Commentary

Breaking down the epic career collapses

Originally Published: August 9, 2010
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

A wise individual -- probably the poet Yeats; possibly anyone who purchased a house in the past five years -- once noted that things fall apart.

Which, naturally, brings us to Tiger Woods.

After his worst-ever showing at the WGC-Bridgestone, is the beleaguered golfer simply mired in what he calls "a long year," taking his lumps before returning to his once-dominant form?

Or is he really, truly cooked?

The answer, of course, is that it's too early to tell -- but hardly too early to wonder. After all, history is littered with peak performers who seemed as though they would win forever … until they stopped doing so, suddenly and irrevocably, in the manner of the Roman Empire or pretty much every NFL running back over 30 not named Walter Payton.

With that in mind, Page 2 presents its favorite sports and pop culture career collapses:

1. Ralph Guldahl

Occupation: Best golfer you've never heard of.

Summary: Before David Duval, Ian Baker-Finch and -- just maybe -- Woods, there was Guldahl. Who's he? Only the one-time top player in golf. A contemporary of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan -- he was born about the same time, in 1911 -- Guldahl won two U.S. Opens, the Masters and three Western Opens (then considered major-caliber) from 1936 to 1939. After that? Zilch. Guldahl left the tour in 1942; aside from a brief, unsuccessful comeback in 1949, he never played again.

Page 2 spin: A mighty fall, but one softened by the quirky, intensely psychological nature of golf. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Guldahl's game might have tanked because he worked on an instructional book that forced him to -- gulp -- think about the mechanics of his swing -- a swing Snead once called "as near perfect as anyone['s] I've ever seen."

Fun fact: Guldahl was the last U.S. Open champ to win the tournament while wearing a necktie.

2. Mike Tyson

Occupation: Baddest man on the planet, if not in the entire solar system.

Summary: Unbeatable in real life. Unbeatable in video games. Scary good … and just plain scary. The first heavyweight to hold all three major belts simultaneously, Tyson dominated boxing and became a global celebrity bogeyman through ferocious punching and sheer intimidation. Exhibit A: Tyson's 91-second demolition of ballyhooed, undefeated challenger Michael Spinks, who never fought again. A 1990 loss to journeyman Buster Douglas in Tokyo -- considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history -- stripped Tyson of both his rank and his mojo, and what followed was a long, strange journey of fading "into Bolivian": jail time for a rape conviction, snacking on Evander Holyfield's ears, tomato can bouts, bizarre public pronouncements, divorces, financial ruin, cash-grab exhibitions, drug problems, professional wrestling cameos, face tattoos, pigeon tending and a small-but-unforgettable role in "The Hangover."

Page 2 spin: Boxing is littered with sad-sack stories, making Tyson's collapse predictable; on the other hand, the sheer weirdness of his tragicomic slide was utterly unique. The man was reality TV before there was reality TV.

Fun fact: Only boxer to inspire a Fresh Prince/Jazzy Jeff tune.

3. The 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers

Occupation: Peaking NBA title contender/feel-good band of fun-lovin' brothers.

Summary: Their season. Their moment. The rest of us … witnesses. Such was the storyline for the LeBron James-led Cavs, who added aging pivot Shaquille O'Neal to "win a ring for the king." Cleveland was supposed to have chemistry because James was just one of the guys, a superstar who checked his ego at the door and did fun, inclusive stuff such as pantomime photography. The franchise was supposed to have talent and savvy, too, thanks to former All-Stars Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison and previous NBA Coach of the Year Mike Brown. Most of all, the Cavs were supposed to have MVP-level talent on the verge of will-imposing transcendence. In reality, Cleveland had a collection of role players who collapsed against the red-hot Boston Celtics, rumored front-office and locker room dysfunction, a coach who looked outclassed, and a lethargic, deer-in-the-headlights superstar who couldn't wait to take his talents to South Beach via Geraldo-esque tele-stunt. With James gone and a yawn-inducing roster still in place, the Cavs couldn't have become more instantly and lastingly irrelevant had they relocated to Vancouver.

Page 2 spin: Club never actually managed to win a title, yet, like a hot supercar in a highway accident, went from 60-plus to zero in two seconds flat.

Fun fact: Two words: Comic Sans.

4. Lindsay Lohan

Occupation: Budding starlet.

Summary: From jailbait to jail. Lohan charmed as a child star, matured into a sex symbol with promising acting potential, then careered off a career cliff, exploding in a hard-living tabloid fireball that continues to burn. We could cite her messed-up, fame-grubbing family, her various addictions and run-ins with the law, her totally unnecessary recording projects and her rejected bid to campaign for then-candidate Barack Obama. But why bother? Everything you need to know about Lohan is written on her reverse-Dorian Gray face. Even American presidents don't age that quickly.

Page 2 spin: Even by Hollywood standards, Lohan's wipeout is a doozy. And that's without mentioning "I Know Who Killed Me," in which Lohan portrayed a stripper with a dual personality and for which Lohan earned two worst actress Razzie awards -- both for the same role.

Fun fact: In a letter that became public, studio executive James G. Robinson called Lohan "unprofessional and irresponsible." In related news, studio executive James G. Robinson reads TMZ.com.

5. The "NFL GameDay" video game franchise

Occupation: "Madden NFL"-slayer.

Summary: Once upon a time -- read: the mid-to-late 1990s -- the "Madden" franchise wasn't the big, bad bully of football gaming, kicking sand and boffo sales numbers into the faces of weaker, non-NFL-licensed titles such as "Blitz: The League" and "All-Pro Football." Nuh-uh. Madden had actual competition in the form of "NFL GameDay," a good-looking, smooth-playing game from Sony. When "Madden" failed to ship for the PlayStation in 1995, "GameDay" was there to gobble market share; when "Madden" finally made the jump to full 3-D graphics, the technically superior "GameDay" was a year ahead. So what happened? "Madden" beat "GameDay" to the franchise mode punch, then delivered a knockout with a PlayStation 2 debut that was vastly superior to Sony's unspeakably feeble effort.

