The recent death of Baseball Hall of Fame member Tony Gwyn proved one thing: good men are remembered well. His San Diego teammates, fans, and former foes brought out the accolades for a great player and a greater man.
None was more touching than the dad who said he asked Tony to sign for his kid during the rush after an away game. Guys were leaving the stadium for their private lives.
The dad asked Tony while he was hustling for the bus, but he stopped and gave a kid a lifetime memory. Contrary to all the media, not everyone has met a major leaguer. Even bigger news, not all superstars are jerks. Tony Gwyn had the game and the good heart.
Others said the same thing after meeting him in situations away from sports. He's the guy they hoped he'd be.
Have you met a sports hero who was that guy? How about the other guy? Here's a few:
He's the fighter who won Olympic gold as a light-heavyweight, then stepped up to the biggest division as a pro.
We cheered when he went berserk before the Sonny Liston fight. It seemed a normal reaction to facing a menacing ex-con in the boxing ring.
The Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World had hard time written all over his mug in contrast to the baby faced Ali being served up to the bad man as Cassius Clay.
Ali won that fight with Liston, and the secret punch rematch. He kept winning in a free flowing style that captured boomers, but shamed boxing purists. Real men stood their ground and pounded out a victory, not run around the ring backwards throwing jabs.
Ali couldn't lose. Getting stripped of his title for refusing the Vietnam draft was a win. After he said, "I got nothing against them Viet Cong," he pulled an entire nation of draft age kids into his corner.
Uncle Sam won the battle, but Ali won the war. You could say the same about his comeback fight against Smokin' Joe Frazier. That fight set the stage for the international icon Ali became. From the Fight of the Century to Rumble in the Jungle to the Thrilla in Manila, the world embraced him as their own.
Every fighter who pounded the fading Ali came out a loser for winning, especially the great Larry Holmes. He was the faster, stronger, fighter, but those with enough memory could see a younger Ali taking Holmes apart at will.
Larry Holmes blames that fight for his slight as a boxing legend.
Would Ali be the guy you hope he'd be? Maybe do a Howard Cosell impersonation?
Ali's inner-circle got the Greatest. The rest of us got the showman.
Would the Rocket be the guy you hope he'd be? First you have to wonder who the heck he is.
Is he the Red Socks ace who ran out of gas in Boston but found the Fountain of Youth in Toronto? Is he the Yankee mercenary who sawed off Mike Piazza's bat in the 2000 World Series then threw the broken barrel at him? Or is he the swaggering gunslinger lighting the hearts of country western teen sensations?
The good thing about Roger Clemens is he doesn't put on a public face to hide his private feelings.
When Hank Aaron said that pitchers should not be eligible for the MVP, Clemens responded: "I wish he were still playing. I'd probably crack his head open to show him how valuable I was."
The best you'll get on Roger is asking his four sons if he's the guy they hoped he'd be. After one of his kids homered off him, Roger gave him one high and inside the next time up.
His son laughed it off later.
They know their daddy better than us. We know his pitching and his steroid case. He's no Andy Petit.
The internet exploded with an image of Football Johnny in a Las Vegas hotel with a tightly rolled bill of U.S. currency in his hand.
Before judging, I know what you're thinking. "But Dave, money is so much easier to carry when it's rolled up."
Or, "He didn't have a Q-tip and he needed to clean his ear. Look, a rolled up dollar. Perfect."
Would this Heisman Trophy winning Alabama beater be the guy you hope he'd be?
He's not Al Pacino playing Tony Montana in Scarface. This is Johnny Football, not Johnny Drug Cartel.
He's not one of the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac of the 70's who admit to boosting their careers with PEDs.
He's not even Broadway Joe Namath, the first great lifestyle quarterback who predicted a Super Bowl III win from a lounge chair.
Johnny has his trademarked name, his money move, and his past as a SEC quarterback. He's also got a face aging so fast he makes Greg Oden look youthful. Forgotten so far, he's got as much NFL game experience as your aunt Anne.
He couldn't be the guy you hope he'd be because he's not the guy he'll be once the season starts.
So far he's the guy who hangs out with Justin Bieber. He's the guy who rolls money in bathrooms, who says he'll live his life the way he wants, not the way the Cleveland Browns want. They don't own him. Yet.
He's the guy who played against Alabama, but he hasn't played the Lions, Packers, or Bears, oh my. We'll know more about him after those games, and Pittsburgh.
Will he be the guy you hope he'd be if he channels Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and leads the Browns to a Super Bowl win?
If he does that he'll own Cleveland as Euclid Avenue Johnny as much as Broadway Joe owned NYC. If he follows the downward spiral of too much money and too many poor choices, he'll join Todd Marinovich on the all-High Team where nobody is the guy you hope they'd be until after treatment.
Johnny Rehab? Say it ain't so.
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David Gillaspie is an active researcher, skills he honed during twenty years with the Oregon Historical Society. His education wavered between English major/Fiction writer at the University of Oregon where he met Ken Kesey, to a BS in History from Portland State with news writing. Married, with two millennial sons, he connects sports and fitness to the realities of baby boomer life, with no mention ever of skydiving or base-jumping. David covers a wide variety of fascinating topics on his boomer-centric blog, Boomer PDX. Check it out -- you'll be glad you did.