Originally created 12/25/05

Jack towered above the rest

Charitable activism prompted Time magazine to tap U2 rocker Bono and Microsoft's first family of Bill and Melinda Gates as its Persons of the Year.

Charismatic athleticism (not to mention a third Super Bowl ring in four years) prompted Sports Illustrated to select Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as its Sportsman of the Year.

Christmas early-deadline-ism has prompted me to jump on the bandwagon and initiate the inaugural Augusta Chronicle Sports Columnist Subject of the Year award.

The four-step qualification criteria are straight forward.

First, I have to have written a column about the subject in the past 12 months.

Second, I have to remember that I wrote a column about the subject.

Third, I have to think the subject isn't a jerk.

Fourth, I have to pick the winner without any external input like balloting or reader surveys.

There were certainly plenty of qualified candidates in 2005, and every one of them deserves an honorable mention.

- On the high school front, there was Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell leading his team from an 0-3 start to a state championship over Washington-Wilkes in one of the most memorable title showdowns the region will ever see. There was long-time Hephzibah girls basketball coach Wendell Lofton finally winning a state championship as he closes in on his 600th career victory.

- On the pro teams front, there was the Braves quartet of manager Bobby Cox, pitcher John Smoltz, all-star Andruw Jones and rookie Jeff Francoeur doing their respective parts to bring home a 14th consecutive division title. There were Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn carrying the Falcons to the brink of a Super Bowl and potentially the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. There was former Blackville-Hilda star Troy Brown being the kind of team player that Terrell Owens is not to contribute to another Patriots Super Bowl win. There were local prep products Carlos Rogers and Troy Williamson becoming the first top-10 NFL Draft tandem in area history.

- On the college front, there was Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley getting his due respect after three years of apprenticeship. There was Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt taking another step closer to being considered the greatest coach in Georgia history. There was Steve Spurrier making an immediate and refreshing

impact on South Carolina's football program. There was Georgia winning a Peach State-saturated NCAA golf title and reloading with the likes of Walker Cupper Brian Harman and Richmond Academy ace Michael Green.

- On the minor-league front, there was baseball's ironman Cal Ripken Jr. buying and breathing new life into the Augusta GreenJackets.

- On the international scale, there was Lance Armstrong announcing his retirement in Augusta and later winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France.

- On the golf front, there was Tiger Woods reasserting his world dominance with major victories in the Masters Tournament and British Open. There was Chris DiMarco becoming a star with his gritty Masters challenge and his clutch Presidents Cup heroics.

There was Michelle Wie threatening to break the gender barrier in the Masters before turning pro on a Tiger-esque scale.

There was local golfer Vaughn Taylor winning his second PGA Tour event and securing his first Masters invitation. There was another local pro, John Engler, completing his three-year comeback from a catastrophic car crash to earn his PGA Tour card.

All were wonderfully worthy subjects in 2005. There was only one sports figure, however, whose year-long story blended tragedy, triumph, sportsmanship and nostalgia in such unforgettable and moving fashion that his candidacy is almost unfair. When you can elicit tears in three different venues for three different reasons, you're lapping the field.

First he tore at our heartstrings as he dealt with the death of his 17-month-old grandson. Then he quietly bid farewell to the Masters where his mastery is yet unequaled.Then he exited the major championship stage at the home of golf, walking off into the sunset at St. Andrews with his arm around the son still aching from tragedy. Then he inspired his team of Americans to a stirring victory in the Presidents Cup.

Then he received the nation's highest civilian honor from the President of the United States.

Oh yeah, he also opened a new golf course in Evans that he built with a couple of his legendary friends.

Jack Nicklaus is arguably the most decent athlete ever to be called the greatest of his chosen sport. As he has done throughout his career, Nicklaus gave us all one more lesson on how to gracefully balance family, career and fame.

For that, Jack Nicklaus is the unanimous choice of one to be the 2005 ACSC Subject of the Year. Since he's already the subject of a lifetime, it was a pretty easy decision.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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