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Just Guarantee Me You'll Stop Making Guarantees

Note to members of radio, television and print media: in the world of sports, nothing is certain.

So in the name of Rasheed Wallace, stop making guarantees.

For me, this is a pet peeve along the lines of using the word literally for things that are not literally true. When I hear someone say they are “literally bursting with pride,” it figuratively makes me want to puke.

Too often, it seems sports journalists try to prove their knowledge by telling us what will happen, not what could happen or what is likely to happen. As much as I enjoy Tony Kornheiser, his assertions that such-and-such team has “no shot” to win just seem to strike a nerve these days.

Take the New England Patriots-Philadelphia Eagles game from Nov. 26. Multiple ESPN analysts said before the game that there was no chance for the Eagles to win. Literally none. Asked what the Eagles could do to keep things close, some suggested their only shot was for Tom Brady to get hurt on the way to the stadium — because of course there was no way for him to get hurt during the game, let alone play poorly.

Of course, the Eagles, 24-point underdogs, pushed the Patriots to the brink, thanks in large part to a three-touchdown performance from A.J. Feeley. This is the same A.J. Feeley who has a career passer rating of 69.6 and was released by Miami so they could upgrade to Gus Frerrotte.

Granted, the Eagles still lost, 31-28, but it certainly appeared they had a shot, unless you argue that that was the most ideal, perfect situation conceivable for the Eagles. Inexplicably, the next week, the talking heads were all quick to hand the Patriots another victory over Baltimore. Ron Jaworski was more generous than most, giving the Ravens a “one percent chance.”

In reality, there was about a one percent chance that every break would go the Patriots way on that final drive to save their undefeated season.

Last Saturday morning, Lee Corso was asked what Pittsburgh could do to beat West Virginia. According to Corso, there was nothing it could do — a win by Pittsburgh was not possible. Really? Three months after Appalachian State, with 20 fewer scholarships, traveled to fifth-ranked Michigan and won, Corso is telling us that there is no way a Division I-A team in a major conference, a bitter rival who was ranked in the top 10 in the country five years ago, could beat West Virginia? That’s not analysis, that’s just a prediction he’s trying to pass off as point of fact.

This raises a legitimate question: Is it possible that the media can truly affect the way a game plays out? It seems that a consensus on the outcome of a game would have a significant effect on both teams.

For the underdogs (who cannot possibly win), you’re giving them enough bulletin-board material so that any dissension and animosity within the team gets replaced, at least temporarily, with a burning desire to shove it in everyone’s face. At that point, even a pregame speech from Dave Wannstedt or Brian Billick gets you fired up.

For the favorites (who need to do nothing more to win than just show up on time), the expectations creep into their mind from the first time that anything goes wrong. Things that were minor disappointments, like punting on an opening drive or giving up a few early three-pointers, seem like major failures and create unnecessary frustration that can potentially get players to unravel.

Who knows? I could just be subconsciously wanting to believe that we in the media are more important than we really are. But I do know that with sports, we never really know what’s going to happen. I don’t need a Lou Holtz Pep Talk to know that they don’t play the games on paper.

My friends and I joke about players who say after a big win that “there was no way we were losing that game,” as if their determination alone made it absolutely impossible for the opposing team to win. Believe it or not, the other team did have a chance, regardless of how many of the opposing players “decided” prior to the game that they were going to win.

I recall a Skip Bayless column from two years ago about the NCAA Basketball National Championship game that included this the following: “I’m going to shout it from the ESPN mountaintop: The Gators have no idea what they're up against. And it won't matter if this winds up pinned on Florida's bulletin board. Somehow, some unpredictable way, UCLA will still win.”

Florida won by 16.

I guess the impossible happened. Literally.

Anders Larson Archive