Sports fans have a wicked ambivalence when it comes to history. We love setting records and hate that they stand the test of time. My generation likes the past only if we’re on the cusp of obliterating it. Remember Big Brown? (Ok, we don’t hate history that much) The heavy favorite to be the first Triple Crown champ in 30 years failed to beat a single horse on Saturday and sent pundits into high dudgeon crowing about what a setback this was for the sport which needed an undefeated champion. Lost in the post-mortems; the celebration of a record that just won’t break. Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed. There’s your triple crown. Easy to laugh at the 70’s, not so funny when the 70’s laugh back. The film from those races grows more dated and the participants are now wrinkly talking heads so the broadcast backlash kicks in: If we can’t smash the record, stupid, archaic thirty year old hurdle, it’s not really worth jumping for anyway.
The love hate thing is going on with the NBA championship too. We want the sheen of tradition but are creeped out by the old video. Better to make fun of hairstyles and jersey styles than to admit the guys wearing them might have been better than the gents playing the game today. Think of the vitriol directed to the 1972 Miami Dolphins for having the temerity to dance on the grave of the 2007 New England Patriots. Almost forty years have passed without an undefeated Super Bowl champ, and mostly people used the opportunity to kick the Patriots in the teeth rather than raise a glass to the past.
Barry Bonds is the new homerun champ now a year ago and we still don’t know how we feel. Ken Griffey hits his 600th yesterday and it’s a yawn mixed with a sneer, took him long enough, didn’t it? We want to tell ourselves that we’re living in a pinnacle experience, superhyped that a dynasty lives among us, impatient to anoint one, which is dopey because it took decades of success to be the Best. (cf. the Boston Celtics, New York Yankees, U.C.L.A hoops and Notre Dame football). The next sports talk blowhard who rails against Kids Today for their lousy instant gratification can go sit in the corner trying to calculate how winning one World Series per Presidential term qualifies you for the Pantheon.
Let’s not get greedy. Tiger Woods will stand the test of time, why is it so sad that the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team won’t? Are we so stupid that we can only live in superlatives. Not all of our teams are the best ever, none of this year’s political campaigns were the nastiest ever. For a society that people say revels in a here-and-now perspective, we sure run hella scared of not making the front page of the history books.
So Big Brown isn’t the fastest thing on four legs. History won’t be hurried. — Kibby Kleiman