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Thursday, October 01, 2015
My Greatest Sports Moment

This has been misinterpreted by enough people that I will start by saying that the intent of the story is not about me.  It is about the basic misconception that most people have about sports; that it is all about athletic ability.

In fact, sports is all about the intersection between athletic talent and intelligence. Most of the time the former will reign supreme, but every athlete should work hard on developing the other side of the game.

To set the stage, I was on an abroad program in college in London in 1976.  We stayed in a residence hotel, and in the basement of the hotel was a foosball table. Over the course of our semester there, lots of games were played.

Gary, a particularly enterprising sort, set up a league. Foosball is a two-person game, and Gary selected Ho, the best defenseman on the program to be his partner.  Gary was not the worst offensive player (he was probably about the third or fourth best), but with Ho behind him the team was unstoppable.  They won all fourteen games in the eight team series and went into the semi-finals of the playoffs against my team with a huge advantage.

I was probably the second best defenseman in the league.  My partner, Wayne, was about average--probably worse than Gary but not by much.  So we had a double negative against the team of Gary and Ho; I was worse than Ho, and Wayne was worse than Gary.

But with time to prepare, I thought about Ho's devastating defense.  It was not so much that he blocked shots more than average; it was that he could score with his players, seemingly at ease.  It seemed obvious that he could not be doing that with straight shots; there were too many players in our league who could block those.

So the afternoon before our match with Gary and Ho, Wayne and I tried to figure out how Ho did it.  It was obvious that he sent his shots off at a slight angle, and with a little practice I managed to do it. And that was the key.  We figured out an alignment of our players that would make sure that Ho's angled shots did not get through our defense.

We won the first two games.  Ho was no one-trick pony, he managed to change his shot and they won the next two.  We split the fifth and sixth games and were tied up 4-4 going to the "meatball" as it was referred to.

By this point everybody in the London program was in the basement cheering both sides on.  I feel that Wayne and I had more than our share of supporters, but that may just be the natural inclination to support the underdogs.

Wayne's hand shook as he put the final ball into play.  It went back and forth a few times until Ho finally teed it up with his defenseman.  He sent a wicked shot my way but it hit the goalie flush and then, with lots of english, it tried to wiggle around.  I jerked the goalie my way and the ball went safely into the corner.  Now it was my turn to tee the ball up.

I passed it back and forth a few times between my fullbacks and sent a shot home.  Clunk!  The game was over.  Although I had not been as nervous as Wayne, I was completely numb.  He jumped into my arms and we both fell to the floor, as the crowd went crazy.

The denouement?  We got crushed in the finals by the best offensive player. We did not win the championship. It was wonderful beating the team everybody expected to win, but there is a limit.
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