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Unexpected Events in Sports

By Gary F. Zeolla

 

Millions of people bet on sports, and fans and players often predict their team will win before a big game.  And sports commentators always give their predictions before a game. And individual athletes will even brag about how good they're going to do before an event. Some are even so sure their team will win that they "trash-talk" the opponents and their fans.

But I never bet on sports, and I never make predictions that "my" team is going to win, and I definitely never "trash-talk" the other team or its fans. And when I was competing in the sport of powerlifting, I never predicted how I was going to do before a contest. My reason is simple: too many "unexpected events" that are outside of the control of the athletes can happen that can change the course of a sporting event, or even an entire season. In this article I would like to describe some such unexpected events in sporting events I have watched, and that I experienced personally when competing.

 

The Weather

 

One of the biggest unpredictable things in any outdoor sport that can affect the athletes' performance is the weather. Heat, cold, rain, snow, and wind can all have an effect on a sporting event's outcome.

The most dramatic example of this I saw recently was in the Bengals vs. Patriots football game in Week 5 of the 2013 NFL season. My team, the Steelers, had a "bye" week. So I was watching this game as the Bengals are in the Steelers division, so I was, of course, rooting for the Patriots.

The Bengals were winning 13-6, when, with about four minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, it started to rain. But it was only a drizzle, and had little effect on the game. But then after the two-minute warning, the Bengals were forced to punt. That gave Tom Brady and the Patriots the ball back on about their own 30 yard line with less than two minutes left.

CBS put on the screen a graphic about Brady having orchestrated 42 gaming winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime. So the Patriots still had a shot. But it would require a lot of accurate passing to move the ball 70 yards in less than two minutes.

But just when the Patriots got set for their first play, "the floodgates of heaven opened up." I mean, it really started pouring. It was coming down so hard you could barely see the players. One of the announcers even commented that he had never seen it rain so hard at an NFL game.

Needless to say, the pouring rain seriously affected Brady's passing game. All of his passes were wobbly and off-target. But despite that, the Patriots still managed to move the ball down to about the Bengals' 30 yard line, thanks in part to a couple of Bengals' penalties.

Then with time running out, Brady threw the ball towards the end zone, but again, due to the pouring rain, the pass was wobbling and fell short. And in a great play, the Bengals defender tipped the ball then caught it as he was falling to the ground. The interception basically ended the game. But just then, just as the Bengals' defender hit the ground with the ball in his hands, it stopped raining!

Now who could have predicted that it would pour down rain for the exact amount of time that the Patriots had the ball in their final drive? Of course, there is no way of knowing if the Patriots would have been successful in the drive if it hadn't started pouring. But there's no doubt the rain seriously hindered their effort.

And even in indoor sports, the weather can have an effect. I found this out in a contest I entered on Labor Day, 2007. It was very hot outside, in the mid-80s with wall to wall sunshine. The contest was held in a high school cafeteria, so you would have thought it would be air-conditioned, but it wasn't.

The contest started at 9:00 am, but it dragged on into the middle of the afternoon. And as it did, it got hotter and hotter in the cafeteria. I had taken a half gallon water jug with me. But I drank all of it before deadlifts even started. Fortunately, I had the foresight to have had an extra gallon of water in my car. So I went out and filled my water jug before warming up for deadlifts.

But despite staying well-hydrated, the heat really was getting to me. I was used to working out in my air-conditioned home gym. So I was not acclimated to the heat.  As I was warming up for deadlifts, I felt just terrible, and weights felt very heavy. I still managed to get my first two deadlift attempts. But I missed my third attempt terribly. And there is no doubt in my mind that the heat had drained me, and caused me to miss that final lift.

 

Delays and Early Starts

 

Unexpected delays at the start of or during a sporting event can have a significant effect on it. Of course, the most common reason for a delay is the weather. But other unexpected events can also cause a delay. In the 2012 Superbowl, there was a 34 minute blackout at the New Orleans's Superdome.

