Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Only Friend...

So, this may be it for the blog, as I've signed on to to be the resident crank and insane raver over there about sports. While I may dable my way back over here when the need to deconstruct some non-sports topic arises, you can find me at the link to the right about once a week for the maniacle ravings you have come to know and love under my current pseudonym. Also, feel free to use my link as much as you like (hint, hint) and the links on the side. Well, until next time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The curse of the mean is its variance...

That's right, I'm going there. I'm busting out a piece of econometric wisdom to title a super bowl obit. At least, I think it is econometric wisdom. Quite frankly, if it isn't, it should be, because it just has such a nice ring to it. Granted, I've never heard anyone else use the expression except me, and it is clever enough that I might actually have thought of it on my own. You know what? Screw it:

"The curse of the mean is its variance" -Fletcher Austin McGuffin

So, what the hell does this mean? Well, as anybody that had a bunch of NASDAQ stocks at the turn of millenium will tell you, just because the stock market averages a cool 10.8% return per year doesn't mean you'll get that average year in and year out. We live in a world of density forecasts, not of point forecasts. The world exists around the mathematical ideal that all things are possible, if just not probable.

For example, I can tell you that you are an idiot for playing the lottery with its astronomical odds against. Yet, if you do somehow win, does that suddenly make me the idiot? Well, honestly, I'd still say "no". Just because somebody I know wins the lottery doesn't mean I'm going to start, because in many ways it is still a losing proposing for me.

Which is not to say that the results of the super bowl were as random as the Giants winning the lottery. Far from it, in fact. But I still stand by my assertion that there was about a 1/3rd chance of a Pats blowout, a 1/3rd chance of Pats close win, and a 1/3rd chance of a Giants close win. Just because the Giants won, does that suddenly mean that I'm an idiot for saying that beforehand? Well, that's debatable, but I'd like to think that there are plenty of other reasons for suggesting I'm an idiot and a defensible prediction about the Super Bowl is not the last shred of evidence needed to be the last push to confirm my idiocy.

Look, I'm not trying to say the Pats were the better team, or that the Giants got lucky, or that the Super Bowl is invalid (which I've actually heard a few people say to varying degrees). The Giants won, the Pats lost, and now everyone and their sister is scrambling to discount the Pats first 18 games and figure out how a 10-6 team felled a team that was poised to be in the argument for the greatest ever. What I'm saying is that this is not necessary. The beauty of the game of football is the "any given Sunday", "decide it on the field", "winner take all" drama/cliche ordeal. In baseball, hockey, and that sport with the hoop, they play 5 or 7 games to determine the best team because the margins of talent are so thin. In football, especially when dealing with a perfect record, all it takes is one bad day, one dropped interception being caught, one helmet catch bouncing on the turf or one great escape turning into a sack, one man-on-man pass defended on a big blitz, and suddenly the Pats are still in the discussion of the best team ever. One 4-13 completion or better yet a 50-yard FG that puts the game into overtime instead of a loss. Would we really have such different views of both of these teams if one of Brady's last-second bombs were completed and the Pats kicked the tying FG and ended up winning?

Probably. But should we? Probably not. My whole point is not that one team is better than the other. Because "better" implies some sort of ordinal ranking that is definitive. More so than any other sport. The Giants are the champs, and that is really the assertion that matters. At this point, discussions of quality really are attempts to forecast something that has already happened, and that is the nature of the game. Sure, in baseball you have hitters who are better with fastball than breaking pitches, or lefty-righty matchups, etc. But, really, there is not a whole lot of strategy. There aren't many areas where scheme comes into play. Not so in football. It isn't so easy to say, "well, A beat B, and B beat C, so A should beat C." Maybe C's scheme is going to give A fits. And that is where the fun of the sports comes in, even when you are on the wrong end of it. Looking over the league, who would have thought that the three most challenging games the Pats had all year would come from the Ravens and the Giants (twice)? That is just the way it goes.

Now I know this is all very Zen, I'm sure, but it doesn't stop a bunch of my bratty 516s from showing up to my classes wearing 18-1 shirts. And, ultimately, what is my point? I've meandered aimlessly from half-justification to half-justification, with no clear direction or central point to the argument. Well, unfortunately, that is my point. This is my path of correcting the cognitive dissonance of the exhausting and ultimately unsatisfying journey to Super Bowl loser. This is the way I've come to grips with a quizzical gameplan, a flat and almost disinterested team that forgot to use its greatest strength from the year until the final TD drive: its usual adaptibility and its penchant for the big play on defense. There are so many angles, so many storylines attempting to reconcile the internal validity of the game wih external validity of the teams. But, really, there isn't any, and it is crushing in so many ways that only sports can be, with the combination of desire hinging on, and complete impotence over, the result rather than the journey.

The question becomes: where do I go from here? And I do mean "I", because there isn't much I can do about my team. In some way, I'll try and remember that my self-indulgent voyuerism of sports came from somewhere. And that somewhere began with Raymond Barry, Rod Rust, and Dick Macpherson. It began with Steve Grogan and Doug Flutie, Marion Butts and Tony Collins. And I've been here before, left with a winter stinging from a Super Bowl loss, wondering how my beloved coach could betray such a big game (though a poor gameplan is easier to cope with than Parcell fleeing to the Jets), that our star quarterback could perform so poorly on such a big stage (though one fumble hardly equals 4 Bledsoe interceptions). It has been a strange road to this point.

And I have to be pleased. Sure, there is always that "what could have been" voice in the back of my head. But after suffering through Pete Carrol's reign of terror, Billichek's 5-11 debut, and the aging roster brimming with mediocrity pushing hard against the salary cap, if you told me the next 7 seasons would see 7 winning records, 6 playoff berths, 5 years in the AFC Championship, 4 superbowl appearances, 3 wins, 2 years as reigning champs, 1 perfect regular season (not to mention 21 consecutive wins), and a partridge in a pear tree, I'd have taken it in a heartbeat. Especially since, despite the need for a revamped linebacker corp and secondary, the team still looks tough moving forward and has a top 10 draft pick. Things are not all bad, even if perspective comes at the expense of the betrayed expectations of 8 days ago.

So, now, with the end of the season of the greatest Patriots team I've ever seen with my own eyes, all that remains it to is to quote the greatest pitcher I've ever seen with my own eyes: "I tip my cap and call the Giants my daddy." C'est la sports.


As a side note, congrats to frequent reader and one-time roommate Steady B. In the space of a week, he saw his beloved baseball team pick up the best pitcher on the planet for a few pieces of roster detritus and his beloved football team pull of one of the greatest football upsets in history. The bastard.