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We continue to feed the Duck football team, day after day, week after week, putting together the same amount of food, rain or shine, for the entirety of this August. Some days they eat more than others, but the quantities for which they fork over absurd amounts of money are set in stone -- so we do it daily, even though we know most of it goes into the trash or a Food Rescue bin. At least the homeless of Eugene are eating well, even if the Oregon football team takes it all for granted. But that's neither here nor there... the August heat (95+ degrees today) must be creeping into my brain. Football season is two weeks away, but I've been so absorbed in feeding the football team that I haven't actually paid attention to what is happening around football. For that matter, sports have largely taken a backseat altogether the past couple of days. I've been ill, but now today I am feeling sprightly again. I've been covering the Olympics a little again -- the men's cycling road race was incredibly exciting, ultimately witnessing another Spanish victory in the peloton as the least-likely Spaniard on a star-stacked squad, Samuel Sanchez, swept to victory in Beijing. And looming on the horizon is U.S. Open coverage...

 

But I'd like to talk about something for a moment which I have largely ignored throughout the season. Despite his mythic comeback victory at the U.S. Open, this has been anything BUT the Year of the Tiger in golf. Just as Roger Federer has fallen back to the pack a bit in tennis, so too has Woods been challenged far more consistently this season on the PGA Tour. And, while both sports need big personalities to keep the revenues pouring in, too much dominance is inevitably NOT a good thing for these sports...

 

How does somebody who can barely scrape together three sets of half-decent tennis and who usually doubles par on his scorecard whenever he goes golfing assert such craziness? Well, just think of it this way -- there's a reason that the NFL has its annual quandary, simultaneously roots for big-market success while touting the parity which leaves every one of its thirty-two teams with a quasi-legitimate shot to make the playoffs and try for the Super Bowl at the beginning of each season. A big-name draw does wonders for a sport, especially one which is less popular traditionally. However, too much of one star quickly grows stale...

 

Just as the ascendance of Rafael Nadal and a slew of other younger challengers has reinvigorated tennis in recent years, these relative newcomers taking their shots at the best in the business, so too does a host of younger players stand to help bolster Tiger's credentials in the coming decade(s) of his career. Without the rise of a Justin Rose or Trevor Immelman or even a European stalwart like Padraig Harrington bodes better for golf than if it was merely Tiger and a group of hacks every weekend. While golf, unlike tennis, is a sport where it is one man versus the layout and the elements, seeing one man stand to play so much better than his "competition" lends an aura of the inevitable which takes much of the spontaneous fun out of spectating. Hopefully Tiger gets healthy soon enough to start challenging quickly next season... but more than that, hopefully this new generation of golfers continues to give ol' Eldrick a run for his money...

 

Because isn't THAT what sports is all about? Watching a juggernaut is fun... watching an underdog is much more exciting. If the team which possesses your fan's heart is one of the elite, it is certainly fun to watch their dominance. But for those fans of the less-fortunate teams and athletes in sports, watching that unimpeded march to the record books by an unbeatable opponent is unappealing. When more players in a sport have a legitimate shot at success, a wider swath of society becomes interested in the competition...

 

We need, as fans, to see the Immelmans and the Tsongas and, yes, even the Tampa Bay Rays rise up to challenge Woods and Federer and the Red Sox/Yankees and every other dynastic impulse. Would it have been fun to see New England go 19-0 to win the Super Bowl last year? Not for many... despite the fact that this was the first time the Patriots had a prolific and flashy offense to watch, people were less enamored by this team than they were back in 2002, when New England was the underdog facing the "Greatest Show on Turf". I was in San Diego at the time, debating for Lewis and Clark College, when New England was surprisingly up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. I looked at one of my teammates and bet him two cartons of cigarettes that St. Louis would come back to win that game. He gleefully took the wager, then promptly started to get more and more glum as first one, then another, touchdown was scored by the Rams. The game was tied, and if not for Vinatieri's steady kicking leg we might have seen the true birth of the St. Louis dynasty. Alas, to the Belichick goes the spoils...

 

But dominance is cyclical. No one stays up forever, just as no one (except maybe Wim Vansevenant) stays in last place for long without a search for the next shooting star. In golf as in football, in tennis as in cycling as in swimming as in... you get the point. For all the fun it is to witness a Michael Phelps darting full body lengths ahead of his competition, it is much more engaging to see neck-and-neck action. We won't remember who Barbaro beat down the line, but the Alydar-Affirmed duels continue to live on even after the horses are long gone... and why? Because when the best compete against the best, sports and their spectators are better for the experience. Seeing greatness is one thing; seeing greatness pushed by other greatness to become even greater than imagined is on another plane of existence altogether...

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