Commentary: No Sure Thing In Sports, Or Life

Nov 18, 2016

As Kansas City's chances for making the NFL playoffs get better and better, we're still unsure which admirer Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will pick as winner of his dating/reality show 'Catching Kelce.'
Credit @CatchingKelce / Twitter

In these heady weeks of, well, transition… perhaps you’ve found yourself asking, “What happens next?” Sports fans know there's no such thing as a sure thing. And, as Victor Wishna explains in 'A Fan's Notes,' that's the point.

Uncertainty. It’s a word you might be hearing a lot right now. And whether you’re jubilant or traumatized or just bewildered, you’re probably feeling it, too. Can’t think why.

The truth is, we never know what the future may hold. And while that may induce panic attacks in some of us in “real life,” it’s also, in a nutshell, the essence of sports fandom. We follow teams, we study stats, we anticipate — above all, we hope. But we don’t know. Regardless of the point spread, we can’t say what will happen, which player will make the crucial play, or which lucky bachelorette Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will choose on his completely absurd and superbly distracting show Catching Kelce.

It’s that uncertainty of “win or lose” and the often-unanswered supplication of “may the best team win” that is the source of all the distress and eustress that makes sports such a stimulant. That is “why they play the game.”

But sports is controlled chaos, where we are united in our passion, with generally healthy divisions, where there is no red versus blue, only red-and-gold versus silver-and-black versus… whatever you call that puked-up-orange-Gatorade color the Denver Broncos wear.

Recently, the Chiefs have made an art form of courting doubt while still winning 18 of their last 21 games, by far the NFL’s best record in that span. After Sunday’s game-ending field goal capped a 20-point comeback at Carolina, they seem to be on their most promising run in years, yet we just don’t know.

But we do get to watch.

NBC has already decided to flex the Chiefs’ first matchup with the Broncos, over Thanksgiving weekend, to the Sunday primetime slot. Hearing the news, a friend from Denver wrote to express his current lack of confidence in his team. I wrote back to say that, likewise, I am never confident when the Chiefs play the Broncos. Also, that I had recently decided never again to be confident about any predicted outcome. Can’t think why.

Speaking of which, the forecasting site FiveThirtyEight — fresh off last week’s statistically (and internationally) significant polling errors — gives the Chiefs a 94 percent chance of making the playoffs. But — Hey! — don’t panic. They might still make it.

And if they don’t win, it’s a shame. But nothing that can’t be overcome.

More than once in the past few days, I’ve been drawn to a quote that’s going around all the social medias. You probably know it… distinctively articulated by James Earl Jones, from a screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson, based on a book by W.P. Kinsella, about a certain diamond in an Iowa cornfield. I can hear it now:

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” 

It’s one of those heartwarming, quintessentially American sentiments, no? Of course, Kinsella was Canadian.

But the point remains. In times of turmoil, sports is a reassuringly normal part of life. Not an escape from the challenges we face, but a temporary refuge that allows us to recharge and reconnect, and propels us through our trials, triumphs, and travesties.

Speaking of travesties, I totally DVRed Wednesday night’s bombshell season finale of Catching Kelce. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna pick Veronica over Lauren or Maya. But no spoilers, okay?

Just let me enjoy the uncertainty.

Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.