THERE'S something missing from these Olympics for American TV viewers, and it sure isn't Michael Phelps' heart, which is as big as the Chesapeake Bay from what we've seen so far.
No, the something missing is this: the bad guys.
Put simply, there's no one for us to sneer at anymore.
All the villains are gone. There's no one for us to boo and hiss and get all worked up about, like in the old days.
Once upon a time we had the Soviet Union to hate when the Olympics rolled around. And, boy, was that fun.
Back when it was Morning in America and Ronald Reagan was padding around the White House in velvet bathrobes, the Evil Empire would show up at the Games with their glowering, thick-necked, dough-faced athletes - and U.S. fans would go ballistic.
We'd work ourselves up into a good, righteous froth every time we turned on the Sony and some godless, steroid-swilling commie was going up against our dope-free, God-fearing, freedom-loving competitors.
As a nation, we were consumed with one thought: We wanted to see the Russkies get their butts kicked.
And if we couldn't whip the Red Menace, we'd settle for whipping their Iron Curtain flunkies like East Germany and Yugoslavia.
But who can we hate at these Athens Olympics?
Sure, the French are annoying as hell. But they're basically a non-factor at these Games.
Unless your country has a chance to bring home a barrelful of gold medals - and thereby diminish the medal count of the good old US of A - we can't get too excited about you.
And how can anyone hate Iraq, when they have about two people on their Olympic team, their country's in ruins and their citizens risk getting blown up by a car bomb every time they walk down the street?
Now if al-Qaida had a team, man, we'd really get revved up then.
Every night we'd be sitting in our living rooms, riveted to NBC, shooting our fists in the air and screaming "U-S-A! U-S-A!" whenever one of our fine competitors squared off against a terrorist.
Still, even though there are no bad guys to root against, the Games so far have been interesting - if not always compelling.
Let's get the important stuff out of the way first: Is it me or do the American swimmers have the greatest teeth you've ever seen in your life?
Every one of them looks like the model for a Crest White Strips commercial.
What, are they all the sons and daughters of orthodontists?
I watched an interview with swimmer Amanda Beard the other night and was so totally mesmerized by her perfect, gleaming teeth that I have no idea what she said.
I kept dragging my 13-year-old to the TV and shouting: "See? Look how nice her teeth are! That's why you brush and floss every day - to become an Olympic champion!"
If I may segue here, however clumsily, with a personal message to NBC: Please, no more close-ups of American athletes trying to sing the national anthem at the medals ceremonies.
First of all, it appears that only about three of them actually know all the words.
Even the great Michael Phelps only mouthed a stanza or two before giving up - although more out of boredom than ignorance, it seemed.
Note to American Olympians: How 'bout just, I don't know, humming along with the anthem from now on?
It just looks better, that's all.
Speaking of looking better, the Michael Phelps bandwagon appears to be rolling again now that the 19-year-old swim prodigy has stopped being such a slacker and upped his gold medal total to 3.
Phelps also has two bronze medals, of course. But to most Olympic fans, saying you got a bronze instead of a gold is like saying you went to Myrtle Beach instead of Paris on vacation.
(Note to Michael: Hey, fella, might want to think about pulling up your Speedos during the post-race celebrating. Those babies are riding a little low in front, if you catch my drift. Generally, you only see trunks that low at a Chippendales show.)
On the other hand, the U.S. men's basketball team has not prompted a similar outpouring of fan enthusiasm and support, mainly due to the fact that the team - here's where it gets a little technical - stinks.
At least it has so far.
The U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and barely got by Greece, which just doesn't cut it when you're supposed to be the world's dominant basketball superpower.
Then again, the world's dominant basketball superpower is expected to be able to shoot the ball and play defense, two parts of the game that seem unfamiliar to our hoopsters.
On the other hand, they, too, have terrific teeth.
Although not as good as the swimmers, of course.