This is somewhat off topic, but not entirely. I have to brag about my college for winning an amazing football game last Saturday. There’s a lesson here, too, about character and coaches.
Michigan State beat the University of Michigan in a game that dominated sports news all weekend. The fumble recovery and touchdown that won them the game will be replayed on TV for years. According to ESPN, prior to that play MSU had a 0.2% chance of winning. Did you know there were statistics like that? There are, and in fact MSU has won three out of the four most improbable victories in the Power Five football conferences in the last ten years. (The other two were against Northwestern in 2006 and Baylor in the 2015 Cotton Bowl.)
Three out of four–that’s improbable, too. How improbable? Based on all 60+ teams in the Power 5 conferences, there’s about a 1 in 100,000 chance that one team would accomplish that just by chance.
But that’s not quite fair, since not all of those teams are of the caliber even to be consistently in the game, much less to come from behind and win at the last second. I would guess that maybe fifteen teams have been consistently that good over the past ten years, so I computed the chance that one team out of fifteen would win three of the four most improbable victories. The odds of that happening just by chance are about 1 in 1,000.
How did they do it? Maybe by luck. That’s not impossible. There’s a 1 in 1,000 chance of it, after all, which is significantly higher than 0 in 1,000.
But the odds improve considerably if a team has learned to play the whole game, no matter what, all the way until the clock reads 00:00.
I think there’s a lesson there.
There was another lesson in Saturday’s game. It was in the way Jim Harbaugh, coach of the losing University of Michigan team, responded to his sudden and unexpected loss. Other than something like serious injury or death to a player on the field, it would be hard to think of anything worse that could happen to a coach than this. It was a huge rivalry game with championship implications, victory was virtually certain, and in an instant it turned around.
He could have cussed. He could have roared. He could have stamped his feet. He could have hit someone (that’s been known to happen).
What did he do? ESPN has video of his reaction. He was visibly stunned, dismayed, shaken. He looked around. He said nothing. Then he walked across the field to shake the hand of MSU’s coach, Mark Dantonio.
Jim Harbaugh has a reputation as a competitor. More than that, I’m not sure I know enough to say. But in this setting he was very impressive. In that moment, watching him deal with that kind of loss with that level of restraint, I thought, I could enjoy watching him win, too, in spite of his team being my team’s all-time top rival.