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Allen: In sports, out with the new and in with the old (March 22)

Chris Allen | Thursday, March 22, 2012

Suddenly, everything old is new again in the sports world.

Put your talk of rising stars to the side. Forget Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and John Wall lighting up the court. Forget about Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the future stars of the diamond. Let Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have their day on the football field – in 2015.

Despite the fact that young stars are popping up all over the place, the sports world is partying like it’s 1999.

In case you’ve been living under a rock recently, all-time NFL great Peyton Manning shook up the headlines this week by signing with the Denver Broncos. Manning immediately spoke of the need to win immediately in Denver. Most football fans will take him seriously.

In the Bronx, left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte came out of a one-year retirement to return to the franchise that made him famous, the New York Yankees. Reports out of Yankees camp say that Pettitte’s bullpen sessions have been among the best by any Yankee pitcher this spring. He will almost certainly push a younger, more exciting pitcher out of the rotation. Very few Yankee fans will have a problem with this.

In the spring training camp of the Colorado Rockies, 49-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer is tossing fastballs touching 80 miles per hour for a franchise that did not exist when he broke into the major leagues. For those interested, Moyer debuted for the Chicago Cubs in 1986, the same year Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet”. Now, Moyer is livin’ on a prayer – and a changeup – in hoping to make a roster for the first time since 2010.

Why, with such exciting young prospects on the horizon, are a group of guys nearing membership in AARP competing for roster spots?

Simply, sports fans are realizing that they didn’t know what they had until it was taken away from them. During a player’s career, he is human. We appreciate what he brings, but often he is as good as his last start, his last pass or his last reception. The first season that a player moves away from a game, we naturally begin to form the legend that will accompany his career. We contextualize his accomplishments; we compare him against his peers. Suddenly, those bad starts and inconsistencies fade into the background and the more admirable qualities of a player’s career become what we, as fans, remember. This is how the human qualities that define a player’s career become the qualities of a legend.

When players leave the game briefly as Manning, Pettitte and Moyer did, the process of evaluating those careers begins. When they return, they return with a bit of that legend intact. Bronco fans are getting more than a quarterback to win them the AFC West and beef up their passing game. They are also getting a player that, because of his absence, has truly earned the ‘living legend’ status. Yankee fans are getting more than a fifth starter with postseason experience. They are also getting an icon from their past, as if a figure from the history books stepped off of the pages and into the 2012 season.

Five years in the future, the names like Harper, Strasburg and Rubio will own the sports world. But we’ll only have names like Manning, Pettitte and Moyer for so long. Long live the old guard.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.