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Comebacks can work

Those of us who unabashedly love Las Vegas know without a whisker of doubt that our city will come back stronger than ever from this calendar year we’d all rather forget.

But we also know there are successful comebacks, and those that are followed by a monumental setback. Which will it be for us? Will this wild roller coaster of ups and downs ever find a level plane? History can inform us:

After narrowly losing the Presidential election to John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon lost the California governor’s race two years later. He bitterly ranted that “the press won’t have me to kick around any more.” He was as down as an untethered well digger. Yet six years later, Nixon made it to the White House.

What a monumental comeback, right? Yet midway through his second term in office he was the first U.S. President to resign in disgrace, having been told by his Republican counterparts that impeachment was inevitable. With the Watergate break-in, he created the template we’ve heard many times: the cover-up is worse than the crime.  

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That lesson was not heeded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was America’s unblemished hero after overcoming testicular cancer to win seven Tours de France in a row. But when it was uncovered years later that he had been lying for years about taking performance enhancing drugs, and he repeatedly slandered and threatened any of his associates who countered his claims, he became one of the most vilified athletes of his time. A recent four-hour documentary on ESPN that I’m sure Armstrong hoped would sanitize his sullied image did nothing of the kind in my opinion. I thought less of him after viewing it than I had before.

On the flip side, a remarkable comeback and image enhancement that seems as of today to be working is that of Tiger Woods. Eleven years ago, when his wife’s full-swing 9-iron aimed at his head was interrupted by a windshield, it looked to be the end of one of the most remarkable sports careers of all time. Strippers and porn stars lined up at tabloid newspaper pay windows to cash in on their stories.

Woods’ reputation trashing was followed by physical setbacks, including a knee injury and four back surgeries. Surely, Tiger’s dream of ever passing Jack Nicklaus’s career record of 18 major championships was up in smoke. And what reputable company would enlist him as a spokesman? But he’s remarkably won three PGA Tour events in the last two years, including a fifth Masters green jacket. Tiger has even become a pleasant and insightful interview subject. He’s living proof that confession can be good for the personality as well as the soul.

Las Vegas resident Mike Tyson is another who has mounted an impressive comeback. From a disappointing finish to his boxing career, and a three-year prison sentence on a rape conviction, Tyson has become something of a beloved entertainment figure. He held his own in two Hangover films, and even sold out many performances in a one-man Broadway show. Who would have predicted that?

History has shown how resilient Southern Nevada has been through difficult times. In the height of the first great Depression in the early 1930s, the miracle of Hoover Dam was constructed and offered lucrative employment to thousands of Americans. It is considered a Wonder of the modern world.

When America first entered World War II, a small airfield was transformed into Nellis Air Force Base and became a training ground for heroic American pilots who helped the Allies win the war. And when the most recent recession struck us a dozen years ago, innovative new companies, imaginative convention strategies, and the luring of professional sports franchises pulled us out of the doldrums.

We should take comfort in knowing that Las Vegas will recover and once again take its place as one of the world’s great cities. While the country has suffered greatly, and our city has taken as many or more lumps than most, we should not forget that we did nothing to bring on this latest economic crisis. How quickly we recover will rely on the smart thinking and resilience we’ve shown many times before.