A Super Bowl tie?
“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost —
But how you played the Game.” — Grantland Rice (from the poem “Alumnus Football”)
“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” — Vince Lombardi
How would you feel if this week’s Super Bowl ended in a tie?
Would you feel cheated? That perhaps you were deprived of a great game, a true champion?
Perhaps we should ask ourselves why it is so important to have a final winner even if it’s a bit arbitrary.
Of course, playoff games cannot end in a tie. You have to know who will move on to the next round after all. But, there is no real reason why the Super Bowl itself could not end in a tie with co-champions we all celebrate.
We’re so obsessed with having winners, we sometimes forget that for every winner, there has to be a loser. And, sometimes we go to great lengths to convince ourselves of how “great” the winner was.
This struck me most after the 1991 Super Bowl when I heard sports pundits elaborating at great length about the outstanding game plan the New York Giants had.
The problem with that is that the game had come down to a final field goal, which was infamously missed by the Buffalo Bills placekicker. The Bills had played equally well, probably better. They had lost in large part because one kick went wide right. Had that field goal attempt been good, those same pundits would have waxed quite eloquent about the wisdom of the Bills’ game plan.
Those Bills teams were infamous in another aspect — they lost the Super Bowl four years straight. In a just world, they’d be remembered as an outstanding and consistent team that won its conference championship four times in a row. Instead, they’re viewed as losers who couldn’t make it over the ultimate hurdle.
My own favorite team, the Denver Broncos, had a similar reputation. They had lost the Super Bowl four times, three of those losses coming in a four-year period with the same quarterback. But, a few years later, they won the big game, two years in a row. That same quarterback is now considered one of the greats, not the ultimate loser. He took over the team as general manager a year ago.
In our competition-obsessed culture, nothing is considered important unless we can identify a clear winner and loser. Announcers tell us there are no prizes for second place, that players — especially those in leadership positions — are judged mainly, often solely, by the number of championships they win.
Listen to the announcers of any sporting event. A player who violates the rules in the interest of winning is showing his competitive fire, not cheating. In baseball, most of the major records are now held by steroid abusers. Many justify this because it wasn’t against major league rules at the time — regardless of how legal or ethical it was.
Players who showboat, grandstand, and display me-first attitudes may be criticized, but they’re also given reality shows and big contracts.
What values does it teach our children? Think about the way we teach youth sports and compare it to the professional world. Then remember that children learn more by what they see from us than what we tell them.
In youth sports, such as my son’s soccer league, it’s all about play, learning, exercise and sportsmanship. Having fun is the highest goal. At the youngest ages, they don’t even keep score. If one team is dominating another, the coaches often trade players to even things out.
Coaches and parents emphasize the culture of sportsmanship. You cheer on the other team when they do well. You always shake hands or high five after the game.
We’ve often heard of parents or coaches in youth sports who take things too seriously. But, this becomes news because of how unusual it is. Those who lose their cool generate legitimate outrage. By and large, most are well-behaved and follow the rules of fair play.
Imagine instead of confetti and champagne on Sunday, we saw the winning team huddle up and chant “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate!” Not very likely.
What kind of values are you displaying to your children when you buy the jersey of the player who is talented, flashy and locker room poison? I thought of this when I got mine. I chose a Rod Smith jersey. Smith wasn’t flashy; he wasn’t even drafted, but through hard work and determination, he had an outstanding career, doing whatever it took to make his team successful.
Competition is a good, healthy thing. Sports have much to teach us, especially our children, but they’ll learn more if we practice what we preach and keep some perspective.
Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville. He can be reached at email@example.com.