Column: You still play to win the game
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 11:11
You can have your Halloween candy, you can take your NBA tip-offs and you can even keep your NHL puck drops (then again, owners please give them back to the fans—they’ve had enough). The end of October means just two, glorious things to me:
College basketball nearing again and the anniversary celebration of former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards bellowing his infamous rant on the sporting obvious.
You know what I’m talking about.
Stuck then at 2-5 after a bad loss to the Browns, the 2002 Jets were downtrodden while preparing for a smoking hot 6-1 Chargers team. With his club’s playoff chances shrinking faster than Megan Fox’s current celebrity, New York Times reporter Judy Battista lit Edwards’ waiting fuse with this question:
Would the coach have to address his locker-room about not giving up?
Lord knows Herm took it from there.
“….This is what the greatest thing about sports is…You play to win the game. Hello?! YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME! You don’t play it to just play it. That’s the great thing about sports. You play to win… You go play to win!... So, I… that that that… this whole conversation bothers me.”
Gotta love him. New York went on to crush the Chargers that weekend 44-13 and later reel off six more wins to put themselves in the post-season as AFC East champs. Sure, their resurgence didn’t happen solely because of the speech, but Herm deserves credit for the rebound and of course arguably the best coach’s rant we’ve ever seen.
Now, fast-forwarding to today, we face two unusual circumstances regarding both of October’s awesome gifts. This is the 10-year anniversary of the coach’s legendary present to YouTube, and the time when UConn men’s basketball is officially ineligible for post-season play. Unfortunately, no speech from any coach can pull the Huskies out of their current downturn. That’s just how it is.
Beginning tonight in its exhibition against American International College, UConn won’t be playing to win so it can earn the opportunity to win more games later on. From the playoff-motivated standpoint Battista based her question on a decade ago, the Huskies’ season is already lost, as the Jets seemed to be ten years ago.
Yet, is this year truly gone? I’ve swayed back and forth on the issue myself and heard points made from both sides. Back when the NCAA handed down the ban from their slippery, hypocritical hands, it sure felt like come November, this 2012-2013 campaign was going to fly south with the geese.
Then, when the likes of Alex Oriahki, Roscoe Smith and Andre Drummond actually did head for warmer climates, the feeling was made much worse. Every player, coach and fan’s ultimate goal is to revel in a championship. Every team in the country has a shot this year per usual—except the Huskies and nine teams who haven’t won a tournament game in years.
But the past few days of constant replay of Herm’s bugged-out eyes and rugged expressions have incurred a considerable excitement in me for this season. Now, there’s no doubt I’d rather watch UConn play with a shot to work its way back into the dance. Right now, they’re slotted ninth in the preseason Big East poll and a completed underdog story is tough to beat. Just ask Kemba Walker and another pre-season No. 9 rated group— the Huskies from 2011.
Yet, each game for this temporarily playoff-allergic UConn team means more on its own because there is no dance or tomorrow. The only thing to play for on a given night will be the game at hand, and that’s a refreshing notion. The Huskies will still take the court to win, but they’ll do so for the simple joy of winning; for each other; for the fans; for the fact that they can. Nothing more, nothing less.
Some say that because of the post-season ban, UConn can approach this year like they have nothing to lose. Well, flip that around because this regular season is all they have, so the Huskies have everything to lose and gain after each tip-off. Thus, this team ought to prepare for each contest like it’s the championship.
Throw in the fact these next few months are essentially an audition for beloved new head coach Kevin Ollie, and his future is also at stake. In Ollie’s words, saying or playing like this season is meaningless would effectively be “taking the escalator”. And in case you missed First Night, you should know that here in Storrs, we now take the stairs.
While depleted in the front court and sorely lacking the talent from a year ago, this team is set to give complete, undying effort every game— something that's rarer in sports than you might think. Recall two of the men’s basketball teams UConn has fronted in the past three years.
The 2009-2010 group stumbled to an NIT loss after growing infamous for perfecting the standstill offense and blank stare. The reigning national champions of a year ago could also be found practicing both of those on any given night. Now, the two teams are by no means completely comparable, but the point is that neither team can lay claim to producing a season absent of carelessness.