I had a different column all ready for this week.
Then I watched the Minnesota Vikings lose to the Seattle Seahawks after they missed a potential game-winning field goal. So now you get this column; the one I had written can wait until next week.
I’ve watched a lot of heartbreaking moments as a sports fan, mainly as a fan of the Vikings. There was the NFC Championship Game against Washington where the game-winning touchdown bounced off Darrin Nelson’s shoulder pads. Who can forget Gary Anderson missing what would have been the deciding field goal against the Atlanta Falcons? How about Brett Favre throwing an interception against New Orleans that sent the game to overtime and cost the Vikes a chance at the Super Bowl?
Again and again, as a sports fan, I have watched my favorite teams blow leads and do things that seem unreal in new and creative ways to lose. How many times did Joe Nathan blow a lead against the New York Yankees that cost the Minnesota Twins, especially in the playoffs? How about the Minnesota Timberwolves, in their one and only shot to go to the NBA Finals, finding a way to lose a game they had in hand against the Los Angeles Lakers?
I’ve written a number of columns about coaching these past few years. Coach long enough and you’ll have your share of difficult losses. I’ve often said I’d rather lose by 20 than by one; you’re less likely to second-guess yourself. And trust me, coaches go over close games like that in minute detail, trying to sort out ALL the things they could have done differently that would have made an impact.
After bumping into a former basketball player of mine, I spent a little time this past weekend going through all my coaching files. I have game results and stats from all my years here at NRHEG. I was able to envision basketball courts and baseball fields and relive many of those games from 20 years here. I remember blowing a 10-point lead against Blooming Prairie in the last two minutes and losing by a point after a last-second shot by us bounced off the rim. I recall an extra-inning baseball game in Kiester where the ump blatantly missed an out call at first base that led to the eventual winning run by USC. I can still picture Blue Earth getting off a shot with half a second left in a tournament championship game to beat us.
Those are nights I didn’t get much sleep. One of my philosophies of coaching is that if you allow one play or one call at the end of the game to decide things, it’s your own fault. Put the game out of reach earlier and a bad call or a lucky shot won’t beat you. When my teams lose games like that, I spend hours rehashing things, even years later.
And I just coach junior high! I can’t imagine the pressure on a high school, college, or pro coach. How much sleep will Mike Zimmer, coach of the Vikings, get in the next week? Coaches put so much of themselves into their teams, and we hurt as much as anyone when we lose, maybe more. If I asked players from those teams where we lost close games if they remember them, many likely wouldn’t (except the last one since that was only three years ago). Ultimately, junior high games don’t mean much in the grand scheme of life.
On the other hand, if you coach long enough, you also have your share of thrilling victories. I had a struggling basketball team early in my career where we hit two free throws to tie it and then stole the ball and scored a lay-up at the buzzer to beat Albert Lea. I watched a pinch-runner scramble home on a wild pitch for the winning run after the player he replaced hit a triple and was out of breath. Already this season, my basketball team has had two one-point wins.
Watching our high school football team beat WEM by a point for the conference championship a number of years ago was only recently outdone for thrills when the girls’ basketball team won their first state championship by a point over Braham. We’ve all seen buzzer-beaters and walk-off home runs and even two World Series championships from the Twins.
This past weekend, my son’s basketball team won a tournament game when one of his teammates hit a 12-foot jump shot with three seconds left in overtime to win. After trailing much of the game, the team had battled back to that position. I can only imagine the other team’s coach still scratching his head at the final shot, but he probably is also remembering the four-point lead late in the fourth quarter that evaporated.
It seems I take the close losses harder than I enjoy the close wins. I, along with many others I’m sure, screamed, “NO!” at the television when Blair Walsh missed that field goal. But I’ll get over it by next season, and when the Vikings do eventually win the Super Bowl, all the heartache will be worth it!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is expurgefacient, which means awakening or arousing, as in, “The expurgefacient outburst online after the team’s loss almost broke the Internet.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!