The Greatest?

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In the interminable weeks between the end of the conference championships and the start of Super Bowl LII sports commentary waxed hyperbolic, having no real reporting to offer, resolutely chewing on the same theme hour after hour.  Tom Brady, The Greatest Quarterback of All Time, would carry the New England Patriots to yet another Super Bowl victory, despite having recently managed to wedge his throwing hand into a crevice in running back Rex Burkhead’s helmet, despite the likely loss of  Brady’s favorite target, a man described as “a self-aware lump of protein powder”, pass catching Golem Rob Gronkowski, despite the glaring weaknesses in the Patriot’s defense, and despite the best efforts of the talented and well-coached Philadelphia Eagles.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is also Greatest of All Time, an honorific now somewhat diminished when squashed into the acronym and meme GOAT.   The Patriots themselves are occasionally termed the Greatest Football Dynasty of All Time, and in empty hours in sports journalism, strident argument rages as the case is made for LeBron James or Michael Jordan as, you know, the Greatest of All Time.

We (sports fans) were charmed by the effrontery, the chutzpah, with which a young Muhammad Ali declared himself The Greatest, but cringe a bit when Wayne Gretsky is still termed, The Great One.  Those who survived the Depression and fought in World War II are the Greatest Generation, and I’m told Alexander, Catherine, and Gatsby were all pretty Great.

Then, in addition, Time, I believe, is something of a mystery, perhaps vulnerable to manifold topology, but maybe not, an obscure way of observing that even the most prescient of us has a fairly limited set of experiences against which to judge the absolute standard of performance in any sport.  The same holds true for actors and entertainers, but we seem less compelled to deify even the most obviously superior.  Is Meryl Streep the Greatest Actress of All Time?  Dunno.  Maybe.  Doesn’t seem to matter as much as the LeBron/Jordan battle.

I’m not sure why this need to wax hyperbolic has set in; perhaps having known what might have been the best of times and now sliding into what feels like the the worst we find comfort in speaking with absolute certainty ?  Maybe the ferocity of competition and the necessity to keep score inherent in sport as we know it demands final judgment.  My guess is that since we experience the great moments of sport from a distance, second-hand, our sport becomes the championing of one athlete or team over another, a game that never ends.

In those long weeks before the NFL championship game, sports outlets routinely drag out whatever football footage they happen to have in the can.  Over a period of two days, I saw clips of Walter Peyton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, Marcus Allen, Tony Dorsett, LaDanian Tomlinson, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Jerome Bettis, and Earl Campbell. Nobody’s screening O.J.’s scrambling breakaways at USC, but I remember them well.

Want to pick one as the greatest?

Go ahead, but don’t forget the runners whose feats may not have been so meticulously preserved on film.  I’ve seen grainy footage of Red Grange breaking loose for a touchdown, but only have the sportwriters’ words to describe the heroics of Jim Thorpe, Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, and Doak Walker.

I keep my collection of Mickey Mantle memorabilia close at hand in case someone drops by and wants to see a copy of his rookie contract or my well-oiled 1959 Rawlings Mickey Mantle baseball glove, and I treasure my memories of him in the field and at bat, but is he the greatest of all time?  A version of this sort of question came up as a friend of mine who had attended Bolles School in Florida as did Chipper Jones asked if Jones, a first ballot Hall of Famer, had a place in my list of the ten best third basemen of all time.

I have two lists, of course, the best to play the position for the New York Yankees and the ostensible best to have played in the major leagues.  In responding, I was aware once again that I take a player such as Adrian Beltre for granted as I took Paul Molitor and Ron Santo for granted.  I knew Wade Boggs was a heck of a third baseman, but thought of him primarily as a hitter as I did George Brett.  The Braves weren’t on television every day back when they played in Milwaukee, so I didn’t see enough of Eddie Matthews.  Writers assure me that Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and Jimmy Collins should be in the mix.  In the end, however, it comes down to my memory of Mike Schmidt’s dominance in his era, particularly in the Phillies’ world series victory in 1980, and my reverence for the fielder known as “the vacuum cleaner”, Brooks Robinson.

All of that said, Chipper more than earned a spot in the top four or five.  Will Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, Kyle Seager, or Josh Donaldson make the cut twenty years from now?  I hope so.

As for the Jordan/LeBron argument, the game is still afoot.  Steak or lobster?  Pie or ice cream?  Valhalla or Olympus?  I have only this to add to the conversation:  Jordan played on his high school’s junior varsity team until his junior year; LeBron averaged more than 20 points a game as a freshman.  I saw LeBron play for St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School.  In my mind, case closed.

Except … I also saw Jordan literally fly.

 

 

Saint Thomas of Foxboro

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His Holiness will see you now, but, please, only for a few moments.

Yes, of course.Thank you.  Uh, I brought Francis a …

His Holiness Pope Francis, Most Holy Father …

Ok, yeah.  So I brought a Pats sweatshirt, “You Hate Us ‘Cause You Ain’t Us.”  I figure he’s a large?

I’m sorry, your business with His Holiness?

Well, we figured he’s the guy to see about getting Brady his sainthood early, you know, before he checks out.

Before he dies?

Before he retires.  Like in eight or nine years.

I’m not sure …

It should be a snap.  We’ve been reading up on it, and the miracle thing is pretty clear.

I’m sorry.  The miracle thing?

From what my wife found out, Brady moves from Venerable to Saint when we present the miracles and the Pope drops the hammer.

Are you suggesting that this Father Brady be canonized?  If so, the process begins …

Not Father Brady.  Tom Brady.  Tom Terrific, California Cool, GOAT.

You want to propose the canonization of a goat?

G-O-A-T.  Greatest Of All Time.  Brady.

And he performs miracles?

Does he perform miracles?  Is the Pope … never mind.  Sure, miracles.

Water to wine, I suppose, loaves and fishes.

Fishes?  What?  No,  and not just miracles; he’s been martyred.

So, deceased?

Nah, Remember 2016?  The four games?  Deflategate?

I’m sure I should know what that means.

It means Goodell and the whole league had it in for him … and the Pats.

So, alive then?

Certainly.  According to Giselle… heheheh.

I fear you have misunderstood the process by which a Servant of God is beatified then venerated …

OK, let’s start with the 92.9 completion percentage in the 2007 playoff with the Jaguars.

This Brady was more than 90 percent eaten by jaguars?

No way.  24-20 Pats.  And, how about this?  Brady can’t run, you know?  His 40 at the combine was ridiculous, but 2006, against the Bears …

Bears?

Urlacher’s ready to rip him a new one on the 20, and Brady, Brady jukes him.  Jukes Urlacher!

These are miracles?

Ok, maybe not miracles, exactly, but 2001, Drew Bledsoe is the franchise quarterback, Belichick’s second season, Pats 0-2, Mo Lewis out of nowhere, not only hits Bledsoe, he puts him in the hospital his chest filled with blood …

Oh, we have always considered stigmata indicative …

So, Brady goes in, the Pats go from 0-2 to the Super Bowl.  Against the Rams.  Greatest Show on Turf.  Miracle, right?

Uh….

Yeah, but, listen.  even Madden shut up when Brady takes the ball with 1:21 on the clock, starting at their own 17, no time outs, tied at 17, smart money said go to overtime, but no, Brady takes ’em down to the Ram’s 30 in 5 plays, Vinatieri nails it and second-string quarterback carries the Pats on his back to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

You don’t actually speak in Roman numerals?

I gotta.  But wait, there’s more.  Ok, fourth quarter Super Bowl comeback against the Legion of Boom?

You mean a Legion of Doom, apocalyptic visitation, the horsemen?

No, Boom.  Boom.  The Seahawks hadn’t give up more than 7 points in the fourth quarter all season, then Brady drops 14 leaving room for Butler.

I’m not …

No, ok, no question about this one.  Pats down to the Falcons 28-3.  third quarter, Super Bowl trophy definitely not going back to Foxboro …

Seahawks?  Falcons?

Down by 25 points and Brady has to pick up a long third down running the ball, himself,  start of the fourth quarter, and don’t forget, he’s been suspended for four games, his mom is fighting cancer, he’s the guy who barely got the start at Michigan, picked up by the Pats as the 199th pick in the draft, this guy picks up 19 in the fourth quarter and 6 in overtime.  Game over.  Good night, Falcons, enjoy the trip home from Houston.

This Brady is still alive?

Yeah, sure.  He’s got to play the Eagles in a couple of weeks.

We can’t … well, we don’t actually do anything.  Once deceased, the Servant’s life is brought to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and then…

New Orleans?

What?  No, Rome.  Rome.  I’m afraid the Pontiff will not able to hear your petition.

So, what?  We have to wait until he’s gone?

At the very least …

Yeah, the way things are going, that might not happen.

Everyone deals with the inevitable process of aging.

Have you been listening to me?  That’s another miracle.

I’m sorry, but I do have one question.

Ok, shoot.

Can we keep the sweatshirt?