Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Agonizing Scale

In every major sport there is one player that can change the entire outcome of a game singlehandedly. In hockey it is the goalie, in basketball it is the point guard, in football it is the quarterback and to a lesser extent the kicker and in baseball it is the closer. The men who play these positions have the power to win or lose a game based on their decisions. If they play well it usually ensures a victory but if they are off their game you can count on the game ending in disaster.

If you support a team with a crappy goalie or an awful closer you know how hard it can be to watch games. How agonizing it is to see your team play hard for 8 innings and give your closer a 3 run lead just to have him piss it away like Charles Barkley with $10,000 at the track. Or how hard it is to see your quarterback lead your team down the field in the 4th quarter and set up the kicker for the winning field goal only have to have pull a Ray Finkle. It is heartbreak.

But which is worse? Is it worse to watch a kicker botch a 35 yarder to win a game or a closer give up a 2 run homerun in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs on a 0-2 count? Or maybe have a goalie let in a weak goal in overtime of a hockey game?

In order to figure out which is worse I present the Agonizing Scale. A scale that fans can consult when needing to know where their current tragedy ranks so they can act appropriately. You may not agree with the scale but it was scientifically created by a true genius aka me.

Here is the scale. The ranks will appear from least agonizing to most agonizing.

A Shaky Point Guard

April of 2007. The Raptors go 47-35 and win the Atlantic Division. The team qualifies for the playoffs as the #3 seed and face the New Jersey Nets.

This series was supposed to be the greatest moment in Raptors history. The team was led by Chris Bosh, who was becoming the new franchise player, and we were facing a team led by Vince Carter who is by far the single most hated man in Toronto sports history. It all should have been so great.

We split the first two games at home which wasn't ideal but it would be OK. Then we went to New Jersey and proceeded to lose both games by a combined 34 points. So we are down in the series 3-1. Back to Toronto where the Raptors play one of most exciting games in franchise history and escape with a 98-96 win. The series headed back to New Jersey where the Raps needed a win to bring it home for the crucial game 7.

Late in the game the Raps were down by 1. Under 24 seconds left to go and we have the ball. Jose Calderon brought it up court and set up the offense from the left elbow. He looked inside for Bosh and tried to float a pass into him for a dunk. For what felt like an eternity the Raptors season was in the air. I remember standing up from my seat getting prepared to watch Bosh slam it home for the win only see Richard Jefferson's hand come out of nowhere and steal the ball.

Season over.

It was a real gut punch feeling as I was forced to sit down and try and comprehend how the Raptors had just been eliminated. I mean no one even took a shot to try and win it. We lost because of a garbage pass. Jose Calderon will never be forgiven because of this play no matter how many free throws he hits.

The reason basketball was last though is because throughout the course of a game people miss shots all over the place. I mean teams consider it an amazing night if they shoot 60% from the floor. This means that for the Raptors they only needed to hit 1 more fieldgoal and 1 more freethrow and they would have won. It kind of softens the blow later when you think back on the game.

Still having a shaky point guard who you don't trust with the ball in his hands at crunch time is an agonizing feeling. You get nervous as he moves up court and god forbid he wants to shoot the ball. You might have a heart attack.

An Up and Down Goalie

I write for my university paper and at the start of the NHL season I was asked to make predictions on all the major awards and my Stanley Cup prediction. So I started looking at all the teams and their rosters trying to figure out who had the best chance, on paper, of making it all the way to the Cup finals.

I immediately counted out a number of teams due to talent (Coyotes, Islanders, Leafs) then picked off mediocre teams that just never put it together (Oilers, Sabres, Canadiens) and finally started to look at the elite teams in the NHL (Flyers, Penguins, Wings). Obviously the elite teams have tonnes of talent and great depth but to win a Stanley Cup you need 1 key ingredient, a great goalie.

Rarely do teams with crap goaltending win the Stanley Cup. Usually a team can make it to the playoffs despite poor goaltending but once the postseason starts you need a trustworthy goalie between the pipes. Because of this criteria I counted of Chicago (Huet), Washington (Varlamov) and Philadelphia (Emry). I ended up picking Pittsburgh (Fleury) and Vancouver (Luongo) because they both have outstanding goalie who can win games on their own.

This brings me back to the teams with crappy or shaky goalies. If you are a fan of the Blackhawks it must kill you to watch Cristobel Huet in net every game. He is a terrible goalie and will be the reason the Hakws don't make it to the Cup finals this year. They have the talent and they have the depth they just lack the goaltending.

So having an up and down goalie is definitely an agonizing feeling and takes its place rightfully at the 4th tier of the scale.

Now some people might think having a crappy point guard is worse than a crappy goalie but here is my rebuttal. Hockey is the one major sport that relies the most on momentum. A team can be getting outplayed for 10 minutes straight and then score a fluke goal and everything changes. The same can't be said for basketball. Yes teams can go on runs or get hot or cold but nothing is more deflating than allowing a goal in hockey. it literally sucks the collective energy out of not only the players but the fans as well.

A Flaky Kicker

I am a Jets fan. Having said that I haven't been a Jets fan all my life. As hard as this is for me to admit I used to be a New Orleans Saints fan. I am not proud of the fact I bailed on the Saints but I did and here is why.

