My Sportsman Pick: Drew Rosenhaus

Tom Brady shook off a 103-degree fever to lead the Patriots to victory in the AFC Championship last January at frigid Heinz Field. Kim Mulkey-Robertson restored pride and joy to Baylor’s bereaved basketball community by coaching the Lady Bears to an improbable NCAA hoops championship. Venus Williams revived a sibling rivalry and her sagging career by winning Wimbledon with power, grace and guts.

Yet as far as I can tell, there were only two truly heroic performances by prominent American sports figures in 2005, and both of them involved water and rescues. On the afternoon of July 19, agent Drew Rosenhaus performed CPR to resuscitate a 4-year-old Chicago boy who had been pulled unconscious from a pool at a Disney World resort hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. And on the night of Oct. 11, Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra dashed from his Charlestown, Mass. condominium and jumped into Boston Harbor to save a pair of women who had fallen into the frigid water.

To settle this draw between the stud shortstop and the silk-tie-wearing (self-described) shark, we’ll have to go to the obvious tiebreaker: Nomar gets to wake up each morning to Mia Hamm, while Rosenhaus rises to the shrill ring of one of his 18 cell phones, followed quickly by Terrell Owens screaming, “Yo, did you hear Muhsin Muhammad just hit one of his escalators, and now I’m only the EIGHTH-highest-paid receiver in football? Show me the money, baby!”

Granted, I know most people hold as much affection for Rosenhaus as you do a Port-A-Potty, and his incessant self-promotion — including the phone interviews he practically began doing between chest compressions as he saved the boy’s life — provokes feelings of disgust in many. It’s true that most of the agents I know regard Rosenhaus as the anti-Jerry Maguire, believing he cares only about himself and the contract numbers he can generate, and not at all about his clients’ overall welfare.

Even in light of his emergence as a lifesaver, I’m not suggesting he be considered for sainthood. But he did hold to his convictions on numerous occasions in 2005, even when his clients wouldn’t, and in retrospect he had his reasons. When the Packers’ Javon Walker, buckling in the face of criticism by Brett Favre and the rest of Cheesehead Nation, scrapped his plans for a holdout and returned to honor the final year of his ridiculously below-market contract, players around the NFL cringed. When, in the season opener, Walker went down with a torn ACL, severely jeopardizing the deep threat’s future earning potential, the three words that should have flashed on TV screens across America were, “Drew Was Right.”

Owens, too, flirted with the idea of a holdout, convinced — rightly or wrongly –that he was underpaid a year into a seven-year deal with the Eagles. When the team said it wouldn’t budge, he elected instead to show up and, on his celebrated strut from the Lehigh University parking lot, sample his new iPod. That left Rosenhaus the embarrassing role of walking beside him on the road to Bethlehem, playing Bundini Brown to T.O.’s Ali as reporters attempted to shout questions through the wideout’s cone of non-silence. You think that constitutes a good day at the office?

Rosenhaus and his client may have been greedy, but they also were dealing with an organization that reacted to halfback Brian Westbrook’s surprising weeklong holdout by signing him to a new deal three months later. By that time the whole T.O./Philly situation had imploded, as the agent might have predicted it would when the Philly brass played hardball back in the summer. Once again, it can be argued, T.O. would have been better served by holding out than by reporting with such obvious bitterness in his heart. In other words, like it or not, Drew Was Right.