Hardesty: Sports gaffes that give me high blood pressure

Head shot of Tom Hardesty, a white man with short hair in a grey golf polo with the caption "Round Two with Tom Hardesty"

Those of us who love sports also love to hate them.

Admit it: They drive us crazy. Listen to any sports talk radio show anywhere in the country, and you will hear an endless stream of self-loathing from fans (which is short for fanatics, remember) digging so deep into the minutiae to find something to complain about with their team that they forgot what they were complaining about in the first place.

You name it, we complain about it. Nothing is too sacred in sports to be exempt from our vitriol. We will sit for hours watching our favorite team play, complain the entire time, then do it all over again the next game. Why? Because we love it.

Even victories can’t avoid our wrath if our team didn’t look good enough doing it, didn’t win by enough points or, worst of all, barely escaped against what we deemed to be a vastly inferior opponent. And we usually define “vastly inferior opponent” as any team that isn’t our team.

Therefore, in the spirit of such rank negativity, allow me to channel my inner fickle fan and rattle off some things about sports that make me wonder why I continue to subject myself to such constant disappointment and frustration.

The Cleveland Browns. I was born in 1968, which means I missed the Browns’ heyday of the Paul Brown-Otto Graham-Jim Brown era that produced four All-America Football Conference championships and four NFL titles (pre-Super Bowl era, of course). They are one of just four teams to have never played in the Super Bowl. But it’s worse than that: Of the other three teams, two are the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, which were created in 1995 and 2002, respectively — decades after the birth of the Browns in 1946. The fourth franchise of futility, the Detroit Lions, has been around since 1930 (playing in the Motor City since 1934), so at least there is one team that has had it worse than the Browns. So far.

What makes being a Browns fan so tough is that we can never really relax during a game; we are always waiting for the other shoe to come cascading from the sky. It’s hard-wired into our psyche thanks to playoff disasters like Red Right 88, The Drive and The Fumble. But we keep coming back for more because we want to be on the wagon for that one Super Bowl we hope to see the Browns play in before we die.

Batters who strike out by swinging at balls in the dirt. I know it’s coming. You know it’s coming. Everyone in the stadium knows it’s coming. Everyone watching the game on TV knows it’s coming. But the one human being in the known cosmos who doesn’t seem to know that the pitcher is going to throw a curveball in the dirt is the guy holding the bat. And we know he’s going to swing at it, too. We can feel it in our bones as we watch the pitcher peer in at the plate then start his motion. It’s coming. We hope against hope that our intrepid batter will keep the bat on his shoulder and watch the ball bounce in front of the plate.

Nope. Sure enough, the batter swings out of his shoes at a ball he couldn’t have hit with a 9-iron, screwing himself into the ground in his attempt to hit an unhittable pitch. These are Major League hitters, ostensibly the best in the world, yet they do it every game. It’s as if they think the pitcher is actually going to throw an 85 mile-per-hour fastball down the middle of the plate. Just … maddening.

Wide receivers who run their pattern one yard short of the first down marker on third down. These markers are bright orange. You can’t miss them. Yet they are apparently invisible to receivers, particularly on third down. And it always seems to be our team’s receivers who are most likely to make this mistake. It’s often a great catch, too, only to have the receiver look up and see he’s a yard short of the first down as the punt team trots past him onto the field. This play alone will turn me into a raving lunatic.

A 1-yard pass on third-and-long. This does absolutely no good whatsoever. It defies logic. If you need, say, 10 yards for a first down, why is the quarterback throwing a 1-yard pass? Yes, this often is the result of great pass coverage and subsequent checkdowns by the QB. But once you’re into the 1-yard range, there really is no point. You’re just going to risk turnover, injury or both. Throw the ball away. Defensive backs make a living picking off these types of passes and returning them for touchdowns. Usually against our team.

Delay of game penalty after a timeout. This should be a mathematical impossibility. You would think that there would be plenty of time for the offense to get a play off following a timeout, yet we see this happen with alarming regularity. Especially when the offense is staring at the play clock behind the end zone — you know, the one with the big bright lights that let the offense know how much time it has left to snap the ball. Yet those bright lights will tick to zero an inordinate number of times following a timeout. It truly is hard to fathom.

Fouling a 3-point shot attempt with a 3-point lead in the final seconds of a basketball game. I often wonder how many television sets have been smashed because of this. If the shooter hits the 3, then it’s a tie game and will either go to overtime or give the other team possession with a last chance to win. Either way, it’s not the end of the world for the defensive team. But if the shooter hits the 3, is fouled and makes the free throw, it usually means game over. What makes this situation even worse is it usually follows a timeout, where you would think this very scenario was covered in detail by the coaching staff. And then a few seconds later, it happens anyway — again, usually to our team.

Defensive linemen jumping offsides. Full disclosure: I was guilty of it myself now and again back in the day. We know why it happens: defensive linemen are listening to the QB’s cadence rather than just watching and waiting for the snap of the ball, which is resting on the ground within a few feet of them. Fact is, as D-linemen we can’t help ourselves. We want to get as quick a jump as possible on the snap, and if it sounds for all the world like the QB gave the magic sound with his voice, then off we go crashing into the offensive lineman in front of us as the penalty flags fly. It’s as if we saw the bat signal beamed high above the stadium signaling that it was time for action. We’re coached to not move until the ball is snapped, but … that voice. It’s like we’re being serenaded to cross the line of scrimmage — and cost our team five yards.

A weak foul on a slam dunk. Either foul hard enough to prevent the dunk and force a trip to the free throw line, or get out of the way and only give up two points. But to ensure a successful dunk plus a bonus point with something akin to a love tap is unacceptable. This one will raise my blood pressure to life-threatening levels.

And last but not least …

Quarterbacks holding the ball too long. Run it or throw it, but for the love of all that is holy, don’t stand there and hold it. This isn’t two-below tap (although we are rapidly heading in that direction). This is tackle football, and no one gets tackled with more ferocity than the quarterback. Knocking the starting quarterback from the game is like knocking the queen from a chess board: It changes everything, usually tilting the balance of power decidedly in the other side’s favor. So when a quarterback stands statue-like in the pocket surveying the landscape in front of him like a sea captain scanning the horizon, and then the defensive line crashes down on him like a tsunami, well, what did he think was going to happen? And after this occurs enough times, you would think some quarterbacks would get tired of getting swallowed whole in the pocket. But yet it happens — constantly.

There, now I feel better.

Until the next game.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.

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