Monday, July 27, 2009

Why I Was Doomed to Never Become a Professional Athlete.

This marks my and Justin's first joint blog. We've been toying with the idea for a while but couldn't ever get our shit together and decide on a topic. That being said, I said fuck it and just picked a topic myself. We'll see how well it works.

KEVIN: I crack under pressure. Over the past few years, I've come to grips with this. It's not something I'm proud of, but something I've learned to deal with and even joke about (even though with each joke, my confidence crumbles just a little more, and I slip deeper into a chasm of inadequacy).

Anyway, this last 4th of July weekend, I visited Cincinnati to enjoy the annual event my friends and I have succinctly titled "Let's go watch $2500 worth of fireworks get shot off in Billy's backyard." Before the "oooohs" and "aaahhhs" commenced, a large group of us were playing a muddy, sloppy game of backyard volleyball (another tradition). Normally in large groups, I'm an adequate and sometimes even good "athlete." I hang back, do my part, and even occasionally put someone in there place with a completely unintended and perfectly placed shot.

(In order to salvage a few scraps of pride, I want to quickly make the point that I'm not like Smalls from Sandlot. I don't close my eyes and stick my hand up in the air and have a phenom (Benny) cover for me by hitting a perfect fly ball right into my mitt. My asshole doesn't tighten when the ball's heading toward me. I know how to play sports, and those of you who know me can attest. By the way, if Benny was so good, why the hell was he being put in as a pinch runner at the end of the movie when he was playing for the Dodgers? Sure, he stole home, but I've already seen that happen like three times this baseball season, so big deal. And everyone knows that pinch runners are usually shitbag players. Terrible directorial decision).

Okay, now back to my point. We weren't keeping score in this volleyball game, so the main objective for anyone with competitive blood was to get in a solid block or swat that shit back in an unsuspecting 15-year old girl's face. What else could the objective possibly be? Finally, after about an hour of playing in the rain and waiting for my opportunity, a ball was lofted my way. In moments like this, I don't even think about choking. I used to, but now I feel like it's become so ingrained in my psyche that my brain doesn't really need to expend any energy in embarrassing me. It just does. So as the ball was getting larger and larger in my eyes, I jumped up, cocked my arm, and whiffed with such an intensity that the ball hit me in the head on the way back down. Laughs ensued, and I played it off by laughing as well (this is a recent development in my cracking under pressure personality trait. I used to get bent out of shape, but now I find it almost comical enough to the point where I laugh as well . . . almost).

JUSTIN: I was there when Kevin whiffed on the volleyball, and I can tell that it was hilarious. Classic choke-ery.

As a fellow struggling CUPA (crack under pressure anonymous), I can affirm that this syndrome is crippling. I should ask our friend Heather, who is a therapist, if there is a diagnosis in DSM IV for this condition. Perhaps we can be prescribed medicine that will alleviate our daily pain.

I could share stories about all the times I have cracked under pressure, but I already wrote about it on the blog a few months ago so I'll skip reliving those traumas now. As i think about it, perhaps the key is going back to our pasts and examining what went wrong early on in order to discover the underlying factors that contribute to this inadequacy.

Blame rests squarely on the shoulders of my parents. They were too supportive. My dad wasn't athletic and never yelled at me to try harder or do better. If i had the dad from Varsity Blues, I probably would have experienced more success. If I was afraid to fail, because I would be beat or verbally abused when I got home, I would have learned to deal with the pressure would have been a better sportsman because of it. It worked for James Van Der Beek. All of this "I'm proud of you son" and "as long as you did your best..." talk did nothing but make me mentally weak. Thanks a lot, Dad. My son will get no support whatsoever and will thank me for it when he's older.

So am i screwed? Is there hope for things to get better? Probably not. But perhaps it can be overcome in another way. And I'm talking about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) here. Listen, we kill athletes who crack under pressure. Alex Rodriguez can hit the cover off a baseball in innings 1-8, but when the game is on the line, he wilts like a delicate rose in the Sahara desert. For years Barry Bonds was considered a failure under pressure ('02 Series performance changed that), Donovan McNabb has thrown up on the field, Tony Romo can't hold a snap, and on and on. These guys are infamous in their mishandling of pressure. Hell, it can even extend to an entire organization (New York Mets in previous two years, Boston Red Sox until '04, Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs, etc.) Peyton Manning can't handle the pressure. Neither can Lebron James.

I'm not suggesting that all of these players are on steroids, but I'm making the point that one can be extremely successful in spite of his/her inability to perform well under pressure. So, what is the PED that you and I can stick in our own ass (figuratively)? The key for guys like you and me is to inflate our "stats" in the 99 meaningless scenarios in our lives, so that when the pressure cooker is turned up, the whiff won't define us.

Here's my other ray of hope to offer: ESPN2 is showing "NFL's Greatest Games" right now - 99 playoffs: Niners vs. Packers. Terrell Owens dropped four passes throughout the course of that game and looked like the ultimate goat. I remember watching that game and being disgusted with the whole thing. I wanted to murder Terrell Owens. Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver of all time is catch-less while T.O. is playing football with concrete blocks fastened to his hands. Brett Favre, the ultimate under pressure guy is looking like he gets to add another fourth quarter comeback to his bloated resume, and I'm about to cry/vomit/commit suicide. Jerry Rice uncharacteristically cracks under pressure and fumbles (oh wait, the officials decide to intercede and make a terrible call to keep the drive going) and then what happens? As if God himself decided to intercede on behalf of all chokers everywhere, Terrell Owens gets his wooden hands on a ball thrown by Steve Young with three seconds on the clock to win the game 30-27. redemption under pressure.

So there are the two options we have in order to overcome this disorder: inflate our regular season stats to diminish the failures in pressure situations, or blow it repeatedly and wait for God himself to give us one shining moment of glory. You decide.

KEVIN: I think you're trying to bait me in with the Peyton Manning comment, so I'll bite. Cracking under pressure when you're a Super Bowl winner immediately disqualifies you. Sure, he's had some wayward moments in the playoffs, but he got it done in 2006, thus voiding all previous chokes. There is no argument to be had here. I'm right.

Wilts like a delicate rose in the Sahara Desert? Wow. That was quite the wing-dinger. Anyway, I'd like to think we could inflate our "stats" to supersede our choking in pressure packed moments, but you're basically disproving that theory through your list of athletes who put up monster stats but never come through when it matters. McNabb has been in five NFC Championship games in the past decade and has no Super Bowl to show for it. That's outrageous. You think people are going to talk about his consistent playoff prowess or his inability to win the big game? It'll be the latter every single time. Remember that clip of Steve Young having the imaginary monkey pulled off his back before he finally won a Super Bowl during the years of Cowboys domination? No way is he looked at in the same light unless he wins a Super Bowl and proves that he's some kind of equivalent to Montana (even though we all know he's not).

Daniel LaRusso was right. During the heart wrenching scene in the locker room following his leg mutilation at the hands of the Cobra Kai, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that he had nothing more to prove. He had accomplished the necessary steps to earn respect. I say fuck that. Daniel knew that if he forfeited the championship match, then that's what he was gong to be remembered for, and it would never be square in his mind. So, he sucked it up, raised a middle finger to the pressure, and went out and crane kicked Johnny Lawrence's ass right back to Beverly Hills. And you know what happened? Johnny handed Daniel the trophy and told him he was "all right." While, I thought the final scene was forced (given the collective personality, shouldn't the Cobra Kai be made up of bitter, enraged sore losers?), it solidified Daniel's reputation as a winner who could meet the pressure head on. Plus, he probably got to fuck Elisabeth Shue later that night in the ball pit at Golf N' Stuff.

JUSTIN: Kevin is forcing me to type this with correct capitalization because he can't handle my free-wheelin' ways. I don't conform to the archaic and tedious rules of grammar that Kevin, the editor, is a slave to. A period is sufficient to mark the beginning and end of a sentence, and a capital letter is unnecessary to convey this meaning.

That being said, you're right Kevin, I was baiting you with that Peyton Manning comment - and it worked. I have nothing more to say about that.

Daniel Larusso is a classic example of somebody who spent his entire life cracking under pressure, but was able to overcome because of a completely unpredictable event that changed the course of history. Had Johnny Lawrence not swept Daniel's leg, I'm relatively certain Daniel would not have been able to pull that figurative monkey off his back. Aside from his completely unrealistic swagger and confidence in courting young women, there is no indication that Daniel was ever up to the task of completing an objective under pressure. Dude was a whiny little girl who threw his bike in the dumpster 'cause he fell and skinned his knee.

If Daniel can do it, then so can we. I mean it, if Hollywood has taught us anything about anything, it is that the improbable can and will happen. Johnny Utah, star quarterback for Ohio State, cracked under pressure in the Rose Bowl three years ago (actually his knee got folded about 90 degrees the wrong way, but my point is better made if he failed because he couldn't handle the pressure).

Do you Remember the Titans? Of course you do. You remember this team not because they won a game (Did they win the state title? I don't even remember), but because they overcame adversity. Sure, we might not have to overcome racism or any other -ism to succeed, but we have to succeed.

