The school of thought of Dale Earnhardt, the 1998 Daytona 500 champion, was mirrored almost entirely on American football coach Vince Lombardi. The two-time Super Bowl winner was a pioneer of the "win at all costs" mantra, a decree that remains ingrained in the US's sporting society.

But it was almost half a century on from Lombardi's rule as a legendary figure of the National Football League when Earnhardt coined perhaps the most famous phrase that defines the mantra of global sport: "Second place is just the first place loser."

Though the hullabaloo created by the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award is in stratospheric contrast to any competitive sporting environment, the words of Earnhardt – the Nascar driver whose own death stemmed from an inability to settle for second – breathes fresh poignancy.

Will Carling, Frank Bruno, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Phil Taylor and Leigh Halfpenny are among the forgotten bridesmaids at British sport's most prestigious and respected award ceremony, their achievements consigned to mere footnotes at the end of another sporting year.

The latest addition to such an indifferent list, Rory McIlroy, after the bookmakers' favourite finished behind Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton in the public voting during the ceremony in Glasgow on Sunday 14 December, takes on an altogether different role.

As a double major-winner and contributor to Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles, McIlroy becomes perhaps the most decorated runner-up in the award's history.

As the PGA Tour money winner, PGA player of the year, European Tour order of Merit winner, golf writers' player of the year and European Tour golfer of the year, the world number one was not just the dominant figure within golf, he was golf. The Northern Irishman squeezed the life out of the sport in 2014.

What about Lewis Hamilton's 2014 credentials?

Hamilton is anything but an unworthy winner of the award and you'll find few people of a sane mind who will doubt his credentials. Entering a 16-man list of double-world champions, the first from Britain since 1971, Hamilton also usurped Nigel Mansell as the driver with the most race wins from these isles.

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton beat Rory McIlroy to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year title Reuters

The 29 year old also prevailed in arguably the finest sporting narrative of the year with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, though one that has been perhaps unfairly noted as a two-horse race within an environment of immeasurable variables.

The uniqueness of McIlroy's achievements, the only European winner of two majors and the Ryder Cup in the same calendar year, alone should have been enough to capture the public's imagination. But a winning margin of in excess of 80,000 votes suggests other forces were at play.

Unlike Hamilton, McIlroy cannot call upon a pop star girlfriend to swell his profile. If anything, the unceremonious dumping of former fiancée Caroline Wozniachi may also have eaten into his advantage while former X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger was seen leading the celebrations in Abu Dhabi alongside the newly crowned F1 champion.

Across various social media platforms, the modern-day barometer for public popularity, Hamilton outstrips McIlroy with 6.4m followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Turning up to the award ceremony with his bulldog Roscoe, which caused a stir on those platforms, may have won a few more votes too.

Perhaps above all, Hamilton's sport appeals to a larger spectrum, simply because Formula 1 is portrayed as a technological anomaly; one to genuinely dream of participating in. With no disrespect to the regular players of the 3,000 plus golf courses in the UK, the thrill of Formula 1 is easier to apply to the casual sports fan.

Sadly, McIlroy's snub has overshadowed the crowning of Hamilton as the viewer's choice for the most prestigious of end-of-year awards. Now 2014 has become the year of the injustice rather than one of celebration. Suddenly, it is all about who finishes in second place.