As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Last week’s “View” had a decidedly Buffalo-ian flavor. With a chill in the air, football season in full swing and the Bills poised for a Super Bowl run, it’s back to the City of Trees again to set the mood for this week’s bleacher conversation.
Buffalo’s Pearl Street Grill and Brewery produces a lovely pale ale that goes by the name Lake Effect. It is a homage to the famous (for locals), or infamous (for visitors, especially those from the south), wintery weather that is prone to whip in, with little warning, off Lake Erie. If you’re wired like this writer, and accustomed to the mid-Atlantic’s humid summers and mild winters, you want nothing of Buffalo’s trademark insta-blizzards. But some people love it; “some people” include legendary former Bills head coach Marv Levy.
Levy used to huddle his Bills before big games, often in single-digit temperatures with snowflakes blowing sideways in a wicked wind, and ask, “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?” He sure sounded like he believed it; I would have needed at least six of those Lake Effect pale ales to buy-in.
Last week’s retirement of tennis great Roger Federer, 41, had me pondering Levy’s words (while enjoying Maryland’s temperate early fall climate) with much broader application. “Right here, right now”: not a single Sunday in frigid Buffalo, but an entire era in sports.
Federer’s tennis reign began in 2003 when he won Wimbledon, the first of his 20 Grand Slam titles. How long ago was 2003 in sports terms? Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick won the Australian and U.S. Opens that same year. In any other era, Federer, whose 20 Grand Slams is an astonishing six more than Pete Sampras’s previous record of 14, would be exiting as the sport’s greatest male player of all time. But for a large portion of his career, Federer shared the stage with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, arguable even greater players who have won 22 and 21 major championships, respectively.
To put that in context, there have been 79 Grand Slam tournaments played since 2003 (COVID canceled Wimbledon in 2020); Federer, Nadal or Djokovic have claimed 63 of those titles. Now, with Federer gone, and Nadal, 36, and Djokovic, 35, advancing in age, it is reasonable to conclude that the greatest era in men’s tennis, a time when perhaps the sport’s three best players ever were playing simultaneously, is over. That Federer’s farewell comes on the heels of Serena Williams, a 22-time Grand Slam champion and the greatest women’s player of all time, announcing her retirement, certainly has tennis fans wondering if they’ve seen the best of the sport, regardless of gender.
As a member of Gen-X, I will admit to being a little jealous of Baby Boomers for having lived through the birth of rock and roll, the brilliance of 1960s music and the killer soul and funk of the 1970s. But with sports, I’ve often felt spoiled. I grew up watching Bird and Magic, and Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. I saw Jerry Rice break every receiving record, Dan Marino throw for 5,000 yards, and Cal Ripken Jr. break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak. I experienced the greatest era of college basketball and the NBA’s and NHL’s GOATs - Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
I thought all of that was as good as sports could get. But these last 20 years…wow. Add these names to the list of aforementioned contemporary tennis greats: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady and Alex Ovechkin. And what about the technology? On-the-go viewing devices. Big screen televisions. High definition. The NFL RedZone channel. Has sports ever been better?
Back to Levy’s question. He asked it to focus his team on the opportunity in front of them. But it’s a bit of a time-traveling remark – a reminder of a moment’s, or an era’s greatness, and, that as good as life may seem, something even better may await.
Where else would I rather be than right here, right now? I suppose nowhere…but using the past as a guide, the future holds tremendous intrigue.
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