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RealClearSports.com: Patriots Restored Stability to a Shaky Sporting World



By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


That Patriots win over the Bills on Monday night was reassuring, no matter what your rooting interests. We needed a favorite to do something, just to prove there's a reason to call them a favorite.

It had been a bad few weeks for the big guys, Tiger Woods going head-to-head the final round of a major, the PGA, with Y.E. Yang, the great nobody who became somebody, and finishing second.
Not too long after, Roger Federer, supposedly unbeatable, lost the U.S. Open final to Juan Martin del Potro, who fell flat on his back after the final point. There was some symbolism, tennis having been flipped upside down.

Upsets are supposed to be the lifeblood of sports, and society. They give us hope that anything can happen, keep us from getting bored, complacent or giving up. As kids we're preached the legend ofThe Little Engine That Could.

Hey, if a guy who by all rights should be playing basketball, the 6-foot-6, del Potro of Argentina, can drop the first set to the best tennis player in history and come back to beat him, anything's possible. Right?

Wrong. But it has the ring of authenticity.

Del Potro called his win a dream. We'll accept the proposal, but the reality is that even before his upcoming 21st birthday, he was already rated one of tennis' very best.

One of these days, the experts predicted, he was going to win a Grand Slam tournament. The day came Sunday. He wasn't dreaming.

It wasn't as if Walter Mitty, the fictional character of secret life who resided in reverie, stepped out of a cloud onto the court and stunned Mr. Federer. Del Potro had battled Roger to a fifth set in the French Open. The kid can play.

Still, as in the case of Yang v. Woods, the del Potro result was unexpected. Not impossible. Unexpected.

That's why they play the game, we've been told, because we don't know who's going to win, even though most of the time we do know.

As the late author Paul Gallico wrote, "The battle isn't always to the strong or the race to the swift, but that's the way to bet.''

A stunner is permitted now and then to keep us off-balance, but mainly sports demand a large dose of stability. We can't continually have Central Michigan upsetting Michigan State, although that was a spectacular onside kick. Or have Y.E. Yang overtaking Tiger Woods. It's too confusing.

How are judgments to be made? No less significantly, how are commercials to be made? Gillette is selling celebrity even more than it is close shaves, which is why Tiger, Federer and Derek Jeter are the chosen ones connected with the Fusion razor ads.

Sponsors want winners. Sponsors want recognition. They don't people who drop fly balls or lose five-set matches.

The New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Steelers provide a yardstick for excellence and fame, as compared at the moment to the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Pirates, although the Jets have this quarterback from Hollywood, or nearby, Mark Sanchez, who's already getting Namath-type attention.

Love the Yankees, hate the Yankees. There's not much difference as far as advertisers or television networks are concerned. The only trouble is if we ignore the Yankees, which virtually is impossible.

Because the Yankees won't allow themselves to be ignored.

Neither will the Dallas Cowboys. Or the Patriots. Or USC or Notre Dame. Or Tiger Woods or Roger Federer.

Sure we get excited about a Melanie Oudin or Kendry Morales, new faces, but it's familiar faces and familiar teams that hold our interest.

It isn't going to happen, not on our watch, but if, say, the Yankees and Red Sox, Tiger and Phil Mickelson, Serena Williams and Roger Federer all slipped into mediocrity the whole sporting scene would be a mess. We'd be clueless.

You sensed our bewilderment just when first Tiger, who never had lost a lead in a major, tumbled. And then a month later, Federer allows his streak of five straight Opens to be snatched away.

Oudin, the kid from Georgia, had "Believe'' on her shoes. But after Woods and Federer both fell on their faces, as opposed to del Potro who was on his back in celebration, we were wondering what to believe.

The Patriots provided the answer. They showed the way. They were favored, and they won, Not by much, a field goal, but they won. As they were supposed to win. Heartwarming.



As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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