From Barbaro to Barry, Bernie to Da Bears... It's All About the Gift of Chance

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From Barbaro to Barry, Bernie to Da Bears... It's All About the Gift of Chance
This week in sports has been all about chances: We've had a horse missing out on his last chance, two pill-poppers getting second chances, a couple of old dudes looking for a last chance, and a defense that may just be a team's only chance.

Much of sports is about statistics, numbers analyzed to the point of absurdity, every move calculated and executed with precision.

That's the idea, anyway.

If the last few days have reminded us of anything, it's that sports are, for the most part, unpredictable. Even if we think we know the outcome, there's always the possibility, the chance, that we'll end up with an outcome we never saw coming.

When Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby by 6 1⁄2 lengths nine months ago, he was at the top of his game, and no one could have imagined he was three weeks away from a life-ending injury.
 
On Monday, Barbaro's doctors and owners chose to euthanize him after his latest surgery proved unable to eliminate his pain. He may have been 'just a horse,' but Barbaro paid the athlete's ultimate price: He died for his sport.

And though most athletes don't face such extreme consequences, the truth is that any jock, no matter what species, is never more than a play away from a career-ending injury. If nothing else, Barbaro's life and death should remind us all to appreciate every chance we get.

Perhaps no two athletes ought to be more appreciative this week than Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, who both got second chances just when their baseball lives looked all but finished.

Sosa was last seen rotting on the disabled list for the Baltimore Orioles in 2005.

Bonds is most recently remembered for humbling himself at the winter meetings to make sure he'd be able to continue his pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record.

With their new contracts, the two men haven't just been given an opportunity to play, they've been given a chance to redeem themselves.

Both Sosa and Bonds have alienated more than their share of coaches, teammates, and fans over the years, and it remains to be seen if either will have a season worth remembering. Beyond Sosa's batting average and Bonds' home run total, though, is the question of character:

What kinds of people will they be? How they will react if they're successful, and how will they repent if they end up as dead weights on the end of their teams benches?

On the general subject of dead weights, Bernie Williams and Roger Clemens are two more players for whom the end is looking increasingly nigh. Williams, having spent his entire career in pinstripes, is well aware that the Yankees aren't likely to offer him a deal. And though it seems like deja-vu, the Rocket has officially launched his fourth consecutive offseason retirement flirtation, with the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox all waiting on his decision.

Unlike Sosa and Bonds, neither Williams nor Clemens has to worry about rehabbing a tarnished reputation. The question for them, you might say, isn't whether they'll get the chance to play, they will, but rather whether it's worth taking a chance to play what might ultimately be considered one season too many.

And finally, so as not to ignore that elephant on the couch, there's Super Bowl XLI, which some experts are calling a lock. To be fair, there are plenty of reasons the Colts look like a good bet. Peyton Manning has proven adept at beating tough defenses. Rex Grossman, whose play will be a key to victory for the Bears, has been inconsistent all season.

If I had money on the game, I'd probably bet on Indy too.

But I'm not the betting type, and if I learned anything from Trent Dilfer, it's that it doesn't take a superstar to win a Super Bowl.

Sometimes all you need is a killer defense and a passionate leader. It will be an upset if Da Bears pull off a win on Sunday, unless you ask Brian Urlacher and the rest of the defense, who are expecting nothing short of a championship. Sure, Indy looks like the safer choice...but if the Houston Texans can beat the Colts, you've got to figure that anything is possible.

As sports fans, we all expect different outcomes for different reasons. Some of us trust the numbers; some of us go by our gut. In our heart of hearts, though, we all know that our expectations amount to little more than guesswork, and maybe that's why we're always so eager to watch. Be it the tragic injury, the amazing comeback, the broken record, or the long-shot upset, the bottom line is that you just never know.

After all, there's always, always, a chance.

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