The 2015 St. Louis Sportsperson of The Year

Tim McKernan, Wed, 30 Dec 2015 19:00:00 GMT

The 2015 St. Louis Sportsperson of The Year
Today we award our sixth insideSTL St. Louis Sportsperson of The Year.

Looking at the body of work for the previous five winners, I am starting to wonder if this award is the equivalent to winning the Grammy for Best New Artist:

2014: T.J. Oshie

Uh, yeah.

Of all of our years handing out these year-end awards, this one was either the worst or second-worst, and that is mainly because the Cardinals got bounced by the Cubs, the Rams dicked around again on the field until this late-season surge, the relocation saga, the Blues’ first-round elimination, the dreadful performance of Missouri football, and, remember that thing called college basketball?

So, unlike 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 when the Cardinals made the NLCS, and unlike 2013 and 2014 when Missouri played in the SEC Championship Game, we’re looking at a rough situation for obvious on-the-field accomplishments.

Brief aside: how batshit is it that in a Baseball Town where the team has been to the playoffs in five straight years and the World Series in two of those years that of our five previous award winners, two are Rams and one is a Cardinal?

And this year again, there is plenty of Rams’/NFL representation.

This city is so damn thirsty for NFL football that my hope is 2016 begins a renaissance for St. Louis and the NFL.

I sincerely believe that is possible.

Consider that less than 20 years ago, the Seahawks were on their way to Los Angeles.

And now, it’s one of the best markets and best franchises in the NFL.

If the St. Louis Area goes from a dreadful product combined with a belief by most of the residents that the team was as good as gone to a quality product with the knowledge that the team is staying, my hope is that you will see a rebirth of love for the NFL in St. Louis.

Of course, the above could be rendered useless and/or a punch line within a couple of weeks.

But, at this moment, I shall operate optimistically.

Despite another season without a winning record, the Rams have some serious young talent on both sides of the football. Those gentleman among a couple of others who have appeared on the list of finalists make their debut on our Sportsperson of The Year column.

But, the winner was a runaway with the voters.

Before unveiling The 2015 Sportsperson of The Year and our Top Five, here are the others to whom you gave numerous votes.


Aaron Donald


Raise your hand if you were pissed when you heard Roger Goodell announce the Rams selected Aaron Donald with the 13th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
My hand is in the air.
Of course, truth be told, I didn’t know a damn thing about Donald. I hadn’t put together a complete draft board of defensive tackles playing at Pittsburgh.
But, now completing his second season in the NFL, Donald regularly gets compared to Warren Sapp.
Every Sunday, the guys calling the Rams’ game spend much of their time raving about the work Aaron Donald is doing.
His teammates join in with the praise.
“I think the case can be made that he’s the best defensive football player in the NFL,” Chris Long said to ESPN.com. “There’s going to be some people who are going to tell you otherwise but you watch the film, it’s not just about the stats, it’s about destroying like every play, seven out of 10 plays, he’s doing something to just mess the whole thing up. And he’s just on a constant basis making people look silly. “I could go on for a while on why I think that. But I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to put him in that conversation. I know it’s kind of off limits right now to say anybody is better than J.J., but I think he’s in that conversation.”


Jason Heyward


He only played one year in St. Louis, but his name could wind up being a defining one for the next decade of Cardinal baseball.

Brought to St. Louis because of the passing of Oscar Taveras, Heyward started slow and finished strong.

Without his Gold Glove and bat, the Cardinals don’t win 100 games. And Heyward hit .357 with a home run in the NLDS. His stock trended up at the perfect time for him individually: on the threshold of free agency.

And this is the moment that led many of you to include him on your list for 2015 Sportsperson of The Year:

Heyward chose to go to the Cubs over staying in St. Louis.

And with that, all hell broke loose for some Cardinal fans.

This was unfamiliar territory for the last 15 years of Cardinal baseball, to lose out on a player who spent time with the organization. Guys like McGwire, Edmonds, Rolen, and Holliday decided to sign with the Cardinals after getting a taste of St. Louis baseball.

But, Heyward experienced it, and chose the North Side of Chicago and the Cubs’ young core.


Gary Pinkel


This would fall into either The Lifetime Achievement Category, or The Off The Field Category, because it most definitely has nothing to do with what happened on the field with the 2015 Missouri Tigers.

Gary Pinkel’s final team was quite fortunate to win three of the five games they did. Arkansas State, UConn, and BYU all had to be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Minus the opponents putting up 60 or 70 points, the lack of optimism for the team’s chances didn’t mimic previous Pinkel teams, it reminded fans of the misery Missouri experienced in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

This was a horrible football team.

However, Pinkel made national headlines when he decided to stand with his team in their support of Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike and the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement.

