Celebrating success with too much gusto concerns me

Watching the Ryder Cup, which every two years pits twelve US golfers against twelve European golfers in team competition, it continues to concern me over the lack of sportsmanship the match has devolved into. Dating back to the late-1990s, the televised competition has created a fervor of fans cheering the mistakes of their opponents. There was a time when Jack Nicklaus picked up the coin of Brit Tony Jacklin marking a ten foot putt to halve a match resulting in a tie, but those days are long gone.

But, I must confess, when I played sports, trash talking was something I just did not do. I was taught taunting an opponent is just poor form. As my basketball coach used to preach to us, the way to get back at an opponent is to win. The way to get back is not let them score. I mention the last point as it takes more effort to play defense, so to shut down an opponent from scoring brings satisfaction.

I know the crowds in team sports and some competition want to see demonstrative theatrics. They want to cheer success, even if it is for only one play. Yet, one coach used to say, if you are going to draw attention to your successful play, should you not draw attention when you mess up? Look what I did, I missed a tackle.

With that said, I do love offensive linemen in a football game. Usually, they only get attention when they mess up. It could be a penalty for holding or missing a block that leads to a tackle for a loss. On the flip side, these linemen are the reason games are won and lost. Yet, they don’t get the same upside notoriety when they are doing their job well. Their running backs and quarterback get the glory when they are blocking their opponents.

Mind you, it is OK to be happy with a successful play. But, the baseball term used is “you do not want to show up your opponent.” It is better not to rub it in a pitcher’s face that you just hit a home run, as you may have to face him or her again. One famous football running back used to say when he scored a touchdown, act like you have been there before. Of course, the fans want to see more. Maybe this is why drunk fans should steer clear from the other team’s fans.

I recognize I am old school. What I wrote runs counter to what is being done today. To me, it promotes this we/ they mindset on too many things. It has bled over into tribal politics. Fans are too invested in winning, that they don’t realize what is truly at stake. When politicians are too invested in winning than governing, we all lose.

Weekend warrior wisdom

Now that pro and college football (the American version) have started their new seasons, watching, betting, imbibing, overeating and playing by those who are less talented at the game will begin. Here are a few truisms of which to be mindful as we watch the games.

Monday comes early for Sunday drinkers watching football.

Fantasy footballers need to be wary of those who use multi-variant regression models to select their players. Bet what you can afford or don’t bet at all.

Tuesday comes early for Monday drinkers watching football.

A football is not round so it bounces in peculiar ways. Remember that when you wager.

Football players do not get that big and strong without chemical help.

The best of football helmets will not prevent the brain from rattling around in your head when hit on the field..

For every Tom Brady who plays that long, there are thousands of players who won’t make four years in a football career.

There are two halves to every football game. Do not celebrate victory before it occurs.

Finally, college success does not automatically translate into pro success – the pros are bigger and faster and the significant majority of college players from the bigger universities will not make it to the pros.

Enjoy the seasons. Don’t drink and drive. Wager wisely.

Needed sports funnies in golf and football

It may have been legendary and funny golfer Lee Trevino who answered the question why he played a fade in golf. Trevino said, “You can talk to a fade, but a hook just won’t listen.” There you have it. Trevino was crazy good. 

Football Coach Lou Holtz was also an amateur magician. Appearing on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, he did a trick and then answered Carson’s question as to how he did that. “Perfectly,” answered Holtz.

Golfers have a term for a terrible score of an eight on a golf hole – they call it a “snowman” due to the written score resembling a snowman. When a pro made one on a par 5, the reporter asked how he could have made a snowman on such an easy hole. The golfer said, “Easy. I made a ten footer to avoid a nine.”

One of the greatest defensive lineman in NFL history was named Jim Marshall and his Minnesota Vikings team was so good at preventing scoring they were called the “Purple People Eaters.” In a moment of confusion, Marshall must have felt guilty of denying the other team points, as he recovered a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown – the wrong way.. When he crossed the goal line, he celebrated his play by throwing the ball into the stands. The referees gathered together and scored it a safety awarding the opposing team two points. Had he kept the ball, it might have been ruled a touchback with no points. Oops.

Golf is funnier when you get to the every day players who are not nearly as good as the pros. Their one-liners are immeasurable. For those of you who do not remember the TV evangelist Ernest Angley (that is a real name), he was a faith healer known for his elongated healing words. When a friend would hit a golf ball into the woods, he would pull out an Angleyism and say “Out, Satan!” If he hit another one poorly, he would say “Be Healed!” On occasion, a tree would answer his prayer and the ball would carom back onto the course.

