Soon, one of the great secrets of our time, which athlete will be selected Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman or Sportswoman of the Year" will be revealed.
Let's handicap the field:
Lance Armstrong (2/1): C'mon, what does this guy have to do to win the award? Not only has he captured four consecutive Tour de France cycling races without the aid of performance enhancing drugs but also he's done it after defeating testicular cancer. Greg LeMond earned "Sportsman of the Year" accolades after winning three straight races through the Pyrennes and he did it with a full set of equipment.
Barry Bonds (5/2): Clearly the most dominant player in baseball, Bonds, who won a record fifth Most Valuable Player Award this year, led the Major Leagues in hitting with a .370 average while also establishing records for walks (198) and on-base percentage (.582).
Two things could work against the often-surly Bonds. First, the list of previous "Sportsman of the Year" award winners is replete with "good guys," athletes and coaches who are admired as much for their character as their accomplishments. Second, two baseball players, Arizona's Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling shared the award last year. What's more, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were co-winners in 1998. Will SI choose its third (or fifth, depending on how you're counting) baseball player in the last five years?
Serena Williams (8/1): No tennis player has won the award since Arthur Ashe in 1992 and no female tennis player since Chris Evert in 1976 so you could say one is overdue. The younger Williams sibling won three-quarters of the tennis Grand Slam, taking the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, not even dropping a set in the latter two. Perhaps the only reason she did not win the Grand Slam was because she was injured and unable to compete in the Australian Open, last January. But from February through November, Serena won eight titles and $3.9 million, or $1.6 million more than the top men's player, Lleyton Hewitt earned. Serena ended the year with a staggering 58-5 match record and the world's No. 1 ranking.
Annika Sorenstam (8/1): A year after shooting a round of 59, Sorenstam again was a commanding figure on the LPGA Tour, amassing 11 victories in 23 starts and 13 wins in 25 outings overall. Her $2.8 million in earnings outdistanced second place Se Ri Pak by more than $1.2 million and her average four-round score of 68.70 was a full shot better than her nearest competitor.
Michael Schumacher (10/1): So dominant was Schumacher on the Formula One circuit that he wrapped up his fifth World Driving Championship after only 11 of 17 races had been run. Schumacher, who counting endorsements is the world's highest paid athlete, won a record 11 races on the F-1 circuit. He also had five runner-up finishes and one third during a season in which the Ferrari driver became the sport's all-time leading winner.
Jackie Stewart, who won in 1973, is the only auto racer to ever win the award.
Phil Jackson (15/1): Nine NBA titles places the Zen master in the pantheon of coaches. Not only is Jackson successful but he's also just quirky enough to make for an interesting piece by Sports Illustrated.
Shaquille O'Neal (25/1): Well, yes, Shaq did win his third straight Finals MVP trophy in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their third consecutive NBA Championship. But the most unstoppable force in basketball wasn't even voted his league's regular season's Most Valuable Player, an honor that went to San Antonio's Tim Duncan.
Tom Brady (30/1): Brady's rags to Super Bowl riches story is a good one but one wonders if Sports Illustrated will name Brady the first football player since Joe Montana in 1990 to win the award.
Tiger Woods (40/1): Ho hum, Woods only won two Majors and six of 19 starts in 2002, spectacular numbers for any other golfer but off Woods' 2000 performance when he won "Sportsman of the Year" honors. Yes, of course he also led the PGA Tour in its two most important categories, earnings and lowest stroke average. But for one of the few times in his professional career, you have to consider Woods a longshot.
Ronaldo (50/1): Well, he will get the soccer-crazed Brazilian vote.
Other (8/1): Sports Illustrated has come up with its share of unconventional choices over the years, including the 1999 US Women's World Cup soccer team in 1999; the 1980 US Olympic hockey team; and non-players such as coaches Dean Smith (1997), Don Shula (1993), Joe Paterno (1986) and John Wooden (1972). NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle won the award in 1963.