Similar to Heyward electing to go to the Cubs, Pinkel’s name appears on this list, in the minds of many of our voters, for both good and bad reasons.

The Missouri football protest appeared on our Best Moments list, and on our Worst Moments list.

Your perspective dictates where you put it, but to have it on both lists illustrates the polarization of the topic.

What cannot be debated is Pinkel brought Missouri football to a place that it hadn’t been in decades. He took something that was dead when he was hired, and made it the fourth sport on the St. Louis sports calendar, joining the Cardinals, Blues, and Rams.

Missouri football was a joke before Pinkel got there, minus two underrated teams in 1997 and 1998.

But, Pinkel got Missouri to #1 in the country in 1997, and he took his team to four conference championship games.

The idea of any of that when he was hired in December 2000 was beyond fantastic; it didn’t even seem remotely possible.

Unfortunately, his era in Columbia ended in a stereotypical Missouri athletics manner: with him getting carried off the field reluctantly after a loss.

But, the support for Pinkel after his announcement of his battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma unified a divided fan base, and the appreciation for what he did from 2001 through 2015 in Columbia will not be overshadowed by the dismal final year.



Joe Buck


A weekly tradition right before 2015 Rams’ home games was the out-of-town beat writer tweeting out a picture of an empty Edward Jones Dome and either stating or insinuating that St. Louis football fans don’t deserve an NFL team.

Nevermind context.

We killin’ bitches with 140 characters and hopin’ for them retweets.

Fuck credibility.

Well, Joe Buck had enough of hearing about how bad of a football town St. Louis was, and so he put it on the line in both interviews and, more famously, a Twitter rant regarding Stan Kroenke that, at the very least, got the attention of those who may have done some drive-by analysis of the situation in St. Louis without getting the full story.

Some of the highlights:


Joe Buck didn’t need to do this. And one could make a case that it was a risky move for him to do so, considering he’s the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports, one of the NFL’s main broadcast partners.

But, as Joe told me when we were discussing this situation, in a private conversation, so not done to win points with anyone: When I think of what’s going on with the Rams and Kroenke, I think to myself, ̃What would my dad have done?’ So, I have to do what I think he would have done.

It doesn’t get more honorable than that.

And now, with your votes on The Morning After Fan Page and your votes via email to me, here are our Top Five for insideSTL Sportsperson of The Year:



5. Todd Gurley


Raise your hand if you were confused and/or complaining when you heard Roger Goodell announce that the Rams had selected Todd Gurley with the 10th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

I’m raising my hand, again.

Similar to the selection of Sam Bradford, I was (and am) worried about the long-term health of Todd Gurley. Unlike the selection of Bradford, there wasn’t another player I wanted to see the Rams draft (Ndamukong Suh), I just couldn’t believe they were going to take a risk on a running back when they had selected Tre Mason and Zac Stacy in each of the last two drafts.

But, after his performance in Arizona against the team that may wind up winning the Super Bowl, it became clear that Jeff Fisher, Les Snead, and Kevin Demoff saw something in Gurley that puts him in a franchise-altering category, and so their analysis told them the reward was worth the risk.

Gurley has only played 13 games in his rookie season, but he still has been able to rush for 1,108 yards, third only to Adrian Peterson (1,418 yards) and Doug Martin (1,354). And Peterson has nearly 80 more attempts than Gurley, plus he’s playing for a playoff team with at least some semblance of a passing offense.

Gurley has done this on a team that is so dreadful with the passing game that opposing defenses know what’s coming, stack the box, and the Rams’ 21 year-old rookie still goes off.

Gurley is most often compared to Adrian Peterson, and Peterson doesn’t hold back in his praise of Gurley.

He’s the real deal, Peterson said. He’s very impressive. I like that aggression. The way he plays, just fast, physical. He’s a determined runner. He does have that combination, that nice blend of power and speed and great vision. He’s been outstanding this year, man. I was doing an interview the other day and I was taking my hat off to the young guy for what he’s been able to accomplish thus far, especially coming off a major knee injury.

Imagine Gurley, running up and down the field, at a new stadium in St. Louis, with a new quarterback, with Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn handling business on the other side of the football.

Football euphoria.


4. Stan Kroenke

This is quite Time Magazine, but enough of you voted for Kroenke that he cracked the Top Five, even though you would be hard-pressed to find many people outside of some in Southern California who would attach positive adjectives to the Rams’ owner.

But, no one’s name was said more often in St. Louis sports this year than this man’s. And, ironically, no one said less in St. Louis sports this year than this man.

Within two weeks, he could get clearance to move the Rams to Los Angeles.

Or, he could simply decide to stay in St. Louis year-to-year at The Dome, making the situation here almost worse somehow, as it would drag this crap out for another year.