Page 2 spin: Given the short, inglorious run for "GameDay" on the PlayStation 2 -- a first-party title that looked and played like a lousy PSOne port -- the surprise isn't that the franchise tumbled; it's that it was ever in a position to fall from glory in the first place.

Fun fact: A review of "NFL GameDay 2004" declared that "the game is simulating incompetent high school football players as opposed to seasoned professionals." Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

6. The Pittsburgh Pirates

Occupation: Relevant baseball franchise.

Summary: The Pirates haven't had a winning season since the Bush administration -- the George H.W. Bush administration. Currently working on its eighteenth consecutive sub-.500 campaign, Pittsburgh owns a dubious North American team sports record that not even the Los Angeles Clippers can match. (Which, it should be noted, is never a good sign). In print and late-night monologue jokes alike, the Pirates are often referred to as a Triple-A-level club that happens to play in the major leagues; in truth, that's probably giving the team too much credit.

Page 2 spin: On one hand, small-market franchises such as Pittsburgh operate at a major financial disadvantage in big-bucks modern baseball; on the other hand, that disadvantage hasn't stopped Minnesota, Oakland and others from fielding contending clubs. Somewhere, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and even Barry Bonds are shedding lone, Iron Eyes Cody-style tears.

Fun fact: Pirates have garnered more attention for Randall Simon's sausage assault and signing a pair of minor league pitchers who won an Indian game show than for anything they've done on the field in the past 10 years. Come to think of it, that's more sad than fun.

7. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Action Hero

Occupation: Box office leviathan.

Summary: From "Conan the Barbarian" to "Commando" to "Terminator 2," there was a period of time in which Schwarzenegger was the most bankable shoot-'em-up star in Hollywood -- that is, until the epically lame "Last Action Hero" was eviscerated at both the box office and in the fast food toy tie-in wars by "Jurassic Park." Clunkers such as "Eraser," "End of Days" and "Collateral Damage" followed, and eventually Schwarzenegger was forced into a fallback career as governor of California.

Page 2 spin: In "The Terminator," Schwarzenegger famously promised "I'll be back"; outside of rollicking action flick "True Lies," he never really was. To borrow from "The Simpsons": magic ticket our [expletive]!

Fun fact: Columbia Pictures paid $500,000 to place an ad for "Last Action Hero" on the side of a NASA rocket. What, losing a declared $26 million on the film wasn't enough?

8. The Oakland Raiders

Occupation: Excellence-committed vertical-passing just-winners.

Summary: All snide, joking comparisons aside -- Al Davis to the Crypt Keeper; former quarterback JaMarcus Russell to beached sea life -- the Raiders used to be awesome. Like, really, really awesome, both on the field and in terms of overall renegade je ne sais quoi. After all, Oakland is the franchise of John Madden and Marcus Allen, the Assassin and the Snake, 21 playoff appearances and three Super Bowl titles. The Raiders made silver and black cool, litigation a hobby, and pigskin malcontents and castoffs into stars (even 500-year-old Jerry Rice flourished in Oakland). Of course, that was then: Since imploding in the 2002 Super Bowl, the franchise has slid into unstylish dysfunction, hasn't won more than five games in a season and once suffered the indignity of former coach Bill Callahan -- Bill Callahan! -- calling his squad "the dumbest team in America."

Page 2 spin: The Raiders were a glamour franchise, one of the few NFL clubs with an actual, identifiable personality. They have the coolest theme song in sports. Yet somehow, the franchise managed to make Lane Kiffin seem borderline sympathetic. Talk about rock bottom.

9. "Steroids Won't Help You Hit a Baseball"

Occupation: Collective delusion.

Summary: True enough. Steroids won't actually help you hit baseballs. But they will help you hit said baseballs way, way farther. Funny how baseball isn't exempt from Newtonian physics. In the 1990s and even into the 2000s -- as Brady Anderson outclubbed Hank Aaron's best season, offense exploded like Google's market valuation and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa wore heroic togas on the cover of national magazines -- people believed that hardball juicing wasn't rampant, 'cause Stanozolol doesn't slow down a 95 mph heater. Only then came "Game of Shadows," and "Juiced," and the congressional steroids hearings, and the Mitchell report, and the widespread realization that if you weren't ingesting some sort of farmacia-obtained, bovine-bulking, flaxseed-oil-like substance over the past 15 years of baseball history, then you weren't really trying. Also, the pitchers were juicing, too.

Page 2 spin: Steroids won't help you hit a baseball was one of many juice-related magical thoughts and myths to go splat post-BALCO, alongside gaining 20 pounds of lean muscle in three months is easy thanks to modern weightlifting and protein shakes and I've never failed a drug test, therefore I'm clean.

Fun fact: People actually thought a chemical compound called androstenedione was innocuous.

10. Hair Metal

Occupation: Musical movement fueled by vodka, mascara and a Gulf oil spill's worth of White Rain hair spray.

Summary: Chuckle now, but a little more than two decades ago, America was tuning in to "Headbanger's Ball," fist-pumping to the power-chord-heavy likes of Ratt and Cinderella and raising lighters to sensitive bad boy ballads such as "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?

Page 2 spin: In scale, scope and a definable moment of downfall, the collapse of hair metal rivals the breakup of the USSR -- the Evil Empire had the fall of the Berlin Wall; glam rock had Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Fun fact: Stryper. Quiet Riot. White Lion. Britny Fox. Winger. Skid Row. Which of the preceding hair metal band names is made up? Answer: none of the above.

Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.

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