Wow, that 4x100 freestyle final last night was just about the most exciting sports event I have ever experienced. You don't have to care about swimming to have appreciated it; you don't have to respect Michael Phelps to know his celebration was THE moment of the Olympics. (Today's SN column leads with that.)
Here are the various qualities that were in play, any one of which alone would have made this race notable: Rivalry, star power, uncertainty (even underdog status) going into it (along with trash-talk from the rival), dramatic comeback, insanely close finish, over-the-top emotional celebration, records smashed and history made.
Everything else, by comparison, comes across as kind of ordinary: Katie Hoff's loss in the 400 free should have been huger (same with Brendan Hansen's humiliation in the 100 breast). USA Oops' romp over China was barely a blip. I cannot for the life of me understand gymnastics' scoring system. What makes swimming (and track) so universally appealing is that you've got competitors, a finite goal and a clock. It may not be enough to get folks to watch any more frequently than quadrennially, but when it comes up, it sure is fun.
Meanwhile, let's not overlook that the Rays set a franchise record for wins, and it's only August 11. (God, it's going to be deflating if they don't make the playoffs.) Brandon Webb moved to 17 wins; Cliff Lee advanced to 16.
In the NFL, let's talk less about Brett Favre's penalty lap and more about whether Matt Ryan is ready to take over as a starting QB for the Falcons right now.
And in college football, UCLA QB Ben Olson's injury (foot, two months) might be more drastic than USC QB Mark Sanchez (at least the 1st game, but I wouldn't put it past USC to keep his status VERY close to the vest, particularly with the OSU game coming in September).
More later; complete SN column here. My biggest question about the Olympics is: How do you top what happened in the 4x100 last night? For sheer value in the moment, I'm not sure it can be topped. Obviously, Phelps' quest for 8 golds will build over the next 6 days -- this race last night was the one most in question on that. But for jump-off-the-couch value, this was as good as it gets.