Lovable in losing
Andy Roddick became a winner by losing Sunday. It was how he lost to Roger Federer in the epic Wimbledon final. He showed heart and guts and class that he never showed before, not even in victory. His reputation improved in a losing effort, more so than it would have had he won in straight sets. We take a look at others who lost but whose reputations grew because of it.
Many might have forgotten that Michael Campbell won a U.S. Open. So did Steve Jones. But no one will ever forget that it was a smiling Rocco Mediate who stood toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods for 19 playoff holes in the 2008 U.S. Open. Mediate has never won a major, but his runnerup finish to Woods made more of an impact than if he had actually won in the traditional way like Campbell and Jones.
Smokin' Joe was a fine heavyweight champion, but it was a loss that moved him to legendary status. The final bout in his epic trilogy against Muhammad Ali -- the Thrilla in Manila in 1975 -- was one of the most brutal fights ever. Ali won only because a near-blind Frazier quit seconds before the start of the 15th round and just before Ali was ready to throw in the towel.
Football's lovable losers pulled off a string of upsets to reach last season's Super Bowl, but few gave them a chance to even stay close to the Steelers. Yet it took a two-minute drive for the ages for the Steelers to pull out the victory. Kurt Warner and the Cards would rather have a Super Bowl ring, but even in a loss they earned the respect they had not experienced previously.
With his bad-boy image and awful temper, McEnroe was cast as the villain in the 1980 Wimbledon final against the cool and classy Bjorn Borg. Five sets later, including the greatest tiebreak in tennis history, Borg prevailed, but McEnroe was given the respect in losing that he never gained in winning. His effort drew out an emotion from fans that they had never shown McEnroe before: sympathy.
This Pirates pitcher retired the first 36 batters he faced and took a perfect game into the 13th inning against the Braves in 1959. But he ended up losing when he gave up a run in the 13th. Despite the 1-0 loss, many consider his one-hit complete game the greatest pitching performance in baseball history.
Torres had won four Olympic gold medals from 1984 to 2000, but that just made her another really good American swimmer. It was three silver medals in the 2008 Olympics, when she was 41 years old and competing against women half her age, that made her a swimming legend.
He has been runnerup five times at the U.S. Open. The first four times, he was criticized. The fifth time (last month at Bethpage), Mickelson played as his wife battled breast cancer. He smiled. He engaged the crowd. And he played magnificently. He came up short but won over fans with his performance.
This is what this category is all about -- the epitome of a man in an event where the final result didn't even matter. As Rocky said, "If I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.''