The Good Old Days?
These Are them!

Written by: Jim Souhan
2008, Minneapolis Star Tribune
All Rights Reserved

Today is one of the two days of the year on which no major American sporting events are scheduled -- unless you count the Home Run Derby or the latest Brett Favre Retirement/Unretirement announcement, which I don't. The days before and after baseball's All-Star Game create 24-hour voids on the sports calendar, as good a time as any to reflect on an amazing year.

The Giants upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl, with the biggest play of the game coming on a pass from Eli Manning that David Tyree caught one-handed while tightly covered. The only thing more stunning than the catch, and the Patriots' loss, was that Manning and Tyree were at a Super Bowl without tickets.

Kansas won the college basketball title, thanks to a dramatic last-second shot and an overtime surge.

Tiger Woods, after being told his knee was shredded, told his doctor he was going to play in the U.S. Open anyway, and win it. Then he did, making two dramatic putts on the 18th green -- one to force an 18-hole playoff, and one to extend it to a 91st hole, where he finally put away Everyman Rocco Mediate, America's most popular loser since Homer Simpson.

At Wimbledon, which has declined in popularity in America faster than the SUV, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in one of the greatest -- and longest -- tennis matches in history.

Older sports fans love to reminisce about the good old days, but anyone with clear eyes and a functioning hearing aid should recognize that sports have never been better.

They've never been more accessible. Anyone with enough motivation and money can find virtually every pro sporting event on a TV or radio somewhere.

They've never been more beautiful. Today's grass fields are manicured like royal gardens. You could sleep on (or eat off of) the Twins' spring training fields, and even artificial turf has become more attractive and safe. And HDTV brings stunning clarity and detail into your living room.

They've never been more unpredictable. The days of dynasties are gone. "We're No. 1!" is now more a plea for momentary attention than a statement of fact. If Eli's Giants can beat Brady's Patriots, the Tampa Bay Rays can lead the Yankees and Red Sox for most of the first half, the expansion Marlins and Diamondbacks can both beat the Yankees in the World Series within three seasons, the Red Sox and White Sox can end championship droughts in consecutive years, and the Celtics can go from embarrassment to celebration in one year, we are no longer allowed to be surprised.

Mostly, sports have never been populated by such well-conditioned, well-trained and talented athletes.

Watch films of old baseball, basketball and football games (even those featuring Hall of Famers) and everyone looks like they're playing underwater while wearing ankle weights.

Remember Max McGee making those touchdown catches in the Super Bowl? McGee became a hero by making routine receptions while wide open. Tyree, a Giants reserve, made a catch on a pass that most players in the '60s, '70s and even the '80s may not have been able to touch.

Woods is the best golfer of all time. Federer was nearing the title of best tennis player of all time before the rise of Nadal. Alex Rodriguez will become the greatest power hitter of all time, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning might be the two greatest quarterbacks of all time, and Greg Maddux might be as good as any pitcher in history.

Today's baseball, football and basketball players are better than their predecessors -- bigger, stronger, faster, better-conditioned and better trained -- and it's not close.

For all of the wonders of the modern sports world, though, there is nothing like watching a young baseball team come of age during the summer, creating an ambient and uplifting soundtrack for our barbecues and trips to the cabin. Football and basketball provide emotional peaks, but I'll take a bunch of overachieving ballplayers grinding through the dog days over anything else in sports. For this Minnesotan, the young, hungry Twins finding a way to contend is as good as it gets.