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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Inside the Lines: What happened?

By Matt Tiano
Executive Editor

Friday, October 26, 2007

Only three weeks ago, the St. Olaf football team was poised to make a run, a deep run into the Division-III college football rankings. They were going to run into the playoffs and then take St. Olaf College football to a new elite level. But then something happened, a something not indicated in a 30-29 gut-wrenching loss to St. John's. The following week, the Oles allowed 540 yards of total offense at home to Concordia and had to rely on a two-point conversion stop with 35 seconds left to live another week.

Then Bethel came to town on Saturday, and hopes of a playoff berth were quickly shattered. Turnovers and defensive miscues cost the Oles, but perhaps, we should have seen this one coming. What happened to the 2004 Yankees in the ALCS, this year's Mets and Indians, the University of Michigan, or Phil Mikkelson in the 2006 Masters?

The New York Mets led the AL East by seven games with 17 to play, but somehow, failed to clinch down the stretch. Sure, Philadelphia was playing good baseball, but let's point fingers just for the sake of pointing fingers: the bullpen, for coughing up lead after lead, routine odd decisions to steal third with two out, booting balls that even Jason Bartlett would have smothered in his sleep, or Jose Reyes putting up second-half numbers that more resembled those of Rondell White than of an all star shortstop.

Anyone can point fingers. But maybe, just maybe, these guys weren't showing up to work everyday looking to lethargically disappoint their fan base. I can't say that they didn't have the desire, because they probably did. I can't say that every professional athlete cares about winning (ahem, Mr. Bonds), but I believe that if you play in New York, you care. Period.

Yes, we are talking about one of the greatest, if not the greatest, collapse in baseball history. What did happen, then, if we aren't allowed to point fingers? The birth of a collapse is a process, one that involves not single individuals or groups of individuals, not even just field personnel, but the entire organization: the front office, the team media, coaches and managers, the lady that makes sure you're not paying for $7 seats and sitting in $75 ones with a seat cushion, the perennial all star or the designated pinch runner. Everybody plays their role, but during the onslaught of a collapse, there's an increased nervousness factor and desperation for wins. When the win/loss column is your only focus, the fundamentals can disappear under the Brooklyn Bridge.

In August, the Michigan Wolverines football team was shocked by Appalachian St. in what was arguably the greatest upset of all-time, in any sport, at any level. The pre-season favorite to win the Big 10 and a contender for the national title annually, Appalachian St. just wanted to remain competitive, I'm sure, and this they were. On their home field filled to capacity, the Wolverines expected to trounce the I-AA Mountaineers. Not so fast, the Mountaineers said, as they led Michigan 28-17 into the locker room.

There was desperation on the part of the Wolverines. We knew that Michigan would get back in the game. But would they have had that field goal blocked in the final seconds (which would have won it), if they had not been in a tight ball game with a team from Appalachian St.? They were desperate and shaken; they knew that a Lloyd Carr-coached team doesn't give I-AA teams a chance, let alone a win.

Who really wanted to see Michigan win that game? (Actually, I take that back; no one could actually see the game due to the fantastic marketing project called the Big Ten Network.) Not me, and hopefully not you. As fans, we love the collapse. Not so much because I plan on joining Mets spring training in April, but because I have a knack for remembering that there are two outs and not one. Don't tell me you wanted the Mets to get bailed out after they dropped their final eight contests to the Phillies.

As St. Olaf football supporters, though, we're not that interested in the unpredictable. But let's not point fingers.

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