To all my faithful readers, I apologize for the last month or so that I’ve been away. I know that my unique insights into the world of sports are what kept you going every day……right.
I was watching one of my favorite movies the other day. The Sandlot, and it got me thinking. Especially in light of today’s NFL Hall of Fame Inductions, what makes an athlete memorable across multiple generations?
For example, I never got to see Babe Ruth play baseball, and the archived video footage I have seen is grainy and choppy. By the time I was born, Babe Ruth wasn’t even the career home run record holder (that honor had been passed to Hank Aaron), and by the time I was a teenager, his single season home run feats were largely eclipsed by the superstars of that day (McGwire & Sosa). So why is Babe Ruth remembered and revered like he is today? The same goes for countless other legends in sports. Think Johnny Unitas, Ted Williams (Is he still the greatest hitter that ever lived?), Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and many other famous names throughout sports.
Is it because our dads would regale us with stories from their heyday, much in the way that Native Americans would pass down stories to younger generations? If we learned anything from these native stories, it is that the stories and memories change as time progresses. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “Well I once saw Willie Mays throw it from the warning track to home plate on a straight line” do you ever wonder if that story is true? Sure we have video footage of Walter Payton making defenses look silly, but are the stories told about his talent even remotely accurate anymore?
I think the answer is “Who Cares?” There is something to be said about sports heroes who get remembered by millions of fans, long after they stepped onto the field for the last time. I know, there are quite a few athletes who probably aren’t deserving of our attention and respect, but there are so many who are.
We marvel at these athletes who make highlight reel plays look effortless. We buy sports jerseys of our favorite athletes and even as grown men, we pretend to be them when playing pickup games in the park. We will never forget the one handed catches, the towering home runs (even if they travel a few feet further every time we tell the story), the game winning three pointers and the goal line defenses.
At its core, sports and the athletes who play them are timeless. We can compare eras, defenses and competition levels all we want, but when it’s all said and done, the athletes we remember 20 years down the road are the athletes who stood head and shoulders above the rest.
So the next time you see Adrian Peterson hurdle a defender and tiptoe the sidelines on his way to another eye popping touchdown, take the time to appreciate and remember the moment because you never know when the next “Greatest Player” will come along. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.