Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Drawing Comparisons

It's a struggle being a soccer fan in America, you are constantly trying to justify your sports existence to the rest of your friends even though it is the most popular sport in the world. Comments like "there's not enough scoring" or "it's so boring to watch" are thrown at you more often than granny panties at a Tom Jones concert (dated reference, I know). However this weekend offered a unique opportunity of an incredible league finish that found it's way onto the evening news and was the lead story on ESPN and other sports networks, thus making it main stream media news. Sunday saw the greatest end to a league title race, not just in England, but perhaps all time when Manchester City came back to score two goals in stoppage time to snatch the title away from Manchester United. The scoring highlights from Dzeko and Aguero were replayed over and over again, and those same friends who don't understand soccer looked a bit perplexed at what occurred.

So I sat down today and decided to try and put the Premier League finish in a context that NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB fans in America could understand. While I realized this was a difficult task, I soon realized that maybe it's impossible to make comparisons of this nature.

Starting with the NFL, the closest modern comparison I could come up with were the NY Giants comebacks in the final two minutes of either of their Superbowl victories against the New England Patriots. The big difference is that scoring is so much easier in football than it is in soccer. A football team can't just put their entire defense in front of the goal line and wait for the other team to attack, they have to defend a run option and a pass option across the entire field. In soccer a team can "park the bus" in front of the goal and literally have all 11 players inside the six yard box blocking shots. Without play-offs, the title is rarely settled in a head-to-head match-up on the final day in soccer, unlike the Superbowl in Football. And for those who argue there's not enough scoring in soccer, even though 3 touchdowns is 21 points, that still just 3 scores, so a 21-7 football game is no different than a 3-1 soccer match.

The NBA is a bit of a stretch because they play about four months worth of play-off series leading up to the finals which drag on for close to a month. I might be exaggerating, but the thrill of a last minute victory in basketball is usually reduced by the fact that the team still has to win several more games to win the title. A great example is the 1976 NBA Finals, "greatest game ever played" between the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics that went to triple overtime. The Celtics won the game, but they still had to win Game 6 to clinch the title. You could argue the 1994 Finals Game 7 might be a closer comparison where the Houston Rockets won the title in the final minutes over the NY Knicks, but again, no overtime and no major shock value.

The NHL falls in the same category as the NBA, thrilling series, but no real huge comeback victory in a single game to win the title. Last year's Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins went to a deciding Game 7, but that was a blow-out with Boston winning the title comfortably with a 4-0 victory. I couldn't come up with an example of where a team was down a goal in the final minutes of a Game 7 for the Stanley Cup and came back to win, but maybe our audience can chime in on that front.

MLB might be the biggest stretch of all. Just like the NBA and NHL, MLB relies on a best of seven game series to decide the title each season. Luckily for baseball, the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, Game 6 offered the sports best example. The Cardinals were down to their final strike in both the 9th and 10th innings but managed to come back and win the game on a walk-off home run in the 11th inning. Still, the Cardinals had to go on and win Game 7 to win the series, but the thrill of that game offers the closest comparison to what happen in soccer this weekend.

Maybe it's not about comparing the greatest games across sports; that would be like comparing apples to oranges. All these sports offer the thrills that keep their fans coming back, whether through a regular season title or a play-off series. In the end, the greatest comeback victory for a title is likely the one that rings strongest in your heart, and only you can decide that.

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