The Big Play

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, August 1st, 2008


I hate this term. I hate this term more than Baby Boomers lamenting the thuggery of the NBA (and I really love basketball). I hate this term more than that dude from Florida with the billboards. I almost hate it more than that turdbox Skip Bayless. This term has dulled the minds of sports-loving Americans everywhere, reducing the mental workings of the game to its basest clich├ęs of observation and discussion.

There is this constant myth that prevails throughout football, especially in the NFL but slowly filtering down through the college levels, that games can be decided with the big play. Just as in baseball with the glory of the home run, the football quarterback has been harkened to as a figure of glory because of the possibilities that arise from his position. He is the center of attention. He holds the power to change the game by the very essence of his nature, a figure who can inject hope as quickly as he can be assigned blame.

But fans love guys who make “big plays”, because it’s much easier to discern value from big plays than through consistent production and ability. Like people who believe the actual act of getting on base is more important than the archaic nature of stealing and getting on base.

Big plays, though, are moments. They should be a part of the game but should not derive true value. A person who makes lays makes good ones and bad ones, and often you want someone who can mix an dmatch. but it was a moment, a discrete period where two athletes brought themselves to a common goal. It wasn’t a big play as much as it was a necessary one, one to keep the goals alive. The defense did the brunt of the work. Yet the majority of the glory from mainstream media typesgoes to the QB and his trusty receiver. Michael Jordan wasn’t a great basketball player because he made big shots to end games. He was a great basketball player because he shot an efficient 50 percent from the field…as a 2-guard…facing constant double and triple-teams during his prime…and developing effective countermeasures to make those defenses moot.


But this myth of the big play persists, because it’s easier to find these defining moments of conclusion and acceptance, focusing on outcomes over processes. It’s why you see pernicious stats like 15+ and 25+ appearing, only to amplify that yes, your quarterback is capable of throwing it deep. That he can make your life easier with one snap of the button. How do you think Rex Grossman got into the league?

And yes, I’m talking about Riley v. Longshore. Riley has shown that yes, he is capable of big plays, bringing the offense to unbelievable outcomes, but only by being handed the Golden Ticket of the most talented offense to ever run through Strawberry Canyon. Riley had four NFL worthy receivers and played free-for-all offense only when his team was in huge come-from-behind situations. But his big plays were, just like Manning-to-Tyree, necessary. It wasn’t like the game was tied or the Bears were trying to clinch the game. This was to come back and win in dire circumstances. These plays demanded success or the result would be a loss.

So while you may think Riley deserves to start because he’s able to come-from-behind, has anyone considered the fact that he might not be that good at holding a lead either? We only have one side of the coin with Riley, just like we flip the coin with Longshore and see his 4th quarter stats. As open season begins and the competition between the two heats up, we’re going to find out which side lands face-up.

Share your thoughts of “being clutch” in the comments.

(Image credits here and here)

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