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Tiger Woods is a bad man. I'd say he's a bad mutha- but comparing John Shaft to a man that hasn't had a decent haircut in 10 years seems blasphemous.
Tiger's five-tournament winning streak just ended, an incredible stretch that had many people saying he's the most dominant athlete of all time. It's not implausible, especially not after Vijay Singh entered the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship with a 3-stroke lead over Tiger, then shot a 3-under 68 on Sunday, only to lose to Woods by 2 strokes. When the best player in any sport can blow out one of his few legitimate rivals down the stretch, even when that rival performs very well, the best player is pretty friggin' dominant.
But the most dominant? Not quite.
Without question, Eldrick is better at what he does than the rest of us are at what we do. He is to golf what Hendrix was to guitar, a powerful virtuoso who has expanded what seems possible in his craft.
But dominance is determined subjectively. Webster's has an objective definition of the term, saying that one must simply tower over the competition to dominate. That's not good enough for me, though. To dominate a sport, someone has to scare the life out of his competition -- not just that person's game, but that person. To be the most dominant athlete ever, a person must make his opponents fear for their safety, dignity, or both. He should make everyone around him wonder how a loving God would make them share space with someone so spooky.
The most dominant athlete of all time scared the hell out of his opponents in every way. In fact, he scared the hell out of nearly everyone that ever shook his hand. And at age 71, he still scares the hell out of people.
That man is Jim Brown, the real-life Shaft.
Old folks tend to exaggerate when they talk about the stars of the old days, but their hyperbole is accurate when discussing Brown. Googly moogly, have you seen clips of Jim Brown on the gridiron? He was a fullback who was as big as most linemen, fast as most defensive backs and receivers, and strong as an ox. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry for his career; besides him, only Barry Sanders, the ultimate game breaker, has averaged 5 yards per carry for a career. His 1963 season, when he ran for 1,863 yards and averaged an unreal 6.2 yards per carry, is the greatest ever by a running back, in my opinion. He's the only player to average 100 yards per game for a career, and he won eight rushing titles in his nine professional seasons. Forty-one years after he retired, Brown is still considered the greatest running back of all time by anyone whose opinion matters; only a fool could claim someone else was, or is, better.
More importantly, he was the orneriest sumbitch on Earth.
Correction: He is the orneriest sumbitch in the galaxy, the last man with whom anyone would want to lock fingers and play mercy.
John Mackey, the Hall of Fame tight end, said that Brown told him to "make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts." In a classic routine, Richard Pryor said that Brown would simply tell defenders when they took cheap shots at the bottom of the pile, "that'll cost you 35 yards." Bob Lilly, whom The Sporting News called "the greatest defensive tackle in NFL history" at the turn of the millennium, said that Brown once bent his face mask all the way to his mug. And even though Brown dished out incredible amounts of punishment while playing the most physically rigorous position in football, Brown reached retirement age with his faculties. Earl Campbell, who ran with a similar style and played roughly the same number of games, wishes he could say the same.
This is what Tiger's up against. No matter how great he is or becomes, he'll never be able to reach that level. Not unless he starts hitting shots off people's heads like he's playing a golfer's version of H-O-R-S-E, just to show folks he means business.
There are surely players on the tour who are scared to see Tiger charge up a leaderboard. But I doubt any of them fear Tiger himself. Because the natural enemy of any golfer is the course, it's hard to say Woods truly spooks his competition. He surely puts the fear of God into course designers, but he'd have to show up at the tee box swinging his driver at the shins of his playing partners to really scare them.
Tiger may make people fear what he can do to a course. But he doesn't make anyone fear what he can do to them.
Golf doesn't even allow Tiger the chance to embarrass his foes. Embarrassment was the tool Michael Jordan used to make his dominance clear. If someone said something that Mike didn't like -- or gave him enough time to imagine someone saying something he wouldn't like -- he would do something so devastating that his poor opponent's kids wouldn't want to go to school the next day. He could jab-step a defender until the poor schmuck's feet were a tangled mess, then go left and make him fall down. He could block a jump shot from behind, turning two points into an orange soufflé. And he could dunk on someone, giving an unsuspecting big man the privilege of counting the number of little holes in his shorts.
But even when Tiger trounces golfers, they don't get clowned. Woods' charge made Singh's four-round total of 270 forgettable, but it didn't make Singh look bad. It just made Tiger look like well, Tiger. Singh could snarl with his head still held high.
Tiger can make fools of his opponents in match play. Stephen Ames learned that when Tiger smoked him 9 and 8 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship this year. But in stroke play, he just doesn't get that chance. No matter how much emphasis observers put on a golfer's ability to win, the game is still man versus course.
Brown embarrassed cats in a game pitting man versus man. A football player's enemy is anyone wearing a jersey of a different color. And Brown put his arms, legs and head into those enemies' chests with enough force to leave dents in a Buick Roadmaster.
Really, is anything more embarrassing for an adult than running into someone at full speed and still getting knocked backward? Only running into someone at full speed, falling backward and getting pantsed, revealing that said person was short on clean drawers that day. At the prom. That would really stink.
But the best example of Brown's dominance is not measured statistically. It doesn't even have anything to do with football.
In 1988, he started Amer-I-Can, a program that helps gang members and ex-convicts become productive members of society. Amer-I-Can offers work to these people, and they perform tasks ranging from providing security to cleaning homes, offices and construction sites.
How can Brown get guys that would make you -- yes, you -- wet yourself to perform jobs you wouldn't dream of doing? By being able to look those men -- men the police would prefer not to deal with -- in the eye, without a modicum of fear. After all, this is a man who chose jail time over probation when he was in his 60s.
Sorry, but there's no golfer who could pull that off. Not even Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.
When pressed to comment on Augusta National's exclusion of women, Woods insisted it was their right to do so as a private club. When asked if he would feel the same way if the excluded group was blacks or Asians, Tiger said the same thing.
Think Jim Brown would have taken such a stance?
After answering that question, try to say that Tiger Woods is more dominant than Jim Brown. I bet you'll shut yo' mouth before you can speak.
Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at firstname.lastname@example.org.