2006-02-23 / News

Musings

By Robert Morton-Ranney

I’m sure you’ll agree that without the Patriots, the latest edition

of the National Football League’s championship game regressed to the mean and became, once again:

The Super Bore.

And it’s not just you and I who feel this way. The metaphysicians atop Mount Sports Illustrated agree that XL was one of the most forgettable SB’s played.

We wanted to see the Patriots. They are, arguably, the best team ever to take the field in the name of American football.

For, the Patriots have scaled the heights while traversing a maze of undulating obstacles known collectively as “parity.” Who among us has glanced the front page of the sports section without seeing something about The Salary Cap? While aficionados may opine that absolute financial equality among NFL teams does not exist, there can be no question that an owner can’t purchase his way to as much gridiron glory as he can afford any longer.

Boss George can buy a Caveman anytime he wants. To add to his A-Rod and his Jeter. A few years back, Wayne Huizenga rented a World Series Winner for a season and then raffled if off even before the pictures had dried.

But Bob Kraft had to acquire his Super Bowl rings the old fashioned way — by painstakingly building an organization that was capable of facing the strongest array of opponents any professional sports league can boast.

One of the reasons for parity was the hope that winning seasons might be spread around a little more, so that fans in places like Tampa Bay (you’ve had yours) and Seattle (so close) and Cincinnati (yeesh!) would have reason for hope. But parity also fosters one of the most trumpeted of good, old, American values.

Competition.

Competition is said to bring out the best in those who surrender to its disciplines. It nurtures, we are told, a respect for others who strive within it, a love for the endeavors it governs, and a sense of personal accomplishment no matter the result.

Now, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me or any of the people I know that losing is just as much fun as winning. But it certainly is the case that losing is much harder to take if one believes that the game — never mind which one — was not fair. If the dice were loaded, or the ref was paid off, or the judging was rigged (can you say “Sale and Pelletier”?) a cry goes up to the heavens. The only thing worse than being beaten is being beaten by someone who was not better.

Which brings us to the much touted social value of competition. The flip side of that noble plea, And may the best one win!” is the generally held belief that the people who win really are the best. We want that to be true, and it’s why we’re happy to hear that the International Olympic Committee is trying to crack down on doping and French figure skating judges, and it’s one of the reasons we wish professional sports would really take this steroid thing seriously, and it explains why we don’t want to hear that Wayne Gretzky’s wife was betting on anything other than which styles will be in fashion next year.

Of course, this love of competition is in the world of business, too.

Multiple competitors offering their wares in an open marketplace will produce the best product at the best price. Right? Isn’t that what virtually all of us grew up hearing?

True, competition in certain fields is severely limited. We can’t all go out and start our own automobile manufacturing firms. But it’s surprising how many kinds of work really do feature fairly clear rules of engagement, and are open to great numbers of interested persons.

Though discrimination still exists — choose your type — it does seem as if some progress is being made.

What about competition in other areas of life?

Harvard University’s endowment is, well, let’s just say, big. So the financial resources it has per student are, let’s just say, lots. Do most other institutions of higher learning have the same level of financial resources per student? Well, actually, no.

What if, say, every thirty years, or even fifty, every college and university started out competing with each other at pretty much the same level of financial resources per student? Would that make for better competition?

Or, take families. It’s often said that one of the reasons people work so hard is to accumulate wealth to pass on to their children. It’s also said that the best way to teach children about money is not to give them any.

Hmmmmmm. . . .

What would things be like if the children in each new generation started out with more or less the same level of financial resources? Would that make for better competition?

When I was a kid, I played a lot of Ping-Pong. Though imperceptible to first-time visitors, our basement floor was on just a bit of a slant.

Newcomers were invited to play at the lower end and, as long as they stayed there, I won.

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