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So we’re at the end of the NFL regular season and we have turned the calendar on another year. Bowls are winding up and the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella acts across the country -- Illinois and Hawaii (unable to summon their inner Boise State or Appalachian State or any other Upset State) lost yesterday by a combined 90-27 in the Rose and Sugar Bowls, the first “marquee” contests of BCS infamy. But as we head into 2008 with expectations renewed and reinvigorated, fans and neutral observers alike can marvel in the genius that is sports...

A love of sports knows no national borders. It knows only fan allegiances, individual attractions to specific pastimes which bind groups of people together in a mutual admiration (or abhorrence, as is often the case) society. 2007 has proven a taxing year for the patience of sports fans of all stripes. Great competition too often took on a tarnish as incredible athletic feats came under question -- for possible artificial enhancement, for corrupt officiating, .

Barry Bonds... Alexandre Vinokourov... Marion Jones... Rodney Harrison... Mitchell and his much-maligned report...

All joined the pantheon of athletic heroes (and their watchdogs) who have been exposed as dopers, as frauds and cheats. Some slink into the shade, never again to be seen on their fields of competition. Others paid their penance, returning to great fanfare to contribute to their teams. Either way, the actions of each athlete’s governing body were more politics than sport -- with the MLBPA and NFLPA on their side, baseball and football players have as a whole been able to deflect any criticism from the performance-enhancement fallout. Without a strong, united political voice, cyclists and sprinters and other Olympic athletes face far stiffer penalty. Yet this remains mere politics...

The great and esteemed Gonzo sportswriter, Hunter S. Thompson, often saw himself writing about politics as though he were Grantland Rice at ringside or courtside at some championship contest. Politics, in its essence, is a form of sport for rich men (and now, recently, women too) to exert power and influence on a meaningful and wide-reaching scale. But what separates sport from politics is the clear delineation of rules...

Every sports fan has his gripes. Whether at the referees or the umpires or at the officials of whichever sport he chooses, the sports fan inevitably finds slights in places likely and unlikely. But the rules are, for the most part, clearly delineated in sports. It is much harder to alter the way we play our games than it is to alter the way we govern our lives...

The recent death of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan put it all into perspective. A former prime minister of the country, Bhutto had recently come out of exile and returned to her homeland in an effort to take back control of a nation in turmoil. While driving away from a Rawalpindi rally last Thursday, in the midst of a surging parliamentary campaign, Bhutto was gunned down as she waved to the crowd from the sunroof of her limousine. A few moments later, a suicide bomber pulled up near the limo, weaving through the crowd on a motorcycle, before detonating.

Now Pakistan is in chaos, missing the one person who could make the country a safer and more modern place. A truly senseless act...

Sean Taylor recently faced the same unfortunate demise. Gunmen unbeknownst to him invaded his home and mowed him with bullets. Like Bhutto, Taylor succumbed to his wounds and passed away. But Taylor’s Washington Redskins, unlike Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, had a fighting chance. Only six days from now, the Pakistani populace is set to vote in parliamentary elections. Will the PPP be able to pull off its victories in the same manner as those Redskins? It will be much harder for them... Taylor was but one of dozens of players who played a crucial role for Washington; Bhutto was the driving force behind the opposition to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Without Taylor, the Redskins still have more great players to throw at the opposition... without Bhutto, where will the PPP turn to maintain its surge? The novelty of Bhutto’s husband and son succeeding her in the party leadership can only last so long without the substance of policies and pragmatism...

... and that is the true beauty of sport. Even the most tragic loss can yield a rebound on the other side. A defensive leader, Taylor’s death remains heavy on the hearts of every Washington player and staff member. But, even without the services of perhaps their most-valuable player, the Redskins persevered to finish strong and will match up against the Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Game next weekend. As Pakistan looks to rebound amidst the chaos following Bhutto’s death, it becomes important to recognize that death can derail a team or a movement... but ONLY IF THE GROUP ALLOWS THAT DEATH TO DERAIL THEM...

Money may win a political campaign, but only determination and desire can conquer sports glory. If it all came down to fundraising prowess, we would just hand the Commissioner’s Trophy to the winner of the Yankees-Red Sox series every season...

Even now, as fans of twenty NFL teams turn toward other diversions as their teams clean out lockers, there is plenty for a sports fan to rejoice. Basketball -- both professional and collegiate -- is getting into the heart of its season. The NHL just played a stunning regular-season game outdoors in Buffalo, with pubescent prodigy Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal in the overtime shootout to allow the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins to prevail 2-1 over the hometown Sabres in Ralph J. Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. Spring training is just around the corner, and here in Eugene we all hunker down in preparation of the Olympic track and field trials at Hayward Field. Memorable moments just waiting to be indelibly etched upon our minds for a lifetime await at every turn.

But we must remember, as we embark on Twenty-oh-eight, that sports can give us a blueprint for an idealistic vision... but it can also become apocalyptic in a hurry. Sports prepare the hardened fan for the highs and the lows in life in a way no other activity can. Sport provides a glimpse into the workings of humanity... for good or for evil, so embrace all parts of the human condition for all they are worth and enjoy this year of sports to come... and let's toast as we fans resolve to keep the playing field as fair as possible for all.

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