One of the funniest endings to a football game was in the big rivalry of University of California and Stanford University. Per History.com, “On November 20, 1982, the UC Berkeley football team, referred to as Cal, wins an improbable last-second victory over Stanford when they complete five lateral passes around members of the Cardinals’ marching band, who had wandered onto the field a bit early to celebrate the upset they were sure their team had won, and score a touchdown.” One of the Cal players ran over a band member to get to the end zone. It is unreported if future Stanford bands were taught how to tackle.(see video below).

Next time, I may hit some other sports funnies besides football and golf.

Here is a link to the Cal/ Stanford final play. The band still missed the tackle.

Sports Illustrated Cover and GOAT Jinxes

When the weekly magazine Sports Illustrated was published only in print, whoever made the cover was subject to a jinx. Based on analysis of the data, the player or team who made the cover fared less well in the next few weeks. It may be related to over-confidence after the notoriety or that opponents tried harder to knock off the more publicized.

Lately, sports pundits have been throwing around the term GOAT, which is short for Greatest of All Time. This level of immortality is a hard accolade (or cross) to bear. To me, to call someone this before he, she or they finish playing puts unbelievable pressure on the athletes. Simone Biles has been called the GOAT for women’s gymnastics.

I am not saying this is what happened to Biles, but I have to believe she put enormous pressure on herself. I do know, after several moves have been named after Biles, she is still trying to push the envelope with bigger and better moves. Rather than focus on moves she has done well, she is trying harder ones. Did this lead her to lose confidence in herself when she fell short? – maybe.

It is tough to be king or queen of the hill. I have always felt Tiger Woods handled the pressure so well, but even he had his personal issues that hurt his ability to compete at the same high level. And, just like in Biles’ case, the competition got better. She deserves the accolades she has received, but like Woods, she is only human playing a sport that requires equal parts athleticism, art and precision.

So, we should be mindful no one is immortal. Let me switch to another golfer who even Woods is chasing – Jack Nicklaus. While Nicklaus has won twenty major golf championships, he has also finished second I believe twenty-one times. So, we should not forget that the person who has won the most major trophies, just missed twenty-one times. That shows how hard it is to win, but reveals how talented he was.

Speaking of pressure, many may not know who Bill Russell is. He is arguably the greatest basketball team player of all time. Why? His teams won eleven NBA basketball championships, two NCAA championships and one Olympic Gold medal. One thing about Russell is before every big game, he could be heard throwing up in the locker room bathroom. His teammates knew if they heard this, they were going to win, as if Russell was nervous, he would play better. But, Russell was a rarity. Dealing with pressure is tough.

The baseball pitcher John Smoltz was known for being a better pitcher under pressure. When asked about this, he said he actually performed at the same level, it is every one else whose performance fell off under pressure situations. So, the lesson to all athletes, but especially the better ones, take care of what is under your control. When the best player on a basketball team was asked why he tended to take the last shot to win, he responded that he was the only one who could handle the failure of missing it.

But, when folks slap the label GOAT on you while you are still performing, it adds an extra dose of pressure. I feel for those folks, as it takes an extra dose of courage and humility to carry that burden. It seems the best athletes tend to function at the highest level when they have good competition – think Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in tennis.

Who are the greatest of all time? Let’s wait until they finish and then judge. And, let’s enjoy their talent while we can.

Rally caps and what ifs

I recently wrote a post on avoiding celebrating at halftime as the game is not over. Too many politicians want to spike the ball celebrating success, when it has not yet happened. To illustrate my point, I used several games where premature celebration proved unwise. This got me thinking about some other premature celebrations in the sporting world to illustrate a few life lessons about thinking you won before you did or overcoming an obstacle to win..

Baseball has a fun tradition of camaraderie for a team that is woefully behind its opponent late in the game called “Rally Caps.” The magnitude of the deficit will dictate how early rally caps are deployed. The losing team will invert their ball caps and wear them backward in the dugout as they root their teammates on. While baseball is a team game, a key part is based on one individual batting against a pitcher. If a batter gets a hit, the next batter starts to think he or she can too. And, momentum can build.

The Boston Red Sox baseball team has participated in two such rallies in World Series games, losing one and winning one. They lost a lead in game six (out of a potential seven) of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, sadly with the game ending on a key mistake by one of its better players. Eleven years before, the Red Sox rallied in another game six against the Cincinnati Reds trailing 6 to 0, winning on a big home run in the eleventh inning. For non-baseball fans, the retelling of this story by Robin Williams to Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” was a pivotal moment of the movie.

In golf, Arnold Palmer succeeded and failed in two separate US Opens, one of the four major championships. In 1960, he was seven shots behind the leader, when he was asking a sports writer what he needed to shoot in the last round to come back and win. The sports writer told him he had zero chance of winning and laughed. Palmer proceeded to shoot a seven under 65 and win the tournament. Six years later, Palmer had a seven shot lead in the US Open in the final round. He continued to play aggressively while Billy Casper, the best golfer few have heard of, started making putts. Casper would go on to win in a play off.

