Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
This decade has brought us some amazing moments in the NFL, many of which have been captured during ESPN.com's all-decade week. And if something remarkable happens in '09 (such as the Lions making the playoffs), we reserve the right to amend some of our results.
So far, you've read about the all-decade defensive and offensive teams for the years beginning with 2000 and ending with the '08 season. I spent a good portion of the NFL owners' meeting and my subsequent vacation trying to identify some of the most memorable characters and moments from the decade.
After consulting with coaches, scouts, media guides and fellow bloggers, I've compiled a list of things that stood out over a nine-year period. Please act responsibly as we continue to celebrate ESPN.com's all-decade week -- otherwise known as a blogger's summer oasis.
Play of the decade: In Super Bowl XLII, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning appeared to be going down for a sack late in the fourth quarter when he somehow escaped and hurled the ball in the general direction of reserve wide receiver David Tyree. Even with Rodney Harrison ripping at him, Tyree somehow trapped the ball against his helmet and came down with it. It was one of the greatest plays in league history -- and it gave Tyree the basis for his first book. There were a lot of memorable plays in the decade, but nothing could match the Manning-to-Tyree special.
Personnel man of the decade: Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian is ranked pretty high, but everyone you talk to across the league mentions Scott Pioli first. Now the GM for the Kansas City Chiefs, Pioli joined Bill Belichick in building the team of the decade, the New England Patriots. According to one longtime scout, "No one in the league does a better job of scouting their own team, and Pioli was orchestrating all of that."
The Patriots have had the magic touch when it comes to reclamation projects such as Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. But much like the Baltimore Ravens, they always seem to know when it's time to say goodbye to a player. Pioli has a keen eye when it comes to projecting players in Belichick's defense. Now we'll see what he can do with the Chiefs.
Scandal of the decade: Let's stay with the Patriots on this one. The Michael Vick dogfighting story was stunning, but Spygate was bigger because it threatened the integrity of the league. There were so many different layers to the story and it cast doubt on a head coach and his team's remarkable run. Belichick is still regarded as the mad genius in New England, but his violation of league rules will have a lasting impact on his legacy -- unless you're a Patriots fan.
officiating call: We know what San Diego Chargers fans are thinking, but when thinking back over the decade, the "tuck rule game" has to be the signature call. It was Jan. 19, 2002, and it appeared Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson had just sealed a trip to the AFC title game by sacking Tom Brady and knocking the ball loose. Instead, Brady's fumble was overturned because of the little-known "tuck rule," which was quietly enacted in 1999. The rule still doesn't make a lot of sense. But it helped launch the Patriots' dynasty. Anyone remember New England's starting wide receivers in the game? That's right, David Patten and Troy Brown.
Best owner: Sort of hard not to give it to Patriots owner Bob Kraft, but let's give a lifetime achievement award to Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Dan Rooney. After all these years, he's still perhaps the most respected voice in the room. But Kraft wins the all-decade award. He brought a fan's perspective to ownership, and that's what breathed life into the franchise. And he gave Belichick another head-coaching opportunity after a failed stint with the Cleveland Browns.
Best NFL commercial: Since Peyton Manning starred in 82.7 percent of all NFL commercials, it's hard to pass him over. His work for MasterCard stands above the rest. The one where he's doing some yoga with Brian Urlacher and Michael Strahan has stood the test of time -- at least in our minds.
Most prolific locks: The faux-hawk tried to make a comeback, but Troy Polamalu may be the most identifiable player in uniform because of his unwieldy look. Polamalu achieved it by not getting his hair cut this decade.
Funniest player: The NFL doesn't really have an answer to Charles Barkley, although Clinton Portis had a nice run a few years ago when he came up with several alter egos. Let's give it to one of Portis' teammates, tight end Chris Cooley. Occasionally he crosses the line (accidentally publishing a picture of his manhood on The Cooley Zone blog), but he's consistently funny. Still love that he walked out to midfield a couple of years ago and introduced himself to the opposing captains as "Captain Chaos." There's not enough of that type stuff going around.
Best touchdown celebration: Terrell Owens and Moss had their moments, but Chad Ochocinco is by far the best. He has played golf with the pylon (no longer allowed) and he has donned a replica Hall of Fame coat after a touchdown on "Monday Night Football."
Best first-down celebration: No one celebrates a new set of downs like Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams. He takes the ball and delivers an emphatic first-down signal. It's not as good as Ed Hochuli's "Guns of Navarone" approach, but Williams doesn't hold anything back.
The most troubled player award: Adam "Pacman" Jones became the poster child for Roger Goodell's tough stance on player (mis)conduct. Pacman is an "Outside the Lines" report waiting to happen.
Most feared player: Until the horse-collar rule put him out of business, former Cowboys safety Roy Williams was well on his way to winning this title. But his descent into mediocrity was steep. Rodney Harrison of the Patriots wins the award. He was regarded as a dirty player by some, but his presence definitely made receivers think twice about going across the middle. John Lynch was a feared player early in the decade, but Harrison eventually surpassed him. James Harrison is closing fast as we prepare to close the books on the decade.
Best assistant coach: It's a tie between two elder statesmen, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. We're all pulling for Johnson as he battles cancer. He's been remarkably consistent over the years and I put him and LeBeau just barely ahead of former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.