By Sweeny Murti
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Seeing Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl again will be a treat for every sports fan.
To see the great ones on the big stage late in their careers is an incredible gift–it reminds those of us old enough to watch them in their primes how great they truly were, and it gives the younger fans a chance to see legendary players they weren’t old enough to follow the first go-round.
Manning’s career was in doubt a few years ago after multiple neck surgeries, but here he is proving his greatness all over again, a season for the ages. Last month when Manning was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, WFAN’s own Boomer Esiason wrote these words about Manning:
“I certainly don’t think (his) sustained success has anything to do with a hunger for money. He’s already made hundreds of millions. I believe he’s driven like no other athlete I’ve ever been around, and I believe that drive was only deepened by the dark time he had when he was injured. …Very few players possess what he has: the unquenchable thirst for challenge, the insatiable hunger for conquest.”
As I read that description, do you know who came to my mind? Derek Jeter.
There are similarities: the drive to win, the injuries that put upcoming performance into question, and the simple desire to perform at the highest level. Obviously the sports they play are different and so are the roles they are given. But “driven,” “unquenchable thirst for challenge,” “insatiable hunger for conquest” — these are all ways to describe Jeter just as much as Manning.
By nature of his sport and his position, Manning has a much more direct impact on his team’s success than Jeter does or possibly can have. But with spring training now less than a month away, this question will be asked over and over again:
What can we expect from Derek Jeter in 2014?
The Captain is signed for this coming season at $12 million, and most Yankee fans should agree that he doesn’t need to do anything else in a Yankee uniform to secure his place in Monument Park. But Jeter isn’t coming back in 2014 for a mere farewell tour. Not that he is saying this season will be his last, and even if it is he isn’t the type for a Mariano-style farewell tour.
What’s left in Jeter’s tank is certainly going to be the ultimate question. If he continues to be hampered by injuries, it’s almost a moot point. But if he is healthy enough to be on the field, then just what type of player can he be? Will there be enough Derek Jeter left in Derek Jeter?
There are those who say that he should just pack it in now, for fear of risking further injury or embarrassment. But one thing I have learned–the great ones don’t become great by giving in, especially when others doubt them. It is that drive that only the special athletes have, that make them believe they can accomplish whatever they set out to achieve. After all, isn’t that what made them great to begin with?
Even what seem like simple concessions, like dropping to the bottom of the batting order or moving to a less demanding position, great players with strong will and mental toughness–like Jeter and like Manning–don’t allow themselves to put negative thoughts in their heads. It is easy for us to sit back and say the team is better off if those things happen, but getting those players to accept is an entirely different matter.
I don’t know what to expect from Jeter this year. I don’t know if he will hit .330 or .230 and I don’t know if he will play 150 games or 15 games. What I do know is that Jeter’s drive is what has made him the player that he is, and all those qualities that Boomer wrote of in describing Manning are exactly what makes Jeter a superstar of the same level.
Even in the season in which he turns 40, Jeter will believe he can accomplish whatever he sets out to do.
You have every right to doubt him. Just don’t expect him to agree with you.
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