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The greatest column ever

By Staff
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
Immediately after Vince Young capped off a terrific comeback and Texas defeated USC for the national championship Wednesday night, a thought went through my head.
"Well, good. Maybe this will calm down some of the nonsensical 'USC is the greatest collection of football talent ever assembled and would beat some NFL teams' junk that's been infesting ESPN the past few weeks."
That thought lasted about 10 seconds, once the cameras pulled away from Pasadena and focused on the ESPN College Gameday crew of Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler. It was Corso who first brought me back to earth.
Corso (who was a combined 73-83-6 in his NCAA coaching career): "Vince Young is the greatest college quarterback to ever play the game in a clutch situation."
Um, excuse me?
Corso, you and your ESPN colleagues just were forced to eat the biggest bowl of crow in history (See? I can make ridiculous hyperbole as well.) and now you're all ready to anoint Vince Young as the greatest clutch quarterback ever? Ever heard of Doug Flutie? Joe Montana? Roger Staubach?
I don't know what it is about Americans as a whole, but we seem to be constantly obsessed with trying to find not only the best, but the best ever. Maybe years of having a 24-7 sports landscape has jaded us to the point that we're no longer happy with having a champion, but now we want to see how that champion fits in the annals of history.
How would the 2004 Red Sox have done against the 1991 Twins? How would the 2004 Lightning have looked against the 1979 Canadiens? How about Jack Nicklaus in his prime against Tiger Woods?
After all, how else can you explain the series on Sportscenter in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl, where ESPN analysts pitted the 2005 USC team against previous NCAA national championship teams in a hypothetical "who would win?" matchup. Not surprisingly, the analysts picked USC in nearly all cases.
Any logical person can see there are at least three things wrong with these kinds of hypothetical matchups.
First, sports is and always has been about "what have you done for me lately?" The teams that are doing well are always going to be considered the best, at least until they fall. That sound you heard immediately after Wednesday's game was the sound of a million fans simultaneously jumping off the USC bandwagon.
Secondly, it's impossible to compare teams from different eras. USC is a good team, no doubt, but is it really possible to know how they'd do against say a Bryant-era Alabama team? Of course not. Today's players are more than likely stronger, faster, and more talented athletically, yet you can also make the argument that they don't have as much heart as players from decades ago. Who can really tell?
And that brings up the third reason why it's ridiculous to anoint a team or player as the best ever – it's subjective. Nobody's ever going to agree on such a broad all-encompassing statement like "X is the greatest team ever." I've already gotten my share of complaints from people who disagreed with my ordering of Hartselle's top 10 sports stories in 2005. I can only imagine what my e-mail in-box would look like if I'd tried to pick the greatest Hartselle sports story ever.
Would it have been too much for a sports talking head to have simply said, "Vince Young is a very good quarterback who played a great game and was a key part in a very good Texas team that beat a USC team that is also very good"?
That, for my money, would easily have been the most intelligent soundbite ever.