Competition takes the week off

If the name of the game in sports is competition, then that name has certainly been soiled in the last week.

The Lakers swept the NBA Finals, Tiger Woods led wire to wire at the U.S. Open and the Red Wings blew away the Hurricanes all in the span of a week. As a sports fan, I find this to be an extremely depressing trend. I’m entertained by lively, competitive games. That’s what made the NBA Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Kings so interesting. It felt as if every game came down to the final minutes or, as in the case of Game 7, overtime.

Yet days later, it was the same Lakers absolutely dismantling the New Jersey Nets, the Eastern Conference champions. A straight 4-0 sweep, where it appeared that the Lakers were merely playing with the Nets when they allowed New Jersey to grab one of its few leads. I still watched, but I know adamant fans who were turned off by the complete one-sidedness of the series.

The NHL Finals had much the same feel as the Red Wings fell behind 1-0 in the best of seven series to Carolina, yet then proceeded to thoroughly take apart the underdog Hurricanes. Sporting numerous future Hall of Famers, Detroit looked like a thundering 18-wheeler and Carolina was roadkill. Dominic Hasek returned to the “Dominator” of old, rather the aging goalie on the verge of retirement that he actually is.

On the links at Bethpage Black, it was more of the same as Woods was only moderately challenged by Phil Mickelson on Sunday to keep the 2002 U.S. Open from resembling his commanding victories at the 1997 Masters and the 2000 U.S. Open, where he also went wire to wire for the major championship.

The title pushed Woods ever closer to the only goal that seems remotely laborious – surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. Woods has eight majors, placing him fifth on the all-time list, clearly ahead of Nicklaus’ pace. “The Golden Bear” was 30 when he won his eighth major, while Tiger is just 26. Outside of a severe case of ennui or the urge to try bowling a la Michael Jordan’s minor league baseball career, Woods will smash that mark before he’s over the hill.

Which, as sad as it makes me to say this, makes soccer the most contested championship going on right now. With favorites like Argentina, Portugal and defending champion France falling before the second round, the World Cup has managed to garner something from me I didn’t think possible – my attention. Add in underdogs like Senegal, the United States and co-hosts South Korea and Japan all advancing to the Round of 16, the tournament has more intrigue than an episode of Days of Our Lives. Because as a sports fan, that’s what catches my attention. Unless the champion is your favorite team or player, why wouldn’t you root for the underdog? Drama, tension, competition – that’s what makes for compelling sports.

After last year’s enthralling Fall Classic between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, I can only hope for more of the same from the World Series this year.

Now, if New York were to win this year, I can’t say I’d complain. But that’s if there is a World Series this year, which is a whole other column.