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ESPYs review: Danica Patrick's spinout, Aaron Rodgers' mustache, Jim Kelly's words and more

Poor Danica Patrick.

One crash is usually all it takes to end her day. As host of the ESPY Awards on ABC Wednesday, the former racer had to keep going as joke after joke fell apart on impact — and without so much as a helmet to protect her.

Digs at Cleveland, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve’s height, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s hair and the U.S. men’s soccer team not qualifying for the World Cup were sophomoric. A joke about the 76ers’ Ben Simmons dating Kendall Jenner approached mediocrity.

But Patrick truly lost her way venturing into edgier material.

“We have to mention the elephant in the room. It’s time to talk about the national anthem controversy,” Patrick said, then showing a picture of singer Fergie during her strained rendition at the NBA All-Star Game. “I don’t know what Fergie was thinking either.”

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long could be seen in the audience saying, “That was bad.”

Long later tweeted he meant Fergie’s All-Star performance, not Patrick’s joke.

Why not both?

READ: Danica Patrick, who grew up a Bears fan, is now ‘the biggest Packers fan,’ thanks to boyfriend Aaron Rodgers »

Another Patrick spinout: “Villanova won their second national (college basketball) championship in three years, which is really amazing and surprising because Catholic schools usually forbid students from going all the way.”

Cut again to the audience. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino appeared, er, stoic.

Part of it was Patrick’s unsteady delivery. She referred to just-signed Laker LeBron James as “the newest Los Angeles transplant.” Then she haltingly added: “ ‘Los Angeles transplant’ is also what he Googles when he needs new hair.”

It was less a punch line than a setup for a couple of mildly better lines.

“LeBron, when he hosted (the ESPYs), he made fun of me too,” she said. “I’d say we're even. J.R. Smith would say we're up by one. ... It’s sad when you have 100 tattoos, and none of them are your biggest mistake.”

It wasn’t all mistakes for Patrick.

With a picture behind her of hockey star Alex Ovechkin celebrating his CapitalsStanley Cup victory, Patrick said, “I haven’t seen a Russian this pleased with Washington since … ”

“… two days ago,” Patrick continued as the image changed to that of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Patrick noted the attention Tiger Woods is getting as he attempts to resurrect his career.

“Why do people keep talking about this guy when he isn’t winning?” said the retired driver whose single career IndyCar circuit win came in Japan. “Who does he think he is? Me?”

Self-deprecation only buys so much goodwill. At least she was able to walk away when it was over.

Question of the night: Do we think producers of ESPN’s celebration at least occasionally used a laugh track to sweeten the audio during Patrick’s monologue or were there off-camera people in attendance actually guffawing at times as if attending a “Mr. Belvedere” taping?

Best (shortest) sketch: Patrick, decked out in a Daenerys Targaryen costume including blonde wig, announced there was no time for a “Game of Thrones” sketch, and similarly attired basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shouted from the aisle an anguished, “Nooooooooo!”

Patrick looked toward boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, in the audience, and slyly said, “Babe, I’m definitely taking this whole thing, getup thing, home tonight so ...”

Aaron on the side of caution: Despite frequent cutaways to Rodgers, the Packers quarterback, who met Patrick at the 2012 ESPYs and has been with her since January, figured prominently in only one bit.

That was a takeoff on the movie “I, Tonya” called “Me, Danica.” Patrick was game, playing a trashy Tonya Harding-esque version of herself as well as an abusive mother.

Nothing in it, however, was funnier than Rodgers’ mustache.

Just kid-ding: A bit with Patrick supposedly mentoring a youngster to someday host awards shows was an excuse to trot out mentions of O.J. Simpson and Papa John. Yeah. Exactly.

Words to live by: Fighting cancer, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, winner of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, challenged viewers to be agents of change.

“Make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow,” Kelly said. “I just urge everybody out there, if you have somebody out there who is suffering — it doesn’t have to be cancer — it could be somebody not having a good day. It could be your mom or your dad. It could be your grandparents. What you say to them, the smile that you have on your face, that could be the difference in them making it to the next day. Remember that.”

Words to live by, part II: “Know your neighbor, love your neighbor, help your neighbor,” former Wisconsin Badgers football player and Marine Sgt. Jake Wood, founder of Team Rubicon, a veterans’ disaster relief organization, winner of the Pat Tillman Service Award. “Doing that is the best tribute we can pay to Pat Tillman.”

Words to live by, part III: “There (are) going to be people who doubt you,” Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said, accepting an ESPY for Best Championship Performance. “Don’t listen to them. ... Go out there every day and be bold.”

Most dramatic moments: The Best Coach Award recognition for Aaron Feis, Scott Beigel and Chris Hixon, slain trying to save students in the Feb. 14 massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was powerful. So was the Arthur Ashe Courage Award presentation, with a gathering on stage of more than 140 survivors of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics and Michigan State’s Larry Nassar. Said gymnast Aly Raisman: “To all the survivors out there, don’t let anyone rewrite your story. ... We may suffer alone, but we survive together.”

ESPYs winners:

Best Male Athlete: Alex Ovechkin

Best Female Athlete: Chloe Kim

Best Olympic Moment: Shaun White

Best Championship Performance: Nick Foles

Best Breakthrough Athlete: Donovan Mitchell

Best Game: U.S. women’s hockey team defeats Canada

Best Moment: Minnesota Vikings defeat the New Orleans Saints

Best Team: Houston Astros

Best College Athlete: Baker Mayfield

Best Play: Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hits second buzzer-beater to win NCAA women’s basketball national title

Untelevised winners:

Best Record-Breaking Performance: Roger Federer

Best International Men's Soccer Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Best International Women's Soccer Player: Sam Kerr

Best NFL Player: Tom Brady

Best MLB Player: Mike Trout

Best NHL Player: Alex Ovechkin

Best Driver: Martin Truex Jr.

Best NBA Player: LeBron James

Best WNBA Player: Maya Moore

Best Fighter: Terence Crawford

Best Male Golfer: Jordan Spieth

Best Female Golfer: Sung-Hyun Park

Best Male Olympian: Shaun White

Best Female Olympian: Chloe Kim

Best Male Tennis Player: Roger Federer

Best Female Tennis Player: Sloane Stephens

Best Male Action Sports Athlete: David Wise

Best Female Action Sports Athlete: Chloe Kim

Best Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Best Male Athlete with a Disability: Mike Schultz

Best Female Athlete with a Disability: Brenna Huckaby

Best Bowler: Rhino Page

Best MLS Player: Nemanja Nikolic

Best NWSL Player: Megan Rapinoe

philrosenthal@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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