The Best Team Will Win
In 1977, a good friend and colleague finally grew weary of my near constant tirade about the misfortunes, bad breaks, and outright official thievery that seemed to accompany so many University of Kentucky Wildcat losses, particularly on the gridiron. FN1 One day, Luke snarled that I should stop my whining. “Don't you understand,” he said, “the best team always wins.” I obviously did not understand. Rather, I was searching for someone, anyone really, who would validate my view of these seemingly unfair, inexplicable outcomes.
Why does the Kentucky football team lose so many games in the waning moments, but seldom, if ever, win a game in this fashion? FN2 How can a team lose a game by allowing its opponent to advance the football nearly 90 yards on two consecutive pass interference penalties and then watching their opponent kick the winning field goal even though time expired during the second pass interference play? FN3 How can a potential game-winning Kentucky drive against Tennessee end within reach of the goal line when a Tennessee linebacker in full stride intercepts a lateral pitch in the Kentucky backfield and runs over 90 yards untouched to clinch the game? FN4
The most recent chapter in this litany of Kentucky football losses occurred in 2002. A superior LSU team was on the brink of a loss with only 15 seconds to play in the game. This final, fateful LSU possessions followed a Kentucky field goal that gave Kentucky a 3-point lead. However, LSU's 75 yard, hail-Mary desperation pass succeeded at the buzzer. FN5
How can a basketball team leading by 31 points in the second half on their home court lose? FN6
In a couple of words, talent deficits; deficits in players, depth, coaching, and tradition make the difference.
Certainly, no person can predict the outcome of every individual college football or basketball game, regardless of the relative strength and weakness of the teams or the quality of information available about the teams. Upsets occur and these upsets provide fans a source of unending hope, excitement, and pride. They also provide the fans of dominant teams a healthy dose of humility.
Upsets form the essential ingredient in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. Each year, the lower seeded teams win about one out of every four games. These "upsets" support the “March Madness” moniker. However, over the course of a season, indeed over the course of the six round NCAA tournament, quality players and coaches always prevail, just as Luke Snell insisted over a quarter century ago.
Two dependable story-lines occupy prominent ink and talk during every NCAA tournament. The dependable rash of inexplicable upsets coupled with the emergence of a true champion, tested under fire on six consecutive games. These story-lines have worked together to make the NCAA tournament an annual classic that nearly all fans respect.
It determines the true champion for the season, because, in the end, the best team will win!
1. Luke Snell is a graduate of Oklahoma University , rich in tradition of winning football over many years. I worked with Luke for 3 years in Nashville between 1976 and 1978.
2. Those who follow Kentucky football have been frustrated many times by losses in the final minutes, indeed seconds of games against superior teams.
3. In the Superdome in New Orleans , Kentucky led Tulane by 1 or 2 points with only a few seconds to play after Tulane received a Kentucky punt inside its own 10 yard line. The first play was an attempted pass across the middle of the field near mid-field, incomplete. However, the an official determined that a collision between the receiver and a defensive back was pass interference even though both players appeared to play the ball. The next play was a pass attempt deep into Kentucky territory near the right sideline with the same result as before and with no time left on the game clock. Since a game can't end on a defensive penalty, Tulane had one more play, a successful field goal for the victory.
In the aftermath of this football game, the NCAA changed the rules, and today a pass interference penalty is a maximum penalty of 15 yards from the previous line of scrimmage, or the point of the foul, whichever is less.
4. This game occurred at Stoll field while I was a student in 1967-71. I was sitting in the end zone, and the play occurred right in front of my position. The Tennessee linebacker came through the line of scrimmage untouched, caught Bernie Scruggs pitch-out in full stride, and never looked back. No Kentucky offensive player had the speed to catch the Tennessee linebacker.
5. In this game, Kentucky had the ball and one time one remaining but rather than allowing the clock to run down such that the field goal play would be the last play of the game, a Kentucky player “panicked” and called time out with about 15 seconds remaining. Therefore, Kentucky was required to put the ball back in play with a kick-off. Then, on what would seemingly be the last play of the game from the LSU 25 yard line, a completion in the field of play followed by a tackle would be sufficient to secure the victory. The impossible occurred when the desperation pass was batted in the air and caught on the run by a nearby LSU player who ran into the end zone for the winning touchdown with no time remaining.
6. The famous “never give up” game at LSU illustrates the Snell principle very well. Talent prevailed in the end.
Copyright 2004 Richard Cheeks