Seleem El Banhawi doesn't want to be rude. He truly does appreciate The Magazine inviting him and 168,006 other fans to voice their opinions regarding who's NEXT. But the 14-year-old student and sports junkie from Cairo, Egypt, believes we tend to overthink the concept.
NEXT is about a lot of things: it's about change and transcendence, youth and hope, winning and losing. It's about embracing the unstoppable force of the future. But the one thing NEXT should never be is difficult. It should be pure. It should be easy. It should be obvious.
And it is, at least to a teenager halfway around the world, as well as a large number of his fellow SportsNation citizens who voted on espn.com. More than 36% of them picked Vince Young over Reggie Bush and Sidney Crosby (see box). "I chose Vince Young," Seleem writes in an e-mail. "Not for his origin or his race. I chose him because he is an extraordinary athlete. Seeing him collect 467 yards as a quarterback was perhaps the most amazing national title appearance in history."
Of course, there are those who disagree. According to some readers, NEXT is: Ultimate Frisbee (Alex, Portland); women's rugby (Steph, Providence); lacrosse (Fred, location unknown); the dominance of Rutgers University football (Chris, Hackettstown, N.J.); Denise Dahlberg, the catcher for the Texas Thunder of the National Pro Fastpitch League, who has an arm like a cannon and a face like a goddess because wouldn't you rather watch women running around in tight pants than men? (Jordan, Dayton); Dallas Lauderdale, a sophomore at Ohio's Solon High who has a buttery J (Tim, Solon, Ohio); or some guy named Derek who proclaims simply yet proudly, "It's me. I'm NEXT."
Still, with apologies to Derek, nothing resonated across SportsNation more than Young's performance in leading Texas over USC for the national title. Whether it's Seleem in Egypt, or Jack Campbell, a 28-year-old expectant father and construction worker in Harrisonburg, Va., or 15-year-old Ryan Davis, a baseball player for Chandler (Ariz.) High, most of the voters had just one question when asked to compare Young with Bush: um, did someone at The Mag forget to TiVo the Rose Bowl? Or, as Seleem calls it, "the Rise Bowl," a slip of the tongue (or thumb) that may just be the perfect way to describe the game that launched Young's Q rating into the stratosphere. "It was something I will be telling my kids about years from now," echoes a not completely unbiased Richard Luna, a UT student.
In an era when sports is increasingly overrun by fantasy geeks, stat dorks, capologists and loudmouthed gurus of one kind or another, The Mag has always challenged fans and readers to look beyond the numbers, the headlines, the obvious. This time, you told us not to.
By the thousands, you implored us to recognize that the 6'5", 233-pound Young possesses a unique combination of physical gifts, competitive fire and clutch decision-making skills; that his mind is as fast as his feet; that he went 30-2 as a college starter; that he outgained Bush by 290 yards and three scores in the biggest college football game of the century. By the thousands, you told us not to give too much credence to the old-boy network of NFL coaches, GMs and scouts whose pulses race when Bush swivels his hips. And by the thousands you said, "Do us a favor. Go back and watch the damn national championship game again."
In that game, who carried his teammates to heights they could not dream of on their own? Who shocked the sporting world? Who was as unstoppable and inevitable as the future itself?
"It was Vince Young," Seleem concludes. "And it was obvious."