Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, Tim Russert And The Primal Urge To Live Through History



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I spent most of this past Father's Day weekend and all of Monday watching Tiger Woods drag himself to victory at the U.S. Open on a busted leg. Monday's webcast was, in particular, a joy to watch. The long, interstitial shots of the coast during the TV breaks were oddly soothing. I noticed during the coverage that Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller went to great pains to let the audience know just how big of an underdog Rocco Mediate was. He was old! He was ranked really low! He had a bad back! He was abused by lesbian nuns as a child!

They also took great pains to let the audience know that Mediate was really enjoying himself out on the course. It was damn near Farvian praise. Look at him smiling like a little kid! And talking! And having fun! And not acting like a total prick! Indeed, it was a rare sight in golf. Especially in contrast to Woods, who spent most of the tournament (17 and 18 on Saturday excepted) looking like he had an acorn up his ass. I'd blame it on the leg, if he didn't look like that during pretty much every tournament.

And yet, for all of those attributes. for every likable, underdog quality Mediate possessed, I had zero interest in seeing him actually win the tournament. I wanted Woods to win. And when he did, I was pleased. I rooted for the big man to crush the little guy.

Rooting for Woods, as pretty much all casual golf fans do, runs counter to our instincts as sports fans. You'd never root for a 1 seed to pull of the win against a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament unless it was your own school or you had a boatload of cash riding on it. You'd never root for the Yankees to win the World Series, unless you live in the Bronx and enjoy smacking your girlfriend around. It's an American thing to root for the underdog. Rooting for the best team is a total dick move. It's why Boston fans are such assbags.

So why is Tiger an anomaly? Well, for one thing, it's golf. Random assholes populate the leaderboards of events all the time. Rocco Mediate may have been an enormous underdog. But really, he's no more surprising a contender than Rich Beem was when he beat out Tiger at the 2002 PGA Championship. Or Ben Curtis when he won the British Open a few years back. It's not exactly earth-shattering when a golfer you've never heard of pulls a great week out of his ass and wins a Major, even with Tiger around. It happens all the time. Just because Rocco's a particularly affable guy doesn't mean he's that much different from the rest of the Michael Campbells out there.

As a result, a Tiger win feels more significant in the long run than a Tiger upset. This sort of evaluation cuts across all sports. We as fans are constantly weighing the potential magnitude of the unexpected versus the dominant. A lot of people wanted to see the Patriots go 19-0 this year, because it was unprecedented. A lot of people wanted to see the Patriots go 18-1 this year, because it was unprecedented. More often than not, when confronted with a neutral rooting interest, we make our decision on who to cheer for based on which outcome we feel will be more historic.

The average casual golf fan doesn't tune into Tiger on TV just to watch him lose. They're there to see him do shit well beyond the standards for excellence in his field of work. They're there to watch him make history. More important, they're there to feel as if they are a living part of that history.

It's funny desire to have, yet it's something that possesses many of us. I know it affects me. I wanted to watch the US Open not only for its sheer entertainment value (and to avoid the very small amount of daily work I regularly do), but to be in on the moment when something significant happened. To feel like I was there. And to say that I was there when I saw it.

This isn't terribly rational on my part. In fact, it's pretty goddamn narcissistic. After all, I didn't do jack shit. All I did was watch some other guy do something. And it's not as if watching it happen was something only I got to do. Millions of people saw it. After Tiger retires, multiple generations of people out there will be able to say they watched him play golf. Given that being able to watch him play is simply a matter of age and circumstance, and that any of your peers or mine could make a similar boast, why is it so important to be in on that history?

When Tim Russert died on Friday, I learned about it when I was at the gym. They cut out from the US Open coverage and went to a big NBC NEWS SPECIAL REPORT graphic. Then Tom Brokaw showed up on screen, at which point I knew some serious shit was going down. Clearly, Brokaw was there to deliver some sort of tragic news. And, in that moment, I felt an emotion I really should not have felt: a very, very morbid sense of excitement.

It was an absolutely shameful emotion to feel. The guy fucking died. Yet, when something sudden and tragic happens in the world – 9/11, Katrina, the bombings in London, etc. – it's sometimes impossible to suppress the adrenaline flow and NOT feel a bit energized by the fact that something is HAPPENING – a sordid thrill that you are there live to witness to something of an almost impossible magnitude. You'll find no shortage of people who will talk to you enthusiastically about where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when 9/11 happened. There's a sadness to all of those tales, but there's also a kind of odd pride that emanates, that comes from the storyteller having lived through it. I hate that I sometimes have that feeling deep in the recesses of my mind when tragedy strikes. It's inappropriate, pathetic, and useless. So why is it there?

I'm voting for Barack Obama this fall. Now, I have lots of reasons to do it, all of them blatantly self-serving. Don't like Obama? Feel like voting for McCain? Fine by me. I'm not interested in starting any sort of political flame war. But the main reason that I'm voting for Obama is because he offers something that McCain does not: an opportunity for me to "be a part" of a historic moment.

It's an inescapable fact for both candidates that a black man winning the White House would be a far a greater milestone in American History than if another oldass white guy were to keep the streak alive. The reason Obama can talk about change all the time without getting too specific is because he doesn't have to get specific. He IS the change. The act of him winning, by itself, has a huge impact.

So there's something immensely appealing to me about the prospect of living through that sort of moment. I was born in 1976. I have lived through exactly one seminal moment in American history, and that was 9/11. I would very much like something to counterbalance it. I'd like to bear witness to history and not feel ashamed for the odd kind of thrill it provides. I'm voting for the moment as much as I'm voting for the man.

I wish I could tell you I like Barack Obama because he has detailed plans laid out to end the war, solve the economy, save the planet, cure cancer, invent the flying car, and get Erin Andrews to pose for High Society. And he may very well have those plans tucked away somewhere on his website, along with a fully padded resume. But I've never bothered to look, because I don't particularly give a shit about any of that (except the Erin Andrews part). No, I'm voting for him because, history-wise, it's just more interesting. It makes for a more entertaining and significant part of MY personal history.

Is this a superficial reason to vote for someone? Even somewhat racist? Oh, yes. Superficiality and racism are two of my strongest suits. But I can't resist the primal urge, deep in my core, to watch something notable occur. You hear Baby Boomers brag all the time about the 60's and Woodstock and all that shit. "What a time to be alive, maaaaan." It's almost as if generations are competitive with one another about who gets to be around for the most shit going down, good or bad. Because if we're around for something important, then there's a feeling, by osmosis, that we're important as well.

Even more, there's a feeling that, the more history we get to live through, the more we have in common as a population. Even though we do it in separate rooms and houses, we watch massive sporting events like the U.S. Open together. We watch presidential elections together. We watch horrible news like 9/11 together. And we get to share with each other where we were when it happened, and how we felt. Those moments galvanize us. We call each other when the moment happens. We email. We leave a comment. We give each other our own little, tiny, insignificant view of that history.

It's a natural byproduct of our ambition, our selfishness, our insecurity, and our curiosity. It's a way of amplifying our own lives, of placing our lives into a greater context. Alone, we don't matter. The only way we can feel like we've made an impact on the world is if we're part of a moment that's woven into the greater social fabric. Because those moments cannot achieve transcendence if no one is there to witness them.

It's a selfish, arrogant feeling, to want to be a part of history in the making. But it's a feeling that all of us, at one time or another, share. And that's what makes it so oddly beautiful.

And that's why Tiger's leg can't heal fast enough.