Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is an annual must-read. Given that the national recognition rarely has anything to do with the teams or individuals whom we cover. In turn, WFNY will soon announce its choice for 2013′s Cleveland Sportsman of the Year. Here’s one of the nominations for that honor by an WFNY writer.
This is America, so what’s better than a redemption story? With that in mind, there is no bigger redemption story in Cleveland this year than Josh Gordon’s. That’s why I’m making the case that he’s the 2013 Cleveland Sportsman of the Year.
Coming into the NFL, Josh Gordon was an abysmal risk for many reasons. It’s not good to be a journeyman in college. When your college career has a punchline like being caught asleep at a Taco Bell before the police find corresponding marijuana in your buddy’s car, it’s not a good sign. Then responding to that inevitable suspension by failing drug tests is when the warning flags turn into rocket-like flares blasted into the sky. Despite that, Tom Heckert and the Browns did their homework on Gordon and felt good about using a second-round pick in the 2012 supplemental draft.
As Heckert and company were in the organizational rearview mirror, their gamble couldn’t have looked any dumber. Yes, Gordon was entering his second season as a pro after catching 50 balls for over 800 yards and five touchdowns in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Yes, he was going to have a chance to shine under Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner’s more vertical attack. Again, the on-field abilities were secondary to other problems for Josh Gordon.
Come to find out that the kid who’d had many chances needed one more as he was suspended for failing a drug test allegedly involving codeine. Gordon blamed it on cough medicine, but almost nobody seemed to buy it. Most fans and media members seemed to think that the 21-year-old was about to become the latest Cleveland Browns tale of woe like Kellen Winslow’s motorcycle-induced knee injuries or the staph epidemic that plagued the team in prior years. How else could this story possibly go?
Let’s just say it’s gone well.
After serving his two-game suspension, Gordon exploded against Minnesota catching ten balls for 146 yards and a touchdown. He also ran once for 22 yards as the Browns notched their first win of the season. It was the first of seven games that Josh Gordon would notch more than 100 yards receiving, but that’s underselling the receiver. He went for over 200 yards twice in back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. He set the record for receiving yards in a game twice in a span of two games going for 237 against Pittsburgh before beating that with 261 against Jacksonville.
More than the cumulative stats, Josh Gordon has shown more big play ability in one season than most Browns fans have seen in the last decade. Gordon has long receptions of 47 yards, 74 yards, 80 yards and 95 yards on the season. Calvin Johnson’s been doing it for seven seasons and is the undoubted class of the NFL in terms of receiving, but Josh Gordon’s 1646 yards in just 14 games as a second-year pro puts him in that class, at least statistically.
There’s no guarantee going forward that Gordon will remain on the straight and narrow while also exceeding all expectations on the football field, but for this year, there’s no doubt he has. That’s why I think I can easily make the case that Josh Gordon is the sportsman of the year. He started in a negative place, fraught with trouble and distraction — from his suspension, to his night life and driving record — and kept it completely in the rear view mirror during 2013.