Idol Chatter

Sometimes sports television crosses over into the world of pop culture, and this year’s July 4th weekend certainly marked such a time. Roger Federer won his historically best 15th Grand Slam tennis title, and Tiger Woods won the tournament he hosts–at a future U.S. Open site–later in the same day. They’ll be highlighted on this week’s debut of ESPN’s “Sports Nation” and were covered by every major sports media outlet.
Their victories were related in the following ways. First, Tiger texted Roger in the few minutes between the former’s win and the latter’s tee off time. Second, included in almost all of the news today were stories were about Federer and Woods are among the greatest athletes of all time, rather than simply the actual action of the weekend. Third, both players won by a whisker thin margin.

I think that’s where the real story is. Imagine being Andy Roddick today? “Who’s he,” you ask? Well, he was Mr. Federer’s opponent this past weekend in the closest and longest tennis match in the history of the Wimbledon finals. The two players lit up Centre Court for over four hours. They played more games than any two (or even three) matches played in other tournaments for just one match. It was that close. And for Mr. Woods, he made a 20-foot putt with two holes to play to be another young guy–his name is Hunter Mahan–by just one single stroke. That’s one putt over four days! And another young American, Anthony Kim, lost by only three strokes. That’s less than a stroke a day.
What separates the greatest players from those just underneath them is so often just a whisker. I think that is where the story could be. The better anyone is at anything, the harder it is to get just that little bit better. But it’s that little bit that makes all the difference. Roddick, Mahan and Kim are aware of that today.
In today’s media-driven pop culture, I believe there is so much of a focus on generating a story that the better story gets missed. Yesterday’s wasn’t a story about Federer as much as it was about a great match. The same for Tiger. Through the years, pop culture has embraced the duels as much as the individuals. Palmer vs. Nicklaus; Nicklaus vs. Watson; Ali vs. Frazier; Foyt vs. Unser; Magic vs. Bird; Venus vs. Serena; Kobe vs. Shaq (off the court, of course!).
If you get a chance to see the stretch run of either Federer’s match or Tiger’s on a rerun this week, go for it! Yes, perhaps Roger Federer may be the greatest of all time, and Tiger’s probably headed there. But those are interest stories for mid-week or the off-season. This weekend, the story was about some gladiators of their sport doing what they do best…and the more famous ones showing they’re worthy.

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