This is how we settle it: You, me, and two vehicles on an abandoned stretch of road for a game of "chicken." That's right, two motor vehicles barreling toward each other at excessive speeds with the result of one man standing tall and the other man most likely flying off a cliff in a burning inferno of flaming car. If you and I would put everything on the line, one of us would have to be victorious. Although one of us would have to deal with the pain of failing under pressure once again, at least one of us (most likely me) would break out of the funk. This has to work. It can't fail.

KEVIN:Is it too much to ask to capitalize the first word of every sentence? Aren't we all adults here? Damn you, Justin Bragg!

You're assumption that you'd be able to rebound out of a life full of cracking under pressure is beyond me. How you got married, I'll never know. I admit that took balls, but I guess by the time the wedding's actually happening, you can't really back out anyway. Who's going to eat all the shrimp cocktails and drink all the Keystone Light? By the wedding day, you're already in so deep, it's pretty much impossible to puss out. It would almost be more courageous to call the wedding off the day of instead of go through it. So, I take it back (this is no slight to Justin, or Heidi for that matter. Their wedding was a fucking blast).

Obviously, I'm being cynical, but who's really surprised with that? Even though you don't really believe it, I appreciate your confidence in breaking out of our lifelong funks, Justin. It's an admirable trait.

I'm going to wrap up my side of this inaugural joint blog post with a little blame heaved on my parents. I lacked toughness growing up. I lacked the guttural spunk and drive that could've easily catapulted me through junior high and high school with an air of confidence. Why is that, though? I played competitive sports growing up (soccer, baseball, basketball). However, I was forbidden to play football, regardless of my pleas and demands to do so. Herein lies the problem. While some don't need a solid contact sport to make them tough and succeed at not choking, I'm confident it would've aided me in my efforts. As of right now, I enjoy Project Runway more than I probably should; I only have one tattoo; aside from a creepy strip of hair on my upper lip, I can't grow facial hair; I'm pretty much pale as fuck most of the year; The end of the movie A League of Their Own brings a tear to my eye every time; and so on. These aren't tough qualities.

If I had been raised playing football, an at times violent brute sport, I'm positive I'd be somewhere chopping down redwoods, putting out a forest fires, walking over hot coals barefoot, or playing tight end on a playoff bound football team. No doubt about it. Given, my mom was looking out for me because it's pretty much guaranteed that at some point in my football career I'd dislocate a shoulder, tear an ACL, or break a wrist, but shit, how fucking tough would I have looked then?

For now, I've accepted my role as a strange hybrid of a diehard sports fan/hipster/nerd/person. Am I doomed to crack under pressure for the rest of my life? Who knows. I don't think we really even answered the fucking question. I occasionally come through in the clutch. But this mainly happens when I play video games by myself or shoot a crinkled up piece of paper into the trash can. Whatever, I'll take it.

JUSTIN: Well, I'm cured.

For those of you who weren't there, I visited Kevin up in Chicago this weekend and had a blast. Late Saturday night (roughly 3 a.m. or so) in the back room of some bar that we were hanging out at because Kevin is hip and cool and has connections now, there was a game of pool being played that inevitably would change my life. Kevin and his foul-mouthed female associate against me and a dude named Phil. I talked up my game before we started, and proceeded to miss every single shot. Phil knocked in every one of our solids while I engaged in a comedy of errors. My game was a wreck - until the pressure was on. That's right, 8-ball staring me in the face. I leaned down, surveyed the table, lined up my shot, and broke the curse, while breaking the spirit of my opponents.

In Independence Day, those aliens thought they were pretty special. They thought they had it all figured out, and for a second there, it looked like they did. It was sad to see Alex, from Saved By the Bell: The College Years get blown up by a giant tractor beam from a UFO while standing atop that funky building in Los Angeles. All was lost. Even Jeff Goldblum had given up because he was smarter than everyone else and saw the handwriting on the wall.

Do you remember who saved the day? Of course you remember Will Smith as the conquering hero, but do you remember his life up to that point? Rejected time and time again from NASA (apparently because his girlfriend was a stripper? Not sure what that had to do with anything), unable to decide whether to pull the trigger and get hitched to his girl, and meddling in an uneventful life with his dog, Boomer.

When the moment was the most tense, the pressure was greatest, the stakes the highest, and the fate of humanity itself on the line, the NASA reject saved the world. Will Smith flew an alien ship into the belly of the beast and killed all the tyrannical aliens. I made an extremely easy shot to win a game of pool against some drunk people - I think the two are congruous. I'm ready to move on.