Is He Really All That?

No media over-hypes things, like sports media. They have the power to make or break events and careers, by over-promoting a sporting event or a potential career to the point that neither can ever lived up to the lofty and unrealistic expectations that have been forced upon the public.

It seems that every college football season features a Game of the Century between two top-ranked and undefeated teams. The so-called “experts” point to that game for weeks if the two teams remain undefeated. When they do, the sports media fall all over themselves telling us this will be a game for the ages that we can tell our grandchildren about someday. More times than not, the game ends up being a 42-3 blowout that was out of reach by halftime. When that happens, the same “experts” show contempt for the fans that were gullible enough to buy into the hype. They never acknowledge that they were the ones over-hyping the game in the first place.

Individual athletes are not immune from the Power of the Press. If you’re a football fan, do you remember Rick Mirer? He played quarterback for Notre Dame from 1989 to 1992, and was a three-year starter. Just before his sophomore year and his first year to start, the late Beano Cook from ESPN famously predicted that Mirer would win two Heisman Trophies before he left Notre Dame (or Norta Dame, as Cook pronounced it).

Mirer had a very good college career, but did not even win one Heisman, much less two. Despite falling short of Beano’s lofty prediction, Mirer was lauded as the next Joe Montana heading into the draft – I suppose since they both spent their college days in South Bend. Mirer was the second overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks. He had a good rookie season (good by rookie standards), but after that – it all went terribly wrong. After twelve seasons and seven different teams, Mirer finally called it a career in 2004. Most do not last for twelve NFL seasons, but his NFL career is still deemed a major disappointment due to the high expectations placed on him by the “experts”.

The question is; who could live up to those expectations? I think Mirer should be commended for keeping his head straight as he dwelled in mediocrity for most of his pro career. At least he didn’t end up like Todd Marinovich from that same era. If you want to read a cautionary tale, look him up.

There is only one full-time rookie driver in the NTT IndyCar Series for this season – Scott McLaughlin at Team Penske. He has been labeled a “can’t miss” prospect going into this season. We already know that barring missing several races, that he will most likely win Rookie of the Year, because the other celebrated rookies, Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean, are not running the ovals.

A default Rookie of the Year award is the least amount of pressure placed on McLaughlin for 2021. First of all, he is a full-time IndyCar rookie driving for Team Penske. When was the last time that happened? My faint memory says it was Paul Tracy, but even that wasn’t full-time. Tracy drove one race for Dale Coyne in early 1991, before he signed with Penske that summer. He crashed in his first race for The Captain on Lap Three at Michigan and broke his leg. He didn’t heal until the final two races of the season. He was signed for a handful of races in 1992, but ended up filling in for an injured Rick Mears for most of the season. His first full season with Penske was in 1993. For the life of me, I cannot think of a true IndyCar rookie driving a full season for Team Penske ever. If I’m missing someone, please inform me.

If starting out at Team Penske isn’t enough pressure, most of the IndyCar media has already anointed McLaughlin as the next great thing. He is already getting favorable comparisons to his fellow countryman, Scott Dixon – also from New Zealand. That’s some pretty heady company for a driver that has driven in one IndyCar race – a twenty-second place finish at the 2020 season finale at St. Petersburg.

The thing is, Scott McLaughlin may be a great guy as well as a great driver. But the hype and praise for him that is being crammed down our collective throats, is quickly turning me against McLaughlin – and that’s really unfair. The thing is, it’s a natural reaction.

Every time McLaughlin turned a wheel in the St. Petersburg, the NBC booth was so overflowing with praise for McLaughlin, I was afraid they were going to float away as they gushed all over themselves. It was almost sickening. The love fest for McLaughlin was borderline awkward. The NBC booth is not the only ones showing their giddiness over McLaughlin. Most of the IndyCar media seem to think he will be the second coming of Mario Andretti, if he isn’t already.

