Arguably the most important ESPY category, winning the award for Best Championship Performance solidifies your ability to come through in the clutch.
For some on the list (LeBron James) this means everything. He has been working towards coming through in the season’s biggest moment his entire career, and finally the monkey has been lifted.
For others (David Freese, Jonathan Quick) it was their chance to officially breakout onto the scene. They went from being unknowns to household names in the span of one series. They are the perfect example of the phrase “legends are made in the postseason."
But who had the most success under the bright lights this past year? Whose team would have failed without the performance of one man?
In a category with five incredibly worthy candidates, here are the power rankings for the Best Championship Performance.
There is no question Manning had an outstanding postseason, throwing for over 1,200 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception in four games.
Yet, his Super Bowl performance against the New England Patriots leaves something to be desired.
While throwing for 296 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions and completing 75 percent of his passes is outstanding; the team was only able to muster 21 points against one of the worst defenses in the league.
The rushing attack averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and was able to control the clock for large chunks of the game. The defense was the real MVP of this game against the prolific Patriots passing attack.
Eli was mistake-free in the big game, but there are far more deserving candidates on this list.
When you sign a 10-year contract after completing the postseason you know it was a good few months.
Quick was the proverbial “hot goalie” in the ’12 postseason, registering three shutouts and another seven games where he only allowed one goal.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, Quick kicked things up a notch allowing a mere seven goals in over 380 minutes of ice time.
There is no question the eighth-seeded Kings would have been bounced much earlier in the postseason without the incredible goaltending of Quick.
But he did get a tad sloppy by allowing five goals in a two-game stretch to give the New Jersey Devils life entering Game 6.
He may not have the fanfare of some of the others on this list, but what Stewart did to close out 2011 was miraculous.
“Smoke” entered the Chase in ninth place with little hope of leapfrogging eight other drivers with only 10 races to go.
He proceeded to win five of the 10 Chase races, including three of the final four. His most memorable performance was saved for last.
He essentially had to win the final race at Homestead to knockoff Carl Edwards, and he did just that. Stewart won the tiebreaker due to his five wins and the championship was all his.
After years of watching Jimmy Johnson cruise to Chase victories with ease, it was incredibly refreshing to watch Stewart pull off a comeback for the ages.
It’s hard to imagine James not winning this award.
After so many horrific performances in the NBA’s second season, James finally played his best with all of the chips on the table.
After shooting 11 for 24 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a loss, his critics (cough, Skip Bayless, cough) were having a field day.
They were convinced he didn’t have the “clutch gene” and his team was doomed because of it.
Four straight wins later and the Heat were champs and the monkey had finally been lifted off LeBron’s shoulders. For the series he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals in one of the all-time great performances on the NBA’s grandest stage.
James may have solidified the win in this category by putting up a triple double in the closeout Game 5, a performance that will forever be etched into the history books.
But he didn’t have the defining moment like my pick for the winner in this category.
Freese was on fire for the entire postseason.
He was named the NLCS Most Valuable Player and had a 13-game postseason win streak at one point. It matched the all-time National League record.
But he saved his best for the World Series.
In Game 6, with his team down three games to two against the Texas Rangers, Freese stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth representing the Cardinals final hope.
On a two-strike count he roped a two-run triple to send the game into extras where he would eventually hit the walk-off homer to send the series to a Game 7.
In Game 7 he knocked in an RBI double, giving him 21 in the postseason, a new MLB record.
His whole body of work in the 2011 postseason was legendary, but his heroics in Game 6 will go down as one of the most clutch performances of all time.
It was the signature moment in sports this past year, and Freese deserves the recognition for Best Championship Performance.