As the world reclaimed a bit of normalcy in 2022, the Newby Awards were hoping to produce an awards show featuring all the elegance and decorum that were our imaginary hallmarks in the pre-COVID-19 era.
Then Will Smith smacked Chris Rock at the Oscars.
Just like that, everything changed.
We’ve had to beef up our make-believe security team and pay much closer attention to seating charts that don’t actually exist. It wouldn’t do for Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher to wind up at the same table, if we actually had tables.
So, with hopes of avoiding another showdown like Smith’s palm vs. Rock’s jaw, we give you the 10th annual Newby Awards, a look at everything from the wacky to the inspiring to the infuriating in the world of sports.
We’ve only got one request.
No slapping, please!
If you’ve ever played a video game and wondered if your craziest move would actually work in real time, we give you Ross Chastain.
The NASCAR driver was on the verge of missing a spot in the championship finale when he remembered racing stock cars on GameCube with his brother, Chad, as a kid.
Specifically, a move where you plastered the car against the outside wall, let go of the steering wheel and pushed the pedal to the floor.
It worked just like it did in the video game. Suddenly, on the final half-lap at the Martinsville short track, Chastain’s car looked as if it was turned up to hyper-speed while everyone else was poking along.
Going at least 50 mph faster than everyone else, he passed five cars in a matter of seconds to claim the final spot in the title race.
“Played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube with Chad growing up,” Chastain said. “I never knew if it would actually work.”
Alas, he didn’t go on to win the Cup championship. But Chastain will long be remembered for one of the most daring driving displays in NASCAR history.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
With his time as one of boxing’s most fearsome competitors behind him, Vitali Klitschko is taking on the toughest fight of his life.
Mayor of Kyiv.
The 51-year-old former heavyweight champion has showed his steely resolve while staring down a Russian invasion that has pummeled Ukraine and its capital city.
He never backed down with gloves on his hands. He shows that same resolve as a political leader, helping guide a major underdog.
“If I tried to explain to you all the challenges that I have, we (would) need weeks,” Klitschko told an Associated Press reporter last month.
This is what a true hero looks like.
OLYMPIC CHEATING CUP
The Russians have a stranglehold on this award, displaying absolutely no regard for doping rules that might stand in the way of Olympic glory.
At the Beijing Winter Games, they were at it again.
Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old figure skating phenom, tested positive for a banned substance but was still allowed to go for the gold.
It wound up being a disgraceful display. The sad little girl buckled under all the scrutiny and criticism, failing to win a medal in women’s singles.
While Valieva’s collapse was seen as a bit of karma by those who actually follow the rules, it doesn’t figure to dissuade the Russians and their nefarious quest for gold at the next Olympics.
CERTIFICATE OF DESPOT
We have a tie for this award.
FIFA was a lock after staging the World Cup in a Middle Eastern country that ignored human rights, mistreated migrant workers, had scant soccer history and was so hot in the summer they had to move the tournament to November and December.
Basically, FINA sent out an application with one requirement, “Show us the money!” Qatar did, and shamefully wound up with the world’s biggest sports(washing) event.
The fact that Argentina defeated France in perhaps the most thrilling final in tournament history doesn’t lessen the stench of where it was played.
But when it comes to greed, let’s not forget Phil Mickelson & Friends at LIV Golf, an upstart tour funded by a seemingly limitless supply of money from Saudi Arabia’s repressive rulers.
Lefty acknowledged that the Saudis were “scary,” but went to work for them anyway, bringing Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith and others along for the despicable ride.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Baseball can be a very tedious game.
Try telling that to the Savannah Bananas.
The barnstorming team based in Georgia’s historic coastal city has taken the country by storm, transforming the staid ol’ national pastime into something akin to the Harlem Globetrotters with bats and gloves.
Nonstop dance routines are performed by players and coaches. The Banana Baby is presented to the crowd like Simba in the “The Lion King.” One player takes the field on towering stilts. Others stroll through the stands, doling out roses and tossing T-shirts. Outs are counted when a fan catches a foul ball in the stands. Showboating is encouraged at every opportunity.
Somewhere in there is a baseball game, though it can’t go longer than two hours.
“We’re not in the baseball business. We’re in the entertainment business,” says Bananas owner Jesse Cole, who is always easy to spot in his yellow tuxedo.
IZZY APPRECIATION AWARD
Izzy, the ill-fated Atlanta Olympic mascot, could finally hold his computer-generated, bug-eyed blob of a head up high again after all these years.
When the 2024 Paris Games unveiled their mascots — a pair of French Revolution-era caps — Izzy was no longer the worst symbol in Olympic history.
When given his statuette, Izzy revealed a wry sense of humor.
“Whatizit?” he asked.
THE HUMAN FUND
For this prize, we’re making a donation to George Costanza’s made-up charity in honor of the sports figure who actually proved to be human in 2022.
And now, Brady is the quarterback of a middling Buccaneers squad that might just be the first of his amazing 23-year career to finish with a losing record.
He even lost to a team quarterbacked by someone named Brock Purdy, by the humiliating score of 35-7.
While we’re on the subject of Brady, we’d like to take a moment to strip his longtime former coach, Bill Belichick, of whatever genius awards he might have received over the years.
Sure, Belichick is closing in on becoming the winningest coach in NFL history.
But, on the final play of a tie game in Las Vegas, he apparently signed off on the ludicrous decision to recklessly toss the ball around like it was an offer to get in on cryptocurrency. The Raiders picked off a backward throw and stunningly took it the other way for the winning touchdown.
There have been plenty of highlights over Belichick’s long career.
This was undoubtedly as low as he’s ever gone.
With that, we’ll bring down the curtain on another Newby Awards.
Thankfully, it appears no one is leaving with a slap-print across the cheek.
Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org.
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