December 21st, 2003. The Saints entered the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a record of 7-7. and were trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000. In order to do this they needed to win their final two games of the season and get a little help with other teams losing.

The game was tied at 13-13 late in the 4th quarter when Jacksonville scored a touchdown to make it 20-13 and all but seal the fate of the Saints. With only 7 seconds left in the game I was resigned to another year without the playoffs. But then it happened. Looking at 2nd and 10 from their own 25 yard line Aaron Brooks dropped back and threw a pass to Dante Stallworth at midfeild. Stallworth broke a couple tackles and then pitched the ball to Duece McAllister who then pitched it to Joe Horn who finally pitched it to Jerome Pathon who ran it into the endzone for a touchdown. Needless to say I was going mental.

The play would later be dubbed the 'River City Relay' and would live on in highlights reels and Best Damned Sports Show episodes for years to come. It was such a magical moment. And then John Carney jogged onto the field for the extra point.

I was about to leave to go get my Dad to show him the highlights as there was no way he would have believed what had happened without video proof. I was so excited I was standing and kind of jumping around ( I was 13 at the time so don't give me any shit about this). Then the unthinkable happened. John Carney missed the extra point. Wide right.

Jim Henderson who was the play by play guy for the Saints summed it up perfectly, "NOOOO!!! He missed the extra point wide right! Oh my God, how could he do that?"

From that moment on the Saints were dead to me. Carney had cost the team the game and their chance at the playoffs. More importantly he had robbed me of my chance to watch my favorite football team in the playoffs and forced me to do something I had never done before and haven't done since, I gave up on a team. I became everything I hate about sports fans a flip flopper. My team was garbage and I was fed up.

Kickers have the power. They can be heroes and win games like Adam Vinatieri or they can be goats and blow extra points like John Carney. If the kicker for your team is awful you know every time he comes out to kick the ball you start sweating. You get nervous and can hardly speak. Your heart starts beating a mile a minute and you close your eyes as you can't watch the carnage.

There is nothing more heart breaking than watching a fieldgoal attempt sail wide except for 1 thing...

An Untrostworthy Closer

The MLB season is 162 games long and spans 7 months. If your team makes it to the World Series that number can jump to 182 games and 8 months. That is a tonne of baseball and believe me when I say this some people watch EVERY game. Some people live and die with their favorite baseball team and in some rare cases whole cities live and die by their baseball team.

I cheer for the Red Sox and have since I was a little kid. My Dad is a Sox fan and grew up idolizing Fred Lynn so I followed suit idolizing Pedro, NoMAH and now Big Papi. I have watched Sox games for as long as I can remember. You know what I don't remember though? Having a good closer and don't tell me Jonathan Pepelbon is good because he isn't. He had 1 good year and now he sucks. Watching him come into the 9th inning is like waiting outside the doctors office to get a shot and then watching him actually pitch is like having a colonoscopy (or so I am told).

Having a good closer is crucial to success in baseball. Just look at the Yankees. Until the ALCS in 2004 Mariano Rivera was automatic. If the Yankees had the lead in the 8th inning the game was over because Rivera wasn't going to blow a save. It made it that much harder for the other team to win.

Now if you don't have a good closer getting to the 9th inning with the lead is the most nerve racking experience a sports fan can go through. Everything in baseball is drawn out and so what actually takes 5 minutes can seem like 30. Each pitch your closer throws makes you jump a little and sweat a little more. You can never relax and enjoy the 9th inning because you know that you are 1 pitch away from a loss.

I said in the previous tier that watching a field goal sail wide was the worst sight to see as a sports fan but that isn't true. The worse thing to watch as a sports fan is a batter take your closer deep and win a game with 1 swing. It is all so surreal. First the bat makes contact and your heart leaps into your throat. Then your pitcher whirls around to watch it happen and finally the batter flips and the bat with confidence as he knows what he just did. As a fan all you can do is hang your head ( and drop some f-bombs) as you accept what was inevitable.

The reason I put closer ahead of kicker is because of the length of a baseball season. 162 games versus 16. You get so much more emotionally invested in a baseball team. You watch the same guys everyday for 7 months and you start to feel like you know them or they become part of your routine. Football doesn't resonate the same way and thats why having a shaky closer is more agonizing than having a shaky kicker.

So that is my scale. Having a shaky closer is the most agonizing thing in sports. You may agree or disagree based upon which sport you prefer but it's hard to argue against my picks. If you think I am wrong and don't think the closer pick is the right one just watch playoff baseball game and see the looks on the faces of the fans. People don't get this upset at funerals. The way the crowd can go from excited to deflated in a moment is unmatched in any sport.

Having said that agony is agony. It is impossible for me to say which is more agonizing. I just know that watching Papelbon pitch in Game 3 of the ALDS this year was like having someone kick me in the nuts for 10 minutes or like watching a car accident. Words don't do it justice as to how hard it was to watch that.

Maybe I put the goalie last because I am a Canucks fan and we have Luongo in net. Either way I wouldn't trust Papelbon to order my pizza let alone close games for my favorite team.

Random YouTube Video


Anonymous said...

Vesa Toskala or Andrew Raycroft, anyone?

Anonymous said...