Before the blackout, the Ravens were beating the 49ers 28-6 and looked like they were cruising to an easy victory. But the 34 minute delay somehow gave the 49ers time to regroup, and afterwards they put up 17 unanswered points. The Ravens still went on to win 34-31, but Ravens' fans blamed that blackout for giving the 49ers a chance to get back into the game.

Going the other way, at my final powerlifting contest in 2009, I was told before the contest that there would be two "flights" in the contest, and I would be in the second. By that is meant, there would be two groups of lifters, one following the other. The contest was scheduled to start at 9:00 am, but with being in the second flight, I figured I wouldn't start competing until about 10:00. So I timed when to consume my pre-contest drink and had my mind set on being ready to compete at 10:00.

But after I got to the event site at 8:30, I found out that several lifters had not shown up. So there was going to be only one flight. That threw my timing and mindset off. I had to immediately down my drink and start warming up. Normally, I time it to consume my drink about 45 minutes before I start warming up. If I had known I was going to compete at 9:00, I would have drunk my drink before I left my hotel room, and would have had it in my mind to start warming up as soon as I got to the contest venue.

But as it was, I simply wasn't mentally prepared to start warming up already. And I felt rushed through my warm-ups, and didn't have the time to mentally prepare for my first attempt. And then to really throw me off, as I was sitting and trying to mentally prepare myself for my first attempt, another competitor started trying to talk to me. I tried brushing him off, but he kept bugging me. That broke my concentration. It all added up to me missing my opening squat attempt. That was the only time I missed an opening attempt. I got my second attempt, but then missed my third attempt.

I was able to regroup and get back in rhythm for the rest of the contest, so benches and especially deadlifts went well, and I ended up winning Best Lifter at the contest. But the earlier than planned start-time and the interruption by the other competitor really screwed up the start of the contest for me.

 

The Officials

 

Another unexpected factor in sporting events is the officiating. Be they called umpires, referees, or judges, their calls can affect a game.

For instance, in game 3 of the 2013 NLDS between the Pirates and Cardinals, the home plate umpire's strike zone was way off. From the start of the game, he was calling pitches that were way out of the strike zone strikes. Francisco Liriano was the Pirates' starter, and he struck out the first batter he faced. But in fact, not a single pitch had been in the strike zone. It should have been a four-pitch walk.

You could tell this as TBS kept their "strike zone grid" on the right side of the screen during the entire game. Personally, I found that to be rather distracting, as I kept looking at the strike zone grid rather than the actual batter.

But be that as it may, the strike zone grid clearly showed that many pitches that were way outside the strike zone were being called strikes. Even worse, was when two pitches in a row were in the exact same spot, but the first was called a strike and the second a ball. But at least the umpire was equally terrible for both teams, so it probably didn't affect the outcome.

But for this reason, many people are wondering why the MLB doesn't just eliminate the home plate umpire and have the computer call balls and strikes. I doubt that will happen anytime soon, but it will probably happen eventually. As the more tech savvy younger generation grows up, they will probably push for just about all officiating to be determined by computer rather than fallible humans.

In fact, the MLB already has plans for 2014 to expand the use of instant replay and follow the NFL's lead and institute a "Challenge" system for mangers to be able to challenge umpire calls by looking at instant replay. But that doesn't guarantee that the correct call will be made.

In a game early in the 2013 season, the Pirates' Travis Snider hit a ball over the "Clemente Wall" (the right field fence, which is 21' feet high). A fan tried to catch it, but he flubbed it, and knocked the ball back onto the field.

The umpires did not call it a home run, so Snider only ended up at second base. The Pirates' manager, Clint Hurdle, objected. So the umpires went into the replay booth and took five minutes looking at the video. The replay clearly showed that the ball went above and past the home run line before the fan touched it.

However, the umpires still ruled it "fan interference" and Snider had to stay at second base, so all that came out of the wasted time looking at replays was for the fan to be tossed from the game. The irony was, if the fan had actually caught the ball, it probably would have been called a home run, and the fan wouldn't have gotten in trouble.

