Judging a Season by its Cover
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, March 24, 2008
Knee-jerk reactions are a cornerstone of the sports world, perhaps best exemplified by the weekly overreaction of the college and pro football fan. Yet it is the smug sweeping expectation, antonym of the knee-jerk reaction, that reigns most supreme. Call it the ‘knee-jerk preaction,’ to coin a term, and it dooms and crowns without conscience – and often without accuracy.
It was the knee-jerk preaction that declared the 2007-2008 New England Patriots as pro football’s all-time greatest team without bothering to wait for the Super Bowl – where the Pats were upset by the New York Giants. Just two years earlier, the same ‘greatest’ hyperbole was thrown around with the USC Trojans of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush – who were then defeated in the National Championship game by the Texas Longhorns of Vince Young.
Yes, perhaps it would have been better to wait until after the season to offer the deserved plaudits, but sports fans and media ‘experts’ do not exactly possess the patience of Job. Thus it was that Harold Miner was declared the second coming of Michael Jordan, that the World Football League was considered serious competition to the NFL, and that soccer fanaticism in the United States was supposed to be ignited by Pele… and then the 1994 World Cup… and then the 1999 women’s national team… and then Freddy Adu… and then David Beckham. Grandiose knee-jerk preactions all, delivered with impatience and ending in disappointment.
This is not to ridicule all knee-jerk preactions, for many are borne out. Tiger Woods and LeBron James (and Michael Phelps as well, to a lesser extent) have lived up to everything that was predicted for them and then some. Additionally, the majority of a sport’s championship-contending teams can often be predicted accurately entering the start of a season; so can the majority of the cellar-dwelling squads.
Here, for example, is a knee-jerk preaction preview of the upcoming baseball season, based on the prevailing opinion of fans and analysts:
There, the current knee-jerk preactions for each Major League team entering the upcoming season. (Keep in mind that the opinions described may not represent my own personal perspective. I am dubious about Detroit’s chances, for instance, due to my feeling that the Indians possess superior pitching.)
Will many of these expectations come true? Sure. Why then list them? Because I cherish the snapshot in time we find ourselves in before events can transpire, when our imagination runs rampant on the possibilities: that moment of NCAA Tournament bracket deliberation before any game has been played; that moment of taut anticipation before the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl; the morning of Opening Day.
And then I revel in the shattering of our expectations. I revel in the surprise team seizing the day and capturing our collective imaginations, in the heroics of a previously unknown player turning the most cynical of media disseminators into a roaring supporter. I revel in those moments when sports makes our hearts beat faster, for there is nothing that we love more than to see something we never dared to hope for. It may be an event as symbolic as the Miracle on Ice, as farfetched as Boise State’s sequence of gadget plays to Oklahoma, as stunning as Cassius Clay knocking out Sonny Liston, or as emotional as the lap of Cal Ripken, Jr., around Oriole Park at Camden Yards the night Lou Gehrig’s unbreakable record was broken.
Perhaps this upcoming baseball season will deliver another such moment, something we never could have expected. I can’t wait.
Check that. I can wait.
© 2008 PER Sports, Inc.
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