As I have often alluded to, I love to root for the favorites and
more specifically players/teams that are near dominant in their
sport. I do so because it is so hard to stay on top when everybody
is gunning for you and exerting their highest levels of energy, passion,
strategy etc. to take you down. Not to mention, it is often the case
that the fans and the media are often rooting for these “Davids” to
take down the “Goliaths”.
My earliest memory of quintessential athletic prowess was the 1976
Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. It was the Men’s Downhill skiing
competition (which is Austria’s #1 national sport) and the #1 skier and
Country Icon, Franz Klammer was the favorite and hence carried the weight
of all Austrians on his shoulders.
As the event wore on, the weather changed dramatically as the nice, light
powder blew away and the the mountain becomes a dangerous sheet of ice.
Bodies were flying everywhere because it was near impossible for the skiers
to hold the edge and stay upright (without slowing down).
Being the #1 seed (with the fastest time from an the earlier run), Klammer had to
go last. The conditions were utterly hellacious when it was time for his run.
The mountain was packed with Austrian fans that had braved the conditions
to support their #1 native son. Seriously, the Austrians didn’t give a
crap about any other medals…it was all about winning the gold in downhill.
The pressure this 22 year old Austrian must have felt from the entire country
had to be was off the charts.
Well Klammer simply lets it rip and several times seems to be careening out of control going around a turn or flying off a jump. You fully expected him to crash and the announcers were beside themselves in amazement that he was remaining upright at an ungodly speed in horrid skiing conditions.
At the end of this reckless run, the mountain exploded with euphoria and Klammer won the gold. Incredible pressure carrying the weight of the country on his young shoulders in the most adverse of elements and BANG he has the race of life to win Gold. Quintessential athletic excellence in my book
Fast forward to the 1991 Orange Bowl featuring Notre Dame vs. Colorado
for the National Championship. I’m in Honduras with my wife adopting our 1st child and we are seemingly a million miles away from home and anything that seemed remotely like the US. Luckily, there were a few TV stations in the Hotel and one that carried American (English) programing and specifically the Orange Bowl college football game.
Colorado is leading 10-9 and like a minute to go. Colorado is punting from near midfield. Back to receive the punt for ND is one of greatest punt returners in college football history, All-American Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Common sense says kick it out of bounds deep into ND territory and dare a “time-outless” ND to move the ball up the field for a game winning field goal.
Amazingly, Colorado kicks the ball to the electrifying Ismail and the announcers are
incredulous. With all 11 Colorado players singularly and collectively focused on tackling “The Rocket”, this all time great kick returner with the National Championship on the line does the impossible. He fields the punt at his own 8 yard line and after nearly being tackled a few times and going down, he escapes for a mesmerizing 92 yard punt return for a touchdown to seemingly beat the #1 team in the country. “From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat”, there is a clipping penalty on Notre Dame and the play comes back and Colorado wins.
Like Klammer, you are maybe the best at your craft, the eyes of the world are on you to do a singular humongous, monster pressure impossible task and you pull it off – historic athletic achievement.
Don’t even get me going about Tiger Woods and his heroics on the biggest stages over
and over during his first 10 years with the world singular spotlight on him to achieve or fail. Incredible pressure with incredible achieving results.
OK I’m getting to my point..patience friends🙂 Lets get to incredibly, historically great teams led by an all time great player, I would never miss those players/teams in the playoffs (regardless of what time the game ended). I knew I was literally watching history unfolding live in front of me and I wanted to be a part of it. Examples include the early 80’s Edmonton Oilers led by the greatest hockey player ever, Wayne Gretsky, who obliterated individual scoring records and led his team to 5 world championships in the mid-80’s. Historic achievement and revolutionized the game with 100% fan/media expectation.
I never missed a Michael Jordan play off game after he won his 2nd NBA championship (as he went to win 6 championships). His individual heroics were historic. Narto with Kobe, Kareem and Magic for the Lakers and Lakers but not quite at Michael’s level of historic achievement.. But their 5 championships and their all time level of play/achievement is a notch below yet deserves huge respect.
And this long meandering journey leads us to the Woman’s NCAA Finals tonight featuring the iconic and historic UCONN Huskie girls basketball team. They have won 74 games in a row, 3 consecutive National championships and have been destroying every team seemingly forever by double digits and many multiples there off. This UCONN team is the quintessential dynasty (going for their 11th National Championship in the last 21 years); led by an iconic coach in Geno Auriemma, and best player the game by far Breanna Stewart. She is a basketball freak who plays unlike female big in all my years with the total package and a verticality which changes every game (and cements her place in history). UCONN is truly the text book “Goliath” original Big East rival Syracuse the perfect “David”. All the pressure and spotlight is on the Huskies while the Orange will be lousy goosy playing with house $ (and no doubt plenty of fan supporting hooping for an upset).
THE POINT IS – True Sports fans, regardless whether you love or hate a historic player or team (or both), it is your obligation to watch & respect and honor “sports history”.
So here we have UCONN, like all the other athletes and/or teams cited above, with this giant target on their back on the biggest stage on the precipice rewriting the annals of the game.
You must watch this game and “if” UCONN wins their 4th consecutive National championship by a significant double digit outcome and “if” Miss Stewart wins her 4th consecutive MOP player award for the tournament and if Coach Auriemma becomes the all time championship winning Coach (currently tied with John Wooden at 10), they collectively deserve your undivided attention and respect. And if they pull off the”expected” on biggest stage, then wherever you are, stand up and give them the most well deserved standing ovation.