NEXT TIME WE SAY IT’S A SURE THING …

There’s a great NFL commercial these days. It shows fans making bold statements back in September, like, “Chad Johnson? Never heard of him,” and “First thing I would do … is fire Mike Holmgren.”

It’s so easy to look stupid in retrospect.

Problem is, we’re looking stupid a lot lately. Wasn’t it just a blink ago that we were hailing the Indianapolis Colts as maybe the best single-season team of all time? Weren’t we crowing about their chances at a perfect record? Wasn’t this a franchise whose time had come?

Well, its time came, all right. It came to an end – last weekend, in a fizzled exit to Pittsburgh. The Colts, who we once thought would win 19 straight, couldn’t win a single playoff game.

What about the Southern Cal Trojans? Many thought they could sleepwalk to the national championship. Matt Leinart? Reggie Bush? Pete Carroll? Nobody could stop them.

Nobody except Texas.

Last September, most of us figured the Yankees or Red Sox – maybe the St. Louis Cardinals – would win the World Series. Few believed in the Chicago White Sox.

But when the smoke cleared in October, the White Sox not only won the Fall Classic – they took it in a sweep.

And how many of us had the Phoenix Suns and their league-best 62 victories going all the way in the NBA last year – until they got squashed by the Spurs in five games?

Time to get our stories straight.

The real reasons for winning and losing

On ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” on Sunday, one of my colleagues said the Colts would “blow out” the Steelers by 20 points. Another said we’d see an emotional victory by Indianapolis. I predicted Indy would be ahead early. We all seemed so right.

How could we be so wrong?

I think some of it has to do with hot air. Mine. Ours. As the sports world has exploded, we’ve gotten so caught up in predictions, analysis, talk shows and the Internet that we act as if sports is a Rubik’s Cube. All you have to do is be the first one to solve it.

The truth is, not every big game can be solved. Unlike a math equation, you can’t just keep filling chalkboards until you finally come to an indisputable conclusion.

What happened Sunday to the Colts was a combination of football and emotion. On the football side, they got pushed around by a blitzing Pittsburgh defense and a slinging Pittsburgh offense. On the emotional side – who knows? Maybe they were overconfident? Rusty? Nervous? Still shaken by the Tony Dungy tragedy?

These are elements you can’t predict – colors that don’t appear on the Rubik’s Cube. But they have more to do with winning and losing than 1,000 pounds of chalk.

No predictions until the final gun

And then there’s the hype. Nobody’s really good anymore, they’re great. Nobody’s less-than average, they stink. It’s not fashionable to talk in gray tones. Can you imagine sports columnists or talk-show hosts saying, “Well, they’re both good; we’ll have to wait and see”?

No, we want to assure you that Syracuse is no match for Kansas in the 2003 NCAA basketball finals (Syracuse won) or that Charles Rogers, the second player taken in the 2003 NFL draft, is a sure bet to turn the Lions around (he wasn’t).

We want it loud, fast, confident. One of the new gimmicks in football broadcasting is the instant poll in which viewers are asked to vote, as the game is going on, on whom they think will win.

This isn’t helping.

On the other hand, maybe those two feuding New York Knicks players had it right. Remember when Nate Robinson came after Malik Rose for not paying up his Eagles-Seahawks bet? And Rose told reporters that he changed his mind during the game, which was OK, because “all bets aren’t good until halftime.”

Now if we could just get that pushed to the fourth quarter. …

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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