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.

My rights are more important than yours

As a 60 year old white man, I have come to several conclusions living in America. Where we are supposed to have equal rights, what that really means is “my rights are more important than yours.” The examples are many and seem to be more at the forefront in a spin-doctored to disinformation news cycle. The other thing I have learned is democracy is hard work – you have to work at it to keep it flourishing. That is why it so easy to harm it.

One of the best examples can be gleaned from the letters to the editors in the newspapers or the comments on various blogs. The comments/ letters I am speaking of occur when a celebrity, athlete or entity espouses a political opinion that differs from yours. The comment ranges from they should stick to their art or sport and not use their popularity as a platform to espouse political views. Or, it might read, I want to watch a ball game and not be told what I must do politically.

It is OK for these people to wear eight corporate sponsor logos to sell you things, but they should not tell you what they believe. Yet, what is not being said, is it is OK for me to use my platforms or read that of others because they agree with my belief construct. In other words, my right to espouse an opinion supersedes yours. So, how dare Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem or Megan Rapinoe say what she thinks. That is unpatriotic. Call me crazy, but siding with a Russian president’s opinions over that of your own intelligence people sounds pretty unpatriotic to me.

Another good example is the Religious rights activity. These laws grant the right to discriminate because it violates a religious belief. The subtlety of this being different from protecting one’s rights against discrimination is not heeded. But, it also causes a very slippery slope of the same folks being discriminated against by other religions or groups. This could be a LGBT owner not selling to someone with hate speech on their T-shirt, a Muslim owner not selling to an evangelical as they do not like their extremist views, a Jewish owner not selling to non-Kosher buyers.

Back in the late 1960s, three black athletes – Jim Brown, the star NFL running back and actor, Bill Russell, the star NBA basketball player and Muhammad Ali all spoke out against poverty and oppression of opportunity of black Americans. They did so knowingly and convincingly. What disappoints many is that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods do not use their popularity to speak out against similar issues that still fester.To their credit, Lebron James and Stephen Curry are speaking out. Kaepernick actually hurt his career in so doing.

It is more than OK for people to speak out. That is the way it works. I recall when the US invaded Iraq, the country singing group The Dixie Chicks were vilified for speaking out against this. They were hailed unpatriotic by people supporting the Bush administration. Yet, history proved them right to question such a move. What is more unpatriotic – invading a country under false pretenses where over 4,000 American and additional numbers of allied soldiers die or speaking out against such an invasion?

Call me crazy, but if we are going to send Americans and our allies to die, we better have done our homework and exhausted all other options. It should be informational that a UK report found Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush at fault for not being forthcoming to the British people. As Forrest Gump would say, “That is all I am going to say about that.”

 

Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

Context is important with news

Context is key to understanding. It enables one to understand why a change or news item is important and when people are masking over a problem or blowing smoke.

Here are a few examples of why context matters:

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook testified to Congress of his concerns of privacy of data. He may say he is concerned, but his business model is to sell access to your data to marketers. Unless that model changes, our data will be exposed. Facebook was told to address these privacy issues five years ago and failed to act. It may be a new company, but it has learned to feign concern like an old one.

Football helmets are very high tech these days to soften the impact of blows to the head during this violent game. Yet, no matter how much cushion is offered, the problem is they cannot stop the fact the brain rattles around inside the head when it is struck. Unless football outlaws head hits, the game may have to require players to sign a waiver acknowledging the potential damage before they play and youth tackle football may be banned.

The changes needed in governments are obvious to many, including the legislators. But, they won’t happen. Why? Change will not occur if the people who need to make it are too aligned with what needs to be changed. Politicians are too enamored with keeping their job to actually do their job. Money matters too much in these equations.

Let me close with a final example. There is a difference between someone who does the right thing 19 times out of 20, but screws up one time versus someone where the opposite is more true. The one error for the first person may be similar to one of the second person, but they deserve a closer look. I have seen good people fired because managers ignored this kind of math. Context is key.

Great leaders make everyone around them better

Thomas Friedman, the award winning author (“The World is Flat” and “That Used to be Us”), made an important observation in an interview with Charlie Rose. A great leader makes everyone around them better – think Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky or, if you are older, Bill Russell. Donald Trump makes everyone around him worse.

This is a powerful observation. Defending this immoral man requires his people to go to a bad place in their nature. They must lower themselves and lie like he does. General Kelly harmed his reputation by lying about a Congresswoman. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is not worth listening to as she defends the indefensible with inconsistent and nonsensical statements.

Trump values loyalty over competence, so the tendency to become a sycophant is rewarded. While he does have some competent people, they are fewer in number and the depth of talent is not as much as needed. Many experienced people could have helped him, but they either did not pass the loyalty test or chose not to work with such a narcissistic man. His team is not deep and they are very distracted trying to keep Trump between the white lines, so they cannot focus on global trends, issues and strategy.

On the flip side, I think of great leaders like Paul O’Neill, who turned around Alcoa by opening communication channels which improved productivity and safety. I think about my former boss whose mantra was hire good people and have them go see our clients. He kept senior leadership off your back and empowered you to work with others to serve.

Let me close with a story about Bill Russell, the NBA Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics. He did all the heavy lifting (rebounding, defense, passing, blocked shots) letting his teammates do most of the scoring. His Celtics won eleven championships, his college team won two NCAA championships and he was on a Gold Medal Olympic team.

Great leaders make everyone around them better.