On the other hand, maybe he’ll make a WWE-like heel-to-face turn (out of necessity), and accept the deal to build a new stadium in St. Louis and keep the Rams here.

Or, maybe he’ll be furious that he cannot move the Rams to Los Angeles after the meetings in Houston, and he’ll begin the process (or has already begun the process) of looking at ways to sell the Rams to an owner who has to keep the team here.

My action is on Option #4.

But, I wouldn’t bet much on it.

Ideally, this comes to an end with a positive resolution for St. Louis football fans within the next couple of weeks.

St. Louis is not in a battle with someone who gives up easily.

From the Bloomberg profile on Kroenke written last month:

In the summer of 1997, Kroenke was determined to dunk a basketball on his 50th birthday. He would practice day in and day out for that, says a former business partner who asked to remain anonymous. The 6-foot-2 inch Kroenke, who once scored a record 33 points for his high school team, did dunk on the day, according to the former partner. He had to win at running. He had to win at basketball. Whatever he played, he had to always win.


3. Mike Matheny

Four seasons as Cardinal manager.

Four playoff appearances. Three National League Central Division Championships. Three NLCS appearances. One National League Pennant.

But, of all those accomplishments in his four years in the Cardinal dugout, winning 100 games with the amount of injuries and the lack of offense that the 2015 Cardinals endured may be the biggest surprise.

Matheny finished second to Joe Maddon in the National League Manager of The Year voting, and based on what we saw in the NLDS, the two names may be associated with each other quite a bit over the next year, or more.

Matheny’s postseason strategy—in particular in 2013 and 2014—has received plenty of scrutiny. But, what he has been able to do in the regular season, in particular with the 2015 Cardinals, is incredible.

Four years as manager: 375-273 for a winning percentage of .579 and just shy of an average of 94 wins per season.

Hard to argue with that.

And when Cardinal historians evaluate the 2015 club years from now, they’ll look at this team with its 100 wins and compare it to other 100 win Cardinal teams and wonder how in the hell they did what they did with the injuries and the lack of offensive production.

When you have that kind of discussion, a great deal of credit goes to the manager.


2. Vladimir Tarasenko


Off the ice, Tarasenko signed a deal that will keep him in St. Louis for eight years.

On the ice, he put on a clinic in the final months of the 2014-15 regular season, the playoff series against Minnesota, and the first three months of the 2015-16 regular season.

It’s been almost two decades since Brett Hull last wore the Blue note on the ice. The next Brett Hull has arrived in the person of Tarasenko, as Hull praises him any chance he gets.

He is unselfish, has a very high hockey IQ and has a cannon for a shot, Hull said. He’s going to be a star because of his skills.

Tarasenko is already in another world as far as skill goes in the NHL.

He can gain greater appreciation league-wide and legend status locally if he can lead the Blues to a Stanley Cup.

When he signed his contract in July, the Cup was his focus.

His main focus in our conversations were ̃what are we going to do to win the Stanley Cup?’ He never broached the economics with me, Doug Armstrong said. He wants the assurance that we were going to push and prod and do what we could to get better.


1. Dave Peacock


Where would St. Louis and the NFL be without Dave Peacock?

Even if St. Louis NFL fans get horrible news in a couple of weeks, the NFL would not have even had the decision to make if it were not for Peacock.

Dean Spanos and Mark Davis may be two of the most unpopular people in San Diego and Oakland, but if it weren’t for Peacock, those fan bases may not have had much to worry about.

When Joe Buck introduced Dave Peacock as the 2015 winner of The Missouri Athletic Club’s Jack Buck Award, Buck said that Peacock is the man who is responsible for keeping the Rams in St. Louis next year and for what he believes will be for years to come.

To even think that it’s possible for the Rams to remain in St. Louis now, and to compare it with what most of us were thinking was going to happen this time last year, it shows how much Peacock has been able to accomplish with the league.

At the time of writing this column on December 30th, 2016, Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole posted a report stating that there’s growing sentiment for consolidation amongst owners to have the Chargers move to Los Angeles.

In the minds of most St. Louis NFL fans, this time last year, it was a done deal that the Rams would be on their way to Los Angeles, not the Chargers.

The final chapter is yet to be written. It could come in a couple of weeks, or it could come in a couple of years.

But, no matter what, Dave Peacock’s efforts will always be appreciated by the majority of St. Louisans, and if the Rams stay here, or if another NFL team comes here because of the new stadium, Peacock’s name will inspire instantaneous praise at the same level that right now Stan Kroenke’s name inspires instantaneous condemnation.

Congratulations to Dave Peacock for being named The 2015 St. Louis Sportsperson of The Year. Here’s a look at the company he joins in the category:
Log-in and post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.
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