The Universal Notebook: Everybody hates a winner

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Instead of watching the Clemson-Alabama NCAA title game last week, I watched a dumb movie called “Brewster’s Millions,” in which Richard Pryor plays a washed up baseball player who will inherit $300 million if he can spend $30 million in 30 days without accruing assets.

Spoiler alert: he succeeds. But somehow the hilarious Pryor didn’t manage to make the movie funny.

When “Brewster’s Millions” was over, I clicked over to the game and saw Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney high-stepping along the sideline like a long-legged skeezicks. His exuberant dance suggested Clemson was winning.

Turns out the Tigers rolled over the Tide 44-16, marking the 400th time Clemson and Alabama have met in an NCAA playoff game. (OK, it’s only four years in a row, but you get my point.) Not surprisingly, much of the pre-game sports talk was about whether fans were weary of Clemson-Alabama games. I know I am.

Everybody hates a winner, except that team’s fans. But even some of them develop win fatigue. And there’s usually some suspicion among rivals that something fishy is going on with a team that wins all the time. Are they spying on opponents? Stealing signs? Doping? Corking bats? Deflating footballs?

I developed my dislike for sports dynasties back around 1961, when the New York Yankees were the team we loved to hate. Well, they still are, but they haven’t appeared in 14 out of 16 recent World Series the way they did between 1949 and 1964, which in during most of my youth.

The Yanks were loaded back then – Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford. In ’61, while Mantle (54) and Maris (61) were chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record (60), the Yanks placed eight players on the All-Star Team and won the World Series. That year, rookie Carl Yastrzemski led the lowly Boston Red Sox with a mere 18 dingers and the Sox finished a distant sixth.

In Westbrook we had our own version of the Yankees. Kiwanis was loaded – Marc Flaherty, Pete Christensen, Skip Norton – and I always wondered how coach Buck Cote managed to get all the best players, also the best equipment. The only ball I ever hit over the fence was during Little League All-Star batting practice in 1961, when I got to use a Kiwanis bat. My team, the Knights of Pythias, was a first-year expansion team. We only won one game and it seemed to me we played with broken bats held together with tape and screws.

Dynasties tend to be self-perpetuating. The more you win, the easier it gets because the best players gravitate toward the best teams. The only reason to watch the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team, which had a 126-game regular-season win streak and did not lose back-to-back games for 938 consecutive games, is to see if they lose.

It’s getting to be like that with the New England Patriots, who have made it to the playoffs an NFL record 10 straight years. And, really, weren’t the Red Sox just a little more lovable when they hadn’t won a World Series since 1918?

Winners are losers. Coaches like ‘Bama’s Nick Saban, UConn’s Geno Auriemma and the Pats’ Bill Belichick place too much importance on winning. Superstars like Tom Brady, LeBron James, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are so much more interesting when they fail. Anyone can be a good winner, but it takes real class to lose gracefully.

Roll Tide!

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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