We may look foolish giving Gary Pinkel this honor with so much of Mizzou's 2014 football season yet to be played. But Gary Pinkel still merits his due from last year. That's the season that most pigskin pundits predicted University of Missouri to finish in the bottom of the Southeastern Conference, and why not? The team was coming off a dismal 2012 SEC debut and a 5-7 record. But 2013 proved that Pinkel and his team still had fire, with Mizzou advancing to the SEC championship game and winning the Cotton Bowl on its way to a No. 8 finish in the BCS and a 12-2 record. What made it all the sweeter is that Mizzou and Pinkel racked up all those wins while keeping secret the news that would rock the sports world a few weeks after the season — when the Tigers star defensive end, Michael Sam, revealed his sexuality and announced that he'd be the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft. Sam had told his Mizzou teammates and coaches he was gay months earlier, and they rallied around him. Pinkel sat down with Sam and asked him what he wanted to do — come out now or leave it a team secret? Sam responded: "I do not want to have any distractions for our football team. We've got to concentrate on football, and I'll [come out] at another time." And so they did.
John Rooney is more than the Cardinals' play-by-play radio man. He's their good-luck charm with the team winning two championships since Rooney arrived here in 2006, fresh from calling the '05 World Series victory for his former employer, the Chicago White Sox. Now eight years into his role with the Cardinals, Rooney serves as the ballast in the Cardinals' broadcast booth, dutifully setting up the stories for Mike Shannon while also keeping his chatty partner from drifting too far off course. But don't be fooled. Rooney isn't just a straight man. His decades in sports media have left him with plenty of amusing anecdotes of his own, as well as a hilarious ability to impersonate one of his early role models, Harry Caray.
Napheesa Collier still has her senior year to complete at Incarnate Word Academy, but her skills as a high school basketball phenom have long captured the attention of college teams. Notre Dame, Missouri, Maryland, Kentucky — they all wanted to sign the six-foot-one-inch Collier, ranked the fifth best player in the nation in the 2015 graduating class. But after she led Incarnate Word (31-1) to its second straight Class 4A Missouri championship last year (with Collier recording 33 points and nine rebounds on her way to becoming Missouri's Gatorade Player of the Year), Collier was the first recruit to give a verbal commitment to the University of Connecticut. Collier, who was also the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Class 4 Player of the Year, averaged 23.7 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3.8 steals and 2.3 blocked shots per game during her junior year. One wonders how much better and stronger she'll be in her final season for the Incarnate Word Red Knights.
If you see Webster University junior Wesley So around town, make sure to address him by his official title: Grandmaster Wesley So. OK, don't do that, but the kid is a chess prodigy. (And, yes, chess is a sport. It's officially recognized as such by the International Olympic Committee, you haters.) So learned to play from his dad when he was just seven years old — an age many of us are still learning to "tie" our Velcro shoes. By the age of ten he was competing in international chess tournaments, and at fourteen he attained the highest title in his sport — grandmaster — making him the eighth youngest in the world to achieve such status. Now the twenty-year-old is ranked No. 14 worldwide and is a member of the top collegiate chess team in the country at Webster University. He has also won multiple national and international titles, such as the 2013 World University Championship and the 2014 National Open Blitz Championship. Oh, and he gives lessons, too. That's — wait for it — So cool.
Daniel Descalso can do it all. Technically listed as an infielder, the 27-year-old backup can pitch, pinch hit and play at any base, not to mention shortstop. It almost seems like the Cardinals are looking for ways to put the versatile athlete on the field — and we can see why. The reason is obvious the moment Descalso's grand-slam behind leaves the bench, truly a butt that would look at home on an NFL running back's body. It's the kind of booty that carries its own swagger to the plate, where Descalso sets those hefty hindquarters to balance a powerful swing. Sure, he may lack the consistency or outright talent to be an everyday starter. But in terms of butt talent? Descalso is clearly All-Star material.
Brian Elliott stands six-foot-two. Put a pair of skates on the Blues goaltender and he towers at nearly six-foot-five. You'd think that someone that tall — especially a hockey player — would be difficult to overlook. But overlooked he was all season when the Blues chose to go with Jaroslav Halak as the team's starting net-minder and again when Halak was traded for goalie Ryan Miller. And the Miller rumors were strong and loud all year, suggesting the Blues never deemed Elliott worthy of the top goal-tending spot. All this despite Elliott playing with confidence last season and putting up a .922 save percentage and an 18-6 win/loss record in his diminished role on the team. Now that Halak and Miller are gone, Elliott will finally get his chance to shine this year, and he'll need to, with promising rookie Jake Allen right behind him.
"Quinn. F--king Quinn," said Chuck Pagano. The Indianapolis Colts head coach was fuming mad. He had just watched Rams defensive end Robert Quinn smash his golden-boy quarterback into the turf, again, and a mic recorded the frustrated outburst. Pagano was far from the only opposing coach left sputtering in the wake of Quinn's monstrous 2013 season. Quinn's nineteen sacks broke the Rams' all-time team record, and the fourth-year player's highlight reel reveals a man among boys — actually, scratch that: He's more like a man among Muppets. He tosses opposing linemen, speeds past them or crawls on all fours (as against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees) on the way to the quarterback. If the St. Louis Rams are actually serious about the "Sack City" slogan sticking, we'd like to cast the first mayoral vote for Quinn. F--king Quinn.
There are many obvious reasons why running in Queeny Park is such a delight. The trails — 7.8 miles of interconnected paths that allow joggers to vary their routines and distances — wind through woods, past marshy ponds, and across lush and manicured fields. The scenery and wildlife keep you entertained, and the terrain pushes your limits, rising steeply in some places (though, again, the hills can mostly be avoided if you're trying to take it easy). But here's the secret to getting the most out of running at Queeny: Go when it's drizzling. Gone are the suburban dog walkers and the horseback riders. They're replaced by a huge number of deer that wander in and out of the misty woods and across the rolling green hills, their habitat reclaimed from noisy humans. It's not uncommon to see a few on a normal day in the park, but in the rain they seem to be everywhere — it's a remarkable experience to have just twenty minutes outside of a major metropolitan area.
Going to a professional sports event ain't cheap. Even a pair of the least expensive seats for any of the big three teams will set you back around $100 bucks, and that doesn't even include the $9 beers. But set your expectations a little lower and you can enjoy the best sports bargain around: the River City Rascals' $25 all-inclusive pass. The deal gets you a ticket, an all-you-can-eat buffet throughout the game and all-you-can-drink draft beer until the bottom of the seventh. And even if you don't want to gorge yourself with booze and burgers, individual tickets for the Rascals start at a mere $6.
Aberdeen Golf Club is a Scottish-style links course. If you can believe it, the constant wind and sweeping fairways here really do give you the feel of the Highlands. In Scottish tradition, the course also has few trees, tall native grasses and pot bunkers that can swallow balls in an instant; tricky turf dunes surround many of the holes. Just like the famous St Andrews course, Aberdeen also has two double greens. Prices start at just $15, and you don't need a membership (though they are available). Aberdeen is not for the novice player, but it's a good challenge for middling and great golfers alike.