Playing in the big game means risking scorn

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It seems prudent, in the interest of attracting and maintaining maximum readership, that the subject matter of this column not be mentioned too soon.

That's because, should it be, many would stop reading right now. For example, if the subject were mentioned at this moment, you would stop only two paragraphs into this epistle.

That's no good.

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As it is, you're still hooked in the fourth paragraph and sort of wondering what's up. You're not hooked real solidly, but good enough to start gingerly reeling you in.

OK, OK the subject matter is the superbowl. Maybe disclosing it in a small voice, saying it quickly, and running it all together will mitigate the obvious: that you are oversaturated beyond immersion in superbowl hype. Of course you are. We all are.

But we are not going to curse the darkness aka the superbowl. Nor are we going to throw a coat over our heads like felons heading out of a courtroom to avoid confronting it. Nor are we going to plan to go to the movies and see "Stuart Little" when the superbowl airs at 6:18 p.m. Sunday.

No, sir. We are here with a solution.

The solution is to endure the nonstop talk and print about the superbowl over the next 48 hours by adopting an entirely different way of thinking about it.

That is, admire the athletes and coaches not for their skills and talents but for their courage in being willing to risk failing so absolutely publicly in their chosen career fields.

Certainly, there are plenty of perks, lots of adulation, and, in some cases, way too much money paid to Sunday's superbowl participants. Yet, the price they pay - and it's a much steeper price than many outsiders understand - is that all of their moves during the game are viewed and critiqued by millions of people around the world. And, of course, many of their moves off the field get similar microscopic attention.

Never mind that those issuing these critiques are not always beautifully qualified to render such judgments.

At game's end, we will know that exactly half of the participants in Atlanta failed. That will be obvious when we peruse the scoreboard. Several undoubtedly will be measured for goat horns. Maybe it will be one of the two coaches, Dick Vermeil of the Rams or Jeff Fisher of the Titans. Faulty strategy is obvious to plenty of observers, and it gets screamed to the heavens. Maybe, at a crucial moment, Marshall Faulk of St. Louis will fumble or Tennessee's Steve McNair will throw an inexcusable interception.

Whatever happens, we will know. Whoever is successful, we will know. Whoever fails, we really will know. Contrast that to other jobs. Failure, in most cases, is known by just a few. The failure still hurts, but that few know about it helps.

Sometimes we don't like to admit it, but the worst thing about our shortcomings is for others to know about them. We know which NFL coaches failed this year - Ray Rhodes at Green Bay and Pete Carroll at New England, among them - because they got fired. No coach yet has been fired because he succeeded too much.

Athletes willingly hang themselves out for potential public attack. Imagine what Tiger Woods will endure if he inexplicably never wins another golf tournament. Ditto Pete Sampras. Ditto Venus and Serena Williams. What if Notre Dame is 2-9 in football next season? What if San Antonio's Tim Duncan suddenly can score only 3.2 points per game?

Some sports fans tend to be abruptly unforgiving. It is entirely possible that Washington Wizard hoops fans will fall off the Michael Jordan bandwagon if he is unable to make the team better quickly from his new front-office perch. Yes they will, too.

Think about it. What if everything you do at your job and most things you do when you're not at work were scrutinized across the nation and around the world, like the superbowl will be? Are you comfortable with that thought?

It was Theodore Roosevelt who, in a speech in Chicago in 1899, pointed out how it was "far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure" than to be one of those "who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

Let these thoughts run through your head as you watch the superbowl. Rerun them when you watch other sports events. It puts an interesting spin on the viewing.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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