If 2021 has shown us anything, it’s that youth is served – at least occasionally – humble pie by its elders. Tom Brady (with more than a little help from the Tampa Bay defensive line) triumphed over Patrick Mahomes in this year’s Super Bowl, simultaneously cementing his status as the G.O.A.T. and defeating his heir apparent as the shining star of NFL quarterbacks. Veteran Indy Car driver Scott Dixon secured the pole position for this year’s Indianapolis 500, besting two young guns whose combined age is one year more than Dixon’s. And finally, Phil Mickelson became the oldest golfer to win a major championship when he won this year’s PGA.
Making Mickelson’s accomplishment all the more astonishing is that he is decidedly on the downside of his career, illustrious as it has been. Before the PGA he hadn’t won a tournament of any kind in two years. Mickelson hasn’t so much as finished in the top twenty of a tournament in almost nine months. His ranking among his peers had slipped to 115th. He had to accept a special exemption to play in this year’s PGA as he was no longer an automatic qualifier. And then he goes out and wins the thing. Nothing like a flair for the dramatic.
Mickelson is one of the more glib professional athletes, as this exchange with a thoroughly befuddled Nick Faldo illustrates:
Phil Mickelson dropping in for some analysis this afternoon; Nick Faldo wasn't quite ready for his opening dad joke pic.twitter.com/tNycbpWCeL
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) August 8, 2020
Whether he chooses to pursue a broadcasting career once his playing days are done remains to be seen. It’s difficult to imagine that today’s win will bring that day about any sooner.
Turning the spotlight over to Dixon, the quiet New Zealander has been at the top of Indy Car racing for going on twenty years. He has won six championships, including last year. He’s already won one Indianapolis 500, and as his pole position for this year’s race testifies he is most definitely in the hunt for another.
The knock against Dixon throughout his career is that he’s not the most engaging individual to put on a firesuit and helmet. He’s a perfectly nice guy, but if anything he’s too nice. No verbal digs at competitors, no juicy scandals with which to snag headlines, no witty banter or snappy repartee for ready-made quotes. All Dixon does is go out and win. And win. And win some more. For the record, his last season without a won? 2004.
There was one sporting moment this past Sunday where youth was served, but even therein an old familiar face wasn’t far away. Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, won the inaugural race (for NASCAR, anyway) at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The track, which also hosts the US Grand Prix for Formula One, is a bit of an outlier for stock car racing, although one can only imagine what would happen were a Lewis Hamilton or variation thereof attempt to wheel a Cup car around the track. It’s highly doubtful it would go well.
Elliott the younger, who last season won his first Cup championship, is far and away NASCAR’s most popular driver. Certainly some fans he’s won on his own, but equally certain is he’s brought with him a large portion of his father’s fan base. Given that Bill Elliott won NASCAR’s most popular driver award sixteen times, there is no surprise his son has followed suit, winning said award the past three years with no serious challenger in sight.
So, while 2021 trundles along, with the noticeable exception of the White House it’s refreshing to see veteran athletes still proving they can best the rugrats at their own game. It’s not going to change the world or set any millennials to thinking that maybe they shouldn’t be so dismissive of their elders, but it’s a nice change of pace all the same.