What can happen in a second

The clock read 00:01.

The quarterback, number 10, stood on the sideline with one foot in the field of play and the other out of bounds, hands on his hips and his head down but his eyes up, listening to what the coach would say. His breath was rapid and made warm puffs in the cold air each time he exhaled.

Now the coach spoke and his breath made a paragraph of a cloud in the air as he explained what he wanted see number 10’s team do next. The coach removed his headset and pointed and 10 looked. The backup quarterback, number 4, leaned in and pointed too. Number 4, in a spotless uniform and covered up with a huge, full-length coat made his own big cloud with his opinion. Coach did not look at him. Neither did 10.

The coach added two more things as 10 turned to go back on the field before the referee could get to them and tell them to stop it. The quarterback stepped into the huddle, a circle of 11 men that his arrival completed. They all leaned in, to hear what the coach had envisioned, as relayed by 10. Puffs of warm air formed a circle above them. The frozen ground made a crunching sound as the eleven walked toward a football on the ground in front of another eleven. About half of each side rocked back on their heels, then rocked forward, bent, and put their hands on the ground.

From atop the stadium, the players helmets were obscured by the clouds of steam expelled by the two sides, which were poised for the inevitable collision, puffing like two opposed engines restrained by the brakes.

The ball was snapped and the collision came. The roar from 80,000 strong rose, pushing a gigantic ring of fog above the stadium. Number 10, ball in hand spun right and held the ball out with his left hand. A runner came up on the right and reached for the ball while the quarterback continued to spin clockwise. The runner’s arms clamped down and the quarterback withdrew his left hand and continued his spin.

The runner dove a bit above the colliding bodies before him and as he did more defenders rushed up to meet him above the fray. Another inevitable collision came to pass and players and officials and spectators tried to judge whether the ball had crossed the goal line.

It had not. For it was never in the arms of the runner. Number 10, who had spun away to the left while the runner dove right, carried the ball toward the goal and had almost perfectly open field in front of him. Almost.

From the edge of the collision at the line a defender spied the quarterback running in the open and began to pursue. He suspected that the ball was there. Now he saw the ball was there. He strained to recover the ground lost by the misdirection.

Another inevitable collision was coming. Another roar of thousands. Another huge cloud of steam. The quarterback dove. The defender dove. And now, not one puff of steam escaped from anyone.

The clock read 00:00.

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Why we watch

On Saturday I watched with great interest the Belmont Stakes. I wasn’t alone. More than 20 million people watched for probably the same reason I did. To see if American Pharoah could win the Triple Crown of horse racing for the first time in forty-some-odd years.

Tuesday night I tuned into MLB.TV to see if Chris Heston of the San Francisco Giants would no-hit the New York Mets. Because I’m a Giants fan? Or a Mets fan? No and no.

In both cases, what drove me to tune in was the story. Would we finally see a Triple Crown winner? Would we see a no-hitter? Fortunately, if you like sports stories, the answer in both cases was, “Yes!” These kinds of stories are a big part of why we watch sports.

Which brings me to the NBA Finals.

From the beginning, I have had a soft spot in my heart for the Golden State Warriors. I vaguely remember the Milwaukee Bucks winning the title in 1971 because the big story was the big kid in the center, Lew Alcindor. But the first Finals I actually took an interest in and watched was in ‘75 when the Warriors defeated the Washington Bullets. I was pulling for Coach Al Attles’ team then and I am pulling for their successors now.

Except.

Except the great sports story is what Cleveland has managed to pull off to this point in the series and the greater, head-exploding story would be if the Cavaliers somehow, someway, improbably pulled off the upset and won the title. If the Warriors win, it will be expected because they appear to be the deeper, more complete team. When they get rolling they are scary fast at putting points on the board. They led the league in victories this year and they have the league MVP, Stephen Curry. Cleveland, on the other hand, has LeBron James and a bunch of guys you never heard of. The Cavs employ two other stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but they are both injured and will not play in this series. So how is it that Cleveland leads the series 2-1?

There are a number of reasons, but this is not the time nor the place, nor am I the one to explain it. The point of this story is the story that is unfolding game by game and the improbable spot we have been brought to and the possibility, however remote, that something we all thought impossible might actually happen.

It’s why we watch.

Seahawks miss out on history

if we run it
then we win it
oh doggone it

I wrote those words shortly after the Seahawks failed to punch the ball into the end zone at the end of Super Bowl 49. (The Roman numerals are just stupid. That’s not nice, I know, but I’m not wrong.) The team I root for had a chance to win the NFL title and what they needed was to score from about the one-yard line with time running out.

(It just occurred to me that Commissioner Goodell could gain a measure of public goodwill if he would just make the change from Roman numeral to Arabic numeral designations for the Super Bowl. He could use a healthy measure of goodwill – it’s been a rough few months for him. He should do this.)

As you know, the winning touchdown did not occur. A Russell Wilson pass intended for Ricardo Lockette instead wound up in the hands of the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler which sealed a title for New England. Bleh.

(Here’s another thing: It’s hard to remember who won the championship in what year because the football season straddles the New Year, so if you ask about the champ of 1987, does it mean for the season that ran from September to December in 1987, or does it mean the Super Bowl played in 1987, which would be for the champ of the season which ran from September to December of 1986? And the numbering system is no help. It’s Roman numerals! Meanwhile, I can tell you the Mets won the World Series in ‘86 and the Twins won in ‘87. FIX THIS, GOODELL!)

The Seahawks have one of the very best running backs in the NFL, Marshawn Lynch, and it is widely held that the smart play would have been to hand him the ball a couple of times and pound it in. It is hard to imagine this approach failing. But even if it were to fail, that failure would be easier to stomach than an interception in the middle of the defense when the intended target is the third or fourth best receiver on the team. Bleh.

But more than losing a particular game, what bothers me is that an opportunity was lost. In the Super Bowl era, seven teams have won back-to-back championships. No team has won 3 in a row. The Seahawks, my favorite team, missed the chance to join the Packers, Dolphins, Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, Broncos, and Patriots as the only teams with this accomplishment. This would have put them on the short list of remarkable champions.

But they aren’t on that list.

And it is hard to see, from here anyway, when that chance would come around again.

Bleh