Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Last Call for Legends

Recent days have proved to be a pretty tough time  for some sporting legends, three guys who, it can be argued, were among the very best to ever have played their particular sport.

Let's take them alphabetically.

Kobe Bryant has announce that he will be retiring at the end of this current NBA season.  Recent years have not been kind to Bryant.  Injuries have caused him to miss large parts of the past two seasons.  He returned in good health for this season, only to find that the skills that make him an NBA MVP, and NBA and an Olympic champion have deserted him.  He currently sports a shooting percentage in the neighborhood of thirty percent, and is causing many to compare him to Willie Mays as a New York Met.  Others are saying that he should retire NOW, immediately, and not drag out this final season as a shadow of his former, great self.  He has chosen to do otherwise, and I suppose that it can be argued that for all Bryant has done for the Lakers and the NBA, he has earned the right to go out on whatever terms he chooses.  So bring on the league-wide Farewell Tour.  It will be the last chance to see a guy who surely ranks among the Top Ten greatest players of all time.

My own personal memory of Bryant:  Setting the alarm clock for 2:00 AM on a Sunday morning in 2008 to watch the Gold Medal game of the Beijing Olympics live between the USA and Spain.  The Spanish team put up a good game against the favored Americans, but in the second half, it was Kobe Bryant who took control of the game and secured the Gold Medal for the USA.

Three weeks ago, Peyton Manning completed a pass in a game that enabled him to establish the all time NFL record for passing yards.  In that same game, he also threw four interceptions, injured his foot, and was benched in favor of Brock Osweiler.   Manning has not appeared in a game since, Osweiler has led the Broncos to two wins, and it now becomes a real possibility that we have seen the last of Peyton Manning as a Bronco, if not as an NFL quarterback.  

No one should ever question that Manning is among the very greatest of quarterbacks to ever have played, despite that somewhat lackluster post-season record.  To think that his final appearance in an NFL game may be that four interception game of a few weeks back is sad to ponder, and does bring back that image of Willie Mays falling down in the batters box as a Met in the 1973 World Series.

The final bomb to drop was the announcement yesterday by Tiger Woods that he has not begun any strenuous rehab from his recent back surgery (his third such surgery in recent years), that he has no plans or thought as to when he will resume golf activities at all, much less competing on the PGA Tour.  In fact, Woods has said that anything that might happen for him on the golf course, including winning any tournament would have to be considered "gravy" at this point in his life.

Even though many observers felt that Woods' days as a dominant golfer were behind him, the thought that we may never see him seriously competing again is shocking to think about.  Jack Nicklaus once said that he would never become a "ceremonial golfer", and for the most part, Jack kept to that.  I can't imagine that Woods will ever slip into that role either.

Woods is 39 years old, will turn 40 later this month, Manning is 39, and Bryant is 37.  As Charles Barkley has so eloquently put it, "Father Time is undefeated", and as Shaquille O'Neal put it "Thirty-nine.  It ain't twenty-nine, Bro."  These are facts that came jarringly home to roost in these last few weeks in the cases of Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods.

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