By Matt Corder
Marathon Man – Mark Singer [New Yorker]
Bizarre story of a man caught lying about road race results.
Beautiful Game – Patrick Symmes [Outside]
The lesson, as always: no one takes their sport more seriously than soccer fans.
The Fun In Funeral: 2011 College Football’s Dark New Orleans Sendoff – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]
Would have made the top ten if not for Hall writing an even better piece this year.
The Death’s-Head Of Wimbledon – Brian Phillips [Grantland]
Just remember being so impressed when I read this. Read all five parts.
The Unfair Significance Of Jeremy Lin – Jay Kaspian Kang [Grantland]
An Asian-American writer explains why Jeremy Lin matters
Ultimate Glory – Dave Gessner [Bill & Dave's Cocktail Hour]
The best stories always involve a personal element from the writer. Gessner spills his guts out on the page here and the result is awesome.
Who Is Sarah Phillips? – John Koblin [Deadspin]
Deadspin at their best part I.
The Making Of Homer At The Bat – Erik Malinowski [Deadspin]
Deadspin at their best part II.
ESPN Entertainment Writer Has A Bad Wikipedia Problem – Isaac Rauch [Deadpin]
Deadspin at their best part III.
How ESPN Ditched Journalism And Followed Skip Bayless To The Bottom: A Tim Tebow Story – John Koblin [Deadspin]
Deadspin at their best part IV.
(tie) 10. 120 Reasons Why Football Will Last Forever – J.R. Moehringer [ESPN.com]
This was one of the most unique pieces of writing I read all year. I can’t quite describe what I like so much about it, but I guarantee that you’ll like it as much as I did. Given all the research and tragedies that have occurred in the past year, I’m almost angry at myself for including this piece in the top ten. Well worth it though. A great, great piece of writing.
(tie) 10. On The Trail Of The White Horse – Christopher McDougall [Outside]
It might not surprise you to learn that I spend almost all of my free time reading about sports. One of the pleasant surprises of plunging down that rabbit hole was my discovery of Outside magazine. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like in that they cover stories of those brave sould who challenege the limits of the human body. Whether it’s running, rock climbing, etc, Outside is the place to go to read about it and has a shockingly good stable of writers to tell their stories. This was my favorite story from them this year. It’s well worth the time.
(tie) 10. Man In Full – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]
I still believe that Ballard is the best longform sports reporter in the country, even better than his longform whizkid colleague Thomas Lake. “Man In Full” was his best piece of the year and tells the story of a high school wrestling coach who battles a rare disease and in the process inspires a generation of young men in his community. Get the kleenex ready, this one will tug on the heart strings.
9. The Malice At The Palace: An Oral History – Jonathan Abrams [Grantland]
Abrams is doing an extraordinary job with his longform NBA dispatches over at Grantland. This was his best one yet and easily the best Oral History of any sports subject in the last 12 months. I think the thing that is most amazing about this story is how happy the participants were to finally discuss and process the events of that night. They seem to find some kind of release that enabled them to finally move on. It’s seems impossible, but literally no one has ever approached the athletes who were there that night about discussing what happened. The Stephen Jackson portions in particular are so, so, so good. I won’t spoil anything, but you’re probably not shocked to hear that the one person who refused to be interviewed was the man most responsible: Mr. Ron Artest. Hearing Jackson’s side of things, well, let’s just say the story becomes clear.
8. Will You Still Medal In The Morning? – Sam Alipour [ESPN The Magazine]
You’ve probably heard the rumors about the rampant sex and partying inside the athletes’ village at the Olympics. Now, for the first time, here it straight from the mouths of the participants. Just an all-around fun read on the debauchery that is the Olympics. It’s also particularly fascinating to here them explain how natural it all comes as a result of the intense amounts of time and training they put into getting to that point. Can you really blame them for claiming their reward?
7. The Air Raid Offense: History, Evolution, Weirdness — From Mumme To Leach To Franklin To Holgorsen And Beyond – Chris Brown [Smart Football]
I think my favorite irony about sports in this country is the massive popularity of football and how little fans actually know about the game. Sure, the casual NFL fan can tell you that Calvin Johnson is a better receiver than Chad Ocho Cinco, but very few could tell you the philosophy behind the Patriots passing attack or what exactly makes Jim Harbaugh’s teams so damn tough. Enter Chris Brown who does the best job of any writer on the internet of explaining the X’s and O’s of football. This piece in particular is one of his masterpieces as he draws on his wealth of knowledge and contacts inside the game to write the history of the most entertaining revolution in football of the last two decades. A must-read if you are a fan of the rise of the spread offenses and passing in general.
6. Breakdown: Death and Disarray At America’s Racetracks – Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara L. Miles, and Griffin Palmer [The New York Times]
I’m always a sucker for a good old-fashioned investigative piece, and there was none better this year than the Times’ look into the secret world of horse racing. Delve into this dark world and see the inhumane way in which horses are medicated and abused across this country to support a dying sport. It’s a sad but necessary wakeup call that action must be taken to protect the beautiful animals that make the sport possible.
5. Tom Brady’s Daze Of Disappointment – Dan Wetzel [Yahoo! Sports]
Wetzel is the best columnist in the country in the most traditional sense of the occupation. When you think of a classic sport writer capturing a game for his readers, Wetzel is the guy that should come to mind. In the minutes and hours following the Patriots loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl, watch this master craftsmen find a unique angle for a column and perfectly capture a moment in time, which is exactly what the columnist is supposed to do. So, so good if you’re a fan of old school sports writing.
4. Bury A Man, Keep A Statue – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]
The best sports blogger in the country is also the best college football writer in the country. I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth repeating again, Hall is this generation’s Dan Jenkins. Here is his best effort of the calendar year in which he tackles the delicate issue of Penn State following the Paterno/Sandusky scandal. Watch a master at work.
3. Poisonous Nostalgia – Brian Phillips [Grantland]
For all the roster filled with talent at Bill Simmons’ website, Brian Phillips is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best of the bunch. Phillips made a name for himself at Slate and his popular soccer blog Run of Play, but watch him weave a perfect metaphor between Mad Men and Augusta National and what both of those entities teach us about society. When Bill Simmons popularized sports and pop culture writing over a decade ago, he had no idea that it could be done this beautifully.
2. The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever – Michael Mooney [D Magazine]
Just plain fun, and kind of sad in a Kingpin, Big Lebowski sort of way. Follow the story of a Plano, Texas man who nearly completed the holy grail of the sport of bowling (completing three perfect games in a row). I won’t ruin it, but trust me, time well spent sitting down for this one. Did I mention that Mooney is a master of the craft?
1. The Truth Is Out There – Patrick Hruby [The PostGame]
By far the piece that left the biggest impression on me this year. It starts out as a fan’s look into all of the best conspiracy theories in every major sport until, by the end, you’re questioning the integrity of every single athletic accomplishment of the last 100 years. Did Stern rig the draft lottery? Duh. Did the NFL willingly let its owners fix games for decades? Probably. Did NBC fix the 2008 men’s Olympic swimming results? Yikes (and yes, yes they did). Take a step into the darker side of sports where the only constant is money.