|The numbers do lie|
By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2
Watching Emmitt Smith break Walter Payton's record yesterday, I was struck by two thoughts: First, it didn't exactly equal the drama and high-level anticipation of Hank Aaron's 715th or Mark McGwire's 62nd, did it? And second, having the most doesn't necessarily make you the best. For instance, just because you have the most arrogance and the most luck doesn't make you America's best bachelor ... Aaron Buerge. If I were one of those women, I'd tell you exactly what you could do with those roses.
Serving the most food doesn't make some place the best restaurant. Getting the most laughs doesn't make you the best comedian. Sometimes it just means you're Gallagher smashing a watermelon. Loaning me the most money doesn't make you my best friend -- though it's a good place to start. Having the most friends doesn't mean you can be a best friend. And getting the most votes doesn't even make you President of the United States.
"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" not only has the most redundant title, but it also had the most viewers the week of October 14. Can we say unequivocally that it's the best show on television? "Titanic" holds the record for grossing the most money at the box office. Best movie ever? The female solo artist with the most No. 1 albums is Barbara Streisand with eight. Are you kidding me? If you go by record sales, you'd have to say the soundtrack to "The Bodyguard" is the 10th best album in the history of the world. I refuse to believe that could be true. So, I choose to believe something else.
It's simple really. The numbers tell us who's great, but our eyes and our pounding hearts let us know who's best. It's not an exact science. But, if you just paint by numbers, you'll miss the delicate strokes, the subtle details, and the magic on the canvas. The numbers say Cal Ripken. Our eyes say Ozzie Smith. The numbers say "The Bodyguard," but our ears tell us U2's "Joshua Tree."
Emmitt Smith has the numbers, and they're a testament to his excellence, his consistency, his durability. Judging by the numbers, a strong case could be made that Emmitt is the best ever. Eleven straight 1,000-yard seasons, and of course, the most yards. But we've all watched Emmitt, watched him at his best. We watched him win Super Bowls. We watched him get up more than 3,000 times. We watched and we appreciated, but we were never in awe. He's been very, very good for a very, very long time. Does that make him the best? Maybe to you. Not to me.
We've become a bit obsessed with numbers. Most catches, yards, completions. Most RBI, consecutive games, shut-outs, saves, penalty minutes -- whatever! Most home runs on the road when hitting behind in the count against lefties with the first name beginning with a vowel. We're living in a time with the most "mosts" and the best "bests" ever. But once in a while, you have to throw out the numbers and let your eyes speak the truth.
This is the kind of thing that keeps sports fans debating late into the evening, solving nothing. But it's a theory that has some legs. Think about all these other examples:
Clearly, having the most doesn't make you the best. Though we should probably create some sort of Jerry Rice Exception. With the most catches, most yards, most touchdowns, and many more "mosts," Rice is without a doubt the best receiver of all-time. I don't think anyone would argue otherwise.
Another who might qualify under Rule 80 (Rice's number) would be Martina Navratilova. But Emmitt Smith isn't the Exception or the Rule. He's just a tremendous athlete who will hold a record for a while, until someone else comes along to break it. Maybe that guy will be the best ever, but somehow, I doubt it.
By the way, saying the most words doesn't mean you'll make the best point.
But I tried.
Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.