Why do we expect perfection from athletes?

I am delighted for my friends in Seattle who can relish in one of the more memorable comebacks with their beloved Seahawks coming back to win over the Green Bay Packers. And, for the Green Bay fans, I empathize with you, but please do not take out your frustration on a tight end who did not come up with an onside kick. I do not want to mention his name, but he will more than likely not be forgotten in Wisconsin.

What is ironic, Russell Wilson, the terrific quarterback for the Seahawks had an unusually bad performance for the game and would have been held up as the reason for the loss, had he not led his team back to victory. Yet, why do we expect perfection from our players, when we ourselves are prone to so many mistakes?

I am reminded of Ernest Byner who was an excellent football running back for the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s. Yet, if you mention his name in Cleveland, people will remember “the fumble” where he lost the ball on the five yard line of a tragic loss to the Denver Broncos in the playoffs. The irony is Byner had played one of the most awesome games before the fumble gaining close to 200 yards in rushing in addition to other successes. So, he led the Browns that day, but is not remembered for that huge performance. He is instead remembered for the fumble.

In baseball, two mistakes occurred leading one team to the World Series, which set up the other in the World Series. Donnie Moore was a relief pitcher for the then California Angels in 1986. He was pitching hurt most of the season, but nonetheless had an effective year helping the Angels to the playoffs. His team was not supposed to win, but was about to when he was called in to finish up the last inning. Unfortunately, he was pitching on fumes and eventually gave up a game winning home run to allow the Boston Red Sox to win and go to the World Series.

In the World Series, the Boston Red Sox, who had a weak bullpen, had taken a lead in Game Six against the New York Mets, who had been favored to win. On first base was Bill Buckner, who had a marvelous season leading the team to the World Series. Yet, he should not have been playing first at the time, as the manager normally substituted for him late in the game with a more mobile and better fielder. The Mets began a two out rally in the ninth inning against the Red Sox’ less than stellar bull pen. It all came down to a slow rolling ground ball that Buckner need only to corral and step on first to end the game. Yet, Buckner let the ball go through his legs and the Red Sox lost a heartbreaker. What few people realize is they had to lose another game to lose the World Series.

Two points get overlooked here. Neither Moore or Buckner should have been in the game at that point. But, others players failed to deliver as well. The Mets knew if they could get to the Red Sox bullpen, they could win. The Angels failed time and again to deliver key hits as Moore did what he could do. Both are remembered for their failures and that is unfortunate. Moore later committed suicide, but to tie it to this failure is an over-simplification; he actually had some other demons he was dealing with.

People like to blame others for their failures. It is much easier to name names than it is to look at a greater fault that the team lost. The Packers lost because they did not score two touchdowns deep in Seahawks territory settling for field goals. They lost because they could not stop Seattle who was the best second half team of the season. The fumbled onside kick was just one factor, but the team lost. Nor should Byner be held up as a scapegoat, especially when he played so well and there was this guy named John Elway who quarterbacked the other team.

These are team sports. Teams win and lose. Like players, they are not perfect. Mistakes will occur throughout, so no one should be highlighted. As a former athlete, I have been on the good side and bad side of mistakes. I have helped win games and helped lose them. But, we all lost them or won them. I am reminded of the golfer Jim Furyk who is a tough as nails competitor, even when he played high school basketball. He wanted to be the player to take the last shot of a key basketball game. When the coached asked him why, he said because I can handle missing it. I thought that was profound as how you handle failure is what matters most.

8 thoughts on “Why do we expect perfection from athletes?

  1. In the pregame interview with Aaron Rodgers, Terry Bradshaw held up a card with the word LUCKY written on it, indicating that was how Green Bay would win today. Rodgers took the card and erased Bradshaw’s word and wrote his own, explaining this was the only way to win…TEAM. You are so correct, and this is an excellent post!

    • Many thanks. I did not see that, but that is so priceless. I find it ironic that Terry Bradshaw is an analyst for the game. When he was young, the coach would not let him call his own plays which was the norm back then as the coach did not think he would do it that well. The Steelers won because of an impressive team of which Bradshaw was a key part. This is why the Seahawks are so formidable.

  2. Sports teaches participants how to lose. But for spectators who identify with the team, it diminishes the sense of self-importance which is enhanced by winning. Losing makes me look bad, and I don’t like that. Or something like that. No? (Odd that a culture that prides itself on not being “judgmental” is so critical of the athletes who let them down.)

    • Hugh, you said it so well. One’s esteem or a city or university’s esteem should not be tied to who wins or loses a football game. But, far too many feel that way. Well, Fan is short for fanatic, so they are well named. Being a coach as well as a teacher, I knew your perspective would be well grounded. Thanks, BTG

  3. A local university’s football team was in a post-season game recently. The score went back and forth most of the game until the last minute when our team was down two points. The kicker was on the line to make a pretty easy field goal and missed. I felt so bad for the young man. The whole team played their hearts out and the whole team lost the game. Unfortunately the missed field goal will continue to weigh heavily on just one man’s shoulders.

    • It is funny, I am not fond of my team winning, when a mistake like this happens. It devalues the victory. The best we can hope for is the kicker to realize that mistakes happen and get over it. But, he should learn from it, as we should with all mistakes. Thanks for writing and your compassion.

  4. Good post. Even if a person isn’t a Football fan there is a lesson from that game. It would have been really easy for Seattle to give up, or lose faith; yet they didn’t. They kept moving forward and continued to make plays. Like the saying goes, “it isn’t over until it is over,” and there are still plays to be made.

    • Agreed. There are far too many stories of teams that did not quit when others would. One of my favorite stories is the tale of two golfers who went into the final round of the British Open, ten shots behind the leader. Famous golfer Colin Montgomerie said he had no chance of winning. Paul Lawrie went out and shot 65 and won the tournament due to famous meltdown of the leader, Jean Van de Velde. First you have to believe you can and second you have to keep trying. Thanks for your comment. BTG

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