2. Al Golden

When Al Golden took over the Temple football program, the situation was about as low as it could get. But he had a plan. It started with changing the culture. It couldn't happen in a season, or even a couple. Yet the former Penn State tight end was convinced it would indeed at some point become a reality.

Obviously, his plan turned out to be a pretty good one.

The Owls have gone from being a punchline to a 9-4 team in the span of four seasons. Playing in the Mid-American Conference isn't nearly as daunting as it was in the Big East. Nonetheless, the university has a program now. One that, finally, it can rally around with pride.

One man is responsible for that.

The Owls are doing things they haven't accomplished in decades, like going to a bowl game for the first time since 1979.

And when was the last time a Temple football coach had his name tossed out there as a potential candidate at Notre Dame? Yo.

It wasn't hard to see this coming. The Owls were in position to win seven or eight times in 2008. But change is an evolution, not an explosion. Even better days would seem to be in the forecast.

It's no joke.

- Mike Kern

3. Charlie Manuel

If 2008 was the year Charlie Manuel finally won the hearts of Philadelphians, 2009 was the year he won their minds. During the Phillies' title run last season, the folksy manager from backwoods Virginia was little more than a feel-good subplot to the sheer dominance displayed by pitchers Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.

But in 2009, his managerial prowess took center stage. His formerly unhittable closer turned in one of the worst regular seasons of any reliever in history. His formerly unhittable ace was a No. 3 starter by the World Series. His bullpen was battered by injuries. His leadoff hitter endured an epic first-half slump. His high-priced leftfielder battled a sports hernia for most of the final 5 months of the season.

Through it all, Manuel augmented his usual steady hand with a slew of crucial decisions, from sending Lidge out to the mound to record the final out of the NL East clincher to sitting Jimmy Rollins down for a weekend series in Toronto.

In the end, they were not the best team in the major leagues. But for the first time in his Phillies career, many people realized that Manuel just might be one of the game's best managers.

- David Murphy

4. Cliff Lee

Lefthander Cliff Lee's arrival from Cleveland before the July trade deadline served as a concrete declaration that the Phillies had changed - that they would not sit idly and hope for the best, that they would not be content with the memories of one glorious season. They needed to get better, and that's exactly what they did, adding the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner at the trade deadline for a modest package of prospects.

Lee pitched in just 17 games for the Phillies, but played a major role as the franchise made its first back-to-back trips to the World Series. After going 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 regular-season starts, Lee turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances in postseason history, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA.

Of the Phillies' nine victories in the postseason, Lee started five. He averaged more than eight innings per start. And while he left town just as quickly as he arrived, dispatched to Seattle to make room for another top-of-the-line ace, there is no question that he left his mark.

It is impossible to tell how history will judge the Phillies career of Clifton Phifer Lee, but one thing is for sure: It will be impossible to forget.

- David Murphy

5. Ryan Howard

Baseball is a game of numbers, but more than anything it is a game of moments. In 2009, Ryan Howard once again had little trouble racking up numbers: His 45 home runs gave him 222 for his career, and his 141 RBI made it four straight seasons with at least 136.

But it was a single moment, and a now-legendary phrase - "Just get me to the plate, boys" - that provided the seminal moment of his still-young career.

It was Game 4 of the NLDS, in freezing Denver, and the Phillies were one out away from heading back to Philly for a decisive Game 5. Two outs. Two on. Two strikes. Trailing by two. Rockies closer Huston Street delivers, and so does Howard, driving a double to rightfield that sends Shane Victorino and Chase Utley scurrying home to tie the game.

One batter later, it was Howard dashing around third on a single by Jayson Werth, and it was the Phillies heading to their second straight National League Championship Series.

The star already had been born.

But now he has his moment.

- David Murphy

Other notables

Ruben Amaro Jr.: The Phillies' GM had the deal of the season by acquiring Cliff Lee in July. He traded for Roy Halladay and traded Lee to Seattle earlier this month.

Chase Utley: The Phillies' second baseman returned from offseason hip surgery and had another All-Star kind of season.

Scottie Reynolds: The Villanova point guard had one of the great shots in NCAA Tournament history by taking it to the hoop in the Elite Eight game against Pitt. His shot propelled the Wildcats into the Final Four.

DeSean Jackson: The exciting Eagles wide receiver/punt returner is one of the best players in the NFL. His combination of speed and moves make him the Birds' best offensive threat and the most fun to watch.

Donovan McNabb: The Eagles quarterback has put together a strong season, with a chance to win the NFC East on Sunday at Dallas.

Gabriela Marginean: The Drexel women's basketball star is dominant in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Allen Iverson: You didn't expect to see him back in Philly and not back on our list, either. He's back.

Andy Talley: The Villanova football coach took the Wildcats to the national title in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Raul Ibanez: Amaro's big offseason acquisition last winter took over leftfield from Pat Burrell and got off to a great start. He cooled off after an injury but had a strong finish and playoff run.

Drew Loughery: The La Salle High quarterback led his team to the big-school state football championship, winning the title game over State College in a driving snowstorm.

- Chuck Bausman