Doggone that cat can play | AspenTimes.com

Doggone that cat can play

Todd Hartley

Loyal readers of Cheap Shots, both of them, may have noticed that I have been on somewhat of an extended hiatus these past few months. For this I would like to apologize. I certainly intended no slight toward those troubled few who have come to depend on my penetrating insight into the realm of sports each week for the last three-plus years.

No, the trouble, my friends, is that after that much time spent writing about sports, I noticed I was starting to cover the same old ground, and I found myself penning rants that were disturbingly similar to ones I’d written back in 1999. So, lest I ultimately grow stale, I decided to step away for a while and make a solid re-evaluation of how I felt about Cheap Shots.

But in the time I spent not writing, nothing in the sports world changed enough in my opinion to warrant my return. The same story lines seemed to play out week after week: spoiled, overpaid athletes who are little better than thugs; cheap shots of a more violent nature sullying the NHL’s reputation; overhyped college hoopsters leaving school early because some shady agent is whispering in their ear; and, of course, the usual assortment of drug scandals, spousal abuse, contract disputes, labor problems and Darryl Strawberry and Mike Tyson.

Same old, same old. I could have just recycled the exact same columns I wrote two years ago. Naturally, being the artist that I am I refused to sacrifice my principles, and my pen stayed silent. (You know and I know that I’ve never actually used anything but a computer to write a column, but you get the idea.)

But just last week something happened that changed my mind and rekindled my enthusiasm for sports, prompting me to take quill in hand (just stay with the metaphor) and start writing my column again.

What happened, you ask? Well, Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, his eighth victory in a major overall and second this year, following on the heels of his third Masters title back in April.

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Oh, there was nothing particularly stirring about the way he won the tournament. He even shot over par in Sunday’s final round but was still able to coast to victory when nobody else made a charge. It was a fairly routine, workmanlike victory, not unlike April’s showing at Augusta.

However, the win did put him in line to win golf’s fabled Grand Slam, an unprecedented feat that Tiger can accomplish with wins in the British Open at Muirfield in a few weeks and at the PGA Championship later this summer at Hazeltine. But should Tiger actually pull off the Grand Slam, I don’t think it would surprise anyone, and that is what made me come out of my semi-retirement.

I realized for the first time how privileged I am to be able to see the greatest golfer in history, in his prime, doing what even Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer could only dream of. And that realization made me see just how lucky I and others of my generation have been in terms of the sports we get to see and experience.

We got Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, arguably the best hockey player ever to lace up the skates. (And for those from Pittsburgh who want to argue that point, we also got Super Mario, the second greatest.) We even were blessed with seeing the greatest, or at least winningest, goalie of all time in Patrick Roy.

We saw Magic and Larry battle it out on the hardwood throughout the ’80s, and when they were done we got Michael Jordan, who outshined both of them and raised basketball and corporate sponsorships to new heights. Then, miraculously enough, as soon as His Airness stepped down from the throne, a giant named Shaq stepped right up.

Sure, we missed Ruth, Mays and Aaron, but we got McGwire, Bonds, Nolan Ryan and Ricky Henderson (the latter two of whose careers actually span about six generations). And we might not have been around to see Butkus and Unitas and Jim Brown, but we got Montana, Elway, Barry Sanders and Walter Payton.

And finally it dawned on me that I have the honor of chronicling, in my own small way, a true golden age of sports, and I knew that I would be a doggone fool to let the opportunity go to waste.

Well, I may be and probably am a fool, but I sure as heck ain’t doggone, so I’m back.

Thanks for waiting. Both of you.

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