Love him or hate him, Derek Jeter gave sports fans one last moment to cherish with a walk-off RBI single in his final game at Yankee Stadium last Thursday.
It wasn’t a ball blasted out of the park for a home run. It wasn’t a hit to clinch game seven of the World Series. It wasn’t even a hit to move the Yankees into playoff position, for which they had long been out of contention. And yet, the overwhelming simplicity of Jeter’s line-drive single into shallow right field seemed to underscore everything his career has been about, in a way the “RE2PECT” marketing fluff never could.
Jeter continued to eye victory despite the playoff implications or lack thereof, and he knocked in a base hit as he had done hundreds of times before. Via a simple, no flash or no flair base knock, Captain Clutch stayed clutch until the very end.
For most college students, they have never known an MLB without Derek Jeter, who made his MLB debut in 1995. With Captain Clutch delivering a performance and ending that screamed “vintage Jeter” last Thursday, we received one more chance to appreciate what the Yankees icon has offered baseball for the past two decades. But as one of the latest and greatest dominos to fall, Jeter also reminded us to appreciate a broader stratum of superstar that now borders on the edge of extinction – the 1990s-generation superstar.
The players whom college-aged sports aficionados grew up watching, the generation of guys who matured into the games of basketball, football, baseball and so on while we matured into the game of life, are now in the end days of their careers. Father time is undefeated, and he appears to be calling it for big names from the 1990s across all sports.
In the NFL, Peyton Manning is currently the only starting quarterback to have been drafted in the 1990s (Tom Brady was drafted in 2000), while making his first start for the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
With one super bowl ring and countless NFL passing records under his belt, Manning has leaped into the “best quarterback ever” discussion, but having undergone neck surgery and appearing in multiple Super Bowls already, Manning has himself garnered speculation of potentially calling it quits in the near future.
Retirement talk also seems to follow generation-defining NBA players year-in and year-out, and not without reason. While they might age like fine wine, guys like Tim Duncan (age 38), Dirk Nowitzki (age 36), Kevin Garnett (age 38) and,to the disdain of my fellow Los Angeles natives, Kobe Bryant (age 36), don’t have many years left for the court. While all four have at least one NBA Championship and MVP award on their résumés, all four have continually seen decreasing playing time over the past few years, not infrequently due to injury concerns.
Bryant, in particular, faces questions about how much longer he’ll be suiting up for the Lakers after tearing his Achilles tendon two years ago and only playing in six games last season.
Age has even come to haunt American soccer – MLS and U.S. Men’s National Team icon Landon Donovan, who accrued three MLS Cups, multiple MLS single-season scoring records and a plethora of appearances for the U.S. in three World Cups.
He missed the final cut for the United States’ 2014 World Cup team this past summer and not long afterward, the 32-year-old Donovan announced that this season will be his last on the pitch.
Jeter. Manning. Duncan. Nowitzki. Garnett. Bryant. Donovan. Those seven guys alone combine for over 20 championships and countless records between the four respective American sports leagues. Professional sports is reaching the end of an era, most heavily indicated thus far by Jeter’s last season.
While it’s of course not the first time such a shift in the landscape of professional sports has ever taken place, but for some such as myself, this will be the first era we’ll have seen from virtually start to finish.
In lines of work where one’s considered “over-the-hill” at 30 years old, there’s no logical reason to expect our favorite athletes to play forever.
Bryant and Duncan alone sound like the result of some bizarre alternate timeline a la the Back to the Future films. These guys are in reality slowly fading from the picture, but they’re not gone yet.
Just like with Jeter, appreciate and enjoy the greatness that remains of the ‘90s era while it’s still here.
Watch in awe at the passing spectacles Manning continues to deliver on the gridiron. Applaud Bryant’s comeback as he chases both the NBA all-time points record and an elusive sixth championship ring, as bleak as that last part may look.
Try not to cry (then cry a lot) during Donovan’s final game for the red, white and blue on October 10 in Team USA’s friendly versus Ecuador.
Before they are relegated to books or Internet archives, enjoy these lasting relics of an aged sports world. For as Derek Jeter revealed in his final moment of grandeur last week, in sports, there’s no time quite like the present.