Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 14, 2018

Behind The Day’s Headlines, One Story Never Changes

It was a busy weekend for sports fans. The main attraction was the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, with two games on both Saturday and Sunday. Back when the season began, a wager that Tom Brady would be one of the four starting quarterbacks in next weekend’s conference championship games would have been deemed by most to be a reasonably safe, conservative bet. But a superfecta pairing the New England signal-caller with Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Case Keenum would have been considered an act of lunacy. Yet the Jaguars and Bortles will be in Foxborough next weekend, and backups Foles and Keenum will start for the Eagles and Vikings in Philadelphia. The three, all of whom are in their twenties, had exactly one playoff start prior to this year. Still any fan who thinks that Brady and the Patriots now have an easy road to another Super Bowl title may want to consult with Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan or Drew Brees. Their Super Bowl experience mattered little as their teams came up short against Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and Minnesota.

Then there was the sad news of the passing of Keith Jackson. Named the sportscaster of the year five times by the National Sports Media Association, Jackson was best known for his decades of calling college football games for ABC. A collegiate head coach once observed “you know it’s a big game when Keith’s there.” But over his long career Jackson called many sports, including NBA games with Bill Russell, NASCAR, the first season of Monday Night Football, and for several years the baseball playoffs.

In that last role he was at the microphone on that October night in 1977 when Reggie Jackson came to the plate at Yankee Stadium, having already homered twice in the decisive Game 6 of the World Series between New York and Los Angeles. “Reggie Jackson has seen two pitches in the strike zone tonight, two! And he’s hit ‘em both in the seats. (Dodgers pitcher Charlie Hough delivers.) Highhhh, goodbye! The only other man who’s done that in the World Series, he did it twice – Babe Ruth.”

Two weeks shy of a year later Jackson was broadcasting from Fenway Park as Red Sox and Yankees staged a one-game playoff for the American League East title, after both teams ended the regular season at 99-63. Boston was leading 2-0 when Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent came to the plate with two on and two out in the top of the 7th inning. “Hit high in the air to left field, going to the corner is Yastrzemski, it’s over the wall! It’s a home run for Bucky Dent! Yankees get the lead 3-2, and it just cleared the Monster. It just cleared the top of the wall in left.” His first love may have been college football, but Keith Jackson will always be fondly remembered by baseball fans in the Bronx.

Much of the country is locked in the icy grip of winter, so some fans surely opted for symbolic relief by tuning to the Golf Channel, where for the second week in a row the PGA Tour was playing against a backdrop of palm trees and sandy beaches in Hawaii. Meanwhile the NBA and NHL seasons chugged along, and in the English Premier League Liverpool stunned Manchester City 4-3 on Sunday, ending City’s hopes of joining the 2003-04 Arsenal squad as the only teams to go undefeated through a Premier League season.

With all that going on, perhaps it’s not surprising that one other story received little notice. On Sunday the Calgary Flames placed Jaromir Jagr on injured reserve with an undisclosed lower body injury. While the NHL’s IR rules don’t preclude Jagr from returning, the move comes in the wake of reports that he and the Flames, who signed the hockey legend to a one-year deal not long before the season started, were already working on an exit plan.

This was not how a legend was supposed to leave the stage. Jagr netted 16 goals and 46 points for the Florida Panthers last season. Surely, he could produce similar numbers for the Flames, while mentoring the team’s younger players and enjoying a final victory lap around the league. This after an NHL career that began as an 18-year old rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990. From the Pens Jagr went on to the Capitals and Rangers before departing for Russia’s KHL after the 2008 season. He was 35, and most fans assumed Jagr’s NHL career was over. But he returned three years later, skating in the uniforms of the Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils, and Panthers before finally joining the Flames.

A ten-time All-Star and five-time winner of the Ross Trophy for leading the league in points, Jagr ranks third in career games played behind Gordie Howe and Mark Messier. He’s the NHL record holder for most career game-winning goals, overtime goals, as well as goals, assists and points by a European-born player. His single-season marks include most points and assists by both a right wing and a European-born player. He holds the mark for most consecutive 70-point seasons at fifteen, and is the only skater in NHL history to play in the Stanley Cup Finals as both a teenager and over the age of forty.

There of course is the sad lesson, for Jaromir Jagr turns 46 next month. The planned victory lap turned into a season lost to injury and disappointment on the ice, where Jagr netted just a solitary goal and seven points in twenty-two games. Far from the headlines of a busy sports weekend, fans were reminded of the most constant truth in all our games. In their battle with time, our heroes always lose. Perhaps not next weekend, but inevitably one day that truth will come home to Tom Brady and Patriots fans as well.

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