Friday, July 30, 2010

On One-Hit Wonders

I was driving on a two-lane road in South Carolina, listening to a football game on the radio. It was February 3, 2008, and that game happened to the Super Bowl, the first one of my lifetime that I didn't see on television. I was on my way to watch Len Bias's mother speak to a group of high-school students when David Tyree made the last catch of his pro career; I specifically remember, despite the apopleptic exhortations of the radio broadcasters, not being able to comprehend exactly what had happened. There was too much to describe without the pictures to accompany it. How does a man catch a football with his helmet?

You may have heard that Tyree retired today, completing one of the most distinctive careers in sports history. Here's what makes it distinct, at least to me: Over at Yahoo!, Chris Chase examines whether Tyree's catch was indeed the greatest in NFL history; I disagree with his logic, but what I found most interesting is the comparisons he makes, likening to Tyree's catch to clutch plays made by Franco Harris, Dwight Clark, Alan Ameche, and Bart Starr. Three of those men are Hall of Famers. The fourth, Dwight Clark, is a two-time Pro Bowler. Most of the time, this is how it works; it's almost unthinkable for a marginal player to wind up with the ball in his hands in the final moments of a game.* The most memorable catch in baseball history was made by Willie Mays, in part because it was made by Willie Mays.**

David Tyree was not Willie Mays, or Franco Harris, or even Dwight Clark. David Tyree played 83 games in his NFL career, and made 54 catches. He never averaged more than 13.2 yards receiving per game over the course of a season. Pro Football Reference rates him as the 8,413th best receiver since 1950. The only reason he earned the cache to call a press conference announcing the end of his career is because of a single play that essentially won the Giants, a prohibitive underdog, the Super Bowl over what otherwise would have been the greatest team in the history of the National Football League. And that one moment, in itself, makes David Tyree the greatest one-hit wonder in the history of sports. He is to athletics as Dexy's Midnight Runners are to pop music. He will be remembered as long as professional football exists. And if sports are all about establishing a legacy--hello, LeBron--what could possibly comprise a better career than David Tyree's single towering accomplishment?

*There are exceptions, of course, like, say, Steve Kerr, but Kerr played 17 seasons in the NBA and was one of the best shooters in league history.
**Even Bill Mazeroski, long defined by one hit, actually played 17 seasons and had more than 2,000 hits in his career.

No comments: