I love watching sports arguing shows. Ok not all of them. It’ll be a long time before I willingly turn on Mike and the Angry Puppy on my television or radio again. Instead I’ll admit that I prefer watching either “PTI” or “Around the Horn.” Now before my loyal readers decide to erase KnickerBlogger.Net from their bookmarks, I don’t watch these shows for the “intelligent sports banter”. Like people of an earlier generation who watched Siskel & Ebert, I tune in for the arguing. While “sports talk” that degrades into “sports yelling” is entertaining, it’s also valueable from a rhetorical standpoint. To be persuasive, how you say something is sometimes more important than the content of your words.
The other day the prevailing (but not unanimous) opinion on “Around the Horn” was that watching MLB’s Opening Day would be more entertaining than the NCAA Final game. Those that were patient enough to sacrifice 0.6% of their team’s baseball season were rewarded with an exciting game. Illinois clawed back from a 13 point halftime deficit to tie the game late in the second half. Unfortunately the Fighting Illini came up short in the last seconds.
I’m sure someday somebody revives Luther Head’s final college minutes in a negative fashion. It might not be tomorrow on the aforementioned sports yell shows, or in a newspaper column. However eventually I have faith that on a message board in cyberspace somebody will imply that Luther Head was the goat. They couldn’t be more wrong.
I freely admit that in Illinois’ final two possessions with the game on the line, Head turned the ball over and missed the tying three pointer. However unlike Chris Webber’s time out folly, the mistakes were something you would see on any normal possession & not caused unduly by stress. The turnover was from a drive & kick, that was literally tipped by UNC’s Raymond Felton. In his final attempt, Luther Head’s missed three pointer was not a rushed shot. His feet were set, shoulders squared, and didn’t hurry the shot. It was well aligned, but a tad long caroming off back of the iron. In each case, only a few inches separated Head from being the hero of the game.
So often in sports, people try to make sense of something by pinning the entire team’s result on a single person. In baseball the pitcher earns the win or loss, despite the fact that he doesn’t control how much his team scores, how his fielders perform, or what the bullpen does with his lead. While pitchers are highly influential on the outcome of a baseball game, they aren’t the sole determining factor. Certainly if Randy Johnson had any offensive help last year, he would have posted better than a 16-14 record with his obscenely low 2.60 ERA.
People get so carried away with crediting an individual for a team effort, that they’ll do the same in other sports as well. Things like W-L records are even more ludicrous in other sports like football. Trent Dilfer was 7-1 in 2000, and that should tell you something about the nonsense of attributing wins & losses to a QB. Even when NBA MVP voters note that the Suns are 2-4 without Nash, it implies that Steve’s individual record is 54-13. Nash may very deserve the MVP award, but not because of his teams’ record without him.
Wherever you cross the misinformed soul that attempts to claim Luther Head lost the game for Illinois, you can remind them that Head led his team in scoring and shot a respectable 50% (eFG%). Point out that James Augstine couldn’t stay out of foul trouble long enough to score a single point. Tell them that Head wasn’t responsible for defending Sean May, who put in 26 points while only missing one shot from the field. Remind them that teammate Ingram was so oblivious in the final minute a pass hit him in the back. Or better yet, tell him basketball is a team game, and the Tar Heels were just the better team on this night.