Lead Sports Figures with Most at Stake in 2010: Manny Pacquiao and Rafael Nadal
A new year marks a new start for everyone, and there are 10 athletes who are especially in need of a fresh chance.
Some are redeeming themselves for off-the-field mistakes, others are looking for bounce-back performances. Whether it's injuries, scandals, or bad decisions, all of the people on this list had rough 2009s and need to be better this year.
The best way to put the past behind is get back to the top. Here's a look at the 10 sports figures who need to prove themselves the most.
10. John Lackey
He missed six weeks of 2008. He finished with an 11-8 regular season and 1-1 playoff record last year. He just signed with Boston for $82.5 million over five years. Now he needs to prove to the fans in Beantown that the money was well-spent.
9. Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan and the U.S. have a lot to prove in the upcoming World Cup. Maybe Donovan's 10-week tune-up in England will help.
8. Peyton Manning
He has a Super Bowl ring. His team flirted with perfection this past season. What else does he have to prove? Well, how about earning another ring? How about proving that he can have as much jewelry as Tom Brady?
7. Bill Belichick
Yeah, his Patriots are back in the playoffs. Yeah, they are always dangerous. But they aren't the same Pats as the dynasty era. After Spygate and the failure on 4th-and-2, his decisions look suspect at times. He's no longer invincible, and the NFL knows it.
6. Lovie Smith
The Chicago Bears kept him for his seventh year, despite three straight playoff-less seasons. He'll be getting new coordinators on each side of the ball. He has a .500 team that some believe has playoff potential. If the Bears are playing golf in early January 2011, Lovie will no longer be employed.
5. Jay Cutler
Cutler came to the Bears in a much-ballyhooed trade last April. He ended up throwing 26 interceptions. Sure, he wasn't helped by a sub-par offensive line, an inconsistent running game, and a young receiving corps, but if he wants to stop being derisively being referred to as "Rex Cutler," he must get better.
4. Tim Tebow
Sure, Tebow has the credentials as one of the best college quarterbacks ever. But he doesn't yet have the NFL credentials, and many observers don't think he can be a front-line NFL player. It'll be up to him to prove them wrong.
3. Tiger Woods
Surprised he's not No. 1? Well, he would be, except he's already proven most of what he needed to prove on the golf course—it's off the course where he needs to prove that he's living a better life. Sure, he'll need to prove he can still play if he returns in 2010—but that's reason two why he isn't higher on the list. We don't even know if he WILL return in 2010.
2. Rafael Nadal
He may be No. 2 in the world, but his loss at the French Open was shocking. He also fell in the semis at the U.S. Open and dealt with tendinitis in both of his knees. If he can bounce back at the French and go further at the U.S. Open, he may be able to prove he's healthy.
1. Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao's stature continues to rise, and if he can beat Floyd Mayweather—if the fight even happens—it could cement his position as one of modern boxing's greatest fighters.