Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Bad Day For Predictions

When the Bulgarian women's hockey team took to the ice yesterday against Slovakia in an Olympic pre-qualifier, they probably didn't think they had a great shot. After all, they were playing the #1 team in the region and had been completely drubbed by each opponent leading up to this point.

But 82-0? There is no way that they (or anyone) expected an 82 goal deficit. But that's what they got and that is one of the great things about sports: almost every time your expectations will be confounded. It is the unpredictability that makes trying to predict it so fun (and lucrative if you're good at it).

Just look at the last few days. The second* best team in NFL history comes off of a nearly perfect season with basically the entire team returning, but guns blazing in a whole new way because they were pissed they lost. First drive...bang! Tom Brady goes down and they may not ever be a playoff favorite anymore. And not only has his replacement never started an NFL game, he never started a college game either!

At the same moment that Brady's knee twisted and bent out of shape, the New York Jets (4-12 last year) became the potential division favorites because they signed Brett Favre in a brilliant P.R. move that wasn't really expected to bring in any banners (right?) but was going to sell a lot of tickets, win a few games and send the team off to their new stadium.

The biggest question all summer was what was Favre's successor going to go in the spotlight. So on Monday Night Football, against his team's arch-rival (no brighter spotlight until January), Aaron Rogers went out and threw the second highest completion percentage for a QB in his first start in history. We all assumed he would be fine back there, but this was pretty special.

The same day, Lance Armstrong, whose biography is the greatest story in the history of Sports, allegedly (and shockingly) added a chapter by planning to come out of retirement to ride five races next season for Kazakh powerhouse team Astana (including the Tour of California and Tour de France). Astana is the remnants of Armstrong's U.S. Postal/Discovery teams. He would join stars like Americans Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, Andreas Kloden, and '07 Tour de France winner Alberto Cantador and his old team manager/strategy mastermind Johan Bruyneel. Hours later, Astana refuted the story. Armstrong has not commented at all. Who knows what to expect?

Also on Monday, the Mets lost their star closer to a season ending surgery...and a 2009 season endings surgery as well. Wagner had a little tightness in his shoulder last month and sat for a few days. He came back and pitched again (not too well) and said it had returned. The expectation was that he would be rested for as long as possible and then ramped up for the playoffs. Maybe that's true, but it will be next year's playoffs.

I suppose Boston fans should have seen at least the Brady-shocker coming, given their history. Maybe the tide has turned. The Sports Gods gave some of the most obnoxious loser-fans an amazing stretch with Super Bowl wins, World Series wins and an NBA title, but they (predictably) weren't grateful and turned into some of the most obnoxious winner-fans. I'd hate to be David Ortiz right now, because you can almost certainly predict he's going down next.

All that said, it is nice to know that there are some things in Sports that are as regular as the sunset. Like the Raiders not just losing, but being an embarrassment. Thank you Oakland Raiders, for a little stability in a shaky world.

*the best team would be the one that beat them, your Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

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