A snow day can be a fine day for underdogs

The month of November in much of the United States produces diabolical weather, an antithesis to the generally outdoor sport of college football.

After all, it's a game best played in temperatures in the '60s and '70s under bright sunshine. Feet don't slip, and fingers grip. Such weather allows the players to cavort and fans to watch under optimum conditions. Anyone who has ever sat in Pasadena's Rose Bowl on most New Year's Days has experienced the ideal.

But as the weather worsens, the perverse among us chortle and celebrate. We are a curious bunch who love Nantucket's beaches in the winter and Utah's ski areas in the summer.

That's why last weekend in college football delighted us. The weather stunk in much of the West and Midwest. It was not fit for man or beast and certainly not for a game that involves an oblong ball that is difficult to deal with under the best of circumstances. Snow, sleet, and wind made a mockery of a game that honors preciseness. A running back simply being able to stand up was cause for applause.

But shovel beneath the surface and something interesting turns up in three contests played in miserable weather - Iowa State at Colorado, Colorado State University at Air Force Academy, and Nebraska at Kansas State: Underdogs won.

Three examples do not proof make. But it's worth considering.

In Boulder, Colo., it was 19 degrees and it snowed the entire contest. Hometown Colorado had beaten Iowa State 16 straight times, the Cyclones routinely being nothing but a breeze.

Understand Iowa State only has a couple players, at most, that Colorado might have had even a remote interest in recruiting. Colorado was a better team and Iowa State won, 35-27.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., the wind chill was 25 degrees below zero and snow fell. By game's end the yard lines were covered. Visiting Colorado State was ranked 20th in the nation and Air Force repeatedly has looked poor or worse. The winner was Air Force, of course, 44-40.

In Manhattan, Kan., the game between Nebraska and Kansas State started in sleet and rain and graduated to snow later. The referee at one point became so discombobulated that he called a 15-yard penalty against Oklahoma. Kansas State had lost 31 of its previous 32 games against the Cornhuskers. In this mess, the Wildcats won 29-28, denying Nebraska a shot at the national championship.

Why? Awful weather often is seen by smart underdogs as a condition that helps level the playing field. Good teams almost always are faster than bad teams, and snow slows.

And good teams get that way because of execution. A receiver who is off a yard in running a pass route often dooms the play to failure. Inches count. Snow gums up execution. Lesser teams, which got that way because of inferior execution, don't have so much to lose.

Then what often happens is the good teams and players get frustrated that their wondrous skills are being foiled by snow or whatever underfoot and wind above and cold everywhere. Their attitude often becomes a whiny one: "This isn't fair." And as soon as the underdogs see that the overdogs are having trouble, their spirits soar.

Once a team thought lacking picks up the victory scent, it's a strong incentive.

Of course, it doesn't always work. Another game last week was in Laramie, Wyo., between a pretty good Utah team and a pretty bad Wyoming team. The temperature hovered at zero. Utah easily prevailed, 34-0. The cavernous talent gap couldn't even be bridged by numbing cold.

However, the clear lesson is that inferior teams that awake on game day to snow, wind, sleet, hail, rain, mud and/or general nastiness should consider it their great, good fortune. No question a team that can't win on its merits clearly has a much improved chance if the weather cooperates by being crummy.

It's exactly like real life. A snowy day to some is depressing, a dismal event that disrupts traffic and routine. To others, it is a blessing that means the snowshoeing will be spectacular. Which is it?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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