12 Ways to Throw Away a Game
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Losing happens in many ways and at all different speeds in the world of sports.
Sometimes a game can get away from a team or athlete in what feels like slow motion. A series of small mistakes pile up and compound to become an unclimbable mountain of errors.
Other times it happens in a single instant. One mistake at a critical moment costs a team the whole burrito.
From questionable play calls to mental breakdowns and fudged follow-through, the following are a dozen full-proof ways a team or individual can grab their shot at victory by the short hairs and chuck it down a storm drain.
Lose Your Cool
Nothing good ever happens when a player loses control of his anger on the field, and Joshua Morgan’s petty retaliation against the Rams' Cortland Finnegan put the Redskins out of field-goal range and cost his team a win in Week 2 of this past season.
Relax, Joshua. This is what Cortland Finnegan does. He literally survives on a steady diet of rage—rage he instigates out of other people. Don’t give him a full meal.
Go Balls to the Wall, Sack to the Back Crazy
Nothing assures defeat more for a team or athlete than coming into a competition flat and unfocused.
But stepping onto the field of play rage-shaking and sweating adrenochrome is no way to guarantee a win either, as MMA newcomer James Thompson found out in his debut fight against Aleksander Emelianenko.
Before the match begins, the cameras close in on Thompson, eyes snapped wide and all aquiver with intensity. He stands there quaking with testosterone and pointing a cross-ring death stare at Emelianenko, who by contrast looks as though he’s pondering whether or not Long John Silver’s will still be open after the fight.
The bell sounds and Thompson flies out of the corner like a banshee, bull rushing Emelianenko and flailing mightily.
Surprised momentarily by the sheer ferocity of the attack, Emelianenko is bowled over toward the ropes, but he manages to keep his head. Thompson, on the other hand, only uses his head for opening coconuts. He continues his mindlessly risky offensive and ends up getting dropped with a few thunderous blows from Emelianenko.
The bout is over in a matter of seconds, providing us all with a valuable lesson of how important it is to balance intensity with planning and strategy in the world of sports.
Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch
There is no shortage of instances where athletes celebrate prematurely and pay the consequences, but few seem as completely egregious as this one.
Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis chucked a gold medal out the window at the 2006 Winter Olympic games after she began showboating in the final hundred meters of the race.
Looking back and seeing the next competitor well behind her, Jacobellis decides to throw a little SSX Tricky into her run and pull a celebratory method grab before hitting the finish line.
Jacobellis fudges the trick and eats snow, however, and ends up getting passed on the last jump.
Make Avoidable Mental Errors
Pressure builds on athletes during big games, but the last thing an athlete can afford to lose when the heat is on is their head.
Up two points late in the 1993 NCAA Championship game against the North Carolina Tar Heels, then-Michigan Wolverine player Chris Webber rebounds a missed free throw and a series of awkward and ultimately costly events occur.
Unable to pass the ball off, Webber travels blatantly and then takes the ball up the court only to run directly into a ball trap in the far corner.
Panicked and pressured, Webber calls a timeout the Wolverines don’t have and the result is a technical foul. The Tar Heels would nail several free throws and go on to win the national championship game 77-72, and Webber would provide a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping your wits about you in high-stakes situations.
Coast Toward the End of the Season
Maybe the postseason seems like a mathematical certainty. Maybe the team is hot off a big streak. Maybe the players let their good press go to their heads.
There are a million and one ways a good team can end up on a one-way tumble to Choke Town, but the Boston Red Sox and their 2011 slide out of the playoff picture has to be one of the most instructional in how to take yourself out of the game.
With a nine-game lead to win the American League East going into September, the Boston Red Sox had what can only be described as a mind-bending internal meltdown, losing 20 games over the course of the month.
Poor pitching and errors on the field were the obvious reasons for the meltdown, but internal issues involving their manager, Terry Francona, and allegations that the team’s pitchers were drinking beer and eating hot wings in the clubhouse during games were likely the root of their September slide.
Play ‘Not to Lose’
It’s a rather trite turn of phrase in the world of sports, but playing a game like your win is in the bag and you only need to maintain it is a very real pitfall for teams.
There are countless examples of highly favored teams playing games tentatively and losing as a result, but the most recent one would be the Denver Broncos holstering their guns at the end of the game and giving the Baltimore Ravens a trip to the AFC Championship on January 12th.
After some poor defending in the secondary (and a big sprinkling of Flacco luck), the visiting Ravens were able to fight their way into a tied game with the Broncos.
With 30 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense trotted out onto the field and took a knee on their own 20-yard line to send the game into overtime.
Broncos head coach John Fox explained his decision to run out the clock instead of attempt to get into field-goal range, saying, “It didn’t look like the right look... to go for the jugular right about then.”
Many believe Fox and the Broncos’ lack of bloodlust at the end of regulation came back to haunt them, as the game went into double overtime, with the underdog Ravens emerging victorious.
Then again, had the Broncos won, Fox would’ve been hailed as a genius. And that, my friends, is sports.
Piss off the Wrong Guy
It might not have been the Knicks’ fault, but their No. 1 fan, film director Spike Lee, ignited a powder keg of determination in the Pacers’ Reggie Miller when the two engaged in a back and forth war of words during Game 5 of the ’94 Eastern Conference Finals.
After Spike and Miller started jawing, the Indiana shooting guard went on a 25-point rampage in the fourth quarter that lifted the Pacers over the Knicks and wired Lee’s jaw shut, at least for a little while.
Fail to Do the Little Things
It’s easy to take the small stuff for granted, especially when it seems like a game is in the bag.
But little mental breakdowns can snowball into big things, and Tony Romo bumbling a hold for what would’ve been a short game-winning field goal kick in the 2007 NFC Wild Card game against the Seahawks.
The bungle cost the ‘Boys their title dreams and dropped a chunky monkey on Romo’s back that he hasn’t been able to pry off as of yet.
Completely Stop Trying
No one likes an overachiever, but giving five percent in the middle of a televised athletic competition doesn’t earn any friends, either.
Which is precisely what boxer Oliver McCall did in a 1997 heavyweight bout against Lennox Lewis.
After taking several rounds of bullying by Lewis, McCall inexplicably begins roaming the ring in the middle of the third round, hands at his sides, seemingly unwilling to defend himself.
The commentators initially believed McCall was perpetrating some sort of gimmick in an attempt to goad Lewis into making a mistake, but it eventually becomes clear that something isn’t right with the boxer.
McCall continued to sleepwalk through the match, and evidence of the boxer’s mental breakdown fully surfaces after the end of the fourth round when he begins weeping as he returns to his corner.
As one could believe, issues outside of the ring had been haunting McCall in the time leading up to the bout, and the fight was called in favor of Lewis when McCall continued his extremely dangerous “no-contest” style of not-boxing in the fifth.
In all seriousness, sports may be your livelihood, but they shouldn’t be placed above your actual life.
Underestimate Your Opponent
The best coaches tell their team and the media the same thing for every week—we take this season a game at a time, and we prepare for each team with the same amount of intensity and fire.
But that doesn’t always pan out, and players for top programs can easily let their own hype go to their heads and start writing off games against weaker opponents on their schedules as easy W’s.
The University of Michigan’s football team committed this crime of cockiness all too egregiously in 2007. The Wolverines showed up to play the Appalachian State Mountaineers and assumed they would run them off the field before halftime.
The Wolverines were so convinced they’d wipe up the rinky-dink Mountaineers that a large number of the players went out the night before and partied, and it’s been reported that several even went as far as getting stoned prior to kickoff to see if they could get messed up and still “drop 50 on these fools.”
Needless to say, the “Half Baked” meets college football plot they had figured would play out didn’t exactly boil down how they expected, and the Mountaineers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
Think Past the Game
Golfer I.K. Kim illustrated in agonizing fashion why you have to play every minute of the game or match of an athletic event with the same care and diligence, even when it seems as though the results are already in the book.
With a single short putt being the only thing standing between her and winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship golf tournament, Kim lost focus and rimmed out a one foot tap-in on the 18th. That sent her to a playoff, where she would fall to Sun Young Yoo.
Don’t Take the Shots Given to You
It was the Greek philosopher Plato who once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
That’s a bald-faced lie, actually, but an honest-to-God truth is that Ilya Kovalchuk gave his New Jersey Devils a zero percent chance to beat the Buffalo Sabres by botching to get off this penalty shot that could’ve kept his team in the game.
I know these shots aren’t automatic by any stretch of the imagination, but Kovalchuk literally didn’t give the Devils a shot to pick up the win.