What am I missing? Granted, I am not a close follower of Australian Supercars, where McLaughlin won the last three championships while driving for DJR Team Penske. I can’t really say whether or not this is any indicator of success in IndyCar. But I don’t think it is any type of guarantee whatsoever.

Quite honestly, I don’t get the hype. He seems like a good guy and his appearance and demeanor indicates he is cut from Penske cloth. Parker Johnstone was a good guy with a neat appearance, who had a very distinguished career in IMSA. Unfortunately, that success didn’t transfer over to his time in CART. In forty-eight starts, he scored no wins and seven Top-Ten finishes. His highest fulltime season finish was sixteenth. So much for looking clean-cut and winning in another racing series. Will McLaughlin be another Johnstone or Dixon?

The hype Scott McLaughlin is receiving is unfair…to him. The media is creating a set of expectations for him that no driver can live up to. And they are doing it so frequently, I’m afraid they are turning fans against him – like has been the case with me. If I was being smart about it, I would cheer for him as I would for any rookie driver to succeed. But if I’m reacting like a fan, I am cheering for him to lose – just to silence the hype surrounding him that we’ve all been forced to ingest over the past several months.

This will be one of the main storylines throughout the 2021 IndyCar season. Will Scott McLaughlin live up to the hype we’ve been hearing about him, will he be a major bust or will he be something in between? On one hand, I hope he succeeds, but I’m not proud to admit that there is a side of me that wants him to fail.

What I really want to know, is he really all that?

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Is He Really All That?”

  1. Brandon Wright Says:

    George, don’t let other people ruin this for you. Scotty is an awesome guy and an absolute weapon behind the wheel. It is probably fair to say he’s one of the best drivers on the planet right now and I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t just live up to the hype, but exceed it. I don’t expect him to start winning everything right out of the gate but I don’t think it will take him long to find his way to the pointy end of the field.

    Remember how you didn’t like Rossi but now you’re quite fond of him? Keep that in mind, Scotty is also a quiet and humble guy but he has a great sense of humor and in my opinion is extremely likeable (also a great follow on Twitter). I hope that you’re able to enjoy watching him do his thing in a race car, it’s what I’m most excited for this season. He is very excited to pedal an IndyCar and does seem to have a real appreciation for the sport.

  2. The hype for McLaughlin will pale to the coverage Jimmie Johnson gets from NBC at Barber. The Rolex 24 could have been renamed the Jimmie Johnson 24. I think Mclaughlin will do well. It will be interesting to follow this strangest rookie class ever.

    • James T Suel Says:

      Is he really all that? That remains to be seen. He certainly has a great background in super cars. But we will see if has the bones for Indycar. I think he may well.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I would say that the fact that Penske hired McLaughlin is the biggest part of the hype surrounding him. Yes, his success in Supercars is part of all the attention, but he is joining the top team in the sport and, with a few exceptions, drivers who race for Penske win races and contend for championships year in and year out.

    Since 2000, only 6 times has a full time Penske driver failed to win a race during a season, and that is out of 55 total full time driver-seasons contested (so nearly 90% of the time, a Penske driver wins at least one race in a season). The average Penske driver since 2000 wins 2.1 races per season and finishes 3.8 in the championship standings.

    Fair or not, the expectations of McLaughlin are understandable. Penske drivers win.

  4. SkipinSC Says:

    My only hope is that the progress of McLaren doesn’t get obscured by the media fuss over JJ and McLaughlin. If McLaren can get a foothold this year, I believe they can regain some of the luster of the early-mid 70’s. That could go a long way toward pumping up interest in the series as a whole.

  5. Andrew Dreibelbis Says:

    It was actually Ron Powlus that Beano Cook made those projections about, he played from 94-97.

  6. Lynn Weinberg Says:

    I don’t disagree with you, Scott McLaughlin has been getting a lot of attention. It doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t feel “gimmicky.” He’s been successful in sports cars. He has a full time contract with Roger Penske during his first year in the series. That tells me he’s worth watching, and will likely deliver, although maybe not to the level he’s being hyped.

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