Dominating a sport is typically fickle.
That's what makes the reigns of Tiger Woods in golf and Roger Federer in tennis so amazing. For 237 consecutive weeks, Roger Federer was the world's No. 1 tennis player. Since then, he has returned to mere excellence with two quarterfinal performances in a row, his worst results in majors since 2003.
Meanwhile, it has been two years since Woods won a golf major. Tiger is a shell of his former golfing self; he didn't even qualify for this year's Ryder Cup. After years during which you were a fool to argue that anyone other than Tiger or Federer were the most dominant athlete in sports, the comparative decline of the duo means there's an opening at the top of the sporting dominance heap.
Who is, in fact, the most dominant athlete in his or her sport in America today?
First, a preliminary, in order to be the most dominant in all sports, you have to be the most dominant in your individual sport as well. This distinction sounds simple, but it rapidly shrinks the playing field.
Once you phrase it this way, how many sports even have one individual who is head and shoulders above everyone else?
Men's golf and tennis are out as options since Federer's and Woods' dominance has faded. Usain Bolt just lost to Tyson Gay in track. Serena Williams, while amazingly talented, remains, at times, indifferent to her sport. Lorena Ochoa, the top women's golfer, just retired at 28.
Plainly none of these sports or athletes in individual sports will suffice. Scan the team sports landscape and there are relatively few arguments to be made as well. In fact, when all the arguments for and against athletes are tallied, the most dominant athlete in sports today may shock you: Peyton Manning, the two-time defending league MVP, is the newest inheritor of the sporting crown.
I know, I know, there is an industry of Peyton Manning haters. They point to his failure to win multiple championships, the amorphous big-game loss. Of course, these critics define a "big game" as whichever game Manning happens to lose as opposed to the ones that he does win, a constantly shifting target of futility. But let me ask even these critics this question, place every NFL player into a pool and allow teams to name the player they would select first to play in an upcoming season. How many of the 32 NFL teams pick the Colts' quarterback?
Well over 25, right?
In fact, if you run down the roster of available players in other team sports you'll rapidly see that no one else is even close to dominating their sport in the same way. In fact, this article's analysis could go on forever and there's not a need to eliminate everyone from consideration here, but I'll give you a few top candidates in major sports and tell you why they don't match up.
If you gave every NBA team the opportunity to select one player for the upcoming season, Kobe, having polished off his second consecutive title with the Lakers, would garner a lot of support. But while Kobe might be the most successful in terms of titles, there is no way Kobe Bryant approaches the draft rate of Peyton Manning. Especially given the potential that Kobe has peaked as a player and, most strikingly, the fact that he would divide votes with LeBron James.
While LeBron may not have peaked in terms of his talent, how confident would your average NBA executive be selecting LeBron over Kobe Bryant, or, even, Kevin Durant? Unlike LeBron at least Manning has won a single title. What's more, in the wake of his disastrous decision, how many teams would take a flier on LeBron for one season, championship or bust? Wouldn't it entirely matter who his teammates were? Nope, LeBron and Kobe would split the majority of NBA team votes and no other player would approach their totals.
Baseball provides quite a few potential players, first among them presumably Albert Pujols. But is Pujols head and shoulders above every other player? In other words, could you put him on any team and make that team an immediate playoff contender? Would many teams go pitcher with their first overall pick? Maybe. Would Pujols be the top draft pick of more Major League teams than Manning would NFL teams?
So Pujols isn't as dominant in baseball as Manning is in football.
Similarly in hockey, given one season, most general managers would split between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Whoever was the secondary choice of NFL general managers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, would come in a distant second.
As you can see, assessing relative dominance isn't an easy argument to make. And many different arguments can be made. Including the misguided attempt of my colleague David Whitley to argue in favor of Jimmie Johnson. But given the options of golf, tennis, baseball, track, hockey, football and basketball, Manning is more dominant in his sport than any other player in theirs.
Coming off back-to-back MVP awards, something that has happened just three times in NFL history, Manning already has four MVPs in his career -- the most of all time -- and has won 12 or more regular season games in seven consecutive seasons. Manning also plays a position that is more important than any single position in any other team sport. And he does it better than anyone.
For the moment, that makes him the most dominant athlete in the world of sports.