Tuesday, September 4, 2007

This post is the greatest of all time

When Appalachian State beat Michigan this past weekend, people started immediately saying that it was the greatest upset of all time. Michigan came into the game ranked number five in the preseason polls and the Mountaineers are in the Football Championship Subdivision (or The Football Division Formerly Known as Div I-AA, iconic symbol pending), although they are two-time defending Football Championship Subdivision Championship Game Champions (no, that is not an error). When Corey Lynch blocked Michigan's field goal attempt to seal the game, history was made: for the first time ever, a Div I-AA team (I'm not going through that again) defeated a Top 25 opponent. But was it truly the greatest upset of all time?

Ever notice that we've had a lot of 'greatest of all time' moments lately? The Heat's Finals comeback over the Mavs was called the greatest ever. The 2004 Red Sox ALCS win over the Yankees after falling behind 0-3 was too. The 2006 NCAA basketball tournament was called the greatest of all time, at least until the later rounds when everyone found out that huge upsets early in the tourney means good, not great, teams in the Final Four. The 2005 USC Trojans were hailed as the greatest team of all time, then lost the Rose Bowl and the National Championship to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns. Then that game was called the greatest of all time and Vince's performance was called the greatest individual performance of all time.

OK, I won't argue with that last one.

We've even turned it into an ironic acronym: G.O.A.T. Used to be, if someone said, "Who's the goat?" the answer was Bill Buckner. Now it's Alex Rodriguez. Come to think of it, Barry Bonds could arguably be the answer to both questions.

Why do we feel the need to attempt to validate today's sporting events, teams and athletes by naming them the greatest of all time? Is it not good enough to put on a great performance? Why do we need our teams to defeat not only their opponent, but also history? Is it because we live in a world of mass media, the internet and SportsCenter highlights? Is it our arrogance to believe that we live in the greatest era of mankind? Or is it simply a desire to feel as though we are witnessing history at every turn? Whatever the case, we have become a society of statistical outliers, the tapered ends of the bell curve, where the greats of today (and the worst--it works that way as well) will be quickly replaced by tomorrows G.O.A.T.s (or goats, as the case may be).

App State's win over Michigan was not the greatest upset of all time, but it was a great game, and that's good enough for me.


rus said...

I think this goes back to the proliferation of sport's talk radio and 24 hour sports stations, etc. They run out of things to talk about so they have to come up with superlatives in order to justify their existance. I think it's a showing of lazy thinking. They can't come up with a way to talk about something except as the Greatest of All Time. In the end, it diminishes true GOATs.
For example, after the cornination of USC before the 2006 Rose Bowl, Texas winning that game has to be considered a tremendous upset. But is it really a greater upset than Florida over OSU? Or OSU over Miami a couple of years earlier? Maybe it is (to me, as a biased Texas fan, it surely is the greatest game of all time. See there I go, doing the same thing I'm criticizing, but hey, I'm fan.) but because of all the superlatives thrown around all the time, that game, with the amazing performance by Vince Young, gets a little cheapened

Knotwurth Mentioning said...

I agree completely with your point that to compare events to other events tends to undermine their true value. If something has to be the best to be good, then there's going to be a lot of disappointment. I make the same case often enough about athletes. We should appreciate the likes of Crosby (a hockey example from a hockey fan) simply because he makes the game that much more exciting. Does he have to rank as "the Best?" Absolutely not. Comparing the different players simply results in exaggeration, disappointment, or at best ambiguity.

Chris said...

Good call there, KM. "The next Player X" is the cousin to G.O.A.T. Gretzky and Jordan are the biggest comparisons, and they are all unfair. Why does Crosby (or LeBron, or Wade, etc.) need to be the next Gretzky (or Jordan)? Isn't being Crosby (LeBron, Wade, etc.) good enough?