Boxed in by history

I was watching TNT’s coverage of the NBA the other night and they had, as per usual, Doug Collins announcing. He’s best known in NBA circles as the coach who pretty much got run out of Chicago on a rail when he and Michael Jordan clashed.

But that’s not how I remember Collins.

In 1972, at the height of the Cold War, Collins served as one of 12 players in an undermanned team sent to Munich to play basketball for the United States. The U.S. had never lost a game in basketball, but on this September night, they trailed the Russians going deep into the gold-medal game.

But the Americans showed their grit and chipped away at the lead. With less than 20 seconds left, the Russians had the ball and a one-point lead. Aleksandar Belov threw the ball across the lane, and Collins broke up the pass. He darted up the floor and had a clear path to the hoop. The Russian player, having no chance of defending the play, cut Collins’ legs out from under him and drove him head first into the basket support.

Woozy, tired and staggered, Collins wobbled around the floor. He stepped to the line to shoot what Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan called “the two most pressure-filled free throws any American has ever shot at any level of competition in the history of basketball.” He drained them both, giving the U.S. a one-point lead with but three seconds remaining.

If you know history or the Olympics, you know what happened next. The Russians were awarded a time out that never should have happened under the rules of the day, they were given not one, not two, but three chances to inbound the ball and finally, they did in fact score, winning the gold in the most heavily contested event in Olympic history. To this day, the U.S. players have refused to accept the silver medals, some going as far as to put it in their will that no descendant of theirs will ever be able to claim it.

And Collins went from being an American hero on par with Daniel Boone, Neil Armstrong and Mike Eruzione to being just another guy in sports.

I bring this up today because I’ve spent the past several days reading about John McCain and what is presumably his last hurrah on the big stage. Just like Collins, history seemed to conspire against him. Think what you want about him now, the campaign he ran or how he rallied the criminally insane to his cause, but a few short years ago, he could have been a rallying point for people who wanted our country to change and to improve.

In 2000, McCain took a legitimate first step to the presidency. The pitch he was making at the time was one of radical chance. He eschewed the big-party politics and was trying to carve a new path in politics. He was a cute choice for people who thumbed their noses at the liberal elitism that Gore seemed to be floating on and the staunch right wing of Bush’s backers. A borderline Bull Moose party guy who had that puncher’s chance of making a go at it. 

Instead, he was crushed by the GOP’s slime machine and never fully recovered. Bush took the lead, took the White House and took us all along with him along the downward spiral. He watched eight years of idiocy like the rest of us and waited his turn for a shot at redemption.

Instead, in 2008, he got boxed in by history. His maverick routine became laughable, especially when you compare it to his opponent. Obama trumped him on all the key aspects that would have made him the candidate of change. Younger, more energetic and a clear candidate for those fed up with the way Bush ran the country, Obama pushed politics so far from business as usual that there was no way McCain could be who he was and win the election. The call for change undercut him with some in his party and his platform of change and straight talk, so radical in 2000, was being eroded by Obama’s better approach and McCain’s own shortcomings.

So, he took the path that had led to the last two successful presidential bids. Out of desperation or lack of options, he wrapped himself in the party that had betrayed us and had slandered him. He appealed to the Republican base with a VP pick that made Dan Quayle look like a Mensa candidate. He attacked Obama with the venom of an asp.

Had this been 2000 or even 2000-esque, all of that might have worked. We might not have really cared who the president was, because, at that time, many folks operated under the assumption that most of the important stuff happens at the local level. Obama would have played the spunky McCain role: cute, neat story, but not worth the effort. Instead, this time a hungry, broke, angry country saw the moves McCain was making for what they were: A Bush redux.

I feel for John McCain, just like I feel for Doug Collins, the 1983 Houston Cougars, Vladislav Tretiak and all the other folks who found history conspiring against them in one way or another. Timing, in life, is everything and these guys just happened to be on the wrong side of it. Some of it was fate, some was their own doing and yet, I know that without Collins, we don’t end up with theDream Team format. Without Tretiak, we don’t get theMiracle on Ice. Without the Cougars, we don’t getJimmy V.

I think that without 2000 and John McCain, maybe we don’t get Barack Obama.

That might be the greatest tragedy of all.

5 thoughts on “Boxed in by history

  1. Sorry, Doc.
    But I got no sympathy for McCain whatsoever.
    Unlike Doug Collins, McCain wasn’t cheated. Oh, hell no. He made his choices, and he has to live with the results.
    And, despite his non-stop fellating of the campaign press in 2000, he wasn’t a “maverick” then, and he’s never really been one. On the important issues, he’s just another right-winger.
    He’s a hard-core Reaganite: Anti-government, anti-choice, pro-right-wing-dictators, pro-theocracy, and anti-MLK day. What he did in 2000 was realize that he couldn’t out-religion Alan Keyes (and, shockingly, George Bush). So he sucked up to the press and acted like he wasn’t fond of Falwell et al. That’s not independence; it’s opportunism.
    As far as some of his stances, like pro-Indian gambling and anti-tobacco: Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Actually, that’s not right. It’s a good illustration of just how fucking insane the Republican Party is if taking a popular and common-sense stand on something is seen as a revolutionary act.
    So, is John McCain a tragic figure? Yeah, in the old-school sense: Someone brought low by his own flaws. Fuck him.

  2. Thanks, Doc and Jude — love both of your posts all the time, but these last few days, even more so! always thoughtful, leave me going “hmmm” and/or chuckling!!!

  3. i can acept the perfect storm that brought us obama. i cannot forgive mcPecker who didn’t stop the bitter end of his berserker attempt to defeat obama and stirred up a nasty wasp nest.
    shame on the republikkkan party.

  4. I’m with ya, Doc.
    McCain could’ve done, in 2000, some surprisingly good things for the country.
    But the party didn’t want some good for the country. The party wanted it all.
    Hence Bush / Rove / Cheney.
    Hubris has consequences, and if, this time, it really has blown the GOP up,
    I will laugh right out loud.
    But I won’t be laughing over John McCain. He’s a veteran; the disabilities
    resultant of his service-connected injuries are not going to go away as he
    gets older. He offered his life for his nation, and she damn near took it,
    when he was a 20-something fighter jock over Viet Nam. But he lived, and
    he retired from the Navy, and he figured out a way to serve some more.
    Oh, the pay was better and arguably the duty was lighter in the Senate,
    but his record there says McCain — especially before 2000 — wasn’t, by
    any measure, the worst the GOP could foist upon the nation; that was, and
    is, the Cheney/Bush/Rove wing of the party and the puppets it lusts after.
    I’m just sorry that he didn’t get out of the way of the crash, this time.

  5. Johniboy grew up a Navy kid…free medical ,,, went to Navy Acad..free EDucation on his father’s and grandad’s influence .(TAXPAYERS DINE)…after graduating in “bottom” of his class,,,crashed a number of airplanes ,,, oops”…?
    He still cashes $85,000 in disability checks each year..????? …with his net worth over 100M.$..!
    —-ya,,-country first…after I take it’s money.!!!$$$????
    —he has had free medical all his life…and says “NO”
    to health care for you…!
    000H “HE’S A “WINNER”

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