Last Sunday the New England Patriots made history, winning their fifth Super Bowl. When fans look back on Super Bowl 51, they’ll remember it as one of the best Super Bowls ever, containing the biggest comeback ever. Also, without a doubt, it will be remembered as one of the most painful collapses in sports history. The Atlanta Falcons were ahead by the score of 28-3 with just a smidge over 6 minutes left in the game. At that point their statistical probability of winning was computed as 99.5%. The Falcons owner Arthur Blank made his way down to the field from his luxury box to begin the victory celebration.
As owner of the team he personally paid for Super Bowl tickets for every employee, 269 in all, at a cost estimated at $988,575 for tickets alone. Nice Guy. Sadly, his celebration was not to come.
Tom Brady and the Patriots orchestrated a comeback of epic proportions winning 34-28 in the first sudden death overtime in Super Bowl history.
Many say the Falcons choked.
Others say Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
Or maybe Momentum played a role.
We’ve witnessed great moments like this before. When Championship teams mount such powerful comebacks it seems that somewhere during the game something shifts, something changes. In this Super Bowl game Atlanta was almost completely dominant for most of the first three quarters. They led by 25 points. That’s a lot for the opposing team overcome; especially with time ticking away. Yet, momentum shifted and suddenly everything New England was unable to do earlier in the game seemingly appeared virtually effortless late in the game.
Receivers who dropped passes early made catches late.
Defenders who earlier couldn’t stop Atlanta suddenly made game changing plays.
In the sports world we’ve seen things like this before. This year alone has seen epic comebacks by several other teams. Alabama lost to Clemson just weeks ago with only one second remaining as Clemson made play after play to come back and win the game.
In the NBA Lebron James seemed to virtually will his Cleveland Cavaliers to victory in the final moments of their seven game Championship series against the Golden State Warriors. Down three games to one in the best of seven series, Golden state only had to win one more game to become back to back NBA champions. Yet, despite their powerful lead they were unable to stop what appeared to be another prevailing shift in momentum that allowed Lebron and his teammates to come out victorious.
Better yet let’s not miss the remarkable story of the Chicago Cubs this year as they won the 2016 World Series, which ended a 71-year National League pennant drought and a 108-year World Series championship drought, both of which are record droughts in Major League Baseball.
They completed their remarkable journey after also being down three games to one in a best of seven series meaning they had to win three in a row. The odds were stacked against them but momentum changed and they changed history. In each of these cases players on the winning side never gave up. Players on the losing side said they could feel their seasons slipping away.
Sports has many powerful stories such as this. Boston Red Sox fans will forever tell stories of the end of the so called “Curse of the Bambino” when they vanquished the New York Yankees in 2004 as they came back from a 0–3 best-of-seven deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS) by winning the next four games in a row and then continued to ride the momentum by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals with another four straight victories to win the 2004 World Series.
Many believe this may be the greatest all time baseball comeback victory.
Cub fans might disagree.
Joe Montana of Super Bowl fame actually began his legend as “Joe Cool” and “The Comeback Kid” as a college quarterback with Notre Dame. Years before his great NFL career he forged his own legend of greatness in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas Texas. During the second quarter, as his team battled the University of Houston Montana had to fight off hypothermia as his body temperature dropped to 96 degrees. When the second half began and Houston leading 20–12, Joe stayed in the locker room, where Notre Dame medical staff gave him warmed intravenous fluids, covered him in blankets, and most famously, fed him chicken soup. He gamely returned to the field late in the third quarter with Houston leading 34-12. Montana led the Irish to three touchdowns in the last eight minutes of the game, the final one coming as time expired, and Notre Dame won the game 35–34.
Some players have it and some don’t.
There are as many stories of people choking under pressure as there are tales of heroism in the hour of need.
The question arises, why and how does momentum shift?
Many of us have experienced moments such as these, where things are rolling along and suddenly take a turn for the worst.
Or just the opposite, things may have been going terribly wrong and suddenly we get on a roll and life just gets easier.
