unity

Exit 144. Why do sports people argue so much about who is the greatest of all time?

This post is about five days late.  I know.  It was a hectic week.  Remind me next time I plan to go to two basketball games on weeknights to make sure that progress reports aren’t due the same week.  And for the non-sports people, keep reading, because I make a non-sports-related point at the end.

The Super Bowl was this last Sunday, with the New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the 51st iteration of the American football championship game.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, playing in his record seventh Super Bowl, achieved his fifth Super Bowl win, one of only two players (and the only quarterback) in football history to win five Super Bowls.  I had it on for background noise, but I wasn’t too emotionally attached to the game.  I didn’t particularly want to be for either team.  I’m kind of tired of the Patriots, since they have been so successful in the last couple decades.  (I will admit, though, that five years ago I was rooting for the Patriots in that Super Bowl, because that was the year that Sterling Moore, who I had as a student many years ago, played for the Patriots.  They lost that one.)  And I have a hard time being for any Atlanta team, because I’m still upset at the 1993 Atlanta Braves baseball team because of what happened with the San Francisco Giants that year.  Sports fans have long memories.

As the game started, I found myself mildly pulling for Atlanta, mostly just because they were the underdogs.  And they looked like they were on the way to a huge upset, leading 28-3 shortly after halftime.  But New England pulled off an impressive comeback, tying the score about a minute before time expired, and going on to win in overtime.  Many sports commentators and announcers, including Joe Buck who goes on and on and on and on and on with any talking point he can find to mask the fact that he doesn’t know squat about sports, were gushing over the fact that Tom Brady is now the supposedly undisputed greatest quarterback of all time.

And that is why this game hurt.  As I’ve said before, my understanding and following of football greatly increased after an attempt to try out for football in 1991, but growing up, when football was on TV, we were watching Joe Montana play quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.  He has also been considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, before Tom Brady happened.  Joe Montana never won five Super Bowls like Tom Brady did, but he won four, and he was only in his 11th season when he won his fourth Super Bowl, whereas Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl in his 15th season.  Montana never made it to a Super Bowl and then lost, which Brady did twice.  And Montana did everything with fully inflated footballs.  But his reputation as the greatest of all time is in question now.

But then I got to thinking, why do sports people argue so much about who is the greatest of all time?  Part of it is just competition and team loyalty; if one of the greatest players of all time played for your team, you’re going to be biased in favor of them.  But there is more to it.  Being the greatest of all time is not based on one single clear cut statistic.  Different players and teams have different strengths and weaknesses.  A quarterback who is great at leading his team in the regular season might not be good at handling the pressure of a Super Bowl.  A basketball player who is good at slam dunks and playing close to the basket might not be good at making free throws or long three-point shots.  A baseball player with the ability to hit home runs might lose focus in high pressure situations and strike out more often with the game on the line, not to mention the fact that he is probably a slow runner as well, missing a skill needed in other situations.

In the world of sports on in any other part of life, different people have different strengths and weaknesses.  This is what makes it difficult to compare who is the greatest at anything.  Instead, we should all appreciate the fact that everyone is good at something, and that we all need each other in some way.