It’s Friday, and I feel like I just got to school two hours late and am hoping no one notices. Zach, please don’t kill me.
It’s amazing how much one’s perspective on a game can change the moment a single play goes one way or another. If a team loses on a last minute shot, all the pundits talk about are the myriad of things that went wrong for that team and how amazing the other team was to walk away with the win. But if that shot goes in then the entire dialogue is flipped. Should a foot higher on a would-be walk-off home run make that much of a difference, or a couple inches from the rim change the entire perspective on a game? I’m not so sure that’s fair to the losers- or the winners.
As I am sure you are accustomed to by now, let’s take the Michigan game from this past weekend. Fans (on both sides) are calling it an incredible spectacle, one of the best games between Notre Dame and Michigan, etc. etc. Denard Robinson is once again everyone’s favorite player and the difference between winning and losing. He led them from 24-7 to win the game with 2 second left. Amazing performance by Michigan and an incredible collapse by Notre Dame, right? Not so fast. What is lost in the world of 90-second highlights and easy to write columns is the horrifying way that Michigan did win. Denard threw jump balls that, to be honest with you, were lucky to have been caught. Throwing into double coverage only to have both defensive backs lose the ball and the receiver leap up and catch the underthrown duck? Incredible, but also really lucky. Lost also in the shuffle was the fact that for most of the game, Robinson couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. This was not a good game at all for any part of Michigan’s team, but the narrative changed the moment Robinson’s last lob was caught by Roy Roundtree in the endzone.*
It’s like the ridiculous but oft-cited statistic of “4th quarter comebacks.” You know what, I would rather have my quarterback play well for 3 quarters and not need to “turn it on” in the fourth quarter. I’d like him to have it “on” from the opening drive if possible. But again, those two or three drives of beauty can outweigh a game fraught with poor play. Had those drives happened in the first or second quarter there may not have been the drama, but there would have been a few gorgeous kneel-downs.
Just look at football rankings. If the #24 team loses to the #4 team by 6 points, they tumble out of the rankings. But why? Wouldn’t one expect the #24 team to lose to the #4 team? In fact, 6 points would even be respectable by those standards. But if that was the case, rankings could stay nearly static over time as the teams that are supposed to win, well, win and the losers are treated according to their previously predicted skill. As it is, any loss leads to decent teams being smote into oblivion by the rankings. And yet fans wonder why their Athletic Director won’t schedule non-conference games against real opponents. As much as they grumble, rankings tend to care more about a win versus Missouri State than they do about a loss to Georgia. Unless you aren’t in a BCS conference, in which case any loss dooms you and winning doesn’t do you much good… but that’s another column.
Baseball might be an even better example, where there are even fewer opportunities to make plays and a 162 game schedule is needed to allow the Law of Averages to raise the best teams to the top. In the playoffs a small run that would be insignificant in July is the reason a team wins the World Series, and a barely-fair or foul call can alter the entire narrative. At the end of the day all anyone wants is the W on the scoreboard, but I hate the see the conversation do a disservice by rewarding a flawed winner or eviscerating a valiant loser.
*Full disclosure: I am a huge Denard Robinson fan, but I won’t pretend that that was a good game by him or Michigan. They were out played.