Someone should take Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard and check the bottom of their feet to find the expiry date. Once again its a Grand Slam and once again we find these two grizzled veterans battling in the finals. Actually, if there is a word for those who are beyond veteran, then Glenn Howard has reached it. "Wise curling sage" perhaps? Checking the mileage under their respective hoods would scare even the most vintage car enthusiast. Consider that Kevin Martin's 1985 Canadian Junior title is reaching its 30 year anniversary. Glenn participated in his first Brier the following year, 1986, at the age of 25. Many of the players on the ice at this years Masters were not around to witness those milestones, they weren't even born.
I was watching a fantastic new ESPN 30 for 30 last night, This is What They Want . It's the story of Jimmy Conners miracle run at the 1991 US Open at the age of 39. It made me think of guys like Glenn and Kevin and consider at what point they will become Jimmy Conners in 91, or Tom Watson in 2009, or any spectacular sports story of rebirth which ends in an ultimate disappointment because, frankly, we really can't expect someone at their age winning it all. I'm starting to think in curling, that age may never come. These two are still one of the favourites in every event they enter, including the most difficult events in the world, the Grand Slams.
The Brier is tough. The battle to win the Canadian National Championship each year begins with a Provincial competition (for many teams even earlier with regional playdowns). The Brier is a stage that is unlike any Grand Slam event. For the top teams, many of the competitors at a Brier are barely competition at all. Many Provinces simply do not have the elite level teams that can win consistently enough to take the title. Yet the crowds and the excitement can create an atmosphere that is rarely seen and these two have certainly won their share in recent years, (4 of the last 7, with Martin having to bypass an opportunity one year to win an Olympic gold medal).
The Grand Slams still have not been able to generate the same atmosphere. It's disappointing to watch this years Masters and still see so many empty seats in an arena for some of the best curling in the world. Bill Russell won 11 Championships with a Celtics team that often playing to a half empty Boston Garden. Maybe one day Kevin or Glenn will also have statues erected and fans will recognize their historic achievements for what they were (still are), incredible.
A Grand Slam is the hardest and most difficult event to win. It may not have the grind that is the playdowns to Provincial to Brier to Worlds, but as a single event over an extended long weekend nothing comes close to the level of competition. In the long road to win a World title, great teams more often falter mentally or physically, and beat themselves along the way. In a Grand Slam, you lose if you don't deliver your A game from the first shot to the last.
Martin and Howard have won 27 of 49 since 2002 (the modern 4 rock FGZ era). If you add Howard's third Wayne Middaugh and his 5 wins as a skip and Martin third David Nedohin's 3 wins throwing fourth for Randy Ferbey, that's an incredible 35 of 49 or 71%. Only 9 of these last 49 Grand Slam finals have not included one of these four characters. Add your own four letter expletive here.
Some day this is going to end. It may be very soon. Then again, for those who keep chasing these guys, it can't come soon enough. It's possible the younger challengers are wishing this sport had never embraced physical conditioning and preparation. If so, maybe Kevin and Glenn would be battling smokers cough and nursing too many CC and Coke hangovers to maintain this elite level. The "next ones" have shown in recent years that their level of play has reached the bar that Kevin and Glenn and their teams have set and they are ready to take over. Maybe just not yet.
Note: I am attempting to complete a curling e-book in time for the 2014 Olympics. This may reduce the number of words and amount of analysis I am able to generate for next few months. Hopefully my adoring fan won't mind and it will all be worth it.