Think, if you will for a moment, of your country’s wildest sporting dream. For Canadians, a gold medal in hockey might be just the accessory to go with all that maple syrup. In Australia, winning the Rugby World Cup over rivals New Zealand and South Africa is a source of pride for locals. The people of the United States find it best to rest laurels on domestic competitions, only really getting involved externally if their nation happens to be exerting dominance as a sort of athletic manifest destiny. Regardless of the means, people love putting stock in competition because they believe the payoff far outweighs potential letdowns. It is fun to concoct scenarios, however unlikely, in which your team defies all the odds to win. Be careful what you wish for, however. Living vicariously means dying vicariously, and the only resting place for most is a grave on the world’s most visible stage – the FIFA World Cup.
“And then? And then, when I walked down the street, people would’ve looked, and they would’ve said, ‘There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.'” – The Natural
Exceedingly rare in sports is the career in which a player maintains a world-class level of dominance through a retirement on his or her own terms. Only a handful of players can even lay any valid claim to that. Wayne Gretzky scored 90 points in his second-to-last NHL season only to fall down to 62, a perfectly formidable number for a 38-year-old center in professional hockey, in his final season, 1998-’99. In the same sport, legendary Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak retired at the age of 32 in 1984 after accumulating dozens of accolades and medals with the Soviet national team and CSKA Moscow and also without ever playing a minute in the NHL. Michael Jordan managed to average 20 points per game in the 2002-’03 season during his second and final comeback, with the Washington Wizards. He even scored 43 points as a 40-year-old, a task suburban dads in driveways everywhere wish to check off the Saturday morning to-do list. Depending on how the next half-decade or so shakes out, Kobe Bryant could be there too. John Elway finished his career at the very peak of the mountain, with two straight Super Bowl victories in 1998 and ’99. A few European footballers, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Xavi Hernandez among them, also had or are having satisfyingly lengthy careers in which they maintain high competitive levels.
With this week’s conflicting reports of quarterback Mark Sanchez either being out for the season or, at the very least, being out for the foreseeable future, many Jets fans, myself included, have come to the conclusion that the rollercoaster of Sanchez’s time on the Jets has, for all intents and purposes, come to an end. What began with relatively high hopes and two straight AFC Championship Game appearances will most likely end with many CBS cutaways to Sanchez on the sidelines in a hat trying to look supportive of his apparent successor, Geno Smith. Flashes of his unkempt hair and seven o’clock shadow during timeouts will constitute the majority of the attention he receives here forth, and the announcers will perceive his happiness as having an inverse correlation with Smith’s success as the season progresses. Sanchez has taken the Jets and their fans to higher highs and seemingly bottomless valleys over the course of the last five years, and now that he seems to be on his way out of the city which had once been so keen to christen him as the long-awaited successor to Joe Namath, it is time to reminisce. Hopefully (I guess? Being a Jets fan is confusing, and not just for the idea of actually being a Jets fan), Sanchez will not make a Willis Reed-like return in the fading weeks of the season to bring the Jets to the brink of the playoffs and then go 5-21 with 4 interceptions and a lost fumble in Week 17. That would render this piece premature and really take some of the fun out of it. And yet, that would be a perfectly Mark Sanchez-with-the-Jets thing to do. In fact, it would simply be a perfect Jets thing to do, as this franchise loves to string its fans along with enough promise to keep the team interesting. Then, just when we think the team is ready to finally strangle the monkey on our back, the team realizes it is still the New York Jets, and we return to mediocrity under the most judgmental media magnifying glass in this country. With all that said, what follows is a look back at Sanchez’s span in New York, as told through the universal language that is pop music. Read More