For me, it arrived November 18, 1984.
Born, raised and saturated with the DNA of the Dallas Cowboys, I was profoundly distraught over a lackluster loss to the lowly Buffalo Bills on a sad Sunday afternoon. Downtrodden bordering on depressed, a buddy and I ventured to lift our spirits at the old Monopoly's club on Northwest Highway.
While we stood outside dissecting the defeat and gauging the far-reaching, negative ramifications it would surely have on America and its Team, three familiar figures appeared. Wearing sunglasses. Fur coats. Smiles.
And when Ron Fellows, Michael Downs and Tony Dorsett circumvented the line, bypassed the red velvet rope and strode briskly into the joint for a night of fun, frivolity and females, innocence vanished and perspectives warped. Shoved aside by harsh reality, my naïve notion that professional athletes were pristine role models—somehow immune to being human—was gone. Forever.
The Cowboys weren't wallowing in sorrow, burying their heads in playbooks or urgently scheming to never again let down their fans. Nope, they instead eschewed head coach Tom Landry's cathedral for a night of downing amaretto sours, boogying to Culture Club and ogling the scantily clad hostess rolling giant, inflatable dice. They were...like me.
Tiger Woods fans, how'd your moment feel?
It arrived, of course, last week with a simple, yet shocking salvo: "I have let my family down." After mysteriously crashing his SUV in Florida in the wake of a National Enquirer story exposing alleged infidelity, the greatest player in the history of golf and the world's most recognizable athlete was suddenly dogged by the most frightening acronym this side of HIV and IRS: TMZ.
There emerged a New York nightclub hostess, nine additional women, the infamously incriminating voice mail and, finally, the US Weekly headline we thought we'd never see...
Yes, He Cheated.
"I regret those transgressions with all of my heart," Woods said in a statement on his Web site. "I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults, and I am far short of perfect."
Turns out Superman's kryptonite wasn't Phil Mickelson or the yips, but rather good ol' fashioned booty calls. Ring a bell? In the transcendent Nike TV commercial, countless kids peer into the camera and state, "I am Tiger Woods." I'm guessing these days millions of philandering men—and women—gaze into their morning mirror and think, "I'll be damned, so am I."
Suddenly, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo jetting off to Las Vegas in advance of a game against the New York Giants seems trivial, and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki's quick, honest handling of ex-fiancée Crystal Taylor's criminal indiscretions appears heroic. Not that Dallas doesn't have its share of salacious scandals.
Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton paused his born-again, feel-good testimony for a night of debauchery in Arizona last winter. Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill was convicted of corruption. And just last week, a Grand Prairie priest pleaded guilty and a Kaufman County Baptist church music director resigned—both for using church computers to download hundreds of images of child pornography.
Even in my own home, infidelity, accessorized with a defiant cover-up, recently reared its hideous head. And after seven years of relative bliss, I divorced my wife.
But this latest ice-water-down-your-underoos awakening isn't Eliot Spitzer or Dave Letterman or Bill Cosby or Steve Phillips or Jim Nantz. It's bigger than Alex Rodriguez using steroids or Michael Phelps hitting a bong or Marion Jones lying or Michael Vick killing dogs. Combined.
It's Tiger Friggin' Woods. The Chosen One. White America's favorite black man. The planet's first $1 billion athlete. The infallible deity who wore his Nike swoosh as a halo. To see Tiger whipped by somebody named Y.E. Yang at last summer's PGA Championship was shocking, but to learn he was punctuating cross-country extramarital affairs with common-man sexting is undeniably monumental.
This one will have a Clintonian echo. In fact, only one man's "transgressions" could shake our core more violently—Barack Obama. OK, and maybe Roger Staubach or Nolan Ryan.
Woods was so revered that during the 2003 Byron Nelson Classic in Las Colinas I saw him get a rousing ovation for—swear—exiting a Port-A-Pot.
"Just when I think I've seen it all," Woods joked after his round that day. "I mean, I appreciate the support, but...I can assure you I didn't do anything superhuman in there."
He didn't break any laws, just our hope. And to think, we thought he broke the mold.
Tiger Woods is no longer a flawless, athletic android. He is Eldrick Woods, mere mortal.
"I have lost all respect for him," said golfer Jesper Parnevik, who introduced his former nanny, Elin Nordegren, to Woods. "It doesn't even feel like it matters what he has done on the golf course. We have been nice to Tiger before, but now he only has himself to blame. We thought better of him, but he is not the one we thought he was."
Nike's "Just Do It" will never be the same again.
Fortunately for Woods, there's one thing America likes more than the unsavory fall from grace: The comeback. Right, Britney Spears?
Woods will remain—dented armor, tarnished image and all—a popular icon. He might have been too good to be true. But he's still damn good.
He's a globally recognized persona who evoked impeccability and historical greatness. He's taught thousands of kids at his Tiger Woods Learning Center and influenced millions of others to at least think about values via golf. Before last week, he might have thrown a club or uttered a naughty word, but now his pedestal has been lowered to earthly, conceivable heights.
But you know what? Woods will win more major championships, and you'll still buy Nike shirts, and your kids will still fight over the Tiger Woods Xbox video game and that last Gatorade. The brand—perhaps now with an even more relatable connection to fans—will endure.
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It's because, like it or not, athletes are role models. My parents raised me. But a sports star—Bjorn Borg—did some detailed molding.
It was Mom and Dad who provided and poured the foundation through principles, rules and right-or-wrong boundaries. I'd be home by my 10 p.m. curfew because of my parents. But I'd show up stoic, with long hair because of the Wimbledons won by the Swedish tennis superstar. In my roles as columnist, blogger and radio talk-show host, criticism—much of it fork-tongued—comes acute and from all angles. To this day, Borg's unflappability is in my temperament tool box.
Certainly Woods' saga will temporarily rankle conservatives, corporations and, yes, kids. He'll pay a $164 traffic ticket and perhaps a priceless penalty upon his once flawless image. But at some point he'll re-emerge as an unprecedented athlete, humbled human and stark reminder of how dangerous this whole hero worship thing can be.
The moral to the immorality: Invest your admiration in athletes judiciously, because ultimately they—like us—are perfectly imperfect. Whether it's Cowboys at Monopoly's or Tiger in turmoil, sooner or later in every fan's life the moment arrives.