I’ll be back.

Bob Dylan sang that ‘the winner now shall later be last.’ In sports, a more modern version of the lyric is ‘the loser now shall later be first.’

08/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - ORACLE Team USA vs Emirates Team New ZealandI’m watching Tiger Woods humiliate the competition at Doral, Nike logo rampant on his cap. It is cause to reflect on many things: loyalty, redemption, risk and most of all the Phoenix that flies from the ashes of shame on the wings of a winner.

When Tiger showed up as the turkey at the Woods family Thanksgiving dinner in 2010, we saw his sponsors turn from the table and run into righteousness. Accenture’s corporate tagline was revised overnight. ‘High performance delivered’ became ‘high performance declined.’ Nike was one of those who hung in, uniquely aware that one of the best places to snatch victory is from the jaws of defeat.

At the time, Nike offered both support for their athlete and a premonition: ‘Tiger has been part of Nike for more than a decade. He is the best golfer in the world and one of the greatest athletes of his era. We look forward to his return to golf. He and his family have Nike’s full support.’

The Company chose the moment to reflect all of the essential virtues of sport: perseverance, patience, risk and the certainty that in the end, winners climb from the wreckage to do what they do best. And throw all sins into a larger perspective.

The harder it is to recover to win, the more we love to follow the journey back to the podium and share in the celebration.

Just when we thought Michael Vick had gone to the hounds, he’s off-leash and fully in form; out of the doghouse and earning the pat of acceptance. Kobe Bryant came back from facing hard time for rape to be declared NBA Player of the Decade and become a universally revered role model. Reviled Conscientious Objector Muhammad Ali returned from a three and a half year suspension and an enraged White America to resume a knockout career and secure his legend as one of the most idolized figures in history.

Is there one among us who wouldn’t love to see John Daly win another major?

The key these and many other stellar comebacks is returning from the depth of despair and disgrace to win even more spectacularly than before. In the end, winning really is everything.

The proof lies in a look at the careers and reputations of those who bring the best down: who chose whining when winning is not an option. Over time, our contempt for John Landis grows as the whistle-blower who while dissing Lance, turned fifteen minutes of fame into rejection by every team and every fan of cycling. No one talks much about Erin Woods, but in the wake of his career revival, Tiger’s pursuit of passion outside the arms of a faithful wife, may well be seen as a desperate escape from a gold-digging nanny.

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