Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Why We Don’t Play to Win The Game

Posted by flyingbk on 09/13/2016

I’m a Chicago Bears fan. Allow me to explain why. When I was about seven years old, I picked the team who won the first game I watched in each sport. For the NBA, it was the Detroit Pistons, also known as the Bad Boys.


I have henceforth switched NBA teams, which is a long story for another time. For college basketball, I chose the Georgetown Hoyas (right after the Patrick Ewing era, and just before the Alonzo Mourning/Dikembe Mutombo Twin Towers era). For baseball, it’s the Mets, of course. I vividly remember watching my first baseball game on TV, a game the Mets won in Pittsburgh, 4-2, in 1985. That’s how I became a Mets fan.

Here’s the thing, though. A few years back, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and find the boxscore of that life-defining first contest. I fired up Retrosheet with eager anticipation. I specifically recall the Mets scoring 4 runs on 5 hits, and the Pirates scoring 2 runs on 4 hits (with no errors for either club).  That’s because I remember thinking at the end of the game that the announcers kept getting it wrong; the Mets were actually winning 5-4. After all, doesn’t the “H” in R-H-E stand for home runs??


That game doesn’t exist. I perused Retrosheet over and over, only gaining more certitude in each attempt that I would locate the right boxscore. The Mets did win in Pittsburgh, 4-2, in 1986. But that game was opening day, a detail that would be etched in my brain. And the hits and errors don’t add up, either. So: a) My specific memory is specifically wrong and it was a different game in 1985; b) The game I remember was actually opening day 1986; c) Retrosheet is wack. Yeah, it’s probably a or b.

Back to football. The first NFL game I watched (if my faulty memory is right this time) was Super Bowl XX, when the Bears trounced the Patriots, 46-10. Little did I know that when I chose the Hoyas, Mets, and Bears that ALL OF THOSE TEAMS would not win a championship since I’ve become a fan. It’s not likely to happen with Georgetown, and with the Bears, I’m not a die hard. I’m not greedy; I only want one Mets World Series title before I die.

All of this is a long-winded personal introduction to a play that took place in the Bears-Texans game on Sunday. The Bears led  14-13 in the third quarter and faced 4th-and-2 at the Texans 38-yard line. Bears coach John Fox chooses to punt, which is an absolutely horrendous decision. The Bears never score again (they don’t even cross midfield!), and they fall, 23-14.

Earlier in the game, Fox actually made the correct call. In the first quarter, up 7-0, the Bears faced 4th-and-1 at the Texans 31. He goes for it. Problem is, Jay Cutler fumbles the snap (it was most likely the center’s fault), and the Bears fail to convert. I’m speculating, but it is highly likely that this earlier failure colored Fox’s latter decision to punt. That’s simply poor decision making. The first call was right and even the sour taste of a fumbled snap doesn’t change that. Fox couldn’t stomach another failed decision; therefore he chose the safe route and punted.

Perhaps they lose anyway. But this kind of disappointment management, and hope and defense as a primary NFL coaching strategy that I wrote about yesterday, is so utterly pervasive in all sports. Watch any NFL game, and you’re guaranteed at least a couple preposterous punts and/or “take the points” decisions instead of going for a touchdown.

Two baseball writers, Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh, were given the opportunity to run an independent league baseball team (the Sonoma Stompers), and they wrote about their experiences in the book The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. It’s a terrific book that the casual baseball fan will enjoy and the nerdy baseball fan (like me) will devour. Late in the book, the Stompers are on the cusp of a championship and Miller muses about why he can’t escape the dread of losing:

Losing is the sad inverse of winning, and yet not so easily disregarded as an illusion; losing is ruining me. Why does losing cost me so much more happiness than winning provides? Because, I come to realize, losing is not only the absence of victory but also the expenditure of an opportunity for victory.

Ah, there it is. Losing is just the absolute worst. If you’re a sports fan, and your team loses, it’s devastating and you have trouble sleeping (I’m quite sure that I’ve still not over last year’s World Series). If you work so hard to land your dream job, and fail, it’s much more painful than the joy of actually getting that job. That’s because of opportunity cost.

Therefore, in attempts to ward off the specter of losing, we do whatever we can to manage the disappointment and downplay the opportunity cost. “It’s OK, I didn’t really want that job or to be with that person, anyway.”

That is precisely why NFL coaches make such passive and scaredy-cat decisions. Better to punt and forfeit the opportunity cost than to go for it and risk failure and loss.

That is precisely why I (and you) make poor decisions in life, managing my disappointment and often times being shy about any opportunity cost that may not lead to success. It’s an awful way to live.

More next time about this topic (yes, there is more, and yes, this is where I use the Bible).










One Response to “Why We Don’t Play to Win The Game”

  1. […] « Why We Don’t Play to Win The Game […]

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