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.