Honestly, I'm not that old. But every time I write on this site, I feel like an 80-year-old geriatric waving a cane at whippersnappers to get off my lawn. It's become a pet peeve of mine when people try to predict that something is the greatest game ever, or the greatest athlete ever, or the greatest play ever. We, sports fans, have been spoiled. We've witnessed Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Dale Earnhardt within the past 15 years, and it's not impossible that each one of them was the greatest ever in their sport. We've grown accustomed to seeing greatness. We assume that something really really cool, like the United States' shocking win over Brazil in the women's World Cup, isn't just something that only we'll be captivated by. We proclaim, unabashedly, that it's one of the greatest moments in sports history, which is absurd.
As recently as few days ago, ESPN analysts were touting Abby Wambach's game-winning goal as one of the greatest sports moments ever, putting it in a montage that included the 1980 Miracle on Ice and the band-is-out-on-the-field Cal/Stanford game. And now, after the U.S. narrowly lost to Japan in the tournament's final game, it suddenly means nothing. It was certainly memorable, but no one is going to idly bring it up in conversation ten years from now. No one is going to remember a cool goal that wound up not leading to anything, the same way no one ever talks about Endy Chavez' incredible, home run-robbing catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, because his team lost. Great plays that don't lead to ultimate victory are usually lost in time.
Obviously, there are some exceptions. The greatest highlight of Michael Jordan's career was the shot he hit over Craig Ehlo to beat the Cavaliers in the first round. The Bulls wound up losing to the Pistons later in the playoffs, but Jordan's shot at least clinched a series, not to mention that he was Michael Jordan and that the sport he played in was relevant in America. Prior to 10 days ago, no one even knew who Abby Wambach was, and because soccer is something Americans have only a fleeting interest in when they happen to be doing well in it, her game-winning goal is doomed to be forgotten by the general public.
What's interesting is that this exercise of over-significating a moment in a sport we don't really care about was done just a year ago, when Landon Donovan scored a miraculous, last-second goal against Algeria, advancing the U.S. further in the World Cup and prompting people to again consider it as one for the ages. And then the U.S. quickly bowed out in the tournament, and that was that. And yet, we were still willing to abandon all pretense and claim how great Wambach's goal was, even though we saw how poorly it turned out with Donovan just a year ago.
This phenomenon occurs all the time now. When Manny Ramirez hit a game-winning grand slam on his bobblehead night in 2009, LA Times writer Bill Plaschke proclaimed it the third biggest home run in the history of the Dodgers, a suggestion so ludicrous it hardly deserves analysis. When LeBron James hit a game-winning three to beat the Magic in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Associated Press pronounced: "Michael Jordan no longer has the most famous buzzer-beater in Cleveland sports history. The Shot has been topped." It was assumed that the Cavs would ride the momentum of the shot, turn the series around and advance to the finals. Instead they lost three of their next four games and bowed out in a blowout, and now the notion of James' winner being anywhere near as big as Jordan's is laughable.
Maybe it's because we let our excitement cloud our judgement. Maybe when we saw Wambach's goal, we wanted it to be historic so that we knew what we just watched mattered, so that we'd be able to relay it to future generations as something that mattered to us, the way fathers tell their sons about Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Whatever the reason, it's nothing a little patience can't solve. A week ago, Abby Wambach seemed like a woman we'd be talking about for ages -- another Brandi Chastain or Diego Maradona. But that was a week ago, and a few hundred weeks from now, that name won't be nearly as immortal as originally thought.