Posted: Tuesday July 26, 2005 1:28PM; Updated: Tuesday July 26, 2005 3:12PM
Let's hope Lance Armstrong doesn't tarnish his image with a comeback.
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Have a question or opinion for John? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
His place among the greatest athletes of all time is assured, but Lance Armstrong is in even rarer air now that he's leaving at the pinnacle of his career.
John Elway was one of the precious few I can think of who went out on top and stayed out. Muhammad Ali retired in 1979 at age 36 with a nearly immaculate 56-3 record after taking the WBA heavyweight belt back from Leon Spinks in a 15-round rematch. "The Greatest" un-retired in late '80 and lost his next two fights, to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. They turned out to be his last two.
Michael Jordan walked away at 35 after his championship-winning shot against Utah in '98. He got the itch to play again three years later, and scratched it for two seasons with the less-than-wonderful Washington Wizards.
Neither icon's greatness was tarnished by their return, but their sequels were less than magical.
Armstrong, 33, has said he is approaching the threshold when age will begin to erode his edge. But the competitive fires that make truly great athletes what they are can take an awful long time to go out. It's like Mr. Incredible, working the desk job and packing on the pounds while the kids swing from the chandelier and the spouse waves the to-do list from the doorway. He gazes wistfully at that old superhero costume in the closet and thinks, "What if?"
What if, indeed. Productive longevity in sports, and even continued excellence from fogies like Roger Clemens, is no longer unusual. I don't expect to see Armstrong three years from now wheezing his way over the Pyrenees while he is passed by spectators pushing baby strollers, but a dramatic return followed by a third- or fourth-place finish in the Tour de France would be a bit anticlimactic.
Yes, I realize it's selfish and unseemly to scowl upon someone's desire to continue doing something they love. It's just nice to have a perfect storybook ending once in a while. Seeing Sir Lance ride off into the sunset, content with his career and ready to devote the rest of his life to battling the scourge of cancer, is a Hollywood ending. If there's a sequel, I'll watch it, but I'm not looking forward to it.
Mo Better MVP
"Why isn't Mariano Rivera being considered for the Cy Young or MVP?" writes Brian J. Lockner of New York City. "He's one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation, and has a 0.85 ERA, 25 saves in 27 chances (all 25 in a row after blowing the first two of the season), 48 K's in 42.1 innings and opponents are batting .148 against him (a career low). If that isn't dominance, I don't know what is. Can you imagine the Yankees contending in the AL East without him? He is the single most important person on that team, by far. Isn't that the definition of MVP?"
In my book, it is. After all the talk about Rivera cresting the hill of life, he has quietly resumed his clockwork dominance, overshadowed by the Jason Giambi saga, his team's hair-raising streakiness and the constant turmoil on the pitching staff. But without a doubt, the Yankees would be mining coal with the Devil Rays without him.
Chad Cordero (34 saves, 1.03 ERA, .201 batting average against) is of similar value to the weak-hitting Nationals, who have been involved in 38 one-run games and are batting a robust .170 since the break. But Cordero has no shot at the NL MVP with Derrek Lee having a monster season and Albert Pujols powering the mighty Cardinals. Clemens and Chris Carpenter stand in the way of the Cy Young.
Rivera is not an outrageous pick for MVP in the AL where there are no clear-cut favorites. Twenty pitchers have been named MVP, and nine were relievers. It's not out of the question, especially if the Yankees clinch a playoff spot, but the Cy Young will be tougher to win unless Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland fall apart.
The Game's The Thing
And now we continue with our acclaimed (by my Aunt Edna and Uncle Mel in Azusa) series of readers' submissions of the greatest games they've ever seen.
Jonathan Green, Winnipeg: Winnipeg Arena, Tuesday, April 10, 1990. Game 4 of the Smythe Division semifinal between the Jets and Edmonton Oilers. Winnipeg leads the series 2-1. The game goes into double overtime. With the Jets on the power play and in the offensive zone, Dave Ellett gets the puck on the right blue line about 75 feet in front of us. I knew as soon as he fired that puck, it was game over. I don't know if Oilers goalie Bill Ranford even saw it. Already awash in a sea of white (Jets fans were encouraged to wear white at home playoff games), one of the noisiest places to watch a game went absolutely wild. Winnipeg had pushed the hated Oilers to the brink of playoff elimination. Sadly, that was as good as it got. Within a week, the Jets were looking back at what might have been. The eventual Stanley Cup champions had stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.
Ray Kim, Troy, N.Y.: In the Fall of 1987, I was a junior at Syracuse University. [Quarterback] Don McPherson, et al, were sitting on a 10-0 record going into the regular season finale vs. West Virginia. The Orangemen trailed the Mountaineers until there was about less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. The Orange scored a touchdown. We were now down by 1. Do we kick to tie, or go for two? A packed Carrier Dome Crowd began screaming, "Two! Two!!!" McPherson took the snap and handed off to Pat Kelly, who crossed the corner of the end zone for two points! The Dome crowd stormed the field! Final score: Syracuse 32, West Virginia 31. Final regular season record: 11-0.