Remember those who tried

If you love sports — and, of course, you do — this has been a most invigorating summer — Olympic Games, U.S. Open and PGA Championship in golf, Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis, Euro 2012 in soccer, on and on.

 

And now pennant races in baseball, the big European soccer leagues kicking off, the Ryder Cup later on, and tonight the opening of big boy tackle football, South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m., ESPN, be there or be square. I would bet the Ol’ Ball Coach ain’t too thrilled to start the season on the road in a conference game, but ESPN has the dough, and them that’s got the dough bakes the bread. So to speak.

 

All of which reminds us to be thankful to the guy from Zenith who invented the TV remote control. He died earlier this year. May he RIP, while we punch up the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat from here to Atlanta to London to Flushing Meadows.

 

It was there yesterday on TV that I saw a sight that zoomed me back to my old sportswriting days, when the papers had a enough dough to allow us to gang cover big events. The arguments in the press box as time grew short in the fourth quarter inevitably ran toward which paper’s columnist got the loser’s locker room and which drew the winner’s.

 

The real emotion, the best stories by miles, came from those teams, those players, whose hearts had just been shattered on the field. Thus it was yesterday, catching a glimpse of world No. 1 golfer Rory McIlroy in the friend’s box, head buried in hands, as his girlfriend Caroline Wozniaki, former tennis world No. 1, bombed out in the first round, 2 and 2, to the 96th ranked player in the world.

 

It’s a reminder that these are real people, that for loved ones in the stands the games are often not about glory so much as about sadness. It was killing Rory, no doubt, that Caroline was going to be so devastated. A few weeks after blowing away the field to win the PGA Championship, all he was caring about was how she was feeling, and it was going to be devastating.

 

Which reminds me of the saddest thing any of us old guys used to witness on a regular sporting basis, Monday morning qualifying on the PGA Tour, 30 or 40 guys trying for two or three spots in that week’s tournament.

 

The sight of some poor young guy, two nervous three-putts on the back nine leaving him unemployed for the week again, shoving his clubs into his trunk, his — always — achingly beautiful and brittle wife, so young and vulnerable, leaning on the door, sobbing, longing for her husband to be happy, knowing that the lid was, a week at a time, slamming shut on their dreams, wondering which way it was to Waco, to the next crummy qualifier, wondering if this is the week the syndicate of investors back at the club was going to call them home to a life of teaching uncoordinated schmucks how to grip a 2-iron like Arnold Palmer.

 

The real story of sports? Rory, the mighty Federer, the Yankees, Manchester United, the Saints, Green Bay, adorable Gabby, all our magnificent women track athletes and swimmers from London.

 

But in the background, always, lest we forget, the ones who tried so hard and didn’t win, the ones left in the parking lots, beyond the glare of the lights, tears flowing, the window closing on childhood dreams chased across continents.

 

That’s the grownup version of sports, those people who had the guts but not the talent, the brave ones who made the chase.

 

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