Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Baseball vs. Football for the Win

As a young boy, growing up in Dallas, every fall/winter week revolved around the Dallas Cowboys. As far as the city-wide mood went, as the Cowboys went, the town went. Even once when the Texas Rangers moved to Arlington, in 1972, the sports hierarchy remained staunchly in the pocket of Tex Schramm, Tom Landry and Clint Murchison. Granted, it takes a while to build a following in a new town. But while the Cowboys were selling out the 65,101 seat Texas Stadium, the Rangers were averaging anywhere from 7,000 a game (their first year) to a whopping 16,000 by their first winning year in 1974. In fact, it wasn't until 1989 - a year when the Cowboys went 1-15 - did the Rangers bring in over 2 million fans.

But these past three seasons have shown a whole different attitude for Ranges baseball. Of course, that's greatly helped by a team that has now won 90+ games a year for all three seasons, and who have appeared in 2 straight World Series. This season, the Rangers surpassed the 3 million attendance mark for the first time. In response, the team remained in first place in their division for 161 games, with one to go.

And yet there are two issues here that do not make me happy. On Monday night, a seemingly decent Cowboys team had there hides whooped by the visiting Chicago Bears, dropping their record to 2-2. Aside from losing, the looked bad and out of sync to the point that it may be time to start questioning the value of the team's coaching staff. After all, Jason Garrett has been in charge of this offense for 5 years now and he has nothing really to show for it. Actually, they may be the worst offense in the league at this point. As a team, they have scored 4 touchdowns in 4 games - one of which was in garbage time with his starters sitting.

What struck me though was that pitted against a Rangers game, with serious playoff implications, the ratings for the football game beat the baseball game 25%-2.8%. Football still reigns supreme.

The other thing that struck me is how different a team is once they've won. In the '70s and early '80s, fan in Dallas expected the Cowboys to not only be in the Super Bowl each year, but to win it each time. Sadly, they only won their final game of the season twice during those years (Super Bowl 6 and 12). Every other year, they watched as other teams - many beating Dallas to advance to the big game -walked off with the championship trophy.

One recurring these with those Cowboy teams was that they had the talent to win every year. But they didn't have the emotional element that's needed to break though to the top. Kind of like the "eye of the tiger." That is why so few times are able to repeat the next year. It takes more than having the talent and the experience to get to the playoffs. But unless you are an exceptionally talented team (like the Cowboys of the '90s, or the '49ers of the '80s), winning a championship for a second year is an incredibly difficult task. Besides holding on to the talent you had the in the first championship season, you mush hope for lady luck to keep everyone healthy. But more so, the excitement of striving for a goal for the first time creates a momentum that can not be reignited as powerfully the second time around.

In the case of the Texas Rangers, they do have one thing that should have motivated them - the fact that they were one strike away, TWICE, from winning the World Series a year ago. But even with that memory tearing at the club, the enter this finally few days n the season looking tired and somewhat entitled. Watching tonight's Oakland 3-1 win tonight reminded me of the first Rocky Balboa/Clubber Lang fight. As you know, Rocky really stood no chance because he was ill prepared to go the extra mile to win. He didn't have that "eye of the tiger" that Clubber had. Like in the movie, Texas played to not lose the game, while Oakland played to win.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Rangers have one final shot at repeating as AL West champions. If they somehow find that extra momentum that they had for the past 2 years, they can win. Player for player, Texas has a superior team and has the experience to win the big games. On the other hand, these Rangers are also starting to remind me of the middle '80s Cowboys. They were a team that when the going got tough, the team collapsed and gave up. Case in point, the 1983 season. Going into game 15, both Dallas and the Washington Redskins were tied at 12-2. However, Dallas help the tie breaker based on their beating the 'Skins on opening night. Both teams were coming off 2 easy victories and they were playing in Texas Stadium, a place where the Cowboys always held a strong advantage.

And at first, it was a close game. Down 14-10, Dallas faced a decision in Redskin territory - punt the ball to pin Washington back, or go for it on 4th and 2. Everyone in the stadium, from the fans to the players to the coaches called for the Cowboys to punt. But before doing so, Landry order Quarterback Danny While to try and draw the 'Skins offsides (if they managed that, there would have been an automatic first down). To loud cries of "NO, DANNY NO!" White screwed up and instead of trying to make them jump offsides, he decided to hand the ball to a very surprised Ron Springs, who promptly lost 2 yards. It was all it took. A couple of plays later, John Riggins burst around the side and scored the decisive touchdown. Dallas simply gave up.

But in reality, all was not lost. The Cowboys were still 11-3 and had the second best record in all of football. So they still had pride in their chances. But that next week, they barely showed up, as San Francisco whipped them 42-17. But, like this Rangers season, they still already made the playoffs. So the fans deluded themselves into believing the last two games didn't matter. The following Sunday would return Dallas to their rightful place o the throne, right?

Wrong. They once again laid an egg as Danny While threw three interceptions at home to the Rams. What had been such a promising season ended in one and done fashion - not because they didn't have talent. That they did. It was heart they were missing and while the team remained competitive for the next few years, never again was a Landry coached team good enough to make a real run.

Is this the fate of the Rangers? Has the past 2 years spoiled us to the point that we consider it a wasted year if they don't win the World Series? To an extent, yes it does. On the other hand, this team really hasn't won yet. Ideally, they should have that motivation from losing on their last strike a year ago. Perhaps they're exhausted from playing 44 extra games the past two years. But these guys are pros and this is what they're supposed to be playing for. Somehow, somewhat this team needs to get their collective butts out of their collective rear ends. Otherwise, none of this season matters.

And considering where this team was all year, along with the talent, experience and payroll, a "one and done" in the playoffs may also bring some serious changes to them, including looking for a manager who can get over that hump and install that "eye of the tiger."

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