Athletic contests and games are simply illustrations of what we all witness on a regular basis. Momentum occurs each day in our lives. It seems like sometimes things are just flowing our way. We can do no wrong. Life is out to bless us. Then, something happens and it seems like momentum has shifted and whatever we touch goes wrong.
Or turns to poo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZJA9KsixpI
Momentum of course isn’t just for ballgames, ballplayers and sporting events. Again, we all experience momentum, both daily and in some cases seasonally.
Blessedly, in my neck of the woods, it has been a rather mild winter.
Our weather has been unseasonably warm, even by our standards.. That said, it’s still winter, of sorts. I see real winter images for many throughout other parts of the country though.
Many would say winter is a more difficult season. It’s a harder time to be energized. Some relate that to the days being shorter, less sunlight, and being indoors more. Some people are diagnosed with SAD a specific type of depression related to the winter season.
People have connected seasons and spoken of winter and momentum for many years.
Camus is famous for his quote on winter.
Henry David Thoreau tested his own mettle while writing Walden and in it he speaks of the struggle of surviving the harsh New England winter. His words “Most men live lives of quiet desperation” seem apropos during the cold dark days of winter. He writes of the seasons and particularly how Spring breaks anew after the difficult and trying cold winter season; how it appears that the earth is filled with new energy, awakening, alive and anew.
Last week we celebrated Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and according to legend, that means six more weeks of winter are ahead. In honor of this event one TV station played the movie Groundhog Day as a loop, all day long. As I channel surfed I caught several moments of Bill Murray’s performance as he played Phil Connors. In the movie Phil is an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself caught in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again. After indulging in hedonism to no avail and attempting to get out of the loop by committing suicide numerous times, he begins to re-examine his life and priorities. For a while it’s same stuff, different day.
Eventually he attains a level of enlightenment and begins to appreciate the life he has. Ted Slowick actually argues that it’s the greatest movie ever made, closing his column with these thoughts: “Life is a gift, the movie says. You can choose to use it selfishly for personal gain, or you can use it to help others. The choice is up to you.”
I have friends during this season who say they are just putting one foot after another, just making it through until the new season arrives and life may be energized again.
In my local community, we have many who have served overseas during our long years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They sometimes have referred to their tours of duty as Groundhog Day. In his Iraq War memoir Victory Denied, MAJ Roger Aeschliman describes guarding assorted visiting dignitaries as his “Groundhog Day”:
“The dignitary changes but everything else is exactly the same. The same airplanes drop them off at the same places. The same helicopters take us to the same meetings with the same presenters covering the same topics using the same slides. We visit the same troops at the same mess halls and send them away from the same airport pads to find our own way home late at night. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until we are redeemed and allowed to go home to Kansas. Amen.”
Antithetically, some folks love the winter.
They see it as a time of rest and regeneration. A time of renewal. For those of us who prefer the warmer seasons and summer, there is a yearning for this season to pass.
I look outside and see my jet ski on its trailer, not where it belongs, in the water. It sits until warmer days will emerge and it is returned to its rightful place, afloat and ready for action. In a matter of weeks the seasons will change. The weather will warm. On Sunday March 12th we will happily have a time change and the days will suddenly, magically get longer. And with that seasonal change we all are impacted.
For many that means renewed momentum.
As we slog through the winter days I’m reminded of the mythological story of Greek legend of Sisyphus. He was punished for his deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity.
Surviving winter sometimes feels like pushing a big rock uphill.
Blessedly seasons change.
And momentum shifts.
As with the tide there is always ebb and flow.
Whatever your current season, things change. If it is a season of adversity and conflict, this too will pass. If it is a season of blessing, pay attention to the joys of momentum and stay alert to keep the ball rolling.
We are not eternally punished like Sisyphus.
Our day will come.
We will reach the peak and rolling the boulder down the other side will be worth the effort.
Camus also said this: The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Byron Katie says “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” Her point is sometimes to realize what season we are in and just yield a bit. This too shall pass.
We can’t always control our circumstances but we can control our thinking.
For many years I have kept the following words of Chuck Swindoll posted prominently in my office. I first read this some thirty years ago. It hasn’t failed me yet.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
Even in the winter season.