Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One Play Does Not a Game Make


Last Sunday night was the Canadian Football League's championship game. One of very own ultimate players works for the CFL head office (Let's call him "Loic") so it is great to see the league doing so well and being so popular in Canada. 6.1 million viewers watch the final game of three down football in 2009.

The Montreal Alouettes won the game with a 28-27 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This was Montreal's 7th appearance in the cup final this decade, and had only won once before in six tries. If they didn't win, I was going to write an article asking you readers if great players whose teams don't win are still great. (Jim Kelly and Dan Marino anyone?)

After a somewhat quiet first three quarters, the game picked up and saw Montreal come back froma 27-11 deficit to win the game on the final play of the game.

Pretty normal stuff right? But for those of you who didn't watch the game.. here's where it gets tricky.
  • On the final play Montreal's kicker (Damon Duval, who set a league record for points in a season this year) misses a 43 yard kick.
  • Saskatchewan celebrates their win
  • Flags are down amid celebration
  • Saskatchewan has too many players on the field for the final play. 10 yard penalty and another chance for Montreal.
  • Montreal boots the 33 yard field goal and wins the Grey Cup
So, this is probably the only time in professional sports both teams thought they won the championship. Replays clearly show the Roughriders had too many men on the field. There was no arguing the call.

The news headlines and TV coverage were pretty consistent: 'One big mistake costs Grey Cup'. But was that really the case? Was it just one penalty that decided the game?

We are guilty of this same type of analysis in ultimate. We often point to a single play as the "TSN Turning Point". That big d block "turned the tide" or "made the difference". It's simply not true.

Blaming a loss on one player making one play/mistake is very unfair. When you blow a 27-11 lead in a football game or a 14-10 lead in ultimate, there were many wrong things that lead to the loss. The defence failed to stop the opponent. The offence stopped scoring. Players allowed one play to get into their game and distract them.

Conversely, I also get disappointed from the overused word "clutch". Somebody can miss 70% of their shots in a basketball game, but if they hit a game winning shot at the buzzer they are clutch. Would the game have needed that shot had the player made more of their shots earlier?

Why should we try to avoid judging a game by one play?

The consequences can be heavy. It's a heavy burden to bear for the person that is at fault. It can also lead to overvaluing someone who makes a key positive play.

Look no further than Bill Buckner. Buckner had a stellar Major League Baseball career and made it to an All Star game. However, he and his name is now synonymous with one error in the 1986 world series. It doesn't matter that the team had another game to make up for that play and lost game 7, he is still the goat.

Right now the Saskatchewan team refuses to identify who was at fault for the play. They don't want someone to be labeled and I salute them for that. I hope ultimate teams behave in such a manner when the unfortunate happens.


Gary said...

I remember playing in the open final one year at Flowerbowl. It was near the end of the game (possibly universe point) and our team had just missed a scoring attempt from inside the brick. One of the opposing players picked up the frisbee, walked it to the corner and put it down.

Of course, our whole sideline erupted yelling "turn over!" We managed to score off of that turnover and win the game.

lank89 said...

see this is a tough call...i would agree with this article if the Riders win and people were trying blame the Al's kicker for missing the field goal then you can use the argument that they could have scored earlier, held the Riders to less points, got him close to make the field goal easier...im sure there are a few other points as well...
but the sad fact is that if that play hadnt happened that way and they had 12 players on the field they win the game (assuming the 13the player didnt effect the outcome of the kick somehow...butterfly effect type situation)

but what do i know, im just procrastinating from writing an essay

Sport Management Steven said...


135 total plays in the Grey Cup game. The penalty was bad I will admit, but I have to think there are many other things in the game that did not help the Riders

-Luca Congi misses a field goal
-QB threw two INTs
-WR drops, missed tackles, etc

Unrelated, You should check to see if you can take Strategy + Tactics course from Prof Eric Buckholz.. see if there is an undergrad class.

lank89 said...

Yes there were other ways in which they could have INSURED their win, keeping their offense on the field and running out the clock being one of them as well as defense stopping them earlier. No denying that. i'm just saying that penalty could have negated all the previous points if no penalty occured. They had done enough earlier in the game to still win, had they not done that.

Eric St-Amant said...

Great article Steven but I must disagree with your talk about clutch players in clutch moment. Prior to Sunday, the Alouettes had won 1 out of 6 Grey Cups in the last decade despite Calvillo's phenomenal stats year after year. Had they lost this year and Calvillo would have been the greatest choker in football history. He suddenly began to perform in the second half when Trestman started to lead the offence from the sideline and to use Coburne to his full potential. In my mind, Calvillo is clearly not a clutch player because he collapsed in high pressure situation in many occasions.

The same applies for Duval. The guy is named the best kicker of the league for the second year in a row and is nominated on the all-start team at 2 positions: field goals and punts. What happened that game for him to miss 2 punts (actually 3 if you add the one he kicked too far to give the Riders 1 point) and a 43 yard three-pointer? Not to mention that the winning field goal was everyhting but convincing, just long and high enough to make it through the posts. On the punts he missed, there was no extra pressure nor the situation was critical. Yes the Als were behind but nothing of his fault. He would have normally kicked the ball 60 yards downfield and hoped the team did the rest of the job. The fact of the matter is that he too collapsed under the pressure and will be marked forever by the image of this punt going 15 yars forward and out of bounds. Luckily, his team won and everybody will forget the missed field goal. He will have a job next year!

In the end, the Impact won over Vancouver in the USL, the Als won over Saskatchewan in the CFL and the Habs... Well, let's not talk about the Habs!

Sport Management Steven said...

Our Habs our not good right now Eric. That's a whole new topic.

I think Montreal has made it to so many finals because their route to the championship has always been very easy this decade. Hamilton has sucked for a decade.. Winnipeg has sucked for a decade, Toronto was only good for a brief period, and the ill fated Ottawa franchise was terrible. Montreal played these teams in the regular season and beat them easily. They easily got a bye to the semis and got an easy opponent. They then went into the Grey Cup and faced a better and more tested West opponent. It seemed like an upset because their record was so strong.. but their performance leading up to the championship was inflated.

As for clutch... if you're saying someone is clutch, you're also saying they are not trying their best at all times, which is a bit of a insult.

As for the Montreal kicker Duvall (who had a mere 7 yard punt) I would say that he did play below his ability in that game. I believe in people being "chokers" over being "clutch". He did make the big kick, but he also played well below his average in that game.

Granted.. when the best play the best, production for the players expectantly goes down (Even Michael Jordan had lower productivity in the postseason than he did in the regular season).

Eric St-Amant said...

Your analysis of "choker" vs "clutch" is probably more accurate, but I would argue that calling someone clutch does not neccessarly disqualify them from playing at their best at all times. In any sport, you expect your best players to play well every game, but the reality is they will go through some tougher times and will have bad games. I think a clutch player is a player that never or rarely experience a bad game when it really matters. Take the example of Phil Mickelson. He was for a long time consider the best golfer to never win a major. He holds the record for the most second place finishes in US open history. Nevertheless, he won 37 PGA Tour titles and is the second-highest paid athlete in the World. When you look at it, you can say Mickelson is a choker or that he is not "clutch". In my opinion, he does not like being called either one! Always fun to discuss with you Steven. Keep up the good work.

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