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The Fallen Can Rise

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(credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Campbell_Bill-FEATURE-img Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell, known to all Philadelphiasports fans as “The Dean,”...
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By Bill Campbell

Different Opinions

There seems to be a national animosity directed at Tiger Woods. It’s pervasive and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end. We’re usually pretty forgiving when it comes to our fallen idols– but not when it comes to Woods. I can’t help but wonder why. Consider the question.

Jack Nicklaus has won eighteen majors, more than anyone else. Tiger Woods is next with 14. I’m a Jack Nicklaus fan but I’d enjoy seeing Tiger tie Jack at eighteen. Am I wrong or do you really think it shouldn’t happen? Tiger Woods is thirty-seven years old. At the recently-played Masters, he participated in his 61st major golf tournament as a pro. He has the time and talent to tie The Golden Bear. Do you want to miss that? Can you look forward to his doing it? Or is it more important that he fail as payment for his personal flaws? It’s more than an interesting question and I think that the various responses we all may have to it get us to the essence of why we love pro sports and all it involves.

To me, this question is really about two men, two superior athletes. One finished as a top competitor with no scandal to haunt him. The other is doing the chasing. It makes me think back to when Hank Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth. We see Tiger as he stands over the ball, powerful and solid, perhaps better than anyone else. We can envision Nicklaus in his day, doing the same. Woods has won not only seventeen majors but has racked up sixty-three other tour victories. Only 189 players have six tour wins or more over their entire careers. He has three U.S. Open trophies, three claret jugs, four Wanamaker trophies and four green jackets. Yet many want to see him fail, to fall short of rebuilding himself and his career. Is that what we want for this sport?

Johnny Miller tells us that much too much is made of the majors but, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t say enough about Tiger’s eighty-nine worldwide victories, seventy-seven on tour and twelve wins in the big league courses in Europe, Japan, Africa and Australia. Just as you can’t say enough about what Nicklaus brought to the game. But despite all of these accomplishments, some fans – a considerable number – just don’t like Tiger and they never will. It’s all about the scandal, of course, and I guess that’s understandable. The recent Masters, when there were questions about Tiger’s placement of his ball after his shot went into the water, didn’t help. In fact, it just fueled the opinions about Woods’ perceived attitude and arrogance all over again. But whether you like him or not, it must be acknowledged that Tiger Woods stands almost alone in the world of professional golf. The numbers don’t lie. Maybe the golf writer Michael Bamberger was right when he said that Tiger Woods is a guy who “wants it too much and needs it too much.” Maybe the fans get that about him and so they begrudge him his success. I’m told that Bobby Jones was despised by the locals when he first went to St. Andrew’s to play in the British Open in 1921. We may be seeing something like that again in 2013 when it comes to people’s perceptions of Tiger Woods. Jones won their respect. Nicklaus had it and kept it through the years. Maybe it’s not too late for The Tiger.

Musings from The Masters

There were a couple of interesting developments at the Masters last weekend which I continue to think about. There were two miraculous shots that I keep seeing in my mind. Maybe you do too.

The first was Tiger Woods’ shot in the third round that clanged off the flag staff and into the water. It came at an inopportune time and could have cut his momentum in pursuit of the leader. But Woods didn’t react negatively to it. Recalling it after the tourney he said, “We could do a lot of ‘What if’s’ on every tournament when we don’t win. We lose more tournaments than we win. I certainly had my chance all week. I just didn’t make enough putts.” A fair self-evaluation if ever there was one. And it avoided his revisiting the drop of the ball that came after that shot, creating controversy all around and resulting in a two-shot penalty on Woods. But I keep seeing that ball fly off and sink in my mind and I have to think he does too.

The other remarkable shot was the second on eighteen by Angel Cabrera that enabled him to deadlock, albeit temporarily, with Adam Scott and head into sudden death play. It was aimed dead at the pin but with dexterity and touch. Under tremendous pressure, Cabrera tapped it just right and….there it was. The typing putt. An incredible moment causing the crowd to erupt into cheers. There had been lots of talk about Woods’ penalty till then but, in the final analysis, great golf overcomes controversy and the focus was on Cabrera and Adam Scott. The eventual winner, Scott is thirty-two years old and was 0 for 48 majors as he entered Masters week. By the end, he had become the first Australian to win the green jacket. He and Cabrera made it a Masters to remember, shot by shot, hole by hole.

Forty-three-year old Angel Cabrera has won just two events in 187 majors. But if you’re going to win only two, what better than the U.S. Open, which he won at Oakmont in 2007, and the Masters in 2009? He was the 209th ranked player in the world and was trying to become the second-oldest to win the Masters, and the 17th oldest to win it twice, as we watched earlier this month.

Third round leader, Brandt Snedecker, was merely disappointed this time in not winning, winding up at 284, 5 strokes out of the playoffs and giving Woods a putting lesson. Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, carded fifteen birdies for the week but had just one round under par, ending with a final round of 73 and a total of 257. His analysis, “I’m just having an off year. This is my favorite tournament, the one that I look forward to play. To perform like this is most disappointing,” said it all.

As you can tell, I love golf whether I’m playing or watching the game. These pros give us a lot to see, think about and remember.

The Phillies

The Phillies are off to a horrible start. They lost two games in one day this week, which is pretty hard to do without scheduling a double-header. They recently concluded a six-game road trip in miserable fashion, losing twice last Wednesday. The first defeat came 1-0 in the

resumption of a suspended game that was halted the night before due to multiple rain interruptions. In the process they also lost two players: Domonic Brown and pitcher John Lannan. Brown suffered an injury to his back in the first inning diving for a ball and Lannan strained his left quadricep tendon in the first inning and lost his effectiveness. He’s on the DL now. In the second inning, the Reds sent ten batters to the plate including opposing pitcher Mike Leake (not exactly a household name), who hit a triple. He’s the first opposing pitcher to hit one against the Phillies in six years. Lannan faced fourteen batters and ten reached base safely. Manager Charley Manuel pulled Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley from the game, raising the white flag of surrender. Nothing good happened in Cincinnati.

The Phils scored 10 runs in those six road games and never scored a run before the 6th inning in any of them. Their batting average in those in those games was a lusty 205. They went forty-one batters without an extra base hit until Raul Valdes, a relief pitcher, doubled to left. They didn’t draw a single base on balls during their three games in Cincinnati. They finally scored on Wednesday when Reds pitcher Justin Freeman, making his major league debut, served up a home run to Freddy Galvis in the 8th inning. The Reds hadn’t been able to win until the Phillies came to town, having lost five in a row before this series.

The Phils’ 6-9 start is their worst in five years. They flew back to Philly on a late night charter to face the St. Louis Cardinals. So far, they pitch pretty well but they don’t hit a lick. Or they get some hits but the pitching falls flat. GM Ruben Amaro says we all lack patience. Maybe so but we can’t help but wonder what’s next. It could be a long season at Citizens Bank Park.

The Family of Runners

The sorrow and tragedy of the Boston Marathon Bombings was felt across the country. But it was particularly felt in the running community, which is a very tight-knit family. As writers and newscasters have pointed out this week, the running family loves competition and forms friendships that last for years. That’s probably what will provide support for those who were injured as they crossed the finish line on Boylston Street. But it’s also what made the bombings hurt that much more.

Villanova track and field coach, Marcus O’Sullivan, said, “To me, the runners provide a sanctuary of sorts. People go there [to Boston] because it’s time to come together in a joyous moment and at a joyous time. So when something happens like Boston, man, it is really very tragic.” The bombings, which tore through that sense of joy, will have an effect elsewhere, too. Like at the Penn Relays which start next week for the 119th time, featuring 20,000 athletes from grade school kids to elite professionals. The event draws more than 100,000 spectators to Franklin Field, including something like 50,000 on the last day. After Boston, the relay officials at Penn are calling security a high priority. Dave Johnson, Director of the Penn Relays, issued a statement saying, “It is something we take very seriously. Given the situation in Boston, additional security measures will be undertaken during this year’s games. We are not, however, going to discuss the specific details about security activities. Things will certainly be tighter than they were the last few years ” Johnson refused to elaborate but said that high-level talks involving various agencies are underway to protect the runners and fans from incident. We all know that even the best of planners can’t anticipate everything but let’s hope things go off in our city without a hitch.

The first responders in Boston quickly reached seventy-eight-year-old Bill Iffrig, a dedicated runner from Washington state and intended Penn Relay starter, who was seen falling to the street when the first bomb exploded in the crowd to his left. We’ve all seen the photo and video by now. Iffrig has become a symbol of Boston down and Boston rising. He says he will run again. That’s how the running family lives. That’s how Boston lives. Here in Philadelphia, we understand that. We wish them well.

Sixers and Flyers

The 76ers ended their sad season on Wednesday night with a meaningless victory over the Indiana Pacers, 105-95. It was an empty win because the Pacers are going on to the NBA playoffs but the Sixers are heading home. Indiana benched 4 starters to rest them for the impending competition so the result was a foregone conclusion. The Sixers’ season fell well short of expectations and everyone was, indeed, glad to see the season come to a close. Doug Collins appeared ready to end his 3-year coaching stint here and to take on a special advisory position. His finishes with a 110-120 record here, after coaching jobs in Detroit, Washington and Chicago. He never has managed to complete a third season at any other spots. Overall, Collins is 442-407 as a coach. He may be involved in significant Sixers’ decisions in the future as he’ll be collecting something like $4.5 million next year. And it appears that he will remain part of the team family. I wonder whether his voice will be heard. It’s interesting to ponder – along with the fate of Andrew Bynum, whose future after this wasted year is hard to predict.

As for the Flyers, the next New York Rangers victory will close the door on the Flyers’ playoff hopes. That inevitable win will signal the Flyers to lock up their stuff and save it for next year. At one point during the current season, both the Sixers and Flyers coaches looked like they’d be gone. Peter Laviolette still has his job although he’s garnered fewer victories than expected this season. Looks like he’ll be back to lead to Flyers through a regular-length season unhampered by player-management disputes and lock-outs. We’ll see what happens. For now, we turn to baseball, basketball play-offs, the NFL draft, pro golf and running to see us through the spring and summer. Not a bad deal.

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