(NOTE: THIS WAS WRITTEN BEFORE WOODS WON THE 2009 AT&T NATIONAL AND FEDERER CAPTURED THE 2009 WIMBELDON CROWN)
OK, sports fans, let’s be straight with one another.
As much as we love a dominant force, we LOVE us some underdogs!
Our favorite sports stories are filled with people who overcome challenges, whether it be small stature, lack of skill, little experience, injury and so much more.
Let’s take a walk through some memorable sports underdogs:
- 1980 U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey Team – The “Miracle on Ice” squad made of up players from rival college programs who genuinely didn’t like each other. They found a common purpose and defeated the powerful Russian team, igniting a hopful spirit in a downtrodden nation.
- Buster Douglas – “Iron” Mike Tyson, a 42-1 favorite, was stunned by James “Buster” Douglas in 1990. It was the first defeat in Tyson’s career and the biggest upset in boxing history.
- New York Jets – Joe Namath delivered a guarantee that the plucky Jets would overcome the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and he delivered on it.
Of course, Namath would also deliver this gem.
- Rocky – Yes, it’s a fictional story, but it is ingrained in sports culture. A past-his-prime-if-he-ever-had-one boxer, Rocky Balboa was to be fed to the champ, Apollo Creed. Watch it again. Creed wins. But Rocky went the distance in the match, proving that he could stand toe-to-toe with the greatest in the world. Balboa would also face the monster, Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, slaying the “beast” and somehow ending the Cold War. Never really understood that.
You get the point. Sports fans love underdogs…they make real life like movies and movies like real life.
However, there are two athletes that break that mold like Ivan Drago
Those two are Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.
PR colleague brought up the fact that we root for them to win…and win BIG…despite the fact that they are the most dominant competitors in their sport.
We don’t feel that way about other dynasties in sports. For every Yankees fan, there are Red Sox fans that HATE to see the Yanks win. Everytime the Cowboys excel, a host of fans can’t bear to watch.
However, with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, we know that we are watching players that are the best of their generation and making a case to be the greatest of all time.
The 33-year old Woods has won an astounding 67 PGA tournaments, including 14 Majors. He has won 29% of the tournaments he’s played in. He has finished 2nd place 24 times and 3rd place 17 times. When he goes into the final round of a tournament with at least a share of the lead, the Man in Red is 14-0. He has won the Masters 4 times, the U.S. Open 3 times, the PGA Championship 4 times and the British Open 3 times. His 14 Majors are second all-time behind the great Jack Nicklaus, who has 18.
He wins his tournaments with a cold-blooded desire to win at all costs, within the rules. While he may not be the warmest person on the course, his charitable foundation has done tremendous work with children and now that he is married and has two children, the world is seeing the human side of Tiger emerge.
The 27-year old Federer was the #1-ranked player in the world for a record 237 consecutive weeks. His 14 Grand Slam victories are tied for the most all-time, with Pete Sampras. Federer has been in 19 major finals, tied with Ivan Lendl for the most in history. He is one of six players to have won a “Career Grand Slam.” He has made 20 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals. That’s FIVE years running…nobody comes close. He is the only person to win 5 consecutive U.S. Open championships, and one of only three people to win that many in a CAREER. Over his career, he has won an astounding 80.8% of his singles matches, capturing 59 titles along the way. Let’s not also forget his 8 doubles championships and his 2008 Olympic gold medal in doubles.
Simply put, these are once-in-a-lifetime players.
As sports fans, we feel honored to watch them, because we know we are not likely to see anyone like them ever again. The fact that their public personas are poised, dignified and humble doesn’t hurt, either. These two men appear to be in some amount of awe of themselves, and not in a bad way. They realize what they have accomplished and understand the magnitude of their records.
Is it that simple? That we want to witness greatness at it’s greatest?
Does the fact that they play individual sports help the cause?
If the Steelers win, that means my Ravens don’t win. If Woods beats the field, it is another notch in his “Greatness Belt.”
I do think that the lack of civic attachment helps keep Woods and Federer beloved, but it is just one piece of the puzzle.
So what are the pieces to that puzzle? Greatness at it’s peak, humility and global appeal? Yep, that seems to fit quite nicely.
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