Writers' picks usher in a few surprises

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   A while back I thought it might be interesting to see what the readers of the STAR actually liked and disliked about our sports coverage by making a survey of some of their favorites. The problem with that is it's usually so difficult to get mass reader participation.
   On the other hand, if I posed the same questions to those of us on the staff, I knew they would be more cooperative as I could personally bug each of them until they filled out the survey.
   Participating in the poll were all the current staff and two of our friends, Allen LaMountain and Travis Brown, who recently left the newspaper.
   The first question I posed was what is your favorite sport to attend? The choices were between high school athletics, UT football, ETSU basketball, a major race at Bristol, Minor League Baseball or other.
   It was a good reflection of our paper's emphasis on sports as four of the eight writers picked high school football, Matt Hill picked high school basketball, the Birchfield brothers each chose a major race and Ivan Sanders picked UT football.
   The second question involved your favorite sport to watch on television. The choices were between the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, major NCAA games, the PGA Tour or other. It validated what is widely reported that the NFL is far and away America's favorite TV sport, with NASCAR second.
   Four of the writers went with pro football, two chose NASCAR, one showed a preference for college sports and one picked tennis.
   Tennis was actually listed on our next question, where the writers ranked 1-12 sports they most like to watch that don't always muster high ratings.
   The choices were in alphabetical order - Amateur Wresting, Billiards, Bowling, Boxing, Bullriding, Extreme Sports, Gymnastics, Indy Car Racing, Soccer, Tennis, Track & Field and Winter Olympic Sports.
   Boxing dominated this category, with four of the eight taking the sweet science. Tennis ranked second with two votes, I chose Indy Car racing, and Ivan picked the PBR Bullriding tour.
   The fourth question was a choice between are you a bigger fan of the Tennessee football Volunteers or Tennessee Titans. Despite the popularity of NFL football, the Vols are still the choice of the scribes by a margin of 6-2.
   The next few questions were intended to be more about opinion than personal like or dislike. I listed a scale from one to five to rank America's Greatest Sporting Venue.
   The choices were Augusta National (Home of the Masters), Churchill Downs (Home of the Kentucky Derby), Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Rose Bowl, Yankee Stadium or other.
   I have to say a couple on the staff correctly pointed out to me that I had left off another arena that should have been mentioned, Madison Square Garden.
   The number one votes went as follows: Four for Yankee Stadium, one for Augusta National, one for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one for the Rose Bowl and a write-in vote for the U.S.T.A. National Tennis Center. Another write-in vote that got a No. 5 ranking was Lambeau Field (home of the Green Bay Packers).
   The next question posed, 'What is the most prestigious title to hold in sports?' The options were World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Super Bowl Champion, World Series Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist or other.
   Football again proved its favor, with half choosing Super Bowl champion as the greatest title in sports you can achieve. Two of the other picks reflected some of our ages with Ivan going with the World Series Champ and myself choosing the World Heavyweight Boxing title. One curve ball was a writer listing Daytona 500 champion, and one kept consistent with his tennis theme by writing in Wimbeldon champion.
   The next question was a pick of the all-time greatest athlete, with the choices between Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe or other.
   The writers were appreciative of the all-around greatness of Thorpe, who received three votes. Ali received one, one chose undefeated heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano, Wayne Gretzky was the choice of sports editor Jamie Combs, another went with baseball Ironman Cal Ripken, Jr. and the other kept pushing the tennis button by naming Rod Laver.
   The next set of questions were all personal favorites, with the choices of favorite pro baseball team, basketball team, football team, current athlete and all-time favorite athlete.
   Jamie grew up a fan of teams from L.A., with the Dodgers, Lakers and formerly L.A.-based Rams as his favorite teams. Rams receiver Issac Bruce made his list as current athlete and former Rams Super Bowl QB Vince Ferragamo ranked as his all-time favorite.
   Being from Connecticut in the shadows of the Big Apple, Allen's picks had a New York flavor. The Yankees, Knicks and Jets all topped his lists with Jets QB Chad Pennington the favorite current athlete and Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson as his all-time favorite.
   Travis was more geographically diverse with the Braves, Celtics and Bears. Brusing Tampa fullback Mike Alstott was his current athlete choice and former Brave Dale Murphy ranked No. 1 all-time.
   Matt shared his choice of the Bears, but went with the Cubs and Grizzlies as baseball and basketball favorites. Jennifer Capriati is the current athlete he most enjoys watching and the Bears' great RB Walter Payton had the honor of being his all-time pick.
   Wes stated a preference of the Yankees, Kings and Colts. This former footballer showed he likes quarterbacks as favorites with Peyton Manning being the top current athlete and Joe Montana, his all-time best.
   Ivan reflected the popular region view with the Braves and Titans, but the Mavericks were listed as his basketball pick. For athletes, he went with Braves pitcher John Smoltz as the current favorite and threw in a second Dale Murphy vote for all-time favorite.
   Marvin chose the Cardinals on the diamond and the Raiders on the gridiron. He refused a favorite NBA team, going instead with his college favorite, Louisville, and the explanation that the league lost its prestige when Dr. J., Magic and Bird all retired.
   For athlete, he picked four-time NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon and listed Steve Spurrier as all-time favorite, more however as a coach than athlete.
   Finally, my personal picks included the Cardinals baseball team, the Magic on the hardwood and the Panthers on the football field. I didn't pick a NASCAR driver as a favorite current athlete since I cover the sport both here and in other publications and try to remain impartial.
   Instead I went with Jazz forward Karl Malone. For all-time favorite that was different, as I had to go with former Winston Cup champ Bobby Allison.
   I have to say on the whole the writers were fair and balanced. Take for example the majority didn't go strictly with his favorite sport. Travis voted for the Brickyard as the nation's top sports venue, while I opted for Augusta National.
   With the one question, I was surprised how popular boxing remains, with it either No. 1 or No. 2 on all but one scorecard.
   For me, it was fun having everyone participate and going through the picks.
   Hopefully we can post the questionaire on our website sometime in the near future and let each of you fill out your own favorites.