In basketball, Coach Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels was famous for come from behind wins. One in particular stood out as his team trailed a Florida State Seminoles basketball team by twenty plus points in the second half. Since basketball is a game of momentum, Smith’s team starting playing more aggressively and in short order had halved the lead. Then, Smith called an unusual time out which the announcers questioned. Smith later said he wanted the other team to think more about what was happening. The Tar Heels went on to win easily.

Sports give us many examples of why early celebration is unwise. The above illustrate what can happen when teams or individuals that are ahead start thinking of winning and less of doing what it takes to get there. It also shows how a determined opponent can overcome obstacles. And, it shows how a person or team who think they can win, can build its momentum from a small crack of success.

Let me end with one more story which is telling based on the mental aspects of the game. In golf’s British Open (or The Open as it is called there), Frenchman Jean Van de Velde will go down as the golfer more people anguished over than any other. He walked to the last hole of the tournament with a three shot lead at Carnoustie in 1999. He needed to shoot only a double bogey six to win.

The tragic man made a series of poor club and shot selections that painfully unfolded on live TV coverage and he lost the tournament to Paul Lawrie who started the day ten shots behind the leader and behind many others. Yet, the story does not end with Van de Velde. Colin Montgomerie started the day tied with Lawrie, ten shots back. When asked, Montgomerie told a reporter he had no chance of winning, a self-defeating prediction. The man he was tied with came back and won.

If you think you can, you just might. If you think you cannot, you won’t. As for our dear Mr. Van de Velde, this is one of the few times a caddy should have not given the player the club he asked for. The player needed an intervention to stop the negative thought patterns. Like Palmer before him in 1966, he started to think about what losing a big lead would look like.*

*Note: A friend who went to Stanford was following Palmer that day in San Francisco in 1966. He recalls standing behind Palmer when he was seven shots ahead while Palmer’s ball was in the very deep rough. Palmer pulled out a driver to try to advance the ball to the green and my friend and the crowd groaned. The ball went four feet and Palmer never mentally recovered. He needed his caddy to do what Van de Velde’s should have done and handed him a different club.

Please don’t celebrate at halftime – the game is not over

Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, the annual Georgia/ Florida football game is played in the downtown Gator Bowl, which today has some corporate name on the building. It was dubbed the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, even though it was a college game where no alcohol is served. Since it is usually a sell out, the networks televise the game locally.

Watching the game with several friends one year, all but one of which were Florida fans, the Gators took a 27 to 14 lead to the halftime locker room over Georgia. My Georgia Bulldogs’ friend had to leave after much teasing and, as he did, he said “Remember gentlemen, they play two halves.” The Bulldogs came roaring back to win 41 to 27, with the Gators not scoring in the second half.

I remember this often, as I see business people and politicians celebrate victories at halftime. I recall two incidents one that happened this week and one in the former president’s first year. This week, President Biden celebrated on the front driveway with a bipartisan group of Senators the agreement on an infrastructure bill that is sorely needed for our country. By the next day, the agreement may be waylaid as the president spoke again pairing the bill with another one he wanted passed during reconciliation. Not smart. Now, the bill may not get passed as he made the other party look bad.

In 2017, former president Trump had House Republicans to the White House to celebrate a repeal and replace bill of the Affordable Care Act. The bill was poorly conceived, debated, and rushed, but there they were spiking the ball saying look what we did. Later that summer, the Senate failed to pass the bill, with Senator John McCain joining a few other Republican Senators to defeat it. McCain noted he was offended how the bill did not follow due process and, as a result, would hurt many millions of Americans.

In this 24×7 news cycle, too many things get reported before they are fully baked. The stories give the impression this is a done deal. The stories are too often portrayed in a zero-sum manner with one side winning, the other side is losing. My business career relied on interpreting laws, regulations and rulings. It is funny, but the press did not refer to the Reagan White House or the Clinton White House when discussing these matters, referring instead to the IRS, Department of Labor, SEC, House, Senate, reconciliation of differing language in the House and Senate bills, etc. It was not reported as a contest.

So, a strong message to legislators and reporters. Do not celebrate at halftime – the game “ain’t over until it’s over” as the famous New York Yankee Yogi Berra used to say. And, reporters and pseudo news people, focus on the what, how, why, and when and less on the who. I have long grown weary of news reporting on who wins or loses in legislation. As noted earlier, it is not a contest. The idea is for the constituents to win.

Note: For sports fans, I want you to Google “Frank Reich and comebacks,” who as a quarterback led two of the greatest comebacks in collegiate and pro football history. In both games, one for his University of Maryland the other the Buffalo Bills, the eventual winning teams were well behind and written off by the announcers. And, if more recent history is for your liking, think Tom Brady and his New England Patriots roaring from behind in the Super Bowl to beat the Atlanta Falcons.

Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.

Two great talents, two big hearts pass away

Rightfully so, the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge loss for our country. Her diminutive stature belied the large intellect and courage to fight battles, first for herself, and then for women and the disenfranchised.

There are several stories whose theme is around the only woman in the room, be it the first female rocket scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, or the first black female NASA mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson. Ginsburg was often one of only a scant few women in the room, be it Harvard or Columbia law schools or when she first joined the Supreme Court following Sandra Day O’Connor. Being told you do not belong, either directly or implicitly, requires a courageous heart.

Ginsburg was unable to get a job with a law firm since she was a female and a mother. Her husband, Marty was quickly able to gain employment as a tax attorney, but his very learned wife could not. So, she taught law. So, when she finally tried an appellate case regarding gender discrimination, very few knew the constitutional law as well as she. She knew the documented discrimination that existed in the law and what had to be changed. And, her track record on gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court was excellent, losing only one case. The movie “On the basis of sex,” starring Felicity Jones, is an excellent drama telling her story.

Yesterday, another person passed away, who will not be as known to non-football fans, but his supreme talent was only exceeded by his heart. His name was Gale Sayers and for seven years, was one of the most exciting football players to watch as his ability to stop, start, change direction and run kept defenses at bay. He was the youngest player to be inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame at the time. Yet, his heart may be what people will remember most.

When he joined the Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had only recently been passed. The African-American Sayers befriended a white ball player named Brian Piccolo. They became friends, teasing each other often while competing for the same position. They both made the team and were roommates on the road.

But, the story unfolds later that Piccolo gets cancer and is dying. Sayers and his wife were by the Piccolos’ side the whole way. When Sayers was given an award for a courageous comeback after an injury, in his speech, he told the audience of the courage of his friend Brian Piccolo. He said “I love Brian Piccolo. And, I hope you will love him, too.” He then asked for their prayers for God to love Brian as well.

The story is captured in the excellent movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. I wrote a post a while back which I will link to below, which said “Brian’s Song” was the first movie where a man was allowed to openly cry. Truth be told, I am tearing up as a type this.

Let’s remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gale Sayers. Both are national treasures

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/brians-song-the-first-movie-where-men-could-watch-and-cry/

Stress is a significant influence

Stress is an obstacle for us all, most often being harmful to performance whether it is a big test, big game or big presentation. It impacts both your memory and confidence causing self-doubt.

John Smoltz, the retired baseball pitcher was known for his ability to perform well in big games. But, he would tell folks he was not elevating his game, he was able to perform at the same level, as the stress made opponents play worse. This is a reason coaches like to replicate stressful game situations in practice to prepare players, but it is hard to emulate actual game stress.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his latest book, “Talking to Strangers,” how stress affects people’s ability to remember things. One of the subjects he delved into is PTSD due to torture made it a less effective means to get information from prisoners. A famous terrorist who planned the 9/11 attacks revealed over thirty pieces of information with torture, but most of it was fabrication. About 1/2 of the pieces of infotmation occurred after the terrorist was jailed. He would say anything to stop the torture. This is a one reason former Senator and Vietnam POW John McCain was not too keen on the US torturing people – the other is torture demeans the image of the country doing it.

While I have written before about stress, I repeat it now after the news Brionna Taylor was killed in her own home when a botched middle-of-the-night police raid ended up with her being shot eight times. A no-knock warrant executed during the night seems to heighten stress of all concerned. She is dead and her parents are owed answers.

So, if we can minimize the stress through planning, training, and mitigation, performance will be improved. And, maybe lives will be saved.

Monday Maxims

Our philosopher friend Hugh spawned this post citing a maxim. While unattributed, it bears repeating: those who are the least tolerant require more tolerance from others.

So, on this Monday in late October, let me mention a few maxims. Where I can, I will cite the source.

I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get – Gary Player, legendary golfer

It is better to be thought the fool, than to speak and remove all doubt – attributed to Mark Twain

It gets dark early out there – Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player

Wise men say, only fools fall in love, but I can’t help falling in love with you – sung by Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii

Those who shout the loudest usually have the worst argument – author unknown

I can’t wait ’til tomorrow, because I get better looking everyday – Broadway Joe Namath, Hall of Fame football quarterback

A good plan today will beat a perfect plan tomorrow – General Patton

When walking through hell, it is better to keep walking – Winston Churchill

Sleep is a weapon – Robert Ludlum in “The Bourne Supremacy”

Love a girl who holds the world in a paper cup, drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck – Kenny Loggins in “Danny’s Song

The longest journey begins with a short step – author unknown

There are many who talk about doing things, but few who actually get up out of their chair and go do them – author unknown

You have two ears and one mouth, it is better to use them in that proportion – recounted by an old CEO

Please feel free to amend or add your sayings.