Sports under pressure
Spencer Drazovich, Staff writer
March 7, 2012
Filed under Features
With the Cardinal down three points in overtime, Jordan Williamson took the field. As Stanford’s kicker it was now Williamson’s responsibility to give his team new life. This was the Fiesta Bowl and his decorated quarterback, Andrew Luck, had done his job. He had driven the offense down the field and now Stanford had the ball within 40 yards of the uprights. Williamson had one job, to kick the ball through the goal posts and force the game into another overtime. But, Williamson’s three misses earlier in the game foreshadowed the inevitable and as his foot connected with the ball, Stanford’s worst nightmare occurred. Williamson missed the kick and Stanford lost the Fiesta Bowl by three points.
For Division I kickers a 34-yard field goal is a chip shot that is practiced with constant repetition everyday. In recent years, fans and coaches have been spoiled with a new breed of kicker that can make 40-yard field goals with relative accuracy and consistency. Williamson was one of these kickers and the moment he missed that kick the social media blew up. Facebook erupted with statuses along the lines of, “who wants to join a mob and attack Williamson?” However, what fans failed to ask themselves is, was it really his fault?
Now that sports have been thrust into the modern era the pressure put on athletes has been magnified. With game film, spectators and media athletes can hardly make a move without being scrutinized on SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10 Plays”. However, most athletes are not forced to take on pressure situations alone. The majority of athletes have a team to back them up, comrades they ride into battle with who they can rely on to be there when the going gets tough. Unfortunately this only applies to “most” athletes.
Football place kickers, soccer goalies and baseball closers are forced to take the field with out any backup. They may not participate for most of the game but when their numbers are called their teams rely on them to be automatic. How can an athlete handle that amount of pressure? More over, why would someone sign up to play a position where the potential loss is so great?
Football kickers are a unique breed of athlete. They only play a hand full of plays during a game, they do not hit guys or carry the ball and they do not command an offense like a quarterback does. But, the one think that they can do is shrink the size of a football field. The Bay Area’s own David Akers and Sebastian Janikowski proved they were the best in the league by getting named to their respective Pro-Bowl teams in 2011. Janikowski made history this year by making a 63 yard field goal and Akers set a mark of his own by making 44 field goals in a single season; both NFL records. As the game evolves, kickers are being called on more and more to perform for their team.
Baseball closers are beginning to be utilized in much the same way as kickers. Baseball managers believe that they can bring into games with the reasonable expectation that they will not let the other team scores. If a team has a good closer they know that if they can secure at least a one run lead going into the ninth inning then the game is won. Good closers are automatic.
“A closer has to come in right away and be able to compete,” Pitcher Ben Sneider (’12) said. “You have to find a way to be mentally strong and attack hitters and compete.”
Despite facing great pressures as they take the mound, closers are expected, not to mention, paid to perform. Mariano Rivera set the record in the 2011 season for most saves ever by a closer. His contract pays him $15 million annually for his efforts. In other words Rivera is paid $245,499 for every inning that he pitches. For this amount of money it could be a reasonable expectation that he will be able to pitch shut-out innings and if he does not, then those runs are his responsibility and fault.
Soccer goalies are not paid as much as closers and kickers, yet they experience equal amounts of pressure to perform with the spotlight on them. Despite soccer goalies playing the whole game, their only job is to stop the ball from going into their teams net.
In a game like soccer, goals come at a premium and in a game that can be decided by just one goal, keeping every shot out of the net is imperative. Goalies must be ready to perform at any moment during the game and have to always be on their toes. To make matters even harder for soccer goalies the net measures 24 ft. x 8 ft. That means that a goalie has to cover an area of 184 square feet at any one time.
Erin Chang (‘13) is the goalie for the girls varsity soccer team. As a goalie, she loves her position because of the added pressure that it comes with. She is a firm believer that sports cannot be competitive without the addition of pressure.
“Pressure makes it harder to perform, but that’s what sports is all about.” Chang said. “You have to work hard and learn to deal with pressure, which is difficult, but it’s how you get better. The slogan ‘pressure makes us’ is definitely true because during games, how you handle yourself and your opponent defines whether or not you win the game.”
Although closers and kickers are rewarded for their efforts, it is not wise to blame them for a loss their team suffers. No matter what position one is on a team they are still a part of a team. That is the very nature of team sports, “We win as a team and we lose as a team.” Every player shares in the glory and the shame.
Can an argument be made that Jordan Williamson lost Stanford the game? Of course, he missed three field goals, any one of which would have won the game. Can someone say that he was the only reason they lost? No, Andrew Luck, a Heisman runner-up, missed four passes and threw an interception contributing to the losing effort as well.
There are always places during a game where you can look back and think to yourself “what if…”. The truth is that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. If two teams are completely equal, except one has a better kicker, then that team will win the game. Kickers alone cannot decide the outcome of a game but they can provide to a victory effort. The only difference between them and the rest of the team is that their presence is not felt until the very last play of the game.
Closers blowing a game or kickers missing a kick are the last images that fans have in their heads after a game. The last thing Stanford fans saw was Williamson missing the tying field goal so there is a tendency to blame him for the loss. However, no one player can be blamed for a loss because no one player can take credit for a win.