There’s nothing quite as depressing as seeing our sports heroes succumb to the ravages of time. Those inevitable periods of decline elicit a painful amalgam of melancholy, nostalgia and an acknowledgment of our own mortality. Not exactly the kind of escape that sports typically supply; more like a reminder that sometimes life sucks and then you die.
Tiger Woods’ recent displays of mother mortality are the latest reminder that, in the world of athletic pursuits, only Father Time has an unblemished record. In fact, given the lingering effects of Tiger’s near-fatal 2021 car crash, Father Time is just running up the score at this point.
After pouring every possible ounce of preparation into this year’s 150th British Open – the ancestral home of golf – Woods plodded around St. Andrews on a reassembled right leg looking in vain for echoes of past glories. Ultimately, he missed the cut by a mile and, in an ignominious footnote for the week, was dusted by 56-year-old sideshow John Daly.
Woods may yet muster his considerable skills for a last hurrah or two. We’re just a year removed from Phil Mickelson’s PGA Championship win at just shy of 51, after all, and golf has a looser age restriction on competitive excellence. But Tiger’s best is clearly far in the rearview mirror, and all of us who wished otherwise were living in denial. Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors seems eternally secure.
Woods is only the latest example on the long list of legendary sportsmen whose last gasps have graced our TV screens. Those of us of a certain age remember a flabby, late-30s Muhammad Ali, already showing signs of Parkinson’s, staggering around the ring getting dominated by Larry Holmes – and then Trevor Berbick – the way a young Ali once dominated an aging Floyd Patterson. (The fact that Ali was still putting his life at risk because he needed the money, only added pathos.)
Painful as it is, we remember Willie Mays struggling to make routine plays as a 42-year-old Met, or Hank Aaron playing out a couple of ceremonial seasons with the Brewers. We recall the sad comeback attempts of Bjorn Borg, Mark Spitz and Jim Palmer, and the embarrassing, stubborn refusal of Brett Favre to retire gracefully. Heck, even Michael Jordan struggled to scrape together 20 points per game as a Washington Wizard.
Of course, there are exceptions, players who have left us wanting more and spared us from watching them waste away. Jim Brown retired from football at the height of his seemingly limitless powers, lured by the siren song of Hollywood stardom, his on-field legend unassailable. Ted Williams hit a home run in his last career at-bat, ducked into the dugout, eschewing a curtain call, and walked away from his playing career for good. (Ted’s frozen head, properly thawed, could probably still go 2-for-5 with a double.)
Then there’s Tom Brady, that rarest of beasts — half GOAT, half unicorn. Surely, somewhere in one of his sprawling properties, there is stored a decaying Brady portrait. There’s no other explanation for the fact that Brady has thrown for more yards and touchdowns in his 40s than he did in his 20s.
Brady aside, careers end, and greatness fades. Tiger’s tearful walk up 18 at the Old Course was perhaps the most poignant reminder of all.
“It got to me,” he said afterwards. Join the club.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.