I was watching the Arkansas Razorbacks - Ole Miss basketball game on television Saturday night. It was played in Oxford, Mississippi and the home-standing Rebels had come back to take the lead and seemingly grab a victory in the final few minutes. But with a 125 seconds left. Arkansas was down by three and one of their more unreliable free throw shooters was at the line for two shots. In most situations, you would think it was likely for Alandise Harris to make one out of two, allowing Ole Miss to keep a two point margin. Instead, he makes them both to cut the lead to one. Still not a bad situation for the home team. However, unlike the shooting clinic Ole Miss put on in a victory over Arkansas in Fayetteville earlier in the season, the Rebels failed to connect, giving the Hogs a chance to take the lead. Arkansas has one of the twenty finalists for the John Wooden award in Bobby Portis and a human highlight reel in Micheal Qualls. Guess who scored what turned out to be the winning bucket? It was reserve guard Manuale Watkins, sinking a five footer with 6.4 seconds left. Still, the game was clearly winnable for Ole Miss, but instead of taking a timeout, coach Andy Kennedy let the team play on and ultimately couldn't sink a basket, losing by a point.
It got me to thinking about just how close some of these contests are, and it's not just a basketball game now and then. Luck, which a number of fans would maintain is not real, seems to have an effect on sports a lot. First, of course, I should define what luck is, or perhaps what it isn't. Luck isn't Phil Mickelson yanking a tee shot into the rough, then making another bad decision to lose a U.S. Open. But Luck is being the guy who is the beneficiary of such a high-profile meltdown by a prominent opponent. I would maintain that over a period of time, however, we could have expected Phil Mickelson, like Nancy Lopez and Sam Snead before him, to have prevailed in at least one U.S. Open. But they never did, despite an overwhelming number of victories in other tournaments. The odds would dictate that it would have happened, at least for one of them. That's bad luck.
And what about the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills in the NFL? Both teams lost four Super Bowls and in a fairly short number of seasons, at that. The Vikings lost four times in eight years and the Bills were beaten in consecutive seasons. Of course, one could maintain that Minnesota went up against four of the premier franchises, thus those defeats were likely. However, I can also maintain that those teams were deemed great after they defeated the Vikings. Had Minnesota won just one of those games, the legacy of Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton and company would surely have been viewed differently, and perhaps the Steelers and Dolphins wouldn't be viewed in the same light. The same can also be said for the Bills. An argument could be made that the Bills were fortunate to have even been in at least two of those games. But they definitely had the better team in 1991 when Scott Norwood's potential game-winning field goal against the Giants bounced off an upright for a miss instead of going through for three points. Was the miss unlucky? Probably not, since the Bills were a couple of yards outside Norwood's range. But the result surely was, considering that ball could have bounced either way.
And the list can go on. How about Ivan Lendl failing to win at Wimbledon, Bjorn Borg shut out in the U.S. Open? Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never winning the PGA Championship? The Detroit Lions not even getting close to a Super Bowl, much less winning one? Of course the greatest run of bad luck has to go to the Chicago Cubs, 107 years removed from their last World Series crown and 70 years since their last appearance in the event. Really? How is that even possible? At least during their run of futility, the Red Sox had some flashes of brilliance and specific instances of bad luck. But the Cubs have just pretty much stank for the duration of their drought, with the exception of the 1969 team that blew a 9 1/2 game lead over the Mets in the last six weeks. Not only did they blow the margin, they ended up eight games behind New York, a monumental collapse.
I could surely go on, perhaps even write a book on the subject, but you get my point. Luck plays a role in sports, and it makes it more entertaining for all of us, even if you're a Cubs fan.
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK
Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel",
available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.