Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Life and Sports

This past Sunday, in front of live audience of almost 63,000 people - and a televised audience of many, many more - Dallas Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett had a brain freeze. With about 1 minute remaining on the clock, the Cowboys had the ball and a chance to run down the field and score the game-winning points to beat the Arizona Cardinals in what could have been a season defining victory. With the ball the Cardinal 48-yard line, and facing 3rd and 11, Cowboy Quarterback Tony Romo scrambled and hit wide receiver Dez Bryant with an 18-yard pass that left Dallas at the Arizona 31 and 24 seconds left to play.

Nine times out of ten, Dallas calls time out there and sets up at least 1-2 more plays to move closer. While a field goal from that distance is possible (the kick is set up 7 yards deeper and the goal posts are 10 yards deep in the end zone, setting up a 48-yard field goal), the odds are much weaker from that long a distance. So trying another couple of plays to get closer makes a lot of sense - especially when you have 2 timeouts left at your disposal and 24 seconds of game clock.

But for an inexplicable reason, Garrett does not call a time out and allows the clock to keep running. Dan Bailey, the Cowboys rookie kicker (who has been very, very good), comes out to attempt a game winning field goal. He kicks it trough the uprights and the game is over, right?

Not so fast. Yes, the kick was right down the middle. However, Garrett for some incredibly strange reason, decides to finally take that time out - with 7 seconds left, less than a second before the kick goes in. Since the time out was granted, Bailey has to try the kick again. This time, something goes wrong and he misses it. Overtime. The Cardinals then win the toss in overtime and go down the field to win the game.

That evening and next day, the Dallas sports media crucifies Garrett - himself only a rookie coach (he took over midway through last season) with many fans calling for his immediate resignation (if not outright firing). On the national sports media, Garrett is labeled a buffoon and an incompetent.

What a sad testimony to our culture.

How would you feel if you made a poor judgement call at your job? Let's say you work in a business office and have a project due at 3pm Monday morning. You spend the previous week working 12 hour days to prepare and you make the presentation. It isn't flawless, but it isn't bad, either. Then, at the very end, you show a slide that has incorrect information. No one died, and it was an honest mistake that under the pressure of trying to be perfect, you made an error.

Now imagine the people in the conference room to whom you made the presentation start mocking you. The owner tells the press that while he has the confidence in you, it has really been shaken. The next day, 100,000 people all know all about what happen and call for you to be run out of town on a rail. You aren't just called an incompetent, but an idiot and buffoon by seemingly everyone in the city.

This was just a football game, folks. And yeah, he made a mistake. Rookie coaches do that. Tom Landry did that. Don Shula and Chuck Noll did that. Granted, football is an extremely popular sport and millions of fans watch it. But all in all, it is just 2 teams of players both trying to win a game.

You could use the excuse that players make millions of dollars, and therefore we expect perfection. But these people are still only human and are fallible.

However, in our society, sports is more than just a game between players. It is a culture that offers us an opportunity to hide from the stresses of life and give us a respite from our own struggles of daily living. We place our own hopes and dreams into the players who represent our cities and when the players lose a game, the whole city loses.

Living in Dallas for many years, you learn to understand that how the Cowboys go, the entire city goes. The first thing most Dallasites do on Monday morning is read the sports pages of the Dallas Morning News. The weekend games are either a source of pride, or a sourse of embarrassment. But rarely ever is it ignored.

Reading the sports sections of other newspapers, you get the idea that it is no different anywhere else. In Philadelphia, the columnists are biting at the chomp to fire Andy Reid - one of the best, and most successful coaches in the league - because his team is having a poor season. Before this week's game, Arizona fans were calling for their head coaches job - just a couple of years removed from his taking the Cardinals to their very first Super Bowl.

Now it's true that if you are consistently erring in judgement in your job, you will eventually get fired (unless you happen to work for the government). The same holds true in professional football. But Garrett took over a team that had a 1-7 record at the time last year. Since then, the Cowboys have gone 12-8 and find themselves a full game ahead of the New York Giants in the division race. Very few people thought Dallas would be where they are this year, aline in first place, this far into the season. The team has made many questionable mistakes. But not by the coaching staff. It's a very young team and has improved each week.

But in the game of football, we do not allow our heroes to right to be human. My feeling is because WE are so fallible, it is unacceptable for our teams to be. If we accept that these players are human, then we will accept that sometimes mistakes are made. But we are in such need to an escape, that we cannot accept that. Otherwise, what's the point of resting our emotions on these teams?

As a kid, I was as guilty as anyone about this. I would scream and curse whenever the Cowboys failed to live up to my dreams. It consumed me when when they lost. Now, I see it in my own kids. I see in them what I used to do and I need to put a stop to that. You can watch sports and even cheer and root for your own team without making it personal against the other players or coaches. You can watch the games and enjoy the sport without wanting to throw heavy objects at the TV screen when they screw up. In the past 9 years - since my transplant - I have grown to recognize that not only do these teams not care about me (except my money), they do care about their jobs and every week try their best to perform. Sometimes, they win and sometimes they lose. But mostly, they try (DeShaun Jackson, notwithstanding).

After all, they're only human.

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