Thursday, February 2, 2012

Levels Of Sports Misconceptions...

Only these leagues count!
In a conversation with Dustin last night, we got to talking about misconceptions in the sports world; by this we mean the idea of certain events that have taken place that have been inflated beyond their particular significance either by the media or through legend.  

However, as the conversation went on, we determined that not all misconceptions are equal. Some are much more egregious than others, and so we came up with a ladder system to determine to which level the particular misconceptions belong. There are five levels, with increasingly bigger misconceptions than the previous one. Here, I shall go through the levels, beginning with the lowest ones and moving on up. The significance of the events also generally increases as we move up the ladder, but not always.  It is noteworthy to mention that very few of these events have taken place in the era of the internet, and it should be somewhat obvious as to why.

Level 1 This mostly consists of events that even most casual fans would know that aren’t quite as important as they are made out to be.

Example2005 NLCS Game 5 (Albert Pujols homers off Brad Lidge): You’d swear to God that the ball has never come down, and you can’t even see a regular season at bat from Pujols against Lidge without someone mentioning or showing a clip of this event. Things that make it a Level 1 include the fact that a) it was a Game 5, and the Cardinals merely staved off elimination for one game while down 3-1, and b) the Cardinals totally were dominated the next game at home by Roy Oswalt to clinch the pennant for the Astros. By the way, do you remember who won the World Series that year?

Level 2 – Very much like Level 1, but the event possesses greater importance. Still inflated beyond what it ought to be, and a slight bit of attention would point you to the fact it didn’t really end anything.

Example #1Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series (Yankees come back/Derek Jeter “Mr. November"): Thrilling endings and poor Byung-Hyun Kim, but guess what? The games tied and put the Yanks ahead in the series against the Diamondbacks, but a blowout Game 6 (Arizona won 15-2) and a shocking meltdown by Mariano Rivera in Game 7 gave the Diamondbacks the title. However, people still call Derek Jeter “Mr. November” and Scott Brosius can still go anywhere in Yankee country and not have to buy a beer.

Example #2A and #2B – Two very similar scenarios, Game Sixes, both in the 1975 World Series (Carlton Fisk) and the 1991 World Series (Kirby Puckett). Both forced Game Seven, although with opposite results (Red Sox lost to the Reds; Twins beat the Braves). They are both above Level 1 because of their importance, but they are always inflated in the sense of highlight reels and legendary statuses. What keeps them from being higher up is the fact that the announcers in both games had the sense to remind their audiences that it only forced a Game Seven; without this, they might both have reached Level 4.

Level 3 – These are events that some regular (beyond casual) fans believe are of much more significance than they actually are; announcer reactions also don’t do a whole lot to dispel the notion of inflation.

Example #11992 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (Bulls vs. Knicks, Seven Game Series): A lot of people think this was the Conference Finals. Chicago went on to absolutely destroy Cleveland in the East Finals and then defeated Portland in the Finals. This series though, was one of the nastiest set of games I’ve ever seen, and only through Jordan’s 42 points in Game Seven did the Bulls finally prevail.

Example #2Game 1, 1995 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (Reggie Miller scores eight points in the last nine seconds): I would actually qualify this in a sense as before the ESPN 30 For 30 series – once the film Winning Time aired, this drops steeply to a Level 1, because now even casual fans know when this took place. However, before that aired, it was a fairly legendary event that was thought to have ‘crippled’ the Knicks, even as the series went to seven games and the Knicks even had a shot to win it altogether at the end of Game Seven.

Example #3Game 3, 1970 NBA Finals (Jerry West’s miracle shot): in this time period (Prior to 1979), that shot only counted for two points, and thus only tied the game, sending it to an extra session for West's Lakers. The Knicks, however, actually won the game in overtime, and would win the series in seven games.

Level 4 – these are Level 3 events, with the key difference being that these events have been mythologized in the world of sports.

Example #11986 AFC Championship Game (John Elway’s “The Drive”): Elway led a 98 yard drive on the road in Cleveland and led the Broncos to….overtime. The Drive didn’t win the game, and Cleveland could have won the game after winning the toss in overtime, but had to punt. However, most people will remember The Drive more than anything else. The fact that we capitalize it is precisely what I am getting at with the ‘mythologizing’.

Example #2A and #2B1972 AFC Playoff Game (“The Immaculate Reception”) and 1999 AFC Wild-Card Game (“Music City Miracle”): To hear people tell it, you’d think that the Steelers and the Titans were propelled to the Super Bowl by these two miraculous finishes. The Steelers lost the next week at home to the Dolphins (who went undefeated that year) and the Titans were just short of another miraculous victory by  a yard in the Super Bowl against the Rams. There is no doubt that both of these events were wonderful for the teams and their fans, but mythology obstructs the truth of the facts that both of these were merely opening round playoff games.

Example #3Game 6, 2003 NLCS (“The Bartman”): this one comes in because even the 30 For 30 films about this game and series would lead a casual observer to believe that Steve Bartman interfering with Moises Alou at Wrigley Field cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series. The fact is that the Cubs had a lead in this game and many people fall into the trap of the Fallacy of the Pre-Determined Outcome (i.e. if Bartman had not touched it, Alou would have caught it, and the Cubs would have held on). The Cubs D could have still screwed up and lost Game Six, and the Cubs still had the opportunity to win Game Seven. You know what? A lot of Game Sixes have made their way onto this list!

Level 5 – Games and events that most truly believe were the final and championship moment due to the complete overhyping, overplaying, AND the mythologizing of the event. These events actually transcend sports in many ways…

Example #11980 Men’s Olympic Hockey (“The Miracle On Ice”): Someone needs to get the reminder out there that the underdog US men’s hockey team defeated the mighty Soviet Union in the…


For all the movies and talk (like Miracle), the fact remained that the United States still could have finished fourth and been denied a medal had they lost to Finland two days later. That has got to be the most understated championship game of all time, and quite likely also the least acknowledged. It also functions as probably the biggest trap and letdown game in the history of mankind, but hey, we beat the eeeeevil Ruskies! USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!

Example #2Game 1, 1988 World Series (Kirk Gibson’s Crippled Deluxe): Oh yeah, did you know that Oakland actually won Game Two? Neither did I! What? You mean Oakland didn’t just forfeit the whole damn Series because a guy with two bad knees and two bad hamstrings popped a one-in-ten-thousand home run? I’m shocked, shocked! The way people talk about this one, you’d think the A’s went into a hole so deep they ended up in China the next day. By the way, the real hero of 1988 was Orel Hershiser, but Kirk Gibson’s moment (and his only AB of the World Series) is what endures in commercials and on top ten lists.

Example #3Game 6, 1986 World Series (Bill Buckner’s Flub): As a baseball fan, I know that Bill Buckner is one of the better players to have ever stepped onto a diamond. I also know that for years he has been disproportionately blamed for what happened. Anyway, how many people forget that the Red Sox had to lose Game Seven, and they actually held a 3-0 lead going into the late innings! Or they forget that it never should have actually gotten to a Game Seven had John McNamara not been given to sentimentalism, or Bob Stanley actually remembered how to pitch!

These are the levels; they can be considered a bit fluid. Discuss these among yourselves and feel free to dispute or add events and tell me why they belong on a particular level of Sports Misconception.

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