It hurts worse when our icons say farewell, because they are the ones who define our own lives as fans. It can be baseball, yes: Mariano Rivera yesterday, Mickey Mantle in spring training of 1969, Joe DiMaggio after the 1951 World Series, Willie Mays after the ’73 World Series.

But it isn’t limited to that. Joe Willie grew old, and Clyde, and Gretzky. Johnny Carson retired in 1991 and in some ways TV hasn’t felt nearly the same ever since. The 1960s may have ended, for the record, on Dec. 31, 1969, but the last rites weren’t really administered until April 10, 1970, the day the Beatles broke up. And they probably weren’t committed forever to the history books until Dec. 8, 1980, the night John Lennon was murdered.

No, as long as we have our icons, as long as they are young and doing wondrous things, then we are allowed to lie to ourselves, to ignore the birth certificate, the graying of hair and the thickening of waist. It’s part of why we invest so much of ourselves in those idols. We live vicariously through them, yes, but that’s only part of it, wishing we could drive like Tiger and fly like Michael and tackle like LT.

Mostly, they allow us insulation from the calendar.