It is a terrible feeling having to admit an athlete is good, especially when they do a fantastic job of making your team look bad.
It’s even worse when you’ve spent years hating their existence.
I know, I know, “hate” is such a strong word. But when discussing sports rivalries, hate can easily be tossed and thrown about like a beach ball, justifying the emotions of the game as the tide turns in favor or against our beloved teams.
We’ve all heard the excuses. “That was such a lucky shot!” “Where was the foul?” “Why wasn’t holding called?” “Should’ve been a strike called.”
I’m learning every day to face the music and just accept the fact some players are good, have always been good and will always be good. It doesn’t matter how much I don’t like them; they’re going to keep succeeding despite my feeble attempts at hating them.
Here are a few guys I’m still coming to grips with, trying every day to release the hate and anger I feel towards them and realize I’d be better off without the stress.
In doing this, I’ve come to realize you can even have a change of heart about an athlete, perhaps finding an appreciation in the talent and granting acceptance.
Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
For years, I watched this guy terrorize my Tennessee Titans, and for years I hated it.
It seemed like no matter what, the Indianapolis Colts were going to be atop the AFC South, and leading them was always Manning and his armada of strong receivers.
The 6’5”, 230-pound laser-rocket arm quarterback from the University of Tennessee consistently picked apart not only the defense of the Titans, but pretty much every defense he came across.
His methodical offense and cerebral offseason regimen made him the best in the business, culminating in multiple MVP awards and the 2006 Super Bowl Championship.
After Manning’s four neck surgeries and his ceremonious release from the Colts in 2012, I found myself not only moved by his desire to return to the game, but downright rooting for him to come back, perhaps in a Titans jersey no less.
It didn’t happen, as Manning took up the Denver Broncos offer of 5 years and $90 million in search for another title and another chapter in his legacy.
Derek Jeter – New York Yankees
His style. His choice in classy women. His unparalleled defensive play and plate discipline. It has never mattered to me, for Jeter plays in the pinstripes. Oh, how I loathe the pinstripes. For years I have painted my views very clearly about the New York Yankees. The lavish offseason spending. The blatant disregard for the luxury tax. The very idea that a team can just buy up all the skill
positions and leave nothing for the other teams makes me sick to my stomach.
Yet, through it all is Jeter, the stable leader and face of the Yankees. At 38 years old, he could become the oldest shortstop in history to bat above .320 in a season, surpassing Honus Wagner’s 100-year record.
His 3,000th hit, a homerun off Tampa Bay Devil Ray ace David Price, simply coronates his undoubted first-ballot entrance to Cooperstown. During the free-agency era, Jeter has done the unthinkable by spending his entire career with one team, opting to stay loyal to the fan base and front office and not head for greener pastures (if there were any).
He’s always been above the scandal and pressure of being a Yankee, and yet, while my disdain for him is slowly fading out as I wise up with years, I still can’t shake the fact he plays for New York. Maybe if he played for another team (like Peyton Manning), I’d truly appreciate him a little more.
PF LeBron James – Miami Heat
As a Cavalier, I must admit I was one of his biggest fans.
The last of the great high school players to make it in the NBA Draft, LeBron has all of the tools to become one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Behind Head Coach Mike Brown and a young, talented roster, James and Co. were destined to bring great things to Cleveland. Championships, and multiple ones at that.
In Game two of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James hit one of the best buzzer-beaters I have ever seen against a good Orlando Magic team.
It wasn’t to be, as the Cavs would eventually lose to Orlando, and after an early exit in the playoffs in 2010, LeBron changed jerseys and, well, you know the rest of the story.
Miami went absolutely insane after landing not only LeBron James, but Toronto Raptors center Chris Bosh. Combined with Dwayne Wade, it seemed the 2011 Miami Heat would be the NBA Champions.
Everyone thought so. The media. The fans. Even the analysts, who were already predicting a 70-win season and what not.
Bosh, LeBron and Wade even got in on the fun; famously predicting not four, not five, not six championships … the arrogance was everywhere.
The Dallas Mavericks had something to say for the 2011 NBA Championship, and after one year of waltzing through a season, LeBron James changed his outlook entirely.
He kept his head down, perfected his game, added new moves to an already lethal arsenal. He trimmed down the trash talking and stayed focused, and when D-Wade went down with an injury, he took over as a team leader.
This year’s Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and the Celtics will go down as one of the greatest series ever played, but at the end James just played one step ahead. He did it again against the Thunder, and finally brought home his first elusive
For a minute, he has silenced me as a critic.
Edward Marlowe, Staff writer