As for my former sport, in powerlifting the biggest area where the judges play a part is in judging depth on squats. By rule, "The lifter must bend the knees and lower the body until the top of the thigh at the hip, NOT the hip joint, is lower than the top of the kneecap" (IPA Rulebook).

This simple rule is applied in a very inconsistent basis throughout powerlifting. Squats are passed in some contests that wouldn't even come close to passing in others. And you never know until you get into a contest what the judging is going to be like. That is why I recommend in my powerlifting book, that lifters make their first squat attempt extra light so they can sink it lower than is probably needed just to be sure to get that first squat passed. After that, you can watch the other lifters to see what the judging is like, and then adjust your depth accordingly for your next two attempts.

But even with following that advice, there was several times in my powerlifting career when I had squats turned down that I thought for sure were good. For instance, at the above mentioned Labor Day contest, my third squat attempt was a very hard fought all-out effort. And the crowd was really cheering when I came up with the weight, until the lights on judges' board appeared, showing the lift was turned down. There was a collective groan from the audience. And afterwards, I had many lifters telling me they thought the lift was good. Even the president of the IPA said to me, "It was very close." And his tone gave me the impression that he thought the lift should have been passed.

But I had to put that bad call out of my mind and focus on the next lift, benches. And I was obviously able to do that, as benches went very well. I got all three of my attempts, with the third being a personal and IPA record.

In any case, despite the controversy on judging squat depth, there are no plans to use instant replay or some kind of technology to judge squats in powerlifting, at least at this time. But I know many times I have thought of how there must be some way to use technology and eliminate all of the controversy.

 

Injuries

 

Injuries are a part of sports. They can happen to anyone at any time. And having a key player injured can change the outcome of a game, or even a team's entire season. This so far has been the case with the Steelers' 2013 season.

In the Steelers' first drive of the first game of the season, Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers three-time Pro-Bowl center, was injured. He tore his ACL and MCL, requiring surgery. As a result, he is out for the season. The Steelers lost that game and, as of this writing, every game since. So the Steelers are starting 0-4 for the first time since 1968.

The reason for the horrible start is at least in part due to this injury, as it has been deficiencies in the offensive line that have hampered the Steelers all season. Both their running and passing game have been adversely affected without Pouncy in there. But no one could have predicted a season-ending injury would happen to such a key player in the very first drive of the season.

As for myself, I never sustained an injury during a powerlifting contest. But in December 2007, I strained my right hamstring in training. That forced me to cancel my plans to enter a bench-deadlift contest in January. And when I saw the results of that contest, I was really bummed. I probably would have won Best Deadlifter. But I had to forget about that, rehab the injury, and prepare for a contest later in 2008, and that contest ended up going very well.

I have a whole chapter on “Dealing with Injuries” in my powerlifting book. In it, I discuss in detail how I rehabbed that injury and what an athlete’s attitude in general should be when sustaining an injury, so I won’t repeat all of that here.

 

Conclusion

 

Trying to predict the outcome of sporting events is just foolish. It is also uncouth to trash-talk the opposing team or its fans. And betting on sporting events is as misguided as gambling in general. There are simply too many unpredictable variables in any sporting event to be able to accurately predict the outcome.

So root for your favorite team. But avoid making a fool of yourself by boasting how your team is going to "trash" the other team before the game even starts. And if an unexpected event causes your team to lose, don't whine about it. That's sports.

And if you are an athlete, train and compete hard, but don't be grandiose and brag about how well you're going to do before an event as many athletes do. You never know what unexpected event might happen to keep you from doing as well as you expect. And if an unexpected event adversely affects you during a competition, put it behind you, refocus, and do your best the rest of the competition.

 

Unexpected Events in Sports. Copyright 2013 by Gary F. Zeolla.



The above article initially appeared in the free FitTips for One and All email newsletter.

It was posted on this Web site October 12, 2013.

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