As the saying goes in sports, only Father Time is undefeated.
Therefore, it’s important that we cheer anytime a mere mortal scores a point against immortality.
One week from today, Peyton Manning will likely play his final NFL game.
It’s not the same Peyton Manning who rewrote the record book for passing proficiency throughout much of his 18-year career. If he ends his career with a Super Bowl victory, it will likely be due to Denver’s dominant defense and that Manning didn’t throw any interceptions.
It might be one last rodeo for The Sheriff, but Manning’s performance won’t spur our amazement like it did when he was a young buck.
Basketball fans also know the feeling. When Kobe Bryant played his final game in Portland on Jan. 23, those at the Moda Center didn’t see why the Lakers star will go down as one of the NBA’s top-10 players of all time.
Instead, we had to be content with an anticlimactic showing. Bryant scored 10 points, had five turnovers and sat out much of what was likely the worst of his 41 games in Portland.
On that night, fans paid homage to a talent that had long withered.
Much like we did when the only “Air” in Michael Jordan’s game were the fadeaway jumpers he was taking for the Washington Wizards.
Much like Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, during which he hit .256 and spent more time receiving gifts than on the basepaths.
Much like Jaromir Jagr … oh wait. Hockey players never retire.
We love to salute our sports legends. Unfortunately, we too often relish and appreciate that shining talent when it’s a shadow if its former self.
So it’s important to sit back and appreciate athletes in their prime. Be entertained. Stop and smell the popcorn.
Tip your hat to Kobe Bryant. But the next time Golden State is on television, spend two hours doing nothing but watching Stephen Curry, who might go down as the best pure shooter in NBA history.
Track the movement off the ball that helps create his shots. Appreciate the child-like joy and freedom with which he plays. Marvel at his quick release. Try to wrap your head around the fact that he makes 53 percent of his shots from 25 feet or farther. That’s three feet beyond the NBA’s three-point line.
Next Sunday, take one last marvel at how Manning’s commands the line of scrimmage. Try to appreciate the subtleties in how he changes plays and alignments. It’s a chess-master in action.
But also appreciate the brute strength of Cam Newton, who confounds even the world’s best tacklers. Then watch him deliver a pass with pinpoint precision and appreciate how the Carolina quarterback has molded himself into a nearly unstoppable football player.
Shake your head in amazement as opponents shake their head in frustration.
It’s better than shaking your head in regret that superstar talent was only appreciated in retrospect.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @col_mrice.