Rooting for the Wrong Guy?

Bobby posting:

A week ago today, I found myself in the middle of one of those crazy youth ministry stretches. We’d just returned from a week-long middle school camp with 60-plus folks…and now we were preparing for a week-long evening Vacation Bible School for the entire community around us. I had more preparing to do than I could even imagine…but I couldn’t unglue myself from the U.S. Open’s live streaming coverage of the tournament on their website. I couldn’t turn away from the playoff match between the 158th ranked player in the world and a guy who has his own video game. One guy had to go through qualifying against guys half his age just to make the major…the other was going for his 14th major TITLE! It was Rocco Mediate taking on Tiger Woods.

On the Sunday before, I sat in my parent’s house with my folks and my wife. After hearing Rocco’s story, it was hard not to root for him. But Tiger kept on pushing and kept making it close. Finally, as he lined up that 12 foot put on the 18th hole that would end up forcing the Monday Playoff, I found myself rooting for the 13-time Major Champion to sink it. Really? I wanted Tiger to win his FOURTEENTH major title instead of this guy winning his FIRST?!! He knocks the put into the right side of the cup…giving a double fist pump for the ages. I hopped off the couch and screamed. The rest of my family just sunk back onto the couches and winced. I was pumped…they were deflated. What was wrong with me?

I think I appreciate greatness. I mean really, really, really great greatness. I think that’s why their are so many Tiger Lovers out there. We want to see brilliance. We want to be awed! Wasn’t that why Jordan was so ridiculous to watch…why Kobe has been able to bring people back onto his bandwagon (this being before the NBA finals!). Give me David vs. Goliath…and apparently I’m rooting for the giant! Who knew? It was a tough pill to swallow.

But on this Monday afternoon, as I’m sitting at my desk, watching it come down to yet another playoff hole after both guys were tied AGAIN after 18-holes, the tide began to turn. I watched Rocco bang one out of bounds. I watched him try to hide his disappointment behind a smile. Trust me, I know what that look looks like…I perfected it. I watched him mess around with the crowd about throwing the ball on the green instead of dropping it in the designated DROP SPOT. I watched him watch Tiger sink his own put. Then I watched him just barely miss his own. Somewhere on that final hole, I watched myself become a fan of Rocco doing his best Rocky. I wanted the underdog to knock out the big dog. But it was that old carriage turning into a pumpkin thing. It just wasn’t to be. Tiger won yet another major title. Rocco went home with the best second place finish of his life.

The strange thing is that I don’t think the shift on that final hole had any sort of holistic impact on me. Give me the same situation next year, and I think I’m rooting for Tiger again. Is there something wrong with that? For a guy who always roots for the underdog or always stands up for the little guy, I can’t comprehend why it’s so different for me with Tiger. He’s never really opened up to his fans. He’s not necessarily the most likable guy in the world. He’s never been knocked down enough to need the support of anyone who watches him. Am I rooting for the wrong guy? Or is it OK to root greatness beyond anything we’ve ever seen? The question rolls on like a 20-foot putt making it’s way to the hole. Is it going to fall? I guess that depends on who’s hitting it…because if it’s Tiger that’s a definite yes. And if it falls…I’m hopping off the couch to cheer for it!


4 responses to “Rooting for the Wrong Guy?

  • Jen

    hmm…it really is true that so many of us end up rooting for the athlete or team that has already won however many times. i think there is something about us being attracted to the type of greatness that leaves us in absolute awe and that becomes bigger than our reality…especially in the face of ridiculous odds or moments of great weakness. there is something about that desperate battle for victory that speaks to me, at least, that not all is lost when things seem to have hit the fan. i think i connect with that and continue to root for the goliath, specifically when the goliath is struggling…like me a lot of times.

  • adam


    maybe when we are cheering, we are feeling the excitement and the pressure of the moment because we are putting ourself in an athlete’s position. With an athlete like Rocco, it is easier to place oneself in that position of having limitations, of having weaknesses, and these deficiencies allow us to more easily empathize with his moment. Tiger taps into a different human longing. When we cheer for Tiger, we are cheering for the impossible. We are not empathizing along with a believably flawed representative of ourselves. We are cheering for a hero. So, the emotion that overwhelms us as we cheer for Tiger is an attempt to believe that the impossible can happen. When we cheer for Tiger, it is not that we are cheering for him to beat Rocco…we are rooting for him to conquer the limitations of a normal human being. It becomes our desperate desire that he throw down the rules that bind a human performance. The reward that cheering for Rocco gives is a belief that on an given day, one human being can defeat another, even one with greater talent and gifting. The reward that Tiger gives is to allow each of us to believe that leaving the restraints of our world, even in an athletic competition, is possible.

  • zobbyshark

    Well said, Adam. Bobby – have I ever told you that you single handedly pulled me back from the depths of abandoning sports entirely? During monk mode year I decided my dad’s obsession with sports was ruining his marriage with my mom. In my traditional military-esque display of discipline I decided to purge my passion for sports entirely. But how could I when I was surrounded by your brilliant extractions of life’s truths from sports of all things? If my wife complains, I’m blaming it on you…


  • Maestros « via chicago

    […] can be larger-than-life sport moments like Tiger Woods storming his way to the U.S. Open Championship this year or Michael Jordan sinking the game-winning shot to win the 1998 NBA Finals (I still do my best […]

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