Parity: Why it is every Sportsfan’s Dream
*EDITOR’S NOTE* This article is the third, in a three part series. Our first article, “Death of Dominance and the Rise of Parity in Professional Sports” was published Saturday. In that article, we compared the seeding of championship winners from the 1980′s with those over the past 10 years. In our Second Article, “Why Dynasties are Important in Sports” Michael Kovacs argued that a return to the era of the Dynasty would be good for sports fans. This is Ben Kerr’s response to Michael Kovacs. Before reading this, I highly recommend you read the first two articles so you are familiar with the basic schools of thought, which will be discussed herein.
By now we’ve seen that parity has arrived to some degree in the four major North American professional Sports. My colleague and friend Mike Kovacs, has argued that parity creates champions who are quickly forgotten, but that dynasties last forever. I’m going to refute that point.
At the end of the day we watch sports to be entertained. And parity provides just that, entertainment. Entertainment is about drama, entertainment is about not knowing what will happen next, it is about being surprised at the outcome, and being lifted out of your seat by the magnitude of the moment. What good is it to watch the 1980s Oilers knowing that they would beat a team by 6 or 7 goals, and that no one could stop them? Knowing that a Championship was all but assured.
Was there anything Dramatic or entertaining about watching the 1998 Yankees sweep the hapless Padres in the World Series? Or how about watching the Cowboys paste the Bills in SuperBowl XXVII or watching the 49ers romp over the Broncos in SuperBowl XXIV. Thats not entertainment, thats a sham. When you know the winner with 95% certainty before the game is even played, or with 100% certainty by half-time, whats the point?
Moments and Memories
Now think about what we’ve seen in recent years. Think about how exciting the 2011 MLB Playoffs were, called by many as the “Best Playoffs Ever.” Think about the last day of the regular season, the Cardinals chasing down the Braves, and the Rays chasing down the Red Sox. Think about the first round of those playoffs with epic 5 game series across both leagues, and two of the games’ best Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter going head to head in the do or die game 5 of the NLDS. Think about the World Series, and the drama that unfolded. The late inning rallies, Albert Pujols’ three home run game, Tony LaRussa’s broken bullpen phone, and the INCREDIBLE feats of David Freese and Lance Berkman in Game 6, a game that will go down in History as one of the best of all time.
Think about our recent SuperBowls. David Tyree with a jaw dropping impossible grab to help the Giants knock off the undefeated Patriots in one of the biggest upsets in SuperBowl history. Santonio Holmes with a toe tapping last second touchdown to give the Steelers the win over the Arizona Cardinals in Superbowl XLIII. Drew Brees leading the New Orleans Saints, one of the traditionally sad-sack franchises of the NFL, to a SuperBowl XLIV victory in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The amazing catch of Mario Manningham to again help the Giants to a last second SuperBowl XLVI victory after they needed a win on the last day of the regular season just to make the playoffs. The last second goal line stop to preserve the Ravens win over the 49ers.
And it goes on to hockey. Patrick Kane’s 2010 Stanley Cup winning goal in Overtime. Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in Vancouver. Two Overtime games to start this year’s Stanley Cup Final. Game 7 OT winners in the playoffs like Adam Henrique’s for the Devils, and Joel Ward for the Capitals. Marc Andre Fleury diving across the crease to take away a sure goal from Nicklas Lidstrom in the final seconds of game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. The Philadelphia Flyers coming back from 3-0 down in the series, and 3-0 down in game 7 to eliminate the Bruins in 2010.
This is what Parity brings the sports fan. These moments are only possible if the game is close to begin with. The opportunity for someone to step up to the plate (so to speak) and be the hero is only possible when the game is on the line in the late moments. Sometimes it allows a hero to cement his reputation, like Crosby did, with a clutch play at a key time. Sometimes it allows an emerging young star to break out, ala David Freese. Sometimes it comes from the most unexpected of sources like David Tyree. But not knowing who it will be and then watching it play out in front of our eyes, thats what makes sports exciting. The unpredictable events, and dynasties become predictable.
Mike has argued that one off champions are forgettable, and dynasties are forever. I disagree. Will anyone ever forget Tyree’s catch? Will anyone ever forget that Epic Game 6 in St. Louis? Will anyone ever forget Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal? Even moments from the 70s, 80s and 90s that were not part of a dynasty are remembered forever. Bobby Orr flying through the air in 1970. Mark Messier’s game 6 guarantee, and Stephane Matteau’s game 7 goal to beat Jersey in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final, John Elway’s drive to beat the Cleveland Browns, Joe Namath’s SuperBowl III Guarantee, Kirk Gibson’s homerun off Dennis Eckersley in game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run. These moments are etched in our minds and it didn’t take a dynasty to do it. What it took was the drama of a close game in the final minutes, and a hero stepping up and winning that game.
Thats what parity provides the sports fan. Close games, uncertain outcomes, and to steal TSN’s original catchphrase “real life, real drama, real TV.”
Keeping the Fans’ Interest
Parity allows the sports fan to keep interest in his team, even when things are not going so well. The phrase “there is always next year” is more true today than ever before. At the start of the season any team can win. It just takes one draft pick or prospect who comes into his own, one shrewd trade or free agent signing by the GM, or one injury to an opponent’s best player, or one new coach with a fresh outlook and new ideas and suddenly the landscape of the league changes dramatically. Doors that appeared closed, are opened. Also-rans become contenders, contenders become Champions, and history is made.
Look no further than the LA Kings and New Jersey Devils playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. In January 2011, the Devils had just fired their coach, John MacLean, and replaced him with Jacques Lemaire. They were in last place in the entire NHL. This season with Pete DeBoer behind the bench, Zach Parise healthy and scoring goals, and a couple of key additions like rookie Adam Henrique, and trade deadline additions Marek Zidlicky and Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Devils find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The LA Kings struggled for much of the year. Despite an MVP caliber season from Jonathan Quick, the Kings just weren’t scoring enough goals, and were in danger of missing the playoffs. Enter a trade deadline move with Columbus for Jeff Carter, and the late season callups of Jordan Nolan, and Dwight King. Terry Murray was fired and Darryl Sutter hired as coach. Suddenly the team was energized. Whereas previously they couldn’t score enough goals, they now had two dynamic scoring lines. The bottom 6 even started chipping in goals, and the next thing you know it, the 8th Seed in the Western Conference is 14-2 in the playoffs and just 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup.
We see this in other sports as well. The previously mentioned Saints were an NFL bottom feeder for years until they signed Drew Brees. Last year the Broncos were struggling out of the gate and looking like they were on their way to a high pick in the NFL draft, suddenly Tim Tebow came into their season and they made the playoffs, and Tim Tebow is a quarterback who many analysts believe isn’t even that good, but he was a spark the team needed. The Giants Superbowl would never have happened without the revelation that was Victor Cruz. The Cardinals were helped in large part by a late season trade with the Blue Jays and the bullpen arms it provided, helping them all the way to a World Series Championship. These moves and the results they bring, bring hope to fans everywhere. Fans can believe that their team is never truly out of it, until they are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Mike has argued that the regular season doesn’t mean as much in the age of parity. I again disagree, the regular season means so much more now to so many more fans than it ever did before. We have approximately half the teams making the playoffs in the NBA, and NHL, about a quarter in the NFL and a third in Baseball. More teams in the hunt for a playoff spot late in the season gives fans something to be excited about. Knowing that if their team can just make the playoffs, anything can happen adds intrigue. Regular season games become more and more important as you can make or miss the playoffs based on a couple of wins or less.
For these reasons, I salute the age of parity. I welcome the unforgettable moments it provides, and I hope for more tightly contested games, and last minute heroics to come, because its the drama that entertains me as a fan. Its the thrill of seeing victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, from expecting the unexpected, that leaves me coming back for more.
As always, your comments are welcome below, and you can follow me on twitter @LastWordBKerr
Thanks for reading our 3 part series… and thats the Last Word, until Mike and I raise a pint in a bar somewhere and rehash this argument again.