Within an hour and thousand of miles apart, two athletes had a chance to shine brightly. One was caught awash in the harsh spotlight the other glowed in the heat of a comeback. One never there a punch, but felt like he had been kicked in the gut, the other took more swings and made most of them count.
Such was the Sunday of golf’s next big thing, actually current big thing, Jordan Spieth and of former UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos. Two sports as far from each other as Augusta, Georgia and Zagreb, Croatia, the places defining for each man. In each there was the thread linking every competitor in every sport, that will to try something few could ever attempt.
Really living the dream. The one you had as a kid on the dirt court or playground asphalt court counting in your head the final seconds as you launched that shot that swished the net and made you the game winning hero. No one dreams of missing that shot. Maybe even the one now as an adult where you can envision sinking that 40-foot putt with all eyes on you and then soaking in the cheers as the Green Jacket is slipped on you. The reality is you rolled it from seven feet and your buddies owe you twenty.
It probably never ends, that “what would it be like” or “what would it have been like” to just once live that dream. That is why we watch sports. No need for a scientific study or psychological research, you just know that’s the reason. No one wonders what it would be like to sit at a desk for eight hours daily; be stuck in a two hour work commute; or deal with a boss who is truly not as smart as you. That’s life. The dream is different.
Most of us have played on some level some sport and can appreciate what it takes to be in that rarified air few will ever breathe.
That most off us haven’t lived the dream for some inexplicable reason have found perpetual social media trolling to tell how much that successful athlete really isn’t. If you can inhale the high altitude come down to the smoggy, the cluttered bottom of the sports dream as it is.
The top athletes don’t need reminding it’s there in their heads already. Spieth knows if he wins five more Masters somewhere along the line the question pops up about blowing a six stroke lead in 2016. What separates those who achieve at the highest level is how well they can put it aside, bring it up for motivation if needed, but focus on what is in front of them.
I was reminded of Ben Rothwell telling me in a phone interview in the weeks before his fight with dos Santos that there is always the must-win fight, some even more so, as he had faced when he was 1-2 in the UFC and a loss away from being fired. Instead Rothwell rose to the occasion reeling off four-straight and putting himself in the position to fight the former champ.
Rothwell certainly didn’t choke, he fought hard. No doubt the loss stings and will for a long time. His UFC title hopes have taken a hit and he might not be in that position again. That he fought so well to get to that point though is to be applauded. He lived the dream by getting his chance, that is not a failure.
Conversely dos Santos did what the dream is about, overcoming adversity, being in a must-win situation and now has put himself smack in the middle of a title discussion. He is revived, closer to another try at regaining the title he lost in 2012.
Randy Couture told me he wished he had a better win-loss record. The Hall of Famer doesn’t dwell on it but he’s like every great participant, those who were talented and dedicated enough to live the dream where no loss isn’t thought about occasionally. Manny Pacquiao closed out a brilliant career with a victory. His esteemed coach Freddie Roach has even thrown out some names he wishes Pacquiao would consider before really and truly hanging it up. Taking one more chance though? Manny has nothing left to prove. Still it is what makes the special ones just that, they always try and we always want to see it. Even when they aren’t at the top of the game any longer.
Kobe Bryant missed as many big shots as he made, so did Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Kobe closed out his career Wednesday night with a whopping 60 points, the perfect Hollywood ending as he rallied to Lakers to victory. The argument is just that he should’ve ended the Hall of Fame bound career before this season. But when the dream is realized, even beyond the wildest ones, as Bryant has done for twenty years it’s understandable to milk the moment as long as possible, to even still have the courage to fail.
For everyone who has thought about living that dream, do they also allow themselves to think about what might be that big shot missed, the putt blown, the fight lost? We never think about choking, however those who have gotten there know it is part of the equation of risk-reward. And who wouldn’t want to try?
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