Chris Gill: Can you blame Jeff Gordon for being a little testy?

Chris Gill

Can you blame Jeff Gordon for being a little testy with Jimmie Johnson these days? I’m not even talking about the on-track scrapes the two have gotten into lately.

From 1994-2001, Gordon reigned in NASCAR to the chagrin of the old guard. They resented the snot-nosed brat from California for taking all the purse money, the victories, the championships and the fame. Gordon was the face of change in a sport that didn’t traditionally stray too far from its origins.

He became the template by which all future racers would be contorted to fit into – just being fast wasn’t enough to make it in the big leagues anymore. Quickly, Gordon went from Padawan to Jedi Master and he found a student from his native Golden State to bring along. Since 2002, his student has been taking the teacher to school.

You think Obi Wan was overly thrilled when, all of the sudden, that whiny whelp from Tatooine was able to pilot anything he wanted to, wield a lightsaber better than Mace Windu and fulfill a prophecy?

Gordon was so convinced in Johnson’s abilities, he took part ownership of his team and taught him everything he knew. When Johnson started winning races, Gordon must have been proud. When Johnson was threatening for championships, he must have thought it was cute. When Johnson broke through with title No. 1, Gordon had to have been like a proud father.

But Johnson didn’t stop.

The guy won majors, secured championships and became the face of the new NASCAR that Gordon helped engineer. Meanwhile, the teacher was slipping.

Of Gordon’s 82 career victories, only 26 have come since 2002 with an 0-for-8 record in title chases. He finished third in the Chase for the Championship in 2004, right behind Johnson and champ Kurt Busch. He looked like a lock for his fifth series crown in 2007 but finished second to Johnson. Last season he was third in the standings, two behind Johnson.

Tell me you wouldn’t harbor even a little resentment and I’ll tell you I’m an avid triathlete and health nut.

It’s pretty easy to bury that kind of acrimony, but it metastasizes. Sooner or later, something’s going to make you snap. Maybe it comes out in the form of Johnson taking the last bottle of water in the Hendrick Motorsports cooler, maybe it manifests in the form of a trivial dispute. Given the occupation both men have, you knew it was a matter of time when it happened on a race track(s).

The two bounced off each other at Texas Motor Speedway, where Johnson finished second unscathed while Gordon was punted into the wall later in the race. At Talladega Superspeedway, Johnson appeared to block Gordon, and his mentor wrecked two turns later. 

Gordon sounded off, and Johnson immediately went on the defensive. They say everything is cool now, just a misunderstanding, but it was bound to happen. The only surprising thing was that it took so long to boil over.

Video game curse?

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been chosen as the next cover boy for the John Madden video game franchise, which means he won’t be on my fantasy draft board. For the unfamiliar, the Madden Jinx is akin to the Sports Illustrated Curse – appearing on the cover usually means a meteorite will strike a knee or something. Ask the following:

- Garrison Hearst (1999), broken ankle in the playoffs.

- Barry Sanders (2000), retired.

- Eddie George (2001), one of his worst seasons and missed the playoffs.

- Daunte Culpepper (2002), missed four games due to injury.

- Marshall Faulk (2003), the beginning of the end of his production.

- Michael Vick (2004), missed 11 games with a broken leg.

- Ray Lewis (2005), missed one game with an injury.

- Donovan McNabb (2006), missed half the season with a hernia.

- Shaun Alexander (2007), broke his foot and missed six games.

- Vince Young (2008), threw 17 interceptions to nine touchdowns.

- Brett Favre (2009), injured throwing shoulder and worsened as the season wore on.

- Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald (2010), Polamalu missed most of the season with an injured knee and Fitzgerald had half as many yards as he did in three previous seasons.

- Drew Brees (2011), struck by lightning?

Just sayin

The Izod IndyCar Series will hand out championships for overall, road/street courses and the ovals. It’s fine to recognize who excelled in different disciplines, but if the series isn’t careful how the mini-titles are designed, at what point do drivers and teams stop concerning themselves with becoming more well rounded and concentrate on finishing best-in-class? ... When hockey teams get eliminated from the playoffs, the running joke is they go play golf. What does Tiger Woods do when he misses a cut?

Chris Gill, sports writer for The Leader in Corning, N.Y., can be reached at cmgill@the-leader.com.