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Days Of Atonement
Steve Rushin
January 29, 2001
Redeem's the theme, as the media harp on athletes' desire to avenge defeats and expunge misdeeds
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January 29, 2001

Days Of Atonement

Redeem's the theme, as the media harp on athletes' desire to avenge defeats and expunge misdeeds

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Did you know that all sports stories have one of two plots? It's true! Every sports story is about redemption or revenge. (Or both!) As it was in the Old Testament, so it is in your sports section, where athletes reside in endless cycles of sin and salvation. Nothing happens without a Biblical subtext: Every loss must be avenged, and every victory is retribution for a previous atrocity. Go on, then. Give it a try. It's fun! It's ridiculous! It's...sports coverage!

On planet Earth, human experience tells us, an adult seldom changes his or her fundamental nature, except by infinitesimal degrees over several decades. But athletes are different. Athletes can be redeemed daily, like soda cans or soup coupons. So reaching Super Bowl XXXV has already rehabilitated the reputations of Giants quarterback Kerry Collins (COLLINS SILENCES HIS CRITICS DURING SEASON OF REDEMPTION, reads a headline in the Chattanooga Times Free Press) and Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer (THE RAVENS' TRENT DILFER FINDS REDEMPTION, reads SI's cover). Likewise, Ravens owner Art Modell, Giants lineman Christian Peter and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who a year ago—it seems almost gauche to point out now—obstructed justice after an incident in which two people were knifed to death. Each of them, we have heard ad nauseam, is enjoying a "season of redemption."

Season of Redemption: It has fairly become an official statistic. RBIs, PATs, SORs. Newly signed Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Reggie Sanders? "Sanders," reports the Associated Press, "sees this as a season of redemption following his career-low hitting season in 2000." New York Rangers sniper Theoren Fleury? THEO'S SEASON OF REDEMPTION, reads a headline in the Bergen (N.J.) Record. Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor? "Taylor," declares The Palm Beach Post, "had a season of redemption after just 2.5 sacks in 1999"

Until this year's Super Bowl, the record for most Seasons of Redemption in a single game was held by this year's Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl was SRO with SORs. Florida had ended the 1999 season with three consecutive losses, so the St. Petersburg Times headlined its Gators football preview SEASON OF REDEMPTION. That same paper ran a piece on Gators receiver Jabar Gaffney, who was kicked off the team last year for allegedly looting a locker room but triumphantly returned to play this season, this season that the Times called "Gaffhey's season of redemption."

Unfortunately for Florida, across the field in New Orleans on New Year's Day was Miami fullback Najeh Davenport, who scored two touchdowns. "It was his own personal victory," reported the Gannett News Service, "his own sweet redemption in a season of redemptions." Thus Florida was an SOR loser, doomed to spend the 2001 season avenging its defeat by the Hurricanes.

"Vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord. And so sayeth Lou Holtz, whose South Carolina football team enjoyed—according to The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C.—"a season of redemption and revenge."

"Redemption and revenge," senior lineman Jared Toler of Broad Run High in Ashburn, Va., told The Washington Post last fall. "That's what this season is all about."

Even a cockatoo, hearing the same inane phrases all day, will begin to repeat them. No wonder athletes—even high school athletes—frame their games and seasons in terms of "redemption" and "revenge." Players and coaches are merely responding to the threadbare questions of deadline-bedeviled scribes who live in desperate daily need of a narrative line that will turn Virginia high school football games into Greek drama.

"Is this a bitter pill to swallow?" one such journo asked a Purdue basketball player a few years ago.

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