This weekend afl.com.au posed the question ‘Is the Bont the best 20-year-old we’ve seen?’ As at Monday lunchtime the accompanying survey saw two out of every five of the 25,100 respondents agree that he was.
The interesting thing with afl.com.au, having better success than Donald Trump’s campaign team, was the fact that they spent the majority of the article listing more accomplished 20-year olds. With all due respect to Marcus Bontempelli and his obvious brilliance as a player, he isn’t even in the argument for best five 20-year-olds. Dick Lee had led the VFL’s goal kicking 3 times; Hayden Bunton, along with already being captain of Fitzroy, had won a Brownlow, as had Dick Reynolds, Bob Skilton and Des Fotherill. Oh and then there is John Coleman who kicked 12 goals on debut and 100 in his debut season.
There seems to be a constant need to compare everything favourably with the past. 8 years ago the question was whether Buddy was the best ever 21-year-old. After the 2012 Grand Final commentators wasted vast quantities of oxygen telling us it was the greatest ever decider. Then there is the constant need to deem a team the ‘greatest of all’, Brisbane, Geelong and Hawthorn all crowned in recent years.
This kind of lunacy and short memory is not limited to football. Even cricket, which has a Don Bradman’s mark of 99.94 that is clearly superior to any other, is not immune. In recent times there have been some commentators, like Bob Willis, who have ignored history and records and stated a belief that AB De Villiers is the greatest ever batsman.
Then there is the LeBron James v Michael Jordan question in the NBA. Almost from the minute the Cleveland forward entered the league, debate has raged as to whether ‘King James’ had or would dethrone ‘His Airness’ as the game’s greatest player. Either position argued with a venomous and impossible certainty.
Hyperbole seems to be preferred to proper and detailed assessment. I have attended three AFL games deemed, by the press, the worst game ever played. Despite the fact that a man has kicked 12 goals in his debut match, I have seen the press ask three times in recent years whether a player has just played the best debut match ever.
Greatness cannot seem to be appreciated without over-rating it against what has gone before. It would be nice if we could use these performances to celebrate the past rather than disparage or undervalue it. Unfortunately, in today’s world of click bait and 24-hour sports radio stations, this problem is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.