Buck Wild: The luck of the Irish

March 19, 2015

The recent celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and the onslaught of midterms has everyone searching Healy Lawn for four leaf clovers. Students have started to knock on wood, sleep facing south, and hoping a ladybug lands on them. The widespread hope for good luck has permeated all aspects of campus life. In fact, I’m sure if you checked the pockets of the Georgetown basketball team, you would find each player carrying his lucky rabbit’s foot for March Madness. All this may seem like mere superstition, but luck is sometimes the determining factor for who wins and who loses—who makes it or breaks it. Luck, Fortune, Fate, whatever you choose to call that magical force that enables the underdog to win and amaze the crowd is the reason why we continue to watch sports.

Just to show you how far luck can carry you, take Stephen Bradbury. A short-track speed skater, Bradbury was racing for the Gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics. He was in last place, when his four competitors crashed on the final turn. Bradbury glided into first place and received his first Olympic gold medal. However, it ought to be noted that up until this point, Bradbury had had the worst luck. In 1994, he lost four pints of blood after a skate slashed his thigh. Then in 2000, Bradbury broke his neck in yet another accident. So after suffering severe, life-threatening injuries and overcoming immense obstacles to qualify for the Olympics, luck finally decided to side with Bradbury.

My mother always said, “Fortune favors the bold.” But this takes on entirely new meaning when considering 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier. In Game One of the 1996 American League Championship Series, Jeffrey sat in the stands in right field watching the Yankees play the Orioles. The Yankees trailed behind the Orioles 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Derek Jeter hit a ball deep into right field. The Orioles’ right fielder Tony Tarasco ran to the wall and was reaching up to make the catch when Jeffrey leaned over and caught the ball. Despite the uproar on the side of the Orioles, the umpires ruled the ball to be a homerun and not fan interference. Jeffrey’s bold move to snag Jeter’s homerun from Tarasco’s grasp led to the Yankees winning not only that game, but the series as well.

You all know coffee has magical elements. But what if I told you coffee could win you games? In January 2015, Serena Williams was playing Flavia Pennetta for the Hopman Cup. Williams was struggling in the sweltering Australian heat. She didn’t score a single point in the first set and was getting ready to lose her second set when she called a timeout. Williams walked up to the referee and asked if she could have a shot of espresso. The referee could have denied her request, but he just laughed and told her to order up. How much difference could a single shot of espresso make? A lot. After Williams whipped back her espresso, she returned to the court to win the next two sets handily.

Luck enables the underdogs to shock and amaze and win games that they never should have won. And nowhere is this more obvious than “The Kick Six.” The Auburn Tigers faced off against their biggest rival, Alabama, in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30, 2013. Alabama was ranked at the top of the polls, and was referred to as the “Greatest Team in Alabama History.” A close call was made by the referees, and they ruled to add one final second to the clock. That final second did not seem so significant at the time, but it became the most important second of that game. Alabama chose to attempt a 57-yard field goal. The game was tied, with one second on the clock, and they would probably go into overtime. However, in that one last second, Auburn’s Chris Davis caught the ball nine yards deep into his own end zone, and proceeded to run 109 yards for a touchdown, winning the game. Auburn continued after this amazing win to compete for the National Championship, surprising everyone.

But the moment to top all lucky moments is the “Immaculate Reception.” The Pittsburgh Steelers were losing to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC division playoff game in 1972. The Steelers quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, whipped a speedy pass to John Fuqua, who lost possession of the ball. But just before the ball touched the ground, the Steelers fullback, Franco Harris swiped up the ball to run it in for a game-winning touchdown. Although some say the initial pass to Fuqua was complete, the widespread controversy of the “Immaculate Reception” only further perpetuates the fame of the play.

A lucky bounce, a lucky call, a single moment can change the momentum of a game and drastically alter the expected outcome. Luck is why we continue to watch sports from the edge of our seats.

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