Sidney, Jimmie, the Media, Cheerleading, and Hatred.

Pop quiz! Who are these quotes referring to:

Whether you know it or not, you are witnessing one of the great careers in sports history, equal to the legends like Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan or Jim Brown.

"Wherever he's introduced, they should give him a standing ovation."

...[he] is the most underappreciated athlete of his generation in any sport.

If you guessed Sidney Crosby, you're wrong. They are from an ESPN column on 5-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson. But you wouldn't have thought twice if I said they were about Crosby, would you have?

As this series has progressed, much has been made about Crosby and the mocking and scorn thrown his way from opposing fanbases. "This guy is the face of the league! He's this generation's best player! He saved the NHL! How could anyone hate him?"

Johnson provides an interesting case study in how people could indeed hate "the greatest", despite the success. Having started driving in Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup in 2002, Johnson won his first race that spring and immediately contended for a championship. After several near-misses, he finally won in 2006, and then proceeded to rattle off an unprecedented 4 more in succession. With such an obvious star being born, you'd think the ratings would have skyrocketed. Well, they didn't. From 2006 until his last championship in 2010, Sprint Cup viewership dropped by almost 2 million. The numbers only grew back in 2011, when a slumping Johnson opened the door for an all-time Cup hunt between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

In team sport, like hockey, one player is generally not enough to make a game a foregone conclusion, as this series has shown. There is the idea that, with some puck luck and teamwork, any team could win against any other team on any given night. Thus, the interest remains. But, for the 5 years that Johnson dominated, there was very little sense of that - many races it seemed like his winning was an inevitability, and why would anyone want to watch that?

As such, many NASCAR fans responded with apathy, but those who stuck around also made Johnson an unlikely bad guy. From the start, Johnson was positioned as the perfect corporate driver - fast, smooth, eloquent, handsome, and willing to follow Lowe's script to a tee. He was a creation of the corporations the brought him there. Crosby, likewise, shows up in all number of ads for any number of sponsors. This is expected of NHL players, but there is a certain overload factor to everything being Crosby, especially when more dynamic personalities exist in the league.

But far worse to anti-Jimmie crew (confession: I am a card-carrying member) was the constant and interminable cheerleading for his team by members of the media. To many commentators, NASCAR's success rests on everything being bright, cheery, and positive, and with Johnson turning every race into Sunday afternoon nap time, the only was they could keep the positivity going was to continually lavish superlatives on Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, and Hendrick Motorsports. And then, when fans would reject Johnson's dominance, either vocally or with their remotes, the response was always the same, and much like the above. "He's the greatest!! You're witnessing history! You really gotta love this guy! Really! You'll appreciate this later!"

In the same way, many NHL talking heads tie the League's success in the general public to Crosby's acceptance as a Lebron James-esque superstar. As such, guys like Regis Pierre McGuire can get excessive in their praise and adoration him. He's more than just a great center, he's more than the star of the Penguins, he's the very foundation on which the game of hockey can be built. And when he's not so great, like last night? Silence, since they are almost unable to comprehend him not succeeding.

The effect ends up grating the fan bases of both sports. You're already rooting for someone else, but you know the talent and skill of this guy. So when the commentators point it out initially, it's just a "well, duh" moment. But as the compliments keep pouring and pouring in, it becomes and active attack on your own sports fan sensibilities. Now they're just rubbing it in that he's so good. And who wants to hear that?

Because ultimately, what we hate most about both is that we don't pull for them, and they're too damn good in spite of that. Why couldn't Tony Stewart or Carl Edwards have won 5 Cups in a row? Why did Pittsburgh have to tank to get Crosby and his talents, and not the Bruins? And that all means that, no matter how great they are, how many championships they win, how much the media adores and promotes them, we're still going to despise them.

"Wherever he's introduced, they should give him a standing ovation."

Sorry, Jimmie. Sorry, Sidney. You're still getting razzes from me.

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