Despite his iconic status in football and long association with the ‘Big V’, I missed out on getting to know Ted Whitten.
But no matter where you came from, or who you played for, it was impossible not to hear the stories that followed the man known as ‘Mr Football’ – a legend of the VFL/AFL and the greatest son of the west.
Comparing eras is always dangerous, but soon he might finally have a challenger for that title. There’s been some great Bulldogs over the years: from Scotty West with his seven best-and-fairests, to Doug Hawkins, Chris Grant or Brad Johnson with 558 goals.
In many ways, Marcus Bontempelli is the polar opposite of ‘EJ’.
Bulldogs fans love the BontCredit:Getty Images
While Ted was a larger-than-life character and one of the biggest personalities in the game, ‘the Bont’ is more reserved.
He’s proved more than capable of handling the spotlight, but he doesn’t seek it.
Bontempelli, this week, signed a four-year extension that will ensure he remains at the Whitten Oval until he’s 30 and in that time many of Whitten’s records are in his sights.
Whitten has five Charlie Sutton Medals to his name, including one in that famous premiership year of 1954.
Bontempelli already has three, and, like Ted, has done it in a flag-winning campaign. Barring injury, you’d expect he’ll claim another best-and-fairest this year.
In the modern game, there’s no doubting Dustin Martin roams in a stratosphere of his own because of his incredible finals record. We may never see another player win three North Smith Medals in our lifetimes.
But it’s also worth noting, Dusty has ‘only’ claimed two ‘b and fs’. Outside of that Brownlow Medal year in 2017, he’s generally saved his best for when it matters.
Bontempelli, on the other hand, has developed a ruthless consistency. It’s why he’s currently the number one player in the game.
That consistency comes from a drive and confidence that almost feeds itself. He rarely looks flustered. He can sense the big moments and knows how to impact them.
I’ve said before he’s about as close to Scott Pendlebury as anyone we’ve seen, with his ability to find space and float through traffic.
‘Pendles’ is on another level in that regard, but Bontempelli isn’t too far off him – and has a few other strings to his bow as well.
In 2021, ‘the Bont’ has already booted 15 goals – four more than he kicked for all of last season. Like ‘Dusty’, that ability to hit the scoreboard elevates greatness to absolute superstardom.
On Friday night, he’ll go head-to-head with the only other player currently in the conversation for the game’s top-billing.
I’ve got no doubt Christian Petracca will want to stare down Bontempelli at some stage. Clearly winning is the most important thing, but champions are aware of those perceived to be on their level.
It will provide both of those men with an extra per cent of motivation.
In some respects, they’re similar, and in others, they’re very different. While Bontempelli glides, Petracca is explosive.
He’s backed up a breakout season last year, with another incredible start to this campaign.
Petracca is like a superhero who’s just discovered these incredible powers: he’s still getting a handle on his capabilities. He’s probably yet to reach his ceiling.
Ted Whitten and Marcus Bontempelli.Credit:The Age
It’s why I’ve got Bontempelli ahead of him.
No one is the finished product – and if there’s a weakness to Bontempelli’s game, it’s hitting a team-mate on the lead – but he’s about as complete as you can get.
He’s developed a steeliness to his game that allows him to win the footy on both the inside and the outside.
Once upon a time, there might have been a view that you could take it up to Bontempelli physically.
GWS and Toby Greene certainly did that during that fiery elimination final two years ago. But those moments have also been the making of him. He now knows how to respond to that type of attention.
At 25, he’s at the peak of his powers.
And, at the helm of this Western Bulldogs team, Bontempelli has the chance to impact the competition in a way Teddy Whitten would have loved: by sticking it right up ’em.
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