Sunday, November 1, 2009

What If...?

The brightest and hottest stars burn out the fastest. Is there a lesson here?

Marvel Comics has an on-again-off-again series of comics called "What If...?" which explores various momentous decisions and occurances in the Marvel Universe. What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four? What if Jean Grey had submitted to a psychic lobotomy by Professor Xavier at the end of the Dark Phoenix saga?

This weekend marks the ten-year anniversary of the tragic accident that killed Greg Moore, a rising star in the open wheel racing series that was, at the time, called CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams). While Moore only had an official five wins in his four years of racing in the CART series, he was a force to be reckoned with on the track, and a bright soul off of it, according to his friends, teammates and even his competition.
photo from speedcenter.com

John Oreovicz explores some of the "what if?" in this poignant article marking the dark day that may have been the beginning of the end of CART and possibly of US open wheel racing. Greg Moore's infectious enthusiasm for life helped vitalize those he raced with, as well as drawing in fans to a sport that has always had a tenuous American existence, amongst the grittier NASCAR and circle track crowds. As Dario Franchitti put it in Oreovicz's article, "[Greg] was such a bright light. It's kind of a cliché, that he lived every day, but he did. From the time he got up, he was flat out. Right away the phone was ringing. You're still coming to, but there's Greg saying, 'Right! What are we doing? We're going mountain biking! We're doing this, we're doing that! We're going skiing!' There was never a dull moment."

Too many parallels exist between how Greg Moore sparked a renewed American interest in open wheel racing and how Alex Ovechkin has sparked a renewed Washington -- and American -- interest in hockey. Ovechkin is a larger-than-life personality, enjoying each and every day to the fullest.
Ovechkin and Semin goofing off at Six Flags during the STH party

What if the Capitals had chosen Malkin instead of Ovechkin in the 2004 draft? Would a Crosby-Ovechkin line be any more or less dominant than a Malkin-Backstrom line? Would Malkin be able to captivate the fickle Washington fan base the way Ovechkin has?
can you imagine the jerseys reversed? photo by Getty Images

More importantly, with Ovechkin as a larger than life personality, enjoying every moment to the fullest in a life that most of us can only dream about, how long until he burns himself out? Fans have already been "treated" to some close calls that are considered "goofing off" only because nothing happened in the end. Greg Moore's end was foreshadowed from the beginning with his exuberant driving on the track; it seemed only a matter of time before he had a terrible -- but not necessarily fatal -- accident. Ovechkin publicly admits to putting himself in danger on the street, and while Moore was a professional driver in a car with top-of-the-line safety equipment, Ovechkin is in a very fast street car without a roll bar (much less a cage), and hasn't (to my knowledge) taken any kind of performance driving lessons beyond his own "playing around" on the ragged edge.

And this doesn't even address Ovechkin's 110% play on the ice. The running joke is "Russian Machine never break." But how long before the wear-and-tear on his twenty-something body adds up?

It's worth noting how often the best and brightest human stars, like their cosmic counterparts, use themselves up long before what we'd consider to be "their time." Can the Capitals brightest star continue living his life his way?

Here's to hoping that Alex Ovechkin learns the meaning of the word moderation before he joins Greg Moore and myriad other stars who went supernova too early.

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