The Sports Legacy Debate

How would today's stars stack up against those of the past?

James LeBeauby James LeBeau

So I was driving my children to school today, bleary eyed with a thin layer of drool running down my chin (otherwise known as the usual), and I was listening to ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike in the morning (also known as the usual). As per the norm with these two, they were in the midst of an interesting debate over whether or not today's stars, in thirty years, would be talked about in the same reverent tones as the older stars are today.

The primary example they kept going back to was the ceremonial opening of the Augusta Major tournament that traditionally has Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer strike tee shots to declare the event is under way. One Mike was wondering whether in 30 years, if Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson replaced today's duo, would it still be as memorable.

My take on this is simple, no it wouldn't.

It wouldn't because of the nature of golf, it's aura of respectability and integrity. That aura is perfectly summed up by the Palmer/Nicklaus duo who flourished without being under the increased scrutiny that today's environment brings. They transcended their sport and their aura of greatness was allowed to flourish without the mad rush of paparazzi and the social media dissecting their personal lives. Tiger and Phil, who may eventually pass those two in the area of accomplishments, have been made too human in the eyes of the people to allow that level of hero worship to endure.

Now football, on the other hand, is a different story.

If you were to ask the same question about in 30 years would Peyton Manning and Tom Brady be more revered than say, Joe Namath and Jim Brown or Joe Montana and Dan Marino,  then the answer to that one would be a resounding yes. The reasoning behind this one is simple and two-fold, popularity of the sport and the nature of the two stars.

Football has never been more in the public eye than it has this past decade. It has easily leap-frogged it's way above basketball and baseball as America's sport and a major reason for that is that the sport is made to continuously churn out stars, and with each level of stars, the likely hood of an all-time great hitting the field is increased. With popularity comes awareness and with awareness comes increased remembrance and with that, players can transcend time.

Now on to the second part of my reasoning.

Taking a look at the two current stars in question, Manning and Brady, you can easily see how they will go down as the greatest to play the game. They have the ability, the rings, the longevity and most importantly, they have avoided the scandal and negative headlines that could derail their mark on the game. They are vibrant contemporary rivals that have the full endorsement of the NFL and the media. They play the most important position in the game and they both excel at it.

Hence why they will be remembered with all-time reverence.

With each sport, the argument of legacy differs between the past and present players and the reasoning behind it can be summed up in the same way as the Manning/Brady argument; popularity of the sport and the natures of the stars. Basically, you can take this argument to any sport and be answered by simply looking at the era where the said sport was most popular and finding that era's most transcendent stars.

This debate was interesting to touch upon but simple to break down. On to the next one, Mike & Mike…

Photo Courtesy of: AP Images