We must appreciate greatness

Gather ‘round, for I have seen greatness.

With a twist of his lobbed sword, Tiger Woods displayed that one particular moment in time we mortals can only fantasize of experiencing. His back against the proverbial wall, the stone-faced Woods faced down a worthy challenger, stared improbability in the face and magicianed his way into the etched memories of a generation by willing a golf ball to do the near-impossible.

For those of us who saw Woods’ miraculous chip shot on the 16th hole of last weekend’s Master’s tournament, we are the better for it. For those who didn’t see it, you missed a rare peek into greatness.

I worship greatness. Don’t get me wrong, I admire a hard-working attitude and emotionally invest myself into the travails and accomplishments of the classic underdog. However, there is something about true greatness that sends chills racing through my body. I am mystified by that unique ability an individual can have in any one particular field to absolutely electrify the masses, and wonder what it must be like to be that individual for even a moment.

I’ve heard many, including Woods himself, describe that shot he pulled off last week as luck. Certainly, he could not have expected the ball to do a complete change of direction, roll downhill, come to a complete stop on the lip of the cup and somehow put into question all we know about the rules of gravity by just inexplicably falling in to the unforgettable. However, if someone was indeed to make that shot under the most intensified of pressure cookers professional golf has to offer, were any of us truly surprised it was Woods to do it? Could “luck” simply keep happening to one man over and over again?

Or, as I argue, is he just great?

Doesn’t there come a time where we just accept that greatness finds greatness? Isn’t there some validity to the point that greatness is not simply the consistent performance of someone superior to the rest of the world, but also the ability of an individual to freeze time and take away our collective breath through feats of wonder?

Let me give you another example.

I’m sitting around the house the other night, remote control balancing on my gellatinous belly and a showercap full of Rogaine goodness on my head, when I felt a chill. Realizing some of the Rogaine had spilled on the back of my neck, I quickly wiped it off with my tube sock, but was met with a different kind of chill when I saw what was coming up next on ESPN.

They were doing a special on the late Shirley Povich, the legendary columnist of the Washington Post who had made me appreciate excellent writing as a young boy. I was blessed as a child growing up in our nation’s capital. When we weren’t sucking dry air from the humidity or fleeing the wrath of ill-humored drug dealers, we were able to comb through the Post every morning and read Povich, Bob Levy, Thomas Boswell, Dave Kindred, John Feinstein and, well, the list goes on and on. To me, as a youth, the columnists were the newspaper, and I savored every inch of their wit and their unique abilities to tell a story.

That being said, Povich was my favorite.

He was flowery and blunt, romantic and gruff. He could describe a running back breaking through a violent line of scrimmage with a metaphor of a gazelle sprinting through an eternity of wild grass. And yet, the next column he wrote, or even the next paragraph on occassion, he would explain to all of us how an owner or athlete should be taken out back and flogged because of a lack of character.

Now, to tell the truth, there’s a story in my personal life that my father has reminded me of for the past 25 years or so. One morning, while munching on some cereal and reading the paper, I looked to my dad and explained that I really liked this woman who wrote for the Post.

“Who,” he asked, a showercap of some kind of miracle hair growth perched on his own head. “Christine Brennan?”

“No, but I like her, too. I was talking about Shirley Povich.”

Yes, he laughed over this brief exchange, and continues to do so to this day. You know, you’d think he’d get over it. I mean, I’m not exactly the first guy to confuse a guy with a woman in D.C. I remember one time, when hanging out with my friends on East Capital Street ...

But I digress.

The point here is greatness, and one story on the ESPN special told me all I needed about Povich’s brilliance. When Povich heard that the federal government would be financing the new stadium for the Washington Redskins decades ago, he grew irate. He used his column space to write an open letter to the government, condemning them for giving money to a team that was the only professional sports franchise to not have any black athletes. He accused them of supporting prejudice by providing money to the Redskins’ owner. Guess who blinked following Povich’s column?

The Redskins signed their first black player a short time later, and the feds gave the money only after that signing. That’s juice.

And that’s greatness.