Sunday, September 04, 2005

conjectures and refutations

From some novel I've read, I remember there being a character whose father had been a Russian seaman aboard a ship in the Baltic sea when the Russo-Japanese war broke out. The ship sailed around Scandanavia, around France and Spain, down the coast of Africa, around the horn, up the other coast of Africa, around Arabia, around India, around Siam and the rest of Southeast Asia, up the Chinese coast, to some point between Japan and Russia, by which point the sailors had been thinking about battle for months, were all pumped up and ready to kick some serious maritime ass. Instead, the ship was sunk in something like its first fifteen minutes of actual engagement with a Japanese vessel, and all hands but the father were lost.

This came to mind today in response to a story I had read about Boise State, which has only even been playing top-divison college football for 10 years but has had surprising recent (if modest) success, and their forthcoming game at the University of Georgia, one of college football's most prominent programs. (Don't worry, this post is not actually about college football.)
[Boise State coach] Hawkins believes. He believes Boise State ... is ready to advance its journey out of the gridiron backwater by beating the blue-blood Bulldogs in front of the largest crowd the Broncos have ever seen.
Indeed, he believes so much he has been preparing for this game since the end of last season, eight months ago. He had a training video made for his players that interspersed positive highlights of Boise State games with clips of Yoda, to ultimately emphasize the bit of dialogue after Yoda levitates a ship:
Luke says incredulously, "I don't believe it."
Yoda's matter-of-fact response: "That is why you fail."
And so, Coach Hawkins has been preparing his team. Examples:
Every day when the players take the field for practice, Ray [Charles's "Georgia"] welcomes them [over the loudspeakers]. As the game has gotten closer, the sound of his voice has produced excited yips and howls. And after being serenaded by Charles, the players are treated to an endless, ear-splitting barrage of Georgia crowd noise... This has been the riotous backdrop for every snap taken by the Boise offense, in an effort to acclimate it to the sonic bombardment from 90,000 fans.

In anticipation of Deep South humidity unlike anything Idaho can deliver, he's kept practices on the sunlight-sucking turf -- even as air temperatures neared 100 degrees and the on-field heat reached 120.

With Georgia on their minds, the Broncos pushed themselves relentlessly in summer workouts. Last year, the players ran the upper deck stadium steps every Tuesday, gradually increasing until they topped out at 16 ascents at the end. This year, the skill-position players topped out at 20 trips up the steps, and the linemen did 18.
The story was quite bullish on Boise State's prospects of defeating Georgia. After all, it sure sounded like the players really believed, just like Yoda. My own sinking suspicions piqued my interest enough that I've been monitoring the game on the web while doing stuff around my apartment. Georgia stormed out to a 38-0 lead and eventually won 48-13. Boise State committed six turnovers, the key measure of a team's defeating itself in addition to being defeated.

Moral: not only that beliefs only go so far, especially in endeavors that are tests of things much more objective than one's can-do spirit, but also that few things evaporate more quickly than the beliefs of young men that have had to spend a long time anticipating and fantasizing about their big chance to prove themselves but are then immediately confronted with contrary evidence about their prospects when that chance finally comes.

Update, next day: A recap of the game includes this detail about the psychological self-destruction of Boise State's star quarterback:
Boise State's Jared Zabransky had, and there's really no way around this, a brutal first half. The Broncos standout junior started out miserably, firing [an interception] on his first play, and things only got worse from there. He was intercepted four times and the Bulldogs dropped two other easy interceptions. Zabransky also fumbled twice before coach Dan Hawkins yanked him just before the end of the first half. [...]

Watching the game unfold, you had to feel for Zabransky. He is a playmaker and competitor, but the more he pressed, the worse things got. Hawkins conceded his star's struggles might have been due in part to the "anxiety curve." Then Hawkins shook his head and softly said, "a lot of pressure."
Yeah, the kind of pressure that maybe happens when you build something up for eight months that is essentially all heaved onto a 21-year-old kid's shoulders.


A+ said...

I'm depressed.

jeremy said...

My blog is trying to break your heart.

A+ said...

First the man, then the blog.