In about an hour, Washington Nationals pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg will take the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates for his first career start. To call Strasburg a "prospect" is to not do him justice. If you're not a baseball fan, or just haven't heard of Stephen Strasburg, he is arguably the most hyped prospect in baseball history. Baseball has had its fair share of hyped prospects, but the ability of Strasburg combined with his development in the Internet era has him as hyped as any athlete in recent memory.
Why am I bringing this up on a football site? Well, the hype of Strasburg had me comparing it to #1 overall picks in the NFL. In running through the history of the #1 pick of the NFL Draft, there have certainly been some phenoms out there. The most recent is probably Michael Vick back in 2001. Prior to that, you'd probably have to go with Bo Jackson. There have been plenty of great prospects in between those two, but how many get that "phenom" status? Vick was expected to revolutionize the QB position, while Bo Jackson was an athletic freak of nature.
Nonetheless, it seems like the phenom label is most often applied in sports other than football. Football has "freaks" (see Randy Moss and Jevon Kearse), but not quite phenoms. The phenom label seems to be used more when dealing with sports that draft especially young players (baseball and basketball), or individual sports where age isn't much of an issue (golf and some Olympic sports).
I wonder how much of that has to do with the extensive television coverage of college football? While the coverage enables additional hype for players, when you don't get to see the player all that frequently, it seems like phenom status builds up even more. Imagine, for example, if we had very little footage of Michael Crabtree during his time at Texas Tech? In his freshman season, Crabtree caught 134 passes and 22 touchdowns. The extra coverage allowed people to break down weaknesses in his game and with that, his draft stock came down a bit.
I'm not saying Crabtree would have gotten the Strasburg treatment, but I wonder how much of the sort of "Paul Bunyan" treatment prior to his being drafted came from the fact that it's pretty hard to catch college baseball games on television. Again, prospects in every sport get hyped to a crazy degree, but something about baseball "phenoms" seems different to me. Feel free to disagree with me.