By Jonathan Blaustein
The end in sports is rarely graceful.
So few giants go out on top, and even the ones who do, like Michael Jordan, often come back and try to squeeze a few last drops of tasty ego-juice. (Wizards Jordan was so sad. He could barely jump.)
Tim Duncan played forever, and won forever, but in the end, he could barely run up the court. Joe Montana, Niners legend, stood under center for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Occasionally, once in a great while, an aging star manages to capture one last moment of glory, even when his talent has largely faded. Peyton Manning won a Superbowl with the Broncos, but he looked like his arm was as strong as his father Archie’s, and Archie is nearly 70.
Then there was Thierry Henry.
Remember his brief loan spell with Arsenal, back in 2012? That time he opened his body up, during the FA Cup match against Leeds, and scored that sick goal to win the game?
For most of you, that was a magical moment that reeked of nostalgia. For me, though, it was the only time I ever saw TH14 play for the Arsenal, as I’m a relatively new fan.
It’s the only memory I have.
When we think of legends running on fumes, we often think of athletes. But coaches run out of steam too, and it’s often associated with age. In these situations, we root for the team’s general to summon one last charge up the hill. To reach deep, and re-establish the genius, so as to go out “on top.”
Fergie did it, and he’s the gold standard of everything in English football, from what I can gather. The red-nosed Scot poached RVP from Arsene, with the express intention of winning one last EPL title, so he could retire with proper glory.
And it worked.
But far more often are the stories like Tom Coughlin, of whom I’ve written, or poor Marv Levy, the elderly Buffalo Bills coach in the 90’s who went to 4 consecutive Superbowls, and lost them all.
Who remembers Jimmie Johnson coaching the Miami Dolphins?
Or look at Phil Jackson? The 11 time champ of a Zen Master has had four years to turn abound the moribund New York Knicks, and if anything, he’s made them worse.
I’m a Brooklyn Nets fan, (as I grew up in New Jersey,) and they gave away 5–7 years of potential success for a season of a mostly-washed-up Paul Pierce, and a very-washed-up Kevin Garnett. They are literally the worst team in sports, because they gambled on some old dudes having something left in the tank.
Barry Bonds wanted so badly to be the best, late in his career, that he “allegedly” took enough steroids to power up a Seal Team 6 unit for 3 missions in the Swat Valley. (Or maybe it’s 6 missions for Seal Team 3?)
I suspect you can guess where I’m going with this.
The only reason I think I’m qualified to write for 7am kickoff, (beyond the fact that I’m a good writer,) is that I consider myself a sports expert. I don’t know half as much about Arsenal as you guys do, which I’ve openly admitted, but I have seen 98% of the matches over the last 5 years, and can contextualize my fandom within 35 years of serious sports obsession.
It’s why it’s so damn hard for me to watch the Arsenal matches right about now.
If we were to read all my columns this season, back to back, we’d see a downward trajectory of expectations, and the assassination of hope. Back in the Summer, while I was guarded in my optimism, due to the other teams in the Top 6, I desperately wanted to see Arsene beat the odds.
I wanted Pete from Le Grove, and ClaudeIvan from the comment section, and all the others who said Wenger couldn’t do it any longer, to be wrong.
Please, please, let this special guy have his last bit of glory, I thought.
But it didn’t happen.
The slow leak of doubt has grown to a full fledge Tsunami. As I wrote last month, this team is broken. Now, everyone can see it. Whether you want to compare the squad to Bayern and Barcelona, or Spurs and Everton, it’s clear that the whole is significantly less than the sum of its parts.
And it’s simply no fun to watch.
Sports, (or sport for you Brits,) are designed to be entertaining. They divert our attention from thinking about our jobs, or tax season, or the fact that in a few weeks, I’ll have to go out with a shovel and clean the local acequias with all my neighbors.
At its best, sports can inspire us to be better. To work harder. To strive for larger goals. To believe in something.
The most memorable day of my life, beyond even the birth of my kids, is probably the time I saw the Giants beat the Broncos in Superbowl XXI. It’s a hell of a story, which is a part of it, but the fact is, as an athlete and now a fan, sports have imprinted heavily on who I am as a person.
And now I’m looking to be distracted from my distraction. How did it come to this?
Today, (I wrote on Monday) the media are reporting on who might replace Wenger, and that he’s secretly already signed his contract. SIMULTANEOUSLY! Arseblog and everyone else are discussing the palace intrigue, and trying to guess who’s behind the PR smokescreens, because talking about the football is pointless.
Leicester and Chelsea, the last two EPL champions, have proved, beyond refutation, that great players can simply tune out a manager. Even a manager who was the reigning fucking champion! Players are human, and if they give up, and decide it’s not worth the extra effort, there’s no coming back.
Watching Aaron Ramsey allow Craig Dawson to waltz past him on Saturday was definitive proof that it’s happened to us. Oxlade-Chamberlain then admitted it to the global media, right after the match.
Remind me why I spend the extra $40 a month in my cable bill to watch this shit, if these footballers can’t be bothered to care?
If Arsene really does return, I’ll be pissed. All it took was one last repetitive failure of a season to flip my switch to “Wenger Out.” Because if you seriously believe that AW is still cutting edge enough to win it all, you’re delusional.
There are facts, and there are alternative facts, but this ship has sailed. It’s sad, yes, but not tragic, because all it’s proven is that Arsene Wenger is mortal.
Like the rest of us.