Nothing wrong with the unexpected champion

Published 11:27 am Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why do we have such a love-hate relationship with the unexpected in the sporting world?

It’s a fluke if you dislike the team or player, Cinderella if you do. What’s the problem with kicking conventional wisdom out on its ear?

Watching this year’s U.S. Open finale, the stage was set for fireworks.

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Two former U.S. Open champions, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, were in the final pairing and both were in the chase for the Open title at the gruesomely tough Olympic Club in San Francisco.

But the curtain didn’t fall on the fog-draped storyline everyone expected. Furyk and McDowell imploded down the stretch as Webb Simpson, an unknown who went to Wake Forest, finished his round in excellent shape and watched them on TV from the safety of the clubhouse.

It was not so much a coronation, but the proverbial last man standing. Simpson had barely gotten through kissing the trophy and dodging an attention-seeking fan before the whispers started. Was it a fluke?

Or Cinderella? Depends on how much you enjoy the unlikely.

The major championships of golf are littered with players whose sole moment of glory was outlasting their more heralded foes in a test of survival. Remember Mike Weir, the Canadian who came out of nowhere to win the 2003 Masters? His career at 42 is nearing its end after eight PGA wins.

Commentators will ask, “Will Simpson win another major?” Does it really matter? He will always have “U.S. Open champion” on his resumé, even if he doesn’t win another tournament for the rest of his life.

The rest of sports is filled with players and teams who came together at the right point in space and time to win a championship. Last year was no exception.

In fact, it might’ve been the year of the fluke.

The St. Louis Cardinals needed an implosion by the Atlanta Braves to sneak into the playoffs. They did and the rest is history, thanks to a couple of big swings by David Freese, a slugging third baseman who quit baseball in college for a time before resurfacing at South Alabama.

Eli Manning’s New York Giants were left for dead, mired in a three-game midseason losing streak. But at the perfect moment, their pass rush became unstoppable, Manning treated defenses like a frog under the attentions of the knife of a first-year biology student and the Giants won the Super Bowl in shocking fashion.

The criticism is that these flukes are unrepeatable. They required an amazing alignment of space and time just to happen, when all of the what-ifs blossom into a perfect performance. So?

What is repetition besides a word in the dictionary?

The sequel is never as good or as satisfying as the first movie, unless it’s called the “Empire Strikes Back” or the “Wrath of Khan.”

Actually, sports is like marriage. You have to be right only once. Once a champion, always a champion.