RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Last night, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team trounced Syracuse 82 to 51 to win a record fourth straight NCAA championship. Commentator Frank Deford says the team's spectacular accomplishments deserve to be celebrated.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: I wish all those political pollsters out there had paused long enough to study how much the sporting public appreciated the UConn basketball team. My guess is that there would be a plurality of negative opinions. UConn is just too darned good for its sport. And here we go again, an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship - 11 since 1995, 75 wins in a row - those mean girls in sneakers. This is not altogether an original phenomenon. We have a tendency to cuddle up to great players much more than to great teams. Good grief, at his peak, Roger Federer resided with the angels. We exalted that Michael Phelps-consecrated water. Rose petals were strewn in Peyton Manning's path when he retired. But hey, that's natural. As we should, we admire those in any craft, no less so in sports, who appear out of nowhere to achieve remarkable feats.
On the other hand, teams - sports fans have allegiances to their teams so that when somebody else's team dominates, we get annoyed. By golly, it's just not fair. Give somebody else a chance. This current UConn juggernaut has been perhaps even more put down because not only is it led by the finest college basketball player ever, the divine Breanna Stewart, who makes everything look so easy, but because its coach, Geno Auriemma, who can be something of a caustic wiseguy, has now eclipsed the record of the sainted John Wooden, who coached UCLA to 10 championships. Never mind that Auriemma, like Wooden, is an absolutely brilliant coach. He is denigrated for merely coaching women and beating up on a lot of rinky-dink teams. Actually, in their own way, Wooden's teams had it easier too. UCLA played in a weak conference. It almost always only had to play just four games to win the national title. It drove coaches in the rest of the country crazy that UCLA had what they considered such an easy path to the Final Four.
No, please, the point is not to diminish Wooden's incredible record. It's just to emphasize that every great accomplishment is a product of its time and some luck, too. Don't dismiss Auriemma and UConn just because their excellence shines on the female side of the coin. In fact, it's too bad more fans haven't paid attention to Breanna Stewart and her team these past few years. Majesty is a thing of beauty to behold whatever the particular enterprise.
MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford - he joins us the first Wednesday of every month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.