Rocco’s on a Roll

Quick.

Can you remember who lost last year’s world series? How about the runner-up in the NCAA basketball tournament? I’ll bet you’re even struggling to remember who George W beat in the 2004 election. The point here is that no one remembers who came in second – until now.

Rocco Mediate lost the U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff Monday to Tiger Woods, without question the best golfer on the planet. However, it’s Rocco and not Tiger who is doing the talk shows and garnering national attention.

Of course there was reason for this region to get excited about Rocco. After all, he is a “Pittsburgh” guy. However, his story is more than a local guy making good on the national stage. Rocco became a national celebrity Monday because of the way he lost. It wasn’t so much his grace and style, but his humor and humanity. Here’s Tiger Woods, putting on one of the greatest individual efforts in history by playing 91 holes of golf on essentially one bad leg and making miraculous shot after miraculous shot to stay in contention. However, Tiger was overt in his frustration and cursed on more than one occasion and even tossing his club a few times. Hardly a sympathetic figure.

Rocco Mediate at U.S. Open: Showing that you can have fun and be a pro athlete ( Courtesy: AP Photo )

Rocco, on the other hand, was human and showed heart. He was the underdog and not supposed to be there. He competed and forced a playoff, but he also showed America that sports need not be so serious – even with a million dollars on the line. He laughed, he joked and when he missed, he showed a brief bit of disappointment and then moved on. Yes, Rocco wanted to win but he said all along that he just wanted to enjoy the moment. He did and by virtue of that, he nearly enjoyed the ultimate prize: the U.S. Open championship.

It was that softer and more enjoyable side that rarely see in sports these days that captured the country’s attention. Every media outlet wanted to talk to him Tuesday and I’m sure his Westmoreland county based agent was happy to oblige. Now, Rocco is a national celebrity and will garner large appearance fees to appear at tournaments. Yes I still believe, having met Rocco on more than a few occasions, he will still be the humble kid who graduated from Hempfield High school.

Last night, following the Celtics series-clinching win in the NBA finals, Lakers star Kobe Bryant said of losing the championship that “being the runner-up is nothing more than being the number on loser”. Rocco Mediate proved that statement is the furthest thing from the truth. In Rocco’s case, he shows that by finishing second you can come out on top.

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