POLLS ARE CLOSED: Lidstrom wins 60% to 40%

Tigers: Ordonez vs. Guillen

Magglio Ordonez (Blake, Spot Starters)


I've heard the argument that the Pudge Rodriguez signing back in February on 2004 was the turning point for the Tigers over the past decade. I think there's some truth to that, but I think there was an even bigger signing and turning point than Pudge's arrival.

The Tigers were hardly contenders in Rodriguez's first season with the team, they went 72-90. They were way better than the year before when they lost 119 games, but still a long ways off. In February of 2005 the Tigers made another free agent splash with the signing of Magglio Ordonez. Ordonez was a four time All Star with the White Sox. While Magglio was coming off of some injuries, he still could have signed with most teams as a free agent. He decided (with some help from a huge contract offer) to sign with the Tigers.

Since joining the Tigers, Magglio has been an absolute beast. He hit the biggest home run by a Tiger since Gibby went yard back in 1984 in the World Series. Magglio's home run off of Huston Street in the 2006 ALCS still gives me goose bumps when I see it. I have a beer cozy (I got it as a wedding gift) that plays the audio of Dan Dickerson's call of the home run, it's seriously chilling stuff.

On top of the big home run, Magglio has a chance to become the first Tiger to win back-to-back batting titles since Ty Cobb won three straight from 1917-1919, not bad company. His .363 mark from 2007 is the best average by a Tiger since Charlie Gehringer hit .371 in 1937. Again, pretty impressive company.

Above all, Magglio helped bring respectability to Detroit Tigers baseball again. The Tigers picked Pudge up at the tail end of his career, they nabbed Magglio in his prime. Just watching him take a change up to the opposite field makes a guy feel lucky to have him on his team.

Whenever you doubt how much this guy has meant to the Tigers, try to remember exactly how you felt when you saw him rounding the bases with his fist raised high as he sent the Tigers to their first World Series in 22 years. Feel those goose bumps?

Carlos Guillen (Ace)


Guillen is the forgotten Tiger. He goes out there every year, hits .300, cranks 20 homers, and still gets overshadowed by the bigger name hitters on the team.

When the Tigers acquired Guillen from Seattle before the 2004 season (in exchange for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez...pretty good deal if you ask me), Detroit was a moribund franchise coming off a 119-loss season. We all know about the Tigers' meteoric rise to the AL Pennant in 2006, but few give Carlos Guillen the credit he deserves for that rise. Yes, Pudge Rodiguez was a huge pickup, but he was on the downslope of his career when we signed him. Guillen, on the other hand, was 28, just entering his prime, when Detroit traded for him in 2004. In that magical 2006 season, Guillen was the Tigers' best player, finishing 10th in MVP voting and batting .320 with a .400 OBP and 19 homers. He led all major league shortstops that season with a .919 OPS. Nobody remembers this, including me (thank you

Even this year, in a down year for the Tigers, Guillen is hitting .284 with 9 homers while playing a new defensive position (third base). He was the Tigers lone All-Star this year, and deserved the honor (especially after being robbed of that distinction in 2006).

Why is Carlos Guillen the Detroit Player of the Decade? Because he just does his job, with no fanfare, and does it extremely well. In a blue-collar city like Detroit, there is no player more blue-collar than Guillen.

POLLS ARE CLOSED: Ordonez wins 67% to 33%


Steve said...

"If Ben was the heart, Rip was the legs, Tay was the arms, Sheed was the soul and Darko was the appendix..."


Ace said...

I think that makes Memo the strong, European musk.

Big Al said...

The tournament turned out great, Ace. Some interesting picks, and more interesting results.

Hanson FTW! ;-)

Ace said...

Hanson really needs a nickname at this point. The player of the decade can't go nickname-less.

I've got nothing, however.