The Ryder Cup wasn't the most important thing at stake for the United States on Sunday.
You get a chance to win those cups every couple of years.
But the type of image the Americans were at risk of forging for themselves, well, those labels and reputations can last a lifetime.
Their heart, intensity, cohesion and even their mental faculties had come into question after they fell behind Europe, 10-6, in the first two days of play.
All of those accusations disappeared Sunday. They were drowned out by the sounds of the fans chanting "U-S-A" and singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" while the victorious U.S. players sprayed champagne on each other from the balcony of the clubhouse at The Country Club.
The Americans might very well lose the Ryder Cup they captured with a historic comeback Sunday afternoon when the two sides tee it up at The Belfry in England in two years. No one can take away their performances on this picture-perfect fall afternoon in Massachusetts. It was a redemptive effort, as great a display of sporting courage as you'll see.
Until Sunday afternoon, David Duval was a guy who just didn't get it, who didn't show enough reverence for the magnitude of Ryder Cup competition and didn't show enough here to justify his ranking as the No. 2 player in the world.
Until Sunday afternoon, Justin Leonard was a guy who didn't have what it takes to play at this high-pressure level and couldn't make an important putt.
Until Sunday afternoon, Crenshaw looked like a candidate for an ulcer or a psychiatric ward.
They're all champions now, not so much for their temporary possession of the cup but for the way they obtained it.
They sure traveled a great distance in just a few days.
Crenshaw's intensity was exceeded only by his tension, a stark contrast to the cool countenance of European captain Mark James. When Crenshaw began his media session after Saturday's disappointing outing by announcing, "I've never been so proud of a bunch of guys in all my life," and ended it by wagging a finger and saying, "I'm a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this," people thought he had gone beyond denial about his team's dire situation and had entered a state of delusion.
Had he been watching the same Ryder Cup as the rest of us? Had he seen his players gag on big putt after big putt? Did he need a calculator to figure out the Americans would have to win 8 1/2 of the 12 singles matches in order to get the Cup?
It turns out he knew something the rest of us didn't. And that his leadership, his motivation, and most of all his deep belief were enough to pull the team through.
"Ben is a passionate person," said Hal Sutton, whose 3 1/2 points this weekend provided the heart of the American victory. "Every time he spoke there was a quiver in his voice. He was like, 'I believe in you.' His words had insight and they had passion. That's all I can say."
We can't go any further without pausing to acknowledge Sutton. He had the right, tough attitude all week. His teammates had to find it.
After an emotional team meeting Saturday night, the troops came out fired up for Sunday's matches. Tom Lehman, Sutton, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods handled their business against Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde and Andrew Coltart. None of them needed to go past the 16th hole to clinch.
The sixth match was pivotal for the United States.
Sweden's Jesper Parnevik had been the best player on the course this week, hitting every type of putt imaginable. Duval playing at his best certainly could beat him, but Duval had not been anywhere close to that level. In fact, he had been the United States' biggest goat, producing only half a point through the first two days.
Sunday, Duval was in top form. He gave himself a chance with every approach shot and finished off every putt. He absolutely smoked Parnevik, winning 5 and 4.
Duval played with a previously unseen level of emotion. He cupped his hand to his ear to egg on the crowd and pumped his fist after he birdied the second hole. He had more fist pumps after practically every hole, and after he clinched his match on No. 14 he raced around the green with his shirt untucked, shaking both fists in the air.
This is what we've been yearning to see from him, a clutch performance in the most pressure-packed events. And a personality. We'll never have to wonder again if he has them inside him. He even added his personal touch to the celebration: When the other players tossed their caps to the adoring fans, Duval chucked his signature wrap-around shades.
We also can stop waiting for Leonard to do something at the Ryder Cup.
He went 0-2-2 at Valderrama in 1997 and had been 0-1-2 here, and it looked as though he was about to drop another dud here when he trailed Jose Maria Olazabal by four holes with eight to play.
It was an accomplishment for him even to get a chance to be the hero. Leonard won holes 12 through 15 and here he was on 17, with the match all squared and the ball sitting 45 feet from the hole, about 20 feet behind Olazabal.
With most of his teammates, their wives and their girlfriends crowding the edge of the green, he rolled the ball up the two-tier green. The putt never lost its momentum and charged into the hole, all but guaranteeing the Americans the half-point they needed to win the match.
His teammates and the ladies charged Leonard and mobbed him. It's ironic that the most spontaneous, genuine display of team spirit from a group that was criticized for its lack of unity drew so much criticism.
Olazabal still had a putt to halve the hole and send it to a decisive 18th, and he had to wait for the Americans to calm down and return to the ropes. The Europeans were galled by this poor sportsmanship. Bad form, and all that.
Tough. Olazabal himself said the celebration didn't cause him to miss his difficult putt, so they shouldn't try to make it the story of the day.
"We shouldn't have done it," Julie Crenshaw, Ben's wife, said. "But you know, we haven't won it in six years."
Crenshaw couldn't have been blamed if he ran out there himself. (He knelt and kissed the green instead.) He invested so much of himself into this Ryder Cup it would have been a shame if America's first-ever third consecutive defeat in this event came under his watch.
I must count myself among the many who said the Americans had no chance to pull off this comeback after the events of the first two days. But if I have to eat my words I'm going to grab an extra plate and have Colin Montgomerie sit next to me at the table. He was the one who said Saturday night, "You know we've won, don't you?"
It's just as tasteless for a competitor to say that as it was for the Americans to do their end-zone celebration on the 17th green.
Leonard actually tried to stand up and take blame for initiating the outburst by raising his arms and running, but we're not having any of that. The last thing he deserves is more criticism after making what Crenshaw called "The greatest putt I've ever seen in history."
Apparently there was one apology to be made in the midst of the celebration.
Mark O'Meara came up to Crenshaw and they embraced. No two members of the American camp had been at greater odds. O'Meara was the first to broach the subject of payment for Ryder Cup play that Crenshaw found so disgusting. O'Meara wasn't happy when Crenshaw kept him out of the first two matches of the Ryder Cup. And Crenshaw couldn't have been happy with the way O'Meara missed putts all over the course when he finally did play Saturday morning.
O'Meara whispered something in Crenshaw's ear. He sounded as if he was apologizing for drawing the match out by misplaying the 18th hole and blowing a chance to clinch the Cup himself.
"Don't worry about it," Crenshaw said.
All was forgiven. And so, in a gentlemanly competition in which close can be considered good enough to concede, this was the perfect way to end it. Go ahead, Americans. Pick it up. You've got it. You're good.
J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: email@example.com