What I mean by absolutes are assertions of grandeur, such as “This is the best team in history,” or “This is the worst time in history.” I’m referring to subjective assertions, of course. If it’s the coldest day on record, that’s a straight numbers issue, and can’t be argued. But when people, especially political and sports pundits, go on record and say things that are obviously blown out of proportion, there’s some cause for concern.
Again, these statements are entirely subjective. There aren’t any standards or enforcement agencies out there saying “You can’t say every week that a different team is the best ever.” I don’t wish there were an agency, either. I think it’s good entertainment, but it gets old unless it’s said in jest, and even that gets old.
What got me on this train of thought is the New England Patriots. I’m a fan of the Pats, and even I’m getting a little tired of the hype. They are a great team, no doubt. They’re having a great year. I’d like to see them go undefeated, because it would be something new. They’ve won three Super Bowls since 2001, and won all three in a four year span. They’ve been dominating before in recent history. They haven’t been undefeated, although they do hold the record for consecutive wins, just not all in the same season.
What gets annoying is comparing great teams. That’s obviously how people compare greatness and assert a team as “the best ever.” There are too many wildcards. The ’85 Bears were a great team, but their offense isn’t as good as the ’07 Patriots. The ’91 Redskins were a marvelous team, but could they beat today’s Patriots? Who knows? The game has changed so greatly in just the past 15 years that it’s difficult to say. I think the Patriots would beat both teams, and I think the Colts could, too. They’re both great teams. I think they’re both better than the undefeated ’72 Dolphins, who are crowned as the greatest ever, despite their relatively weaker schedule of games and fewer games played. If the Patriots go 17-0, they’re better.
I think this plays right in to our tendency to think that modern athletes are, on average, better athletes than in the past. That’s very much a possibility. It’s sort of an evolution in athletics, and technology plays a major part. Technology, and just straight knowledge. Athletes today have a myriad of resources to help them achieve their peak, and the breadth of sports that young children play is amazing. I grew up playing ice hockey, baseball, and soccer. I never played football, but my friends did. I loved playing all three sports, and even added on lacrosse and golf in high school, though I stopped playing soccer and baseball in middle school. They’re still fun to play now, though.
Back to my point: how do we determine if athletes are actually better nowadays? What does “better” even mean? Does it mean if you put them on a level playing field, with rules both could live by, that one would beat the other? Is that really a good indicator? No one knows for sure. It’s a reasonable form of measurement, but it’s not perfect. Personally, I don’t think the average athlete is necessarily better nowadays, since I’m sure athletes of older days would have been better had they been given the same opportunity. I think the superstars of today’s game are better, on average, because they’ve taken advantage of the technology better than before. I’ll leave the focus on superstars to another post.