Seabiscuit and Lance Armstrong: True Sports Heroes

Spiderman? I can take him.

Actor Tobey Maguire (search) is not so tough without his Spidey-gear.

As Red Pollard, the jockey he plays in Seabiscuit, the movie about the legendary Depression-era race horse, he's constantly getting his butt kicked.

But I've got a $5 "exacta" bet with Fox Magazine executive producer Marvin Himelfarb, that says the Universal/DreamWorks film tops Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life this weekend at the box office.

That's because whenever Pollard mounts the once-discarded thoroughbred, he comes out the winner, both literally and figuratively.

And in 1930s America -- which director Gary Ross (search) so wonderfully recreates in this period piece, an underdog winner -- even if it was only a horse -- is just what the country needed.

But as America fought its way out of the Great Depression (search) and on to better and better economic times, we seem to have lost the excitement that used to define sport.

Maybe we're just jaded, knowing that most athletes these days are in it for the money. Or maybe it's because there are so few athletes worthy of our praise.

One need only look at the headlines in every newspaper or news program to see how Kobe Bryant, once commonly referred to as "the next Michael Jordan," fouled out in a big way after committing adultery, or rape -- however it turns out in a court of law -- in Eagle, Colo., last month.

So as I watched Maguire trade in one set of red tights for another, I couldn't help but think of another American in tights battling his way through France:

Lance Armstrong.

On a quest for his fifth Tour de France (search) win, Armstrong has certainly made this one interesting.

The "experts" keep reminding us he's not the same Lance of the past four years. His competitors say he's beatable. His teammates seem to be finally emerging from out of his shadow.

But something funny is happening on the way to Paris.

Armstrong is on his way to number five.

After Monday's victory in stage 15 of the Tour -- a stage in which Armstrong took a fall after becoming entwined with a fan -- Armstrong fought back to earn a 67-second lead to his nearest challenger, Jan Ullrich of Germany.

There's still a lot of ground to be raced, but remember we're talking about a man who has come back from testicular cancer, after being told by some doctors that he'd never race again.

Similarly, Red Pollard was told he would never ride again after suffering a leg injury, and Seabiscuit himself turned up lame after fracturing a leg during a race.

"We have four good legs between the two of us," Pollard is quoted as saying.

Both would eventually become champions again.

Like soccer, cycling will never be a huge sport in America, and horse racing itself isn't among the most watched either (and certainly not played).

But it is in these fringe sports -- where glory does not always mean worldwide fame or immense fortune -- where our true sports heroes and legends can be found.

Mike Straka is the project manager for FOX News' Internet operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on FOX Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC) and as a reporter and columnist for 

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