Days of Atonement Redeem's the theme, as the media harp on athletes' desire to avenge defeats and expunge misdeeds

January 29, 2001

Next! On Fox! More Sportswriting Secrets Revealed!

Did you know that all sports stories have one of two plots? It's
true! Every sports story is about redemption or revenge. (Or
both!) As it was in the Old Testament, so it is in your sports
section, where athletes reside in endless cycles of sin and
salvation. Nothing happens without a Biblical subtext: Every loss
must be avenged, and every victory is retribution for a previous
atrocity. Go on, then. Give it a try. It's fun! It's ridiculous!
It's...sports coverage!

On planet Earth, human experience tells us, an adult seldom
changes his or her fundamental nature, except by infinitesimal
degrees over several decades. But athletes are different.
Athletes can be redeemed daily, like soda cans or soup coupons.
So reaching Super Bowl XXXV has already rehabilitated the
reputations of Giants quarterback Kerry Collins (COLLINS
SILENCES HIS CRITICS DURING SEASON OF REDEMPTION, reads a
headline in the Chattanooga Times Free Press) and Ravens
quarterback Trent Dilfer (THE RAVENS' TRENT DILFER FINDS
REDEMPTION, reads SI's cover). Likewise, Ravens owner Art
Modell, Giants lineman Christian Peter and Ravens linebacker Ray
Lewis, who a year ago--it seems almost gauche to point out
now--obstructed justice after an incident in which two people
were knifed to death. Each of them, we have heard ad nauseam, is
enjoying a "season of redemption."

Season of Redemption: It has fairly become an official statistic.
RBIs, PATs, SORs. Newly signed Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder
Reggie Sanders? "Sanders," reports the Associated Press, "sees
this as a season of redemption following his career-low hitting
season in 2000." New York Rangers sniper Theoren Fleury? THEO'S
SEASON OF REDEMPTION, reads a headline in the Bergen (N.J.)
Record. Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor? "Taylor,"
declares The Palm Beach Post, "had a season of redemption after
just 2.5 sacks in 1999."

Until this year's Super Bowl, the record for most Seasons of
Redemption in a single game was held by this year's Sugar Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl was SRO with SORs. Florida had ended the 1999
season with three consecutive losses, so the St. Petersburg Times
headlined its Gators football preview SEASON OF REDEMPTION. That
same paper ran a piece on Gators receiver Jabar Gaffney, who was
kicked off the team last year for allegedly looting a locker room
but triumphantly returned to play this season, this season that
the Times called "Gaffney's season of redemption."

Unfortunately for Florida, across the field in New Orleans on New
Year's Day was Miami fullback Najeh Davenport, who scored two
touchdowns. "It was his own personal victory," reported the
Gannett News Service, "his own sweet redemption in a season of
redemptions." Thus Florida was an SOR loser, doomed to spend the
2001 season avenging its defeat by the Hurricanes.

"Vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord. And so sayeth Lou Holtz,
whose South Carolina football team enjoyed--according to The State
newspaper of Columbia, S.C.--"a season of redemption and revenge."

"Redemption and revenge," senior lineman Jared Toler of Broad Run
High in Ashburn, Va., told The Washington Post last fall. "That's
what this season is all about."

Even a cockatoo, hearing the same inane phrases all day, will
begin to repeat them. No wonder athletes--even high school
athletes--frame their games and seasons in terms of "redemption"
and "revenge." Players and coaches are merely responding to the
threadbare questions of deadline-bedeviled scribes who live in
desperate daily need of a narrative line that will turn Virginia
high school football games into Greek drama.

"Is this a bitter pill to swallow?" one such journo asked a
Purdue basketball player a few years ago.

The Boilermaker, whose team had just been eliminated from the
NCAA tournament, replied, "Yeah." But the insatiable scribe only
nodded, evidently in need of more. So the player said, "Yeah, the
pill is bitter." Still the scribe stared blankly, until the
player at last ponied up the epigram that was obviously expected
of him all along. "The pill is bitter," the Boilermaker said.
"But you just got to swallow it."

That's better, son. In sportswriting, you see, every loss is like
hemlock. Losing requires reprisal, and sins are absolved only by
winning a championship. Even then, that expiation will expire
after a single off-season. So, like Shakespeare's Borachio,
athletes are "condemned into everlasting redemption."

'Tis a bitter pill, to be sure. But you just got to swallow it.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)