Who's Owner of the Year, Aceto or Mike? If you had asked me this five years ago when both of these owners couldn't even manage to send their lineups in successfully, I would have thought you were crazy - but hats off to both these owners as each did masterful things with their respective teams.
Let's start with Anthony...
Aceto's teams had extremely low expectations heading into 2004. The White Guys were my preseason choice to win the NFC West even though I had them ranked 9th in the preseason Power Rankings. The Refugees, on the other hand, were still one of the worst teams on paper the YFFL has come across in a long-long time. But a funny thing happened...
The White Guys kept on winning behind a cast of seasoned veterans and the Refugees took a proactive approach and began trading with an eye on the future. The White Guys breezed into the playoffs behind names that haven't been mentioned in years like Curtis Martin, Keyshawn Johnson, Muhsin Muhammad and Duce Staley. Finishing 10-3 and 4th in the Power Rankings was well above anyone's expectations.
Meanwhile the Refugees exceeded expectations as well, finishing 7-6 and 8th in the Power Rankings. Combined, Aceto's teams moved up 12 places in the Power Rankings, tops in the league. The Refugees will likely be the favorites in the AFC East next year as their opening day lineup could include: Ramsey, Jones, Bell, Walker, Heap and Vinatieri.
Aceto was also first in line in the "Drew Bledsoe Giveaway", a move that could hand Aceto Owner of the Year and Dugas, Bonor of the Year. The controversial Tatum Bell trade is beginning to appear like a good move on Aceto's part if Bell can stay healthy. Finally, Aceto dealt Bledsoe for a first-round draft pick in next-year's draft.
If you vote for Owner of the Year based on who did the most with the least than you likely voted for Anthony. Brian earned his Owner of the Year award on similar grounds last year when he took two teams with low expectations to the Conference Championships.
On to Mike...
Unlike Aceto, Mike had astronomical expectations heading into the season. There were even talks of an All-Mike Super Bowl. The Chickens dealt with the pressure well, becoming the first team to maintain the #1 ranking from start to finish. The Terrell Owens trade and drafting the ultimate sleeper Antonio Gates proved that Mike had all the right moves in 2004. The Buddies enjoyed similar success over in the AFC. Faced with injuries to almost every starter including Randy Moss, the Buddies remained focused and secured the Wild Card with a huge Week 12 win over the Merry Men.
Opponents of Mike for Owner of the Year argue that he had the most talent to begin with and didn't really have to make too many decisions. However, he was faced with a decision every week once Drew Brees emerged as a top fantasy quarterback. It seemed like every week when the "Fact or Fiction" email was sent out, I was faced with something along the lines of "Drew Brees should start for the Chickens". Mike handled the situation masterfully which is a great trait in an Owner of the Year candidate. Another decision that Mike made seemingly without hesitation was to cut the legendary Jerry Rice. How many of us questioned this at draft time. As it turns out, Mike made the right move as Jerry is only a small fraction of his former self. I saw Rice catch a TD a few weeks ago on Monday Night Football. He blatantly pushed off of the CB and even John Madden joked that "when you have 'Rice' on the back of your jersey, you're going to get the calls in your favor." Mike saw this decline in Rice's play before the season began and had the guts to cut the future Hall of Famer.
If you vote for Owner of the Year based on results then chances are Mike is your guy. He won more games than any other owner and was the only owner to get two teams in the playoffs. He started with a lot of talent, stayed focused and guided them both to the postseason.