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Eighth? Not exactly reason to celebrate for Danica Patrick

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published February 26. 2013 4:00AM

Connecticut, with but the Connecticut Sun as its lone major professional franchise, is bereft of much national sports cachet. We are, however, at the forefront of the women's sports revolution. No assemblage of fans and media anywhere else in the country watch, appreciate and trumpet women's sports with the same verve.

Which is way I lost my sunny disposition Monday even here in sunny Florida, where the UConn women play Saturday and assorted other former athletic greats from our corner of the world have taken temporary residence. (More on them later this week).

But this was the headline in Monday's Florida Today: "Leading Lady Rides History at Daytona."

Danica Patrick finished eighth.

This is to be celebrated?

Seems a bit patronizing, does it not?

Full disclosure: Maybe I've spent enough time in Connecticut, where we demand excellence from female athletes, that I'm more sensitive to a "there, there" and a pat on the head. Maybe I've grown accustomed to Geno Auriemma's appeals and the Sun's recent dismissal of Mike Thibault, who is about to become the WNBA's career wins leader, for not winning enough.

Or maybe I'm right.

I'd like to hear from women on this.

Because let me just say: celebrating eighth place just doesn't percolate my Maxwell House.

Not to pick on Florida Today. Its account was consistent with most other synopses: Danica makes history and, by the way, Jimmie Johnson won.

That's called burying the lead in journalism school.

Florida Today: "The Daytona 500 always seems to make history in some form or fashion and Sunday afternoon was no different as Danica Patrick ended the day the same way she started it - making history.

"She even made history during the race, becoming the first woman to lead a green-flag lap. She also became the highest-finishing woman in the Daytona 500 with her eighth-place finish, running on the lead lap as Jimmie Johnson won his second Daytona 500 race."

Sorry. Leading a lap and becoming the highest female finisher are glorified footnotes.

Patrick, to her credit, said finishing eighth "isn't the ultimate goal."

But what of the way this story was covered? I wonder if the American sports population is buying the historical angle. Or are people perhaps wondering why Johnson's victory merited passing mention?

Maybe the rest of America hasn't caught up to Connecticut yet. But I'd sure like to reach a point where female athletes aren't lauded for "nice try" and "eighth place."

And that's what happened here.

It's not the first time the media has been guilty of practicing nave, or perhaps thoughtless, political correctness. Won't be the last. But someone really ought to get the word out that women understood long ago and the ultimate goal in sports is winning.

No, really.

I would rather this not deteriorate into an auto racing debate. For one thing, I can't stand auto racing. Normally, when I am near two people discussing universal joints and quarter panels, I want to stick my fingers in my ears and make that NANANANA sound until it stops.

The point: Maybe Danica's eighth-place finish and brief lead has some historical significance. But it's nothing more than a postscript within women's sports revolution, when compared to Pat Summitt's glare, Brittney Griner's dunks, Diana Taurasi's joie de vivre, Brandi Chastain, Wilma Rudolph, Babe Didrikson, Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strug you get the idea.

I know the aforementioned were not competing athletically against men. But Danica Patrick is driving against them, not climbing a mountain alongside.

Otherwise, it's sunny and 85 here. We're off to see, among others, former Waterford High great Kelli Connors play softball later this week for Florida Southern. My guess is that Kelli will play to win.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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