Devon O’Neil: What’s with all the also-rans dominating sports? |

Devon O’Neil: What’s with all the also-rans dominating sports?

The Tampa Bay Rays spent a decade as the worst franchise in baseball, then last fall they advanced to the World Series.

The Boston Celtics were the worst team in the NBA a year before winning the world championship last June.

And now we have the Arizona Cardinals – whose 61-year championship drought is the longest of any pro football franchise – in the Super Bowl.

What can we make of this trend, I wondered Sunday, as I watched the perennially wretched Cards dominate yet another favored opponent off the blocks.

The best answer I came up with this: Being told you are supposed to lose simply because you always have can make for powerful motivation.

The Cardinals, remember, finished 9-7 this season – but won their division. That’s how they ended up playing two of their three playoff games at home despite having the worst record of the six NFC playoff teams.

They were not supposed to get out of wild card weekend if the experts were to be believed. And yet now they are on the verge of the most stunning upset of them all, a win that would be arguably more improbable than any championship we have seen in any sport over the past two decades.

They won’t be a double-digit underdog as some past champs have been, but they will still be the Arizona Cardinals.

In this case, as with that of the Rays, those words do even more to establish their paper inferiority. Which, in turn, only breeds a more motivated team. …

I can’t argue it’s inspiring to see Kurt Warner return from the ranks of the forgotten and lead a team to the Super Bowl for the third time in his career.

I just wish he didn’t wear gloves on both hands, and I wish his interviews weren’t so painful.

If I have to hear him say “It’s been an amazing journey” one more time I will unplug my television. Throw us some substance, Gloves. …

Has there ever been a time when there was such a debatable question of who is the best basketball player on Planet Earth – LeBron James or Kobe Bryant?

The topic has been addressed in this space before, but for the sake of keeping it current, here are their stats this season:

James (whose Cavs are 31-7) is averaging 27.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks and shooting 50.1 percent from the field, which would be the best percentage of his five-year NBA career.

Bryant, meanwhile, is averaging 27.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.3 steals and .4 blocks for the 31-8 Lakers, while shooting 47.8 percent from the field – which, like James, would mark the best percentage of his 12-year career.

My opinion remains the same: James edges Bryant by a starving hair. …

Speaking of James, you seen the new State Farm commercials depicting him playing for the Cleveland Browns? Makes you wonder how many Pro Bowls he’d make as a wide receiver. I’d guess at least two for every three years he played. …

That was the mother of juvenile tantrums Anquan Boldin threw on the sideline Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, screaming at his offensive coordinator for being taken out of the game for a play. …

Neither Dustin Pedroia nor Kevin Youkilis has ever fit what I’ll call for the purposes of this point the Mark Teixeira Mold. That is, they’re not can’t-miss talent with can’t-miss physiques and 40-home-run power.

Which is why you could argue Boston got two remarkable steals in signing Youkilis to a $41 million contract over four years and inking Pedroia to a $40.5 million deal over six years. …

It’s funny how the two-goalie system works in the NHL. Somehow the backup always seems to be more interesting than the starter.

Point in case for the 23-22-1 Avalanche: Starter Peter Budaj is 14-19-1 in 35 games, while backup Andrew Raycroft is 9-3 in 13 games.

Budaj’s goals-against average is 2.83; Raycroft’s is 2.73. Budaj’s save percentage stands at 90.2 percent; Raycroft’s at 90.3. You make the call. …

In parting, I’m not sure what this says about American sport or, in the broader sense, society itself, but the NCAA has officially declared seventh-graders to be college basketball prospects.

The move was made to help prevent college coaches from weaseling in on the 12-year-old lot at summer camps, but it seems a bit unsettling to officially recognize pre-teens as recruiters’ meat.

Breckenridge resident Devon O’Neil’s $0.02 column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at

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