Mental seeds of defeat are planted before football `upsets' occur
LET'S take a look at the word ``upset'' that is being headlined so frequently now that football is upon us. I don't mean an ``upset'' over how the national news on TV is canceled to show one football game after another. I live in Tallahassee, and the Florida State Seminoles were ``upset'' by the Miami Hurricanes, 31-0, to open the season. FSU was rated No. 1 in the pre-season polls. Were the Seminoles defeated before they even went down to Miami, before they even took the field in the Orange Bowl? Jock Sutherland would have said they were.
In the period between the two world wars, Jock coached football at the University of Pittsburgh, and for the Brooklyn Dodgers, then in the National Football League. In fact, his Dodgers ``upset'' the eastern champion New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on Pearl Harbor afternoon. Jock was a hard-bitten man who coached hard-bitten, single-and-double-wingback, blocking-and-bruising football. No team playing his teams enjoyed it. I broadcast some of his Pitt games and all his Dodger games.
I asked him once about such-and-such an ``upset.'' He replied abruptly, ``There is no such thing as an `upset.'''
He went on to say, ``There is no such thing as an `upset' if you knew in advance what was in the minds of the players. The hardest thing for a coach is to convince his players they cannot take the other team lightly. Players get it in their minds that they can defeat a certain team easily. The other team, not favorably rated, knows it must go all out to win, works hard in practice, is tuned to combat readiness for the kickoff, and takes control right then. The favored team has lost the momentum,and it can't get it back.
``I can't help a boy, coach a boy, until I know how he thinks. And let me repeat, the hardest thing for a football coach is controlling how his team thinks.''
In horse racing there is a saying, ``You have to go around the track.'' The great Man O' War lost once, and to a lightly regarded horse named Upset. The Florida State Seminoles were acclaimed No. 1 before they played a game. And it seemed to me they believed it. Tallahassee rejoiced in the rating. Nobody had to say anything to the Miami players - they were ready to see who was and who wasn't No. 1. Miami took it away at the kickoff, 31-0.
Columbus, Ohio, was wild-eyed about the 1935 Ohio State Buckeyes. The writers began calling them The Scarlet Scourge. Before the 1935 Notre Dame game, one Columbus paper predicted Ohio State would win by more than 30 points. The Buckeyes played carelessly in the first half for a 13-0 lead. Coach Francis Schmidt was so certain of victory he had his best and biggest defensive men on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame won it 18-13. In those days a player could not return in the same quarter.
In 1940, the Washington Redskins had a splendid team headed by Sammy Baugh, football's finest passer. Late in the season, the Redskins beat the Bears in Chicago, 7-4. The Bears claimed they were robbed of a winning touchdown. George Marshall, owner of the 'Skins, called the Bears ``crybabies,'' and made much public ridicule of them. Coach George Halas of the Bears simply placed Marshall's silly boasting on the bulletin board. Many have said their playoff game was the greatest ``upset'' in football. The Bears won it, 74-0. It was slaughter.
In 1939, Michigan, led by two-time All-American Tom Harmon, won its first eight games, scoring 219 points. Bob Zuppke's Illinois team had won only one game, from Chicago, which was giving up football. Illinois won 16-7. Zuppke told me later he told his players all season they'd beat Michigan for sure. Michigan took the game as easy pickings; Illinois made it its entire season.
The third Super Bowl game is another classic example. The Baltimore Colts had won 13 against 1 defeat, with four shutouts. The betting favored the Colts over the New York Jets and Joe Namath by 17 to 25 points. The writers picked the Colts. I had an interview with Johnny Unitas, who said, ``We'll just have to give them a little spanking.'' It was the other way around. The New York Jets won it, 16-7. Some writers said it was football's biggest upset. Jock Sutherland could have told them. No ``upset.''
It says in Proverbs: ``For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.''