Drivers Still Hate To Lose
The IZOD IndyCar Series seemingly has been immune to a malady that has afflicted many other sports on several levels – indifference. There have been several instances in the NFL this season that have caused fans to question a player’s dedication to their profession. The most noteworthy example played out before a national audience on Monday night a few weeks ago, when Cardinal’s quarterback Derek Anderson was caught on camera laughing it up on the sidelines, while his team was getting bludgeoned by the 49ers.
Closer to home; while no one disputes the talents of Titan’s running back Chris Johnson, his sideline demeanor made it impossible to tell if the Titan’s were in the midst of a six game losing streak or winning streak. Although the Titans exorcised some of their demons yesterday by beating the Texans, Johnson was caught on camera late in the Titans-Texans game three weeks ago clowning around with teammates in the late stages of a 20-0 shutout. The Titans are so bad this year that no one but the two local markets saw the game, but it got mentioned a few times here the following week.
This isn’t limited to professional football. College players have been too willing lately to mug for cameras and lose their game face regardless of which end of the scoreboard they are on. The same goes for college and pro basketball. Don’t get me wrong – I think players should have fun and not be so stoic all the time, but I think that they should act like losing bothers them as much as it bothers their fans.
Although there is plenty of time for clowning around in the IZOD IndyCar Series, the drivers seem to know when to cut the act and get down to business. Scan the faces of the drivers during the singing of the National Anthem prior to the Indianapolis 500. Not many of them look like they are contemplating their next celebration dance.
Which brings me to another rant regarding the NFL…what is it with these pre-game speeches from the most vocal player on the team (Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, etc) that is followed by what sounds like a pack of barking dogs? Talk about contrived – they all seem to wait before the cameras for NFL Films is there before starting their chant. Every team has started to do it within just the past few years. It’s ridiculous sounding. If that ritual motivates anyone, I question their drive. I cannot imagine Scott Dixon leading his crew through a series of chants and responses like that. Anyway, I digress…
This may be one reason why I’m so attracted to racing. All of the participants still take it very seriously. Granted, the consequences of a mistake are much higher in motor sports than in stick and ball sports. If someone gets too careless and misses a blocking assignment, the quarterback might get sacked. The worst outcome is that the team may lose a game or worse yet, the quarterback might sustain an injury.
In the IZOD IndyCar Series – a mistake can cost someone his or her life. Each week, about 1,400 players will participate in an NFL game. Yes, many will be injured – some injuries will be career threatening and life-altering. Very few will sustain life-threatening injuries. The only player fatality in the NFL that I am aware of was in 1971, when Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions collapsed on his way back to the huddle and died of a heart attack during a game against the Chicago Bears.
Unfortunately, death will always be a part of racing. Whether or not Randy Bernard and most fans (myself included) get their wish to start pushing for new track records, if you hit the wall in the wrong spot going over 200 mph – the consequences can be deadly. I don’t know if a lot of people realize how lucky Vitor Meira was to come away from his 2009 crash at Indy with “only” a broken back. Had that crash occurred a few years ago before the SAFER barriers were installed (thanks to NASCAR, no doubt), he probably would not have survived.
Although racers will never publicly acknowledge that death ever enters their thought process, the possibility is always there and it probably affects their demeanor prior to a race.
But what about after a race? Fans complain when a driver criticizes her…eh, um…their crew for not doing something right, but in some ways – you can’t blame them. If a crew member forgets to put the right bolt back on correctly, it’s the driver that suffers far worse consequences than the crew member. But it’s not just their own safety that a driver frets about after a race. Drivers still hate to lose.
A couple of weeks ago, I was chastised for saying that Rafa Matos appeared to accept losing. I didn’t say he DID accept it, I said he gave that appearance that he accepted losing. I don’t pretend to know what goes on his head. I’ve never met Rafa Matos. I can only go by the brief glimpses I’m given through television. But from what I saw, Matos never gave the impression that he was terribly bothered by another bad day at the track. There is a fine line between being a good sport and being OK with losing. Of course, it might explain why an announcement is coming later today that will more than likely announce that his seat at de Ferran Dragon is being given to Tony Kanaan.
Some accuse Kanaan of being a brooding pouter. He can be, when he loses or is given an uncompetitive car. Based on the car that Matos was driving the past two seasons, he may be pouting a lot more. But I’ll promise you that Kanaan’s presence will get better performance from that entire team than the nonchalant attitude of Matos.
Some of the older NFL players do seem to care when their team loses. There is no question who won the game when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is at the podium. It’s the younger generation of players who know that regardless of how they played on Sunday, they’ll still be getting a check on Tuesday. I’m personally glad that Will Power was almost despondent after slapping the wall at Homestead and costing himself the championship. He should have been. Had he gotten out of the car wearing a smile and joking around, I would have questioned his desire and commitment. As a fan, it bothers me that I care more about the outcome of a Titans game than some of the players
Although the IZOD IndyCar Series is on a definite upswing right now, there is no denying that there have been some very serious and legitimate concerns by fans in the past. Some of the previous administration made some very bone-headed moves and the league suffered accordingly. But not once did I ever hear any fans say that they thought the drivers were indifferent about their performance. Winning and losing still matters to them.