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Sam Pollak

February 4, 2012

Runners-up get no respect in today's America

This will surely come as rather a nasty shock to those who know me today, but I have several impeccable sources who insist without the least fear of contradiction that I was an annoying child.

Pleasant enough, they say, but most certainly annoying.

Were she still around today, my Grandma Dora would surely agree, even though she would probably be too kind to say so out loud.

I remember pestering my first-generation immigrant grandma about what baseball team she rooted for. Grandma didn't know a baseball from a meatball, but that didn't stop me.

"C'mon, Grandma, who do you root for? The Dodgers? The Yankees? C'mon, Grandma, who?

Finally, desperate to get me to go away and annoy someone else, she said in her Yiddish accent, "I root for the winner."

Decades later, it's apparent that Grandma Dora had it just right, because whether it comes down to Sunday's Super Bowl game or politics, Americans love winners.

Losers ... not so much.

On Sunday, the New York Giants are playing the New England Patriots in what some sports writers like to call "the ultimate game."

That phrase always reminds me of another guy generally thought of as annoying _ talented but sullen Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas back in 1972.

"If it's the ultimate game," Thomas asked when besieged by reporters, "how come they're playing it again next year?"

It's hard to argue with that kind of logic, but the fact remains that after Sunday's game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning will be a bum.

Or a hero.

Never mind that Manning's heroics led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots four years ago.

What have you done for us lately, Eli?

The same goes for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, even though he owns three Super Bowl rings and is a certain first-ballot National Football League Hall of Famer.

What have you done for us lately, Tom?

As for Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his Patriots counterpart Bill Belichick? One will be a genius, the other an idiot, depending on which team scores more points.

America has little patience for those who reach for great heights and come up short.

In politics, you hear Republican candidates for president invoking Ronald Reagan's name ad infinitum, but you almost never hear George H.W. Bush mentioned ... because he had the misfortune of losing an election to Bill Clinton.

In the same way, Democrats don't talk about Jimmy Carter or Michael Dukakis or John Kerry, at least not if they want to be elected.

It hasn't always been this way. After Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election, he wasn't treated as a pariah by his fellow Democrats. They recognized that he was a pretty smart fellow, and ran him against Eisenhower again in 1956.

Of course, he lost again, but he wasn't exiled to Elba or any place else. He went on to face down the Soviet Union at the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a glorious moment for which he is fondly remembered.

OK, so John McCain, who lost to Barack Obama in 2008, is getting a bit long in the tooth, but wouldn't you rather have seen him run again instead of the motley bunch the Republicans have going for them this year?

Not a chance. Lose a presidential election these days, and it's like you fumbled on the one-yard-line on the last play of the Super Bowl.

Moreover, it has been fascinating to watch the GOP electorate search for a winner during the primary season. Seemingly moving en masse, like a vast sea of plankton, they've been more fickle than a house full of Kardashians.

From Donald Trump to Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum, back to Gingrich _ all while Mitt Romney has been waiting at the altar _ Republicans have yearned for a winner, someone to beat President Obama in November.

When it comes to football, Duane Thomas was right. There will be another game next year, and even if you're a bum Sunday night, you just might get another chance to be a hero.

But politics is a different story. It's looking like Romney will be the one suiting up for the GOP in the big game. If he doesn't win this year, he won't be getting any second chances.

Like my late, great Grandma Dora, America only roots for the winner.

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/sampollak.

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