Roger Federer may have been the best tennis player ever before he won the French Open yesterday. But in completing the Career Grand Slam AND tying Sampras with 14 major titles, it feels more official now.
But what I was struck by in thinking about Federer -- enough to lead today's SN column with it -- was that we are living through what could be an unprecedented era of Best Players Ever.
Federer: Best tennis player ever.
Tiger: Best golfer ever.
These are (mostly) confirmed.
Then there is Peyton Manning, who is already among the Top 10 NFL QBs ever; shows no sign of slowing down; and, when it's all done, will probably own every single NFL QB record that matters -- that may qualify him as "greatest NFL player ever."
Say what you want about Tim Tebow, but if he wins another national title, it would be hard not to call him the greatest college QB -- perhaps the greatest college football player -- ever.
LeBron is not the greatest NBA player ever -- yet. But he is already the most talented, and has been the best player in the league for a few years now...arguably since he turned 20. So while he might not be the best ever at the exact moment Federer is, they will overlap.
I'm even willing to broach baseball -- which is brutal on instant historians (as it should be). But no player has ever started (and sustained) a career quite like Albert Pujols, who is doing it in an era of scrutiny so much more intense than any "legend" ever did. I think we will look back and recognize that Pujols is not just the greatest hitter of this generation, but will wind up as one of the Top 10 players of all time. For baseball, that's pretty insane.
UPDATE: Then there is Michael Phelps -- the greatest Olympic athlete ever, for whom 2012 is for pure pleasure, after doing what no one else has ever done in 2008.
Is it a clean argument? Hardly. LeBron is -- absurdly -- still on the way up. Peyton is still mid-career. We have no idea yet just how far Tiger and Roger will go. Pujols could get injured and drop off next season.
But I do think that in 20 years we'll look back and this moment will register as a confluence of superlative athletes setting standards that players in the future will have a hard time topping.
Complete SN column here. Lots more to be found there. More later.