Monday, April 6, 2009

The Silliness of the Greatest Ever.

It's a letter in the current issue of Sports Illustrated. Written by a fellow named Joseph Evans of Roselle Park, New Jersey. Joseph is talking about an article that appeared in the March 16th issue of SI on New Jersey Devils' goalie, Martin Brodeur.

Now, I don't follow pro hockey all that closely...although I fell in love with minor league hockey when we lived in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area for eight years. And I have heard about Brodeur. He is supposed to be something else.

What Joseph said, though, caught my attention. At the end of his letter he says this about Brodeur, "He's unquestionably the greatest goaltender ever to play in the NHL."

What is the deal with our need to proclaim people the "best ever" or "greatest of all time?" I have a hunch there were some hockey goalies in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's that were pretty amazing. I mean, to compete at the highest levels of sports -whether as an F1 driver, a golfer, a football player, a hockey goalie, a rider in the Tour de France- means you are an extraordinary athlete.

Maybe it is generational myopia. Every generation likes to stand on their little chronological hill, and announce that a pitcher or hitter or goalie or painter or actor or novelist is the greatest ever. Really?

This may come as a surprise to those who have announced that Tiger Woods is the best ever, but Jack Nicklaus was pretty amazing in his day. Lebron James is something else, but so was Oscar Robertson...and Gail Goodrich. There are some great big men in the NBA, but for my money Bill Russell was the best (or should I say one of the best?). U2 is stunning...but so were the Beatles...The Band...Booker T. & the MG's... The Four Tops. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are great quarterbacks, but Joe Montana and Kenny Stabler and Johnny Unitas and Sid Luckman were breath-taking in their day.

I wish we could just appreciate the amazing work of great athletes, writers, actors, directors...without feeling the need to pronounce someone "the greatest ever." It is a silly statement. A statement that reveals our own generation's need to be the axis around which all other generations pivot.

Jesus said the greatest among you must be the least. Servant of all. It's upside-down definition of greatness, but it is true.

Great runners run, great goalies block impossible shots, great writers put words together in ways that change our hearts and the way we see...the way we live. They take our breath away.

How about we agree to stop declaring this person or that "the greatest ever," and just give thanks for what is?

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