by Ty Schadt, Sports Editor
The last year in sports has been truly incredible. For example, the NBA Finals and MLB World Series both went to a Game 7 and Super Bowl 51 went into overtime. However, in each of these instances one team mounted a significant lead over the other, only to end up squandering it and losing. Thus begs the question: is there a such thing as a “safe lead” in sports?
Judging by recent trends, the answer is no. When the Golden State Warriors jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in June, nearly everyone wrote the Cavs off. All the Warriors had to do to clinch their second consecutive championship was win one out of the next three games. However, LeBron James and the Cavs caught fire and came back to win, snatching the title from Warrior’s grasp.
Then in October, the Cleveland Indians scorched the Chicago Cubs the first four games of the World Series, mounting a 3-1 lead. Unbelievably, the Cubs proceeded to win three straight and sweep the rug out from underneath the Indians in dramatic fashion. Was the pressure from such a substantial lead causing teams to choke? Nothing was certain, but the madness didn’t stop there.
In Super Bowl 51, the Atlanta Falcons held a 28-3 third quarter lead over the New England Patriots. Suddenly, the Falcons defense fell apart and Tom Brady and the Patriots stormed back into the game, sending it to overtime where they would eventually win, 34-28.
What went wrong? Where did things change for the team that practically had victory in the palm of their hand? Was it one particular play or did the team implode? Was the other team significantly better and the lead was a mere fluke to begin with?
The answer can be summed up in one word. It’s something sporting events create that can overtake players, games, arenas, officials and even fanbases. It’s called momentum, and it’s the reason why sports are fun to watch. It’s the reason players come through in clutch moments, fans get goosebumps during an exciting game and 3-1 or 25 point leads, however seemingly improbable, can be overcome.
According to Merriam-Webster, momentum is defined as the strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events. In regards to sports, it’s felt by a specific sequence of events that alter the course and outcome of a game. For the Warriors, momentum shifted when forward Draymond Green was suspended from Game 5 for a flagrant foul he committed the game before. When the Cavs beat the Warriors on their home court and made the series 3-2, they stole some momentum and rode it to a championship.
In the World Series, momentum shifted when Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant blasted a game-tying home run in the fourth inning of Game 5. The hit sparked a Cubs rally that never ceased, and they went on to win the championship.
In the Super Bowl, the turning point came when Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, forcing a fumble that the Patriots recovered. They were down 28- 12 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter when the play came, but the sliver of momentum gained greatly benefitted the comeback effort.
It’s hard to say if there will be as many exciting championship games as have happened this past year, but if history keeps repeating itself and 3-1 leads are formed, hold on tight and enjoy the show.