Hippo Manchester
November 17, 2005

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LONGSHOTS: Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
By Dave Long

You know I blather on about what I claim is the misnaming of the Patriots admirable run as a “dynasty.” The obstinate part of my personality aside, I do it to keep the debate alive, so people will stop cheapening the monumental achievement of being great for two and three decades. My friend Vinny Sylvia says the definition is different for each sport. I disagree. To me it’s about domination and staying around the top for a long time.

It’s a word game to be sure, like with the word “star.” Once upon a time, a player at the top of their profession, like Babe Ruth or Seabiscuit, was known as simply “a star.” When I was growing up that meant Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and the best football player I’ve ever seen, Jimmy Brown. But in the early 1970s the term superstar came into being. I guess it gave definition to the elite of the elite, which is what I thought star was supposed to do. So Mays, Mantle, Koufax and Brown got a promotion and people like Roberto Clemente, Fred Lynn and David Ortiz, were now “stars” instead of being what they were — very good players.

Stars sell tickets, but a winner (like Ortiz) is who you want on your team. They have intangible skills that make those around them better. Someone like Teddy Bruschi, whose unique ability somehow flew under the radar in a career that’s yielded one measly Pro Bowl appearance, while being vital to winning three Super Bowls. Now you can be star and a winner (Tom Brady comes to mind) but dynasties need winners more than stars.

A couple of examples in the local news bring this into focus. With all due respect to the Patriots four years at the top, it seems like a short time when juxtaposed against the West Girls Soccer program in the 29 years under Jack Amero. You can say Bill Beli-chick has done it at the top of his profession and West is “just” high school, but in many ways what a high school coach does is more impressive than the most elite coach. Every year they have new players and a whole new team every three, while Bruschi’s been a Patriot since 1996 and Brady’s probably going to be one for life.

Part of my definition of dynasty is, you keep winning as the talent turns over. That’s why Michael Jordan’s Bulls don’t qualify. It disintegrated immediately after the great Jordan retired for the second or third time (I can never remember) while the 49ers won with Joe Montana and Steve Young at quarterback, before Jerry Rice came to town and with both Bill Walsh and George Seifert at the helm.

Many believe it starts with talent. And they’re right. But talent is more than just physical ability. No less a figure than Wilt Chamberlain told me at Larry Bird’s Hall of Fame induction “people don’t understand the mental aspect is every bit a talent as running, jumping and shooting.” In that vein, consider the news last week of the ridiculous Terrell Owens being sent packing by the Eagles, while Chris Carpenter won the NL Cy Young Award. Both are players with great talent, though Owens gets the edge in physical ability. But who would you rather have on your team? A guy who is 100 percent about himself and needs his slimy agent to blame the media for his self-induced trouble or one who signed for below-market value out of appreciation to the Cardinals for giving him an opportunity when his career was in doubt? One whose humble actions show he understands he hit the lottery or one who wants more, more, more a year after hitting a $49 million jackpot and, to get it, he slams everyone but Mayor Baines in the process. I suspect even if he wasn’t a hometown hero, er, make that an admirable local guy, the former Trinity defenseman Carpenter would be the choice of most. Owens will get big endorsement money because he’s a “star” who stands out, but Carpenter’s a winner.

Maybe there’s something in the water on the West Side that just makes the girls over there better soccer players, but I doubt it. I’m hardly a soccer expert, but I suspect the qualities Carpenter exhibits are the kind Amero has brought out in his students for 29 years. When they surface it enables individuals to blend varying abilities into a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s probably more responsible for West winning an unprecedented 15 state titles and being a perennial contender for 29 years than talent was.

Call me a homer if you like, but being the best at what you do, on a planet with four billion people, as Carpenter was in 2005 and West has been for 29 years under Amero, is phenomenal. Not to mention it is  something a community can be proud of because they are examples of why being a winner is more admirable than just being a star.

Dave Long hosts Sports Night with Dave Long nightly on WGIR-AM from 6 to 7 pm.