USWNT’s Morgan, Giants’ Barkley win at ESPYS

Alex Morgan of the World Cup champion U.S. women’s national soccer team earned the ESPY for best female athlete Wednesday night at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, joking that it was the second-best trophy she has earned this week.

Overall women’s World Cup Alpine skiing champion Mikaela Shiffrin, Breanna Stewart of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and gymnast Simone Biles were the other nominees.

“I think about the greats that have won this award in the past, and I’m just so honored to follow in their amazing footsteps,” Morgan said after receiving her award Wednesday night. “They not only won championships and countless records but were an inspiration to so many, including me, as I dreamed of playing the sport that I love. As athletes we try to surround ourselves with the best people to help lift us up and to help make this journey possible and I’m so fortunate to have that in my life.”

Morgan set the tone for the World Cup champions when she scored five goals in the team’s tournament-opening 13-0 win over Thailand.

Morgan shook off critics who claimed she and her teammates celebrated goals excessively and continued celebrating all the way to the championship.

Wednesday’s ceremony, which was hosted by comedian Tracy Morgan, marked the 27th edition of The ESPYS. The V Foundation for Cancer Research has been synonymous with the show since the late Jim Valvano announced its beginning during a memorable speech at the 1993 ceremony.

It was announced Wednesday that the V Foundation has raised more than $100 million for cancer research since its inception.

Best Breakthrough Athlete

Saquon Barkley, who finished second in the NFL with 1,307 rushing yards as a rookie with the New York Giants, earned the ESPY for best breakthrough athlete.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich, the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young and tennis player Naomi Osaka, the reigning women’s singles champion at the US Open and the Australian Open, were the other nominees.

“I want to say thank you to God for blessing me with the opportunity to wake up every single day and play the sport I love and have impact on others,” Barkley said upon receiving the award. “I want to say thank you to the Giants organization for drafting me and taking a chance on me. I wouldn’t be able to play the sport I love without you guys also.”

Barkley was named the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by The Associated Press and also won the fan voting for the Pepsi Rookie of the Year.

Barkley also had a team-high 91 receptions — an NFL record for a rookie running back — for 721 yards, and his 2,028 yards from scrimmage led the league.

He was the third rookie in NFL history to have 2,000 scrimmage yards, joining Eric Dickerson in 1983 and Edgerrin James in 1999.

His six rushes of 50-plus yards this season were the most by a Giants player in a season since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Best Record-Breaking Performance

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees received the ESPY for best record-breaking performance for becoming the NFL’s all-time leading passer.

He won the award over Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, who became women’s basketball’s all-time leader in triple doubles; Golden State’s Klay Thompson, who set the record for 3-pointers in a game with 14; and Matthew Boling, who set the high-school record in the 100 meters.

Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record of 71,940 career passing yards with a 62-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the second quarter of a 43-19 win over the Washington Redskins in October.

The game was one of the best performances of his 18-year career, as Brees completed 23 of 26 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. His completion percentage of 89.7 was a career best.

Brees is the unlikeliest of all-time great quarterbacks — just 6 feet tall, barely recruited out of high school, he fell to the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the NFL draft out of Purdue in 2001 and was doubted by most of the league when he became a free agent after a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2005.

Best Play

Katelyn Ohashi’s star-making floor exercise routine in January, which earned her a perfect 10.0 score and went instantly viral, won the ESPY for Best Play.

Ohashi, 21, electrified the crowd — and the judges — at the 2019 Collegiate Challenge with her routine, which amassed nearly 100 million views on YouTube.

Ohashi topped the Miami Dolphins’ “Miami Miracle” that downed the New England Patriots, Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry’s record-setting 99-yard touchdown run.

Pat Tillman Award

Former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Kirstie Ennis, an athlete for most her life before suffering severe injuries in a helicopter crash while on active duty in Afghanistan, received the Pat Tillman Award for Service.

Ennis, who had more than three dozen surgeries, including the amputation of her left leg above the knee, after suffering facial trauma, a traumatic brain injury, cervical and lumbar spine trauma, and bilateral shoulder damage in the 2012 crash, turned to sports during her recovery. She has won three gold medals in swimming at the Warrior Games, but competitions are only part of her story.

She has also walked 1,000 miles across Britain, and has reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Carstensz, Mount Elbrus and Aconcagua in her attempt to become the first female above-the-knee amputee to summit all seven of the world’s highest peaks.

“I started my mission because I didn’t have the role model I needed or wanted while I was in the hospital,” Ennis said in her acceptance speech. “Now when I don’t have the fight within to put one foot in front of the other, I remind myself of the people who may be watching. The young ones who need a pillar of hope, the men and women who may need inspiration to keep going, and the nonbelievers waiting for me to prove them wrong. I’m one of the lucky ones who came home. Broken, but I’m still here, and I still can. So I will continue every day for those who can’t.”

The award is named after former NFL linebacker and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who died during active service in Afghanistan after he returned to the military following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Jimmy V Award

High school football coach Rob Mendez, who was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder that caused him to be born without arms or legs, was the recipient of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.

Mendez, who developed a passion for football at an early age and taught himself the fundamentals of football using the Madden video games, spent 12 years as an assistant coach for various programs.

In 2018, he was hired as a head coach for the junior varsity football team at Prospect High School in Saratoga, California. In his first season, he led his team to an 8-2 record and narrowly lost the league championship game 3-0.

“It’s honestly been hard for me to fathom receiving this award, being recognized alongside heroes of mine like Coach Valvano, Stuart Scott, Jim Kelly and so many others,” Mendez said in his acceptance speech. “But the reality is that I am here. And if there’s any message that I want to give to you tonight, it’s to look at me and see how much passion I put into coaching, and how far it’s gotten me. When you dedicate yourself to something and open your mind to different possibilities, and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do, you really can go places in this world.”

Among the other notable winners:

Best NFL Player: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Best MLB Player: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

Best NHL Player: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Best College Athlete: Zion Williamson, Duke

Best Coach: Jim Calhoun

Best WNBA Player: Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm

Best Male Golfer: Brooks Koepka

Best Female Golfer: Brooke Henderson

Best Female Tennis Player: Serena Williams

Best Male Tennis Player: Roger Federer

Best Driver: Kyle Busch

Best International Women’s Soccer Player: Sam Kerr

Best International Men’s Soccer Player: Lionel Messi

Best MLS Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Best MMA Fighter: Daniel Cormier

Best Upset: Andy Ruiz Jr. defeats Anthony Joshua

Best Comeback: St. Louis Blues

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