Tue Jun 03 11:06am EDT
"I don't think anyone really watches hockey anymore." - Tiger Woods
Allow us, for a moment, to point out the subtle difference between hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and golf superstar Tiger Woods, pictured here with an even bigger icon, Diamond David Lee Roth. Gretzky was asked in a press conference back in March about Woods, and said that he never thought he'd see an athlete dominate like Michael Jordan did -- until Tiger hit his stride.
"He's the greatest athlete I've ever seen," he said. And when pressed by a cynical reporter that golfers may not exactly fit the mold of an athlete like, say, even the most physically maligned hockey player does, Gretzky rushed to the defense of an entire sport whose participants range from senior citizens on a Saturday morning in South Florida to children trying to get a ball into a clown's mouth. "You ever tried to golf? You better be a good athlete if you try to golf."
How does Tiger choose to repay that respect, during the NHL's moment in the spotlight?
"I don't think anyone really watches hockey anymore."
The full quote came from a news conference at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan yesterday, where Tiger appeared via satellite. He was asked his thoughts about Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. He chuckled, and then answered:
"I don't really care," he said with an impish smile. "It's all about the Dodgers. I don't think anyone really watches hockey anymore."
What's rather amusing is that this wasn't a hard-hitting question from a Detroit sports reporter; it was a softball lobbed by Julius Mason, the PGA of America's senior director of communications. When it appeared Tiger would be less than gracious to the sport currently capturing the imagination of a place called Hockeytown, Mason tried to end the answer by saying Woods was "politically correct as always and that's what we ..." before Tiger added his candid assessment of hockey's popularity.
Not even PR flackery could curb Tiger's hunger to diss the game.
The NHL addressed his comments in a general way. Our first inclination was to label this as some clever NIKE brainwashing: Convincing one of its biggest brand names to ignore how awesome hockey really is in order to go after the NHL and Reebok. But wouldn't the EA Sports brainwashing counteract that?
Perhaps Tiger is still bitter about the demise of the All-Star Café with Gretzky.
The bottom line is that Tiger Woods downgraded a sport that's been good to him, from charity appearances at golf tournaments to fans asking about when "hockey's Tiger Woods" will arrive. As they say among champions: Act like you've been there, Tiger. You're already the guy who gets bigger headlines for not playing in a tournament than the NHL gets for playing an all-star game. No need to rub it in.
As for you, Gretzky: Time to get Tiger in the arena for a playoff game, so the puckhead conversion can begin and we can put this all behind us.