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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

For Some Teams, Winning Can Be Relative

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"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," so said Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach. Commentator Frank Deford says Lombardi was on the right track, but left a few things out.


Hey, the baseball playoffs continue tonight in St. Louis where the Cardinals face the Astros. It's game six of the National League Championship series. The Cardinals trail the series three games to two, so for them, this is a must-win game. For some teams, though, winning can be relative. Here's some commentary from Frank Deford.


There really are degrees of victory, or what victory means to certain teams. For a prime example, the Atlanta Braves. Fourteen times in a row they've won their division, an absolutely amazing stretch. But only once have they won the World Series. So John Schuerholz, their general manager, must be the best in baseball. Bobby Cox is certainly among the best managers. But winning in the regular season doesn't mean anything anymore to the Braves. Why does anybody even bother to attend their games? Until they win another World Series, they're--well, all right, they're not losers, but they're winning duds.

On the other hand, the Yankees. One of the great modern sports absurdities repeated solemnly as Gospel over and over by Yankee players, the media, the fans, is that if the Yankees don't win the World Series, the season is meaningless. Utter clap trap, balderdash and poppycock, too. In fact, it's the reverse. The Yankees don't have to win anything. All they have to do is stay competitive so that everybody jabbers about them and four million fans pay their way into Yankee Stadium and millions more tune into their network and spend millions of dollars on Yankee memorabilia. The best soap operas just boil the pot. They don't have to cook anything. The Yankees are a pot boiler first, a team second.

In football, the Indianapolis Colts have to win. They've been too glamorous and teased us for too long. It's also become the accepted wisdom that Peyton Manning, the Colts' star quarterback, is something of a paper tiger. The litany we here now is, `Sure, Manning sets all sorts of records, but Tom Brady of the Patriots--hey, he's a winner.' In a team game, like football, this makes for sophistry, but it's catching. The Colts better win it all or they, and Manning in particular, will soon be branded as poseurs who can't win the big one.

Mike Krzyzewski, of Duke, will apparently be named as coach of the US basketball team for the 2006 World Games and the 2008 Olympics. He has to win. Must. No excuses. After all our failures in international basketball, all our angst, all the promises to get it right, Coach K. has to get it right.

On the other hand, does our soccer team dare win the World Cup next summer? They could, you know. They're in the top 10 in international rankings, and unlike virtually every other country in the world, because soccer isn't a life and death situation here, there's no great pressure on our guys. But the team must think about the welfare of our nation. Most everybody already hates us so much for being so big and pushy, if we who, don't care a fig for soccer, actually won the World Cup from everybody who cares about it desperately, the United States would then be totally despised. We'd be the Klingons. We'd never get anybody in any of our coalitions ever again.

(Soundbite of theme music from "Star Trek")

INSKEEP: Commentary from Